10 biggest stars in Sox-Astros ALCS clash
HOUSTON -- This American League Championship Series between the Astros and Red Sox might be one in which fans look back on a few years down the line and marvel at the star power. As Houston manager AJ Hinch said, "These are enormous names in our game."
Check your 2018 AL Cy Young Award ballot. Three of this season's likely top five vote-getters are here: Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole of the Astros, and Chris Sale of the Red Sox.
How about the AL Most Valuable Player Award? Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts is the favorite, but teammate J.D. Martinez and Astros third baseman Alex Bregman surely will be in the top five.
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As for the hardware already on hand, the ALCS will have two previous AL MVPs (Jose Altuve and Verlander), four AL Cy Young Award winners (David Price, Rick Porcello, Verlander and Dallas Keuchel) and a World Series MVP (George Springer).
This is the larger point Hinch was making on Wednesday when he was asked about his relationship with Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was the Astros' bench coach during last season's World Series title run.
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Cool stuff, for sure. Hinch joked he'd been trying to remember if he'd told Cora any secrets he wish he hadn't. But he used the moment to emphasize something else.
"This series is largely about the players," Hinch said. "Both teams have really incredible players. You can name two managers, and you can name a couple of coaches, but you can rattle off 15 or 20 household names in this series that baseball should be proud of."
So to prepare ourselves for Game 1 on Saturday at Fenway Park, let's count down the 10 biggest stars in the ALCS:
10. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox SS
He was 20 when he made his much-anticipated debut five years ago. Now a veteran at 26, with a World Series ring, an All-Star appearance and two AL Silver Slugger Awards to his credit, he's coming off his best season -- 45 doubles, 23 home runs and an .883 OPS.
9. Gerrit Cole, Astros RHP
Another one of Astros GM Jeff Luhnow's smart moves, Cole has lined up as a solid No. 2 starter in baseball's best rotation. The Astros have won 25 of his 33 starts, including a seven-inning, one-run performance in ALDS Game 2. Cole was fifth in innings in the AL and second in strikeouts, trailing only Verlander (290 to 276).
8. Carlos Correa, Astros SS
His resume includes being the No. 1 pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner and a member of the 2017 AL All-Star team. He was the AL MVP Award frontrunner that year before missing almost two months with a torn thumb ligament. He has been slowed by a back injury this season, but he homered in the Game 3 of the AL Division Series clincher against the Indians.
7. George Springer, Astros OF
He's the spiritual leader of the Astros and has been at his best when the stakes are the highest. He's also a World Series MVP and two-time AL All-Star. He has homered 10 times in 27 postseason games and just batted .429 in the ALDS.
6. Chris Sale, Red Sox LHP
A seven-time All-Star, he was the frontrunner for this year's AL Cy Young Award until being forced onto the disabled list twice in the second half with a cranky left shoulder. He looked good in two ALDS appearances against the Yankees, and Sale will start Game 1 against the Astros.
5. Jose Altuve, Astros 2B
At 28, he's on a solid Hall of Fame track with 1,419 hits, three AL batting titles, four 200-hit seasons and six All-Star appearances. He probably was headed toward a fourth batting title when a sore knee sidelined him for a month in the second half.
4. Alex Bregman, Astros 3B
He was the defending World Series champs' MVP in 2018 with 51 doubles, 31 home runs and 103 RBIs. He was also the All-Star Game MVP, and he just hit .556 with a pair of home runs against the Indians. His eighth-inning home run off Sale in Game 4 of the 2017 NLDS at Fenway Park was the biggest hit of the series.
3. J.D. Martinez, Red Sox DH
His career was reborn four years ago after being released by the Astros in Spring Training. He remade his swing and preparation, and he has averaged 37 home runs in the last four seasons. He flirted with Triple Crown numbers in 2018, finishing with 43 home runs, 130 RBIs and a .330 batting average.
2. Mookie Betts, Red Sox RF
Betts is the AL MVP frontrunner after a monstrous season in which he led the Majors with a .346 batting average and 129 runs. He's likely to win his third Gold Glove, and despite a slow start to this postseason, he and Martinez will be the opposing hitters the Astros fear the most.
1. Justin Verlander, Astros RHP
His Hall of Fame ticket is already punched, and helping the Astros win the World Series in 2017 might have been the final punctuation mark. In 14 seasons, he has filled out almost every line of a Hall of Fame resume, and at 35, is coming off one of his most dominant seasons: 214 innings, 290 strikeouts and a 2.52 ERA. In 45 starts and one relief appearance for the Astros, including the postseason, he's 26-10 with a 2.33 ERA.