The American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros starts on Friday at Minute Maid Park, with the first pitch scheduled for 8:07 p.m. ET.
The Red Sox earned their ticket to the ALCS for the first time since 2018 by beating the New York Yankees in the Wild Card Game and topping the Tampa Bay Rays in four games in the Division Series.
The Astros, the champions of the AL West division, bested the Chicago White Sox in four games in their ALDS.
Left-hander Framber Valdez, who finished the regular season with a very good 3.14 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 134.2 frames, will take the hill for the home team.
On the other hand, southpaw Chris Sale will be on the mound for the 2018 champs.
Leaving Behind An Awful ALDS Start
Neither pitcher has performed particularly well in the 2021 MLB playoffs, but Sale will be looking for redemption after an absolutely horrible showing in his lone start against Tampa Bay.
The seven-time All-Star pitcher took the hill on October 8 against the Rays, and was battered to the point that his ERA currently shows an extremely ugly 45.00.
In an inning of work, Sale allowed four hits and a walk, and the traffic resulted in five earned runs.
He conceded a home run and struck out two in the forgettable outing.
A grand slam for Jordan Luplow here at the Trop. Rays jump all over Chris Sale and it’s 5-2 Tampa Bay. pic.twitter.com/N9bTNTFfBB
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) October 8, 2021
He looked way off that day, but this time, he will try to show why he is considered a top-10 pitcher in MLB when healthy.
After missing the first few months of the season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery performed last spring, Sale returned to throw 40.1 innings during the regular season, in which his ERA was a solid 2.90 and he fanned 45 hitters.
When healthy, Sale is a bona fide ace, as his 3.03 career ERA suggests.
Not only will Friday’s start represent an opportunity to leave behind his last showing against Tampa, but it will be a great opportunity to start turning around his postseason legacy.
Yes, he earned the last out of the Red Sox’s 2018 World Series triumph, but his postseason numbers don’t look good overall.
In 26 innings, he has allowed 21 earned runs, for a 7.27 ERA.
A strong start tonight will represent the start of a new legacy for one of the most talented hurlers of our generation.
Sale Will Have MLB’s Toughest Lineup In Front Of Him
Things won’t be easy at all, though.
The Astros offense is considered one of the very best in MLB.
In fact, they had the best and most potent offense in the league, even ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays.
By wRC+, the Astros offense ranked first in the league with 116, but what does this mean?
The wRC+ stat means weighted Runs Created Plus, a way to determine a team’s (or player’s) offensive performance and adjusting it to external factors, such as ballpark and era.
What wRC+ allows us is to compare offensive performance relative to the average, set at 100.
Houston’s 116 wRC+ means they performed 16 percent better than the average.
Doesn't matter if you're right-handed, left-handed, hard-throwing, soft-tossing, fastball-heavy, spin-centric. The Astros hit everything. Their offense is top-to-bottom marvelous, and they're going to be a tough out this October. About to take a two-games-to-none lead on Chicago.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 8, 2021
The second-ranked Blue Jays had a 112 wRC+.
If he wants a chance at redemption, this is it.