The Red Sox and Astros are meeting again, a year later and a round later. This time it'll be in the American League Championship Series, and it's a clash of the teams with the two best records in baseball this season.
The ALCS is set after the Red Sox eliminated the Yankees with a 4-3 win in Game 4 of the AL Division Series on Tuesday night in the Bronx, a day after the Astros eliminated the Indians in their ALDS. The Astros head to Fenway Park for Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday -- a rematch of the 2017 ALDS.
• ALCS Game 1: Saturday, 8:09 p.m. ET/7:09 p.m. CT on TBS
"It'll be fun," Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts said. "They've got a great team. But we do, too."
"I think it's a matchup between the two best teams in the world," Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. "It's going to be a series full of exciting, big situations. ... Playing at Fenway Park is unbelievable. They have great fans there that love the game of baseball. There's going to be great atmospheres with two of the best teams playing each other."
:: ALCS schedule and results ::
Houston won last year's playoff meeting in four games, the first leg on their road to a World Series championship. On their way through the Sox, the Astros shelled Chris Sale in Game 1 of the ALDS, got the first of Justin Verlander's dominant playoff starts, clinched the series at Fenway Park and scored the series-decisive runs off Sale and Craig Kimbrel.
But the Red Sox are better than they were last year. Under rookie manager Alex Cora, they won 108 games, the most in MLB and a franchise record. They have the AL MVP Award frontrunner in Betts, another top candidate in J.D. Martinez, and a perennial AL Cy Young Award contender in Sale.
• Gear up for the ALCS:Astros | Red Sox
"When you get sent home, that always leaves a bad taste in your mouth," Sale said. "Coming into this year was a little bit different. We had a lot of the same guys. Obviously, we added the best hitter on the planet [Martinez], and an unbelievable manager and coaching staff. ... Top to bottom, we're as good as it gets."
The Red Sox just dispatched their archrivals at Yankee Stadium, beating a 100-win Yankees team twice in a row on its home turf after the Bronx Bombers had won their previous seven postseason games there. Boston handed the Yanks their most lopsided loss in playoff history in Game 3's 16-1 blowout -- the most runs the Sox had scored against the Yankees in the postseason, and the most runs New York had ever allowed in a postseason game.
"I know I, and our team, have a lot of respect for them," Bregman said. "We know how tough they are. They have a great lineup, great pitching staff and we're going to have to bring our 'A' game every single day."
The Astros might be better, too, somehow. They bested last year's World Series championship team by two wins -- 103 to 101. Their lineup is littered with stars -- a 2018 AL MVP Award candidate in Bregman, the reigning AL MVP in Jose Altuve, the World Series MVP in George Springer, plus Carlos Correa and more. They have the Majors' best starting rotation, with Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton. Their bullpen is one of baseball's best, too.
Houston won its ALDS in impressive fashion, sweeping the Indians in a series that included wins over Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, typically impressive starts from Verlander, Cole and Keuchel, and home runs from Springer (three), Bregman (two), Altuve and Correa.
• LCS matchups between MLB's top 2 teams
All this is to say: Astros-Red Sox should be a thriller of an ALCS from the start, and it will be the ninth time since divisional play began in 1969 that the teams with the best records in MLB will meet in the LCS.
Game 1 will likely be a Sale-Verlander redux. The aces faced off to open the 2017 ALDS, a matchup won handily by Verlander. This year, Sale and Verlander won Game 1s in their respective Division Series. Sale also pitched in relief in Game 4 to help the Sox clinch against the Yankees, but that shouldn't affect his availability to start Saturday's ALCS opener.
"I'm ready for whatever," Sale said. "It's gonna be a little bit bigger stage, too. We're looking forward to it."
This will be the 23rd time in the Wild Card era, which began in 1995, that two teams meet in the postseason in consecutive years. It's the fifth time for the Red Sox (who most recently faced the Angels in the postseason three straight times from 2007-09), and the third for the Astros (who faced both the Braves and Cardinals in 2004 and '05).
Cora brings a unique perspective to the rematch, having jumped from one dugout to the other. The Red Sox skipper was the Astros' bench coach for last year's title run. Now he's trying to beat them.
"I've been talking about them the whole season," Cora said. "So now we go. Best of seven. They know me. I know them. It should be fun."