Picks, predictions, odds for ALCS Gm. 1

October 15th, 2021

A version of this article originally appeared on DraftKings. For more betting insights, check out DraftKings.com.

No Lance McCullers for the series, and Chris Sale is starting Game 1? The 2021 ALCS has a chance to get weird quickly. Here’s how to attack the opener via DraftKings Sportsbook.

If you want to sweat out these picks with me, follow me on Twitter: @Nick_Friar.

If he’s pitching like he can, there aren’t many pitchers on the planet who are better than Sale. But he hasn’t been doing that, which is why it’s such a surprise to see him named the Game 1 starter.

That said, Alex Cora said his staff figured out what’s going wrong with Sale mechanically. Normally, I’d chalk that up as good news for Red Sox fans and reason to expect Sale to improve on his last two starts. But bumping him ahead of Nathan Eovaldi in the rotation says a lot. The right-hander has been great through his first two starts and would be on full rest Friday after holding the Rays to two runs over five innings on Oct. 10.

Now, the Astros are tougher on righties than lefties, but the latter didn’t exactly have an easy time with them in the final month of the regular season. And we saw what Houston did to the White Sox in the ALCS.

The Astros have given Sale fits in previous postseasons, but I can’t buy that his trend of struggles will maintain. And seeing Cora turn to him earlier than he has to following the aforementioned adjustment shows the Red Sox have faith in the lefty to give them a fighting chance in Game 1, which absolutely entails him going at least five innings — though, we only need 4 1/3 from him on Friday.

Framber Valdez did very well in his two starts vs. the Red Sox this season, but he also just got hit around by the White Sox. Of course, Chicago did a lot of damage against left-handed pitching this season, but Boston’s lineup wasn’t exactly a cake walk for lefties. While their season-long ISO (.166) against left-handed pitching left a lot to be desired, the Red Sox ranked in the top 10 in OPS, wOBA and wRC+ against lefties throughout 2021.

This group also just put on a show against a Rays pitching staff that was not easy on anyone this year. The fact Shane McClanahan was the guy Boston got to in Game 4 says something about how they’re seeing lefties.

If a healthy Lance McCullers was opposite Sale in this one, I would have a different outlook on Boston’s offensive upside in this one. As much as they hit right-handed pitching better this season, Houston’s ace was lights out in Game 1 vs. Chicago and battled through discomfort in Game 4. But now the Astros are without McCullers, making Valdez their top arm this series.

Having already made the case for Sale and Boston’s offense, let’s address the bullpens for a second.

When you look at ERA, WHIP, FIP and opponents wOBA, there’s not a whole lot that separates these two middling bullpens from one another. And when you look at the Red Sox and Astros’ performances against Tampa and Chicago’s bullpens, respectively, both came up big against two groups of relievers that were tough throughout the regular season.

With the bullpens being relatively moot, the focus falls back on the upside against the starters — and Sale remains the starter I like in this one.

One last thing to note: the Red Sox were one of seven teams with a winning record as road underdogs this season.

It’s early to get in on this, but I don’t think we’ll see Boston come in at a better price as the series goes on. While I don’t expect a sweep, I anticipate the Red Sox bringing it back to Fenway with the series tied 1-1. And Houston’s pitching staff is in a tough spot with McCullers not on the roster. That could have a ripple effect that impacts the bullpen throughout what should be a stressful series for both pitching staffs.

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