The Houston Astros battled all the way into the final weekend in the race for the best record in the American League and fell just short, leaving them to host the third-seeded AL East champion Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the AL Division Series on Thursday. The second-seeded Astros made the biggest move of the waiver deadline period by bringing in Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers and will send him to the mound in Game 1.
Verlander brings a 7-5 record and a 3.39 ERA in 16 career postseason starts to a Houston squad that led the AL in team batting average at .282 and features probable MVP and batting champion Jose Altuve. “I think that’s the main goal, just be able to keep your feel, be able to come into the start, and be consistent,” Verlander told reporters of his approach to the game. “As a starting pitcher, that’s what it’s about. I‘m going to do whatever I can to help maintain my mechanics and the feel on the mound.” The Red Sox will counter with Cy Young candidate Chris Sale, who struggled in September but had the luxury of taking the final day of the regular season off after Boston beat the Astros on Saturday to clinch the AL East. The Astros took three of four in that series and four of seven from the Red Sox during the regular season and went 48-33 at Minute Maid Park.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, MLB Network
PITCHING MATCHUP: Red Sox LH Chris Sale (17-8, 2.90 ERA) vs. Astros RH Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.36)
Sale went 3-4 with a 4.30 ERA over his final eight starts and struggled to keep the ball in the park at times, including his final start against Toronto on Sept. 26 in which he served up four home runs. The Florida native will be making his first career postseason start and is 5-1 with a 1.31 ERA in six career starts against Houston. “I‘m 28 years old, so I’ve been waiting for this about 23 years,” Sale told reporters. “This has been a long time coming. A lot of hard work went into this. It’s a long season. We had a lot of guys put everything they had on the field the entire season. To have this opportunity right here, it’s the best.”
Verlander earned his spot at the top of the Astros postseason rotation by going 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in five starts since joining the team. The former MVP allowed four runs (three earned) in 12 innings over two starts against Boston earlier this season, though he did not factor in either decision. “You can’t get prepared for it,” Verlander told reporters of starting in the postseason. “You have to experience it by being out there and feeling the adrenaline, and experiencing it for yourself.”
1. Red Sox INF Eduardo Nunez (knee) played in only one game since Sept. 9 but is expected to be available during the series.
2. Houston RF Josh Reddick (back) sat out the final six games of the regular season but could play Thursday.
3. Boston will start LHP Drew Pomeranz in Game 2 while Houston counters with LHP Dallas Keuchel.
PREDICTION: Red Sox 3, Astros 2