One game is just that, one game. But in a five-game series, it means a lot for the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox, because notching Game 1 wins mean that last year’s defending champs and this year’s MLB wins leaders have to achieve only a split in four games to advance to the American League Championship Series. Both teams won more than 100 games — can they earn just two more and set up the superteam showdown in the AL some have been expecting for months?
The most important thing of the day: If history is any guide, the Indians and Yankees really need to earn a split in the first two games to keep their hopes alive. Researcher Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats & Information notes that teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-five postseason series have gone on to win the series 87.2 percent of the time (68-10). Of those 78 teams taking a 2-0 lead, 46 of them (or 59 percent) went on to sweep. Home teams that win the first two games of a best-of-five postseason series have gone on to win the series 85.1 percent of the time (40-7).
ALDS Game 2: Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros
The stakes: The Indians can’t afford to get into a hole any deeper than the one they’re already, not with Dallas Keuchel and a rested Astros bullpen potentially on deck after the off day for Houston in Cleveland for Game 3.
If the Indians win: The Tribe brings the series back to Cleveland with a shot at keeping it there if they can get their offense in gear. Cleveland averaged 5.5 runs per game at home, good for fourth in MLB. Both Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor slugged better than .560 at home.
If the Astros win: They’ll have another reminder for what a great idea it was to get Cole from the Pirates in a trade last winter. Cole will be making his first postseason start as an Astros after delivering a career-best 276 strikeouts and 1.03 WHIP this season.
One key stat to know: George Springer has homered in five straight postseason games, tied for the second-longest such streak in postseason history with Carlos Beltrán’s in 2004. The only longer streak was Daniel Murphy homering in six straight postseason games in 2015.
The matchup that matters most: Carrasco against the Astros’ lineup the second and third times through the order, because he has held opposing lineups to just a .663 and .617 OPS his second and third time through — while also allowing 10 home runs in the first and second inning this year. Admittedly, a lot of that was achieved against weaker AL Central foes, but if he’s on, going strong and gets the game through the middle innings, Cleveland has more than a puncher’s chance to tie the series up.
The prediction: The Astros made a loud opening statement in their pursuit of back-to-back titles with four home runs in Game 1 — three off Corey Kluber. I mentioned Kluber’s splits in this space before that game and Carlos Carrasco‘s are even more pronounced — a 2.48 ERA against sub-.500 teams, 5.28 against winning teams. With his fastball/slider combo, Carrasco is certainly capable of shutting down the right-handed-heavy Houston lineup, but I’ll take Gerrit Cole and the Houston bullpen in a low-scoring game. Astros 3, Indians 2. — David Schoenfield
ALDS Game 2: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox
The stakes: A postseason series between these two historic rivals, with Price looking for his first postseason win as a starter — he’s 0-8 with a 5.74 ERA — while the Yankees are looking to tie up the series? This is no ordinary Game 2, but then again, this is no ordinary rivalry. In contrast, Tanaka has a career 1.44 ERA in the postseason in four starts. If he knots up the series with another strong start, all bets are off as to which 100-win team is supposed to win this series.
If the Yankees win: Bringing the series back to Yankee Stadium all tied up and still armed with their obvious advantages in both lineup and bullpen depth is a prospect that should frighten the Red Sox.
If the Red Sox win: The best guarantee to prevent a Yankees romp in the Bronx killing their dream season before it even gets to a Game 5 in the LDS round is to just get Price off the schneid here and now. Anything that helps them keep Craig Kimbrel fresh is a bonus; needing their closer to come in during the eighth inning frequently may be necessary, but it doesn’t bode well for their long-term prospects in October.
One key stat to know: The Sox have won five straight postseason games against the Yankees, the longest streak by either team in their head-to-head postseason history. So as if there wasn’t any additional pressure on Price, will Fenway fans forgive him if he snaps that streak?
The matchup that matters most: Gary Sanchez versus Price. On his young career, the Yankees catcher is 6-for-13 against the veteran lefty — with five home runs. While his regular season might have been a disappointment, some October heroics to help extend Price’s winless streak in his postseason starts would make a lot of people forget Sanchez’s regular-season failures.
The prediction: OK, Game 1 was fun. Now all the pressure turns to David Price and his 0-8 record in nine career postseason starts. Masahiro Tanaka had a masterful postseason last year when he allowed just two runs in 20 innings. Is there anything predictive in those numbers? Probably not. Both pitchers threw well in the second half. My bet: This game comes down to the bullpens and considering the shaky results from the Boston pen in the opener, that’s an edge for the Yankees. They even the series with a 4-2 victory. — David Schoenfield