This is the way the American League season was supposed to end -- with a series between the two best teams in the league and the top two teams in MLB during the regular season.It doesn't mean that the Astros vs. Red Sox matchup will be great and memorable, nor
This is the way the American League season was supposed to end -- with a series between the two best teams in the league and the top two teams in MLB during the regular season.
It doesn't mean that the Astros vs. Red Sox matchup will be great and memorable, nor that the winner of this AL Championship Series -- which starts in Boston Saturday night -- will win the World Series, because the Dodgers or Brewers will have plenty to say about that. But going into Game 1, this feels a little bit like how the Warriors vs. the Cavs used to feel -- before it turned out that the sides weren't even in that one, even if one side had LeBron.
After the Red Sox turned the best rivalry in baseball into an opening act by finishing off the Yankees late Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium in Game 4 of the AL Division Series, the Astros' Alex Bregman tweeted:
"Two best teams on the planet... this will be fun!!!"
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The Astros defended their World Series title from a year ago by winning 103 games during the regular season and then sweeping what everybody thought might be a dangerous Indians team in the other ALDS.
The Red Sox? Everybody knows what the Red Sox did this year. They won 108 games, and sometimes they acted as if they might win more. They clinched the East at Yankee Stadium, and then they clinched the ALDS there, too. Perhaps you could walk into the visitors' clubhouse in the Bronx around Christmas and still smell Red Sox champagne.
So now the defending-champ Astros will try to get back to the World Series and give themselves the chance to be the first team in two decades to win back-to-back Fall Classics. The Red Sox will try to get back to the World Series for the first time in five years and win their fourth championship this century.
The Astros, with their dominant rotation and young talent all over the field, really do resemble a baseball version of the Warriors when they are at their best. But so do the Red Sox, with Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez having fully established themselves as the two most valuable players in the league. On July 1, when Boston was still two games behind New York in the loss column, it pulled away from the Yanks and the AL East and never looked back.
The Red Sox and Astros bring a combined 211 regular-season victories into this series, the most combined victories for two teams in an LCS since the 116-win Mariners and 95-win Yankees played in 2001.
Because of the way both teams have played the game this season, this could be the most anticipated round of baseball before a World Series since Boston and New York played those two amazing seven-game series in '03 and '04. Aaron Boone won the first one with a bottom-of-the-11th home run in Game 7, and then the Red Sox became the first team in history to come back from an 0-3 hole in October to win four in a row against the Yankees and then sweep the Cardinals in the World Series, as remarkable an 8-game winning streak as the postseason might ever see in baseball.
The Astros have Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Bregman, who was as much a star this season for his team as anyone. They have the great Justin Verlander ready to go against Chris Sale for Game 1 at Fenway, and Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel and what didn't look like much of a bullpen at the start of the season -- especially at the back end -- but sure looks formidable now.
The Red Sox have Betts and Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, and they are coming off a series in which Sale and Rick Porcello each won a postseason start for the first time in their careers and Nathan Eovaldi pitched the game of his career in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.
Oh, and by the way, Red Sox manager Alex Cora, a star himself during the Red Sox vs. Yankees series, was sitting right next to Astros manager AJ Hinch when Houston won it all last year. So we've got that storyline going for us, too.
Cora spoke on Thursday about the general anxiety level in Red Sox Nation after the Yankees won Game 2 of the Division Series last Saturday night.
"It seems like the sky was falling after Game 2," Cora said. "Not too many people gave us a chance."
Now Cora's new team plays his old team with a chance to go to the World Series. No one can know how the series will shake out, no matter how much hype and glory the two teams bring to the matchup. But the truth is, they have both looked like the Warriors of baseball this season. It all starts with Verlander and Sale. If you love baseball, you have to love this one. Bregman is right. It's going to be fun.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.