Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker Jr. talks to players during workouts Thursday, the day before Game 1 of the ALCS against Boston Red Sox in Houston. Photo by Maria Lysaker/UPI | License Photo
MIAMI, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Two division winners and two Wild Card teams, including the reigning champion Los Angeles Dodgers, launch the ALCS and NLCS this weekend to determine who will meet in the 2021 World Series.
The Boston Red Sox, who won the American League Wild Card Game, take the field first against the American League West division champion Houston Astros in Game 1 of the ALCS. That series starts at 8:07 p.m. EDT Friday in Houston and airs on Fox.
The Dodgers, the National League Wild Card Game winners, were preseason favorites and remain the top choice to claim the title. They face the National League East division champion Atlanta Braves in their best-of-seven NLCS starting Saturday in Atlanta.
"This is what we are all here for," Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale told reporters Friday. "We've seen these guys a couple times in the postseason. We know what we are up against."
The Red Sox enter their second ALCS since they won the World Series in 2018. The Astros enter the ALCS for the fifth-consecutive year. They beat the Red Sox in the ALDS and won the World Series in 2017. The Red Sox beat the Astros in five games in the 2018 ALCS.
"We got a formidable foe coming in here," Astros manager Dusty Baker told reporters Thursday. "The guys know [Red Sox manager] Alex Cora. Cora knows us. It has the makings for a great series."
Tickets for Game 1 of the ALCS ranged from $74 to nearly $8,000 on the secondary market as of Friday afternoon. Houston's Minute Maid Park is expected to host more than 41,000 fans.
The Dodgers and Astros are favored to advance to the World Series, which starts Oct. 26 and could run through early November.
Boston's Fenway Park, Houston's Minute Maid Park, Atlanta's Truist Park and Dodger Stadium will each be at full capacity. Dodger Stadium is the only facility that will require fans 12 and over to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result for entry.
Fenway Park will require masks for fans in indoor areas of the stadium.
Red Sox vs. Astros
The Astros tapped left-handed pitcher Framber Valdez to start against Sale in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday in Houston.
"I gotta be aggressive," Sale told reporters Friday. "I know they have a good lineup, but I also know what we are capable of. ... I just gotta keep it close and let our offense shine."
Sale, 32, went 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA in nine starts this season. His 5.33 strikeouts per victory for his career are the most in MLB history.
Sale missed the entire 2020 season and the start of 2021 due to Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm. He allowed five runs in one inning in his lone start this postseason, a 14-6 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 2 of the ALDS.
Valdez went 11-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 22 starts this season, but also struggled in his lone postseason start. The Astros pitcher allowed seven hits and four runs in 4 1/3 innings in a 9-5 win over the Chicago White Sox in Game 2 of the ALDS.
The Red Sox are hitting league-best .328 this post-season. Their 11 playoff home runs are more than double the total for the Braves, Dodgers and Astros.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, third baseman Rafael Devers, center fielder Enrique Hernandez and designated hitter Kyle Schwarber hit two home runs apiece through Boston's first five playoff games.
The Astros haver four players -- Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley and Jose Altuve -- with a batting average of .300 or better this postseason.
The Astros led MLB with a .267 team batting average, 863 runs and a .339 on-base percentage in the regular season. The Red Sox ranked second in the American League with a .261 average and tied the Dodgers with an MLB-best six players in their lineup who hit at least 20 home runs.
The Astros were 5-2 against the Red Sox in the regular season. Red Sox right-handed pitcher Nathan Eovaldi is expected to face Astros right-handed pitcher Luis Garcia in Game 2 on Saturday in Houston.
The series moves to Boston for Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5 (if necessary). The Astros earned home field advantage in the series due to their better regular-season record. They could host Game 6 and Game 7, if the series is extended into next weekend.
Dodgers vs. Braves
The Braves have the home field advantage in the NLCS. Game 1 is at 8:07 p.m. EDT Saturday in Atlanta and airs on TBS.
Left-handed pitcher Max Fried takes the mound against the Dodgers in Game 1. The Dodgers haven't named a starter, but could send ace right-handed pitcher Max Scherzer to the mound.
"Our expectation every year is to play through October," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters Thursday.
"You're going to have highs, lows and tough games, but I have no doubt our guys are going to come ready to beat the Braves in Game 1."
Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts leads all active players with a .458 average this postseason. He is 11 for 24 with a home run, four RBIs and 14 total bases in six playoff games.
Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger was the team's second-best hitter through the Wild Card Game and NLDS. He hit .294 with a double, six total bases and three RBIs.
Dodgers catcher Will Smith is tied for the league-lead with two home runs this postseason.
Austin Riley owns a .333 average this postseason for the Braves. Freeman and left fielder Eddie Rosario each hit .308 through the Braves four postseason games.
Fried allowed just three hits and struck out nine over six scoreless innings in one start this postseason. Scherzer allowed six hits and two runs in 12.1 innings over three appearances in the 2021 playoffs.
The Braves posted an MLB-best 1.54 ERA as a pitching staff this postseason. The Dodgers ranked second-best with a team ERA of 1.87. The Dodgers led the National League with 830 runs scored and posted an MLB-best 3.01 ERA as a pitching staff in the regular season.
Dodgers infielder Max Muncy injured his wrist in the regular-season finale. He missed the National League Wild Card Game and NLDS and is not expected to return for the NLCS. Muncy hit .249 with a team-high 36 home runs and 94 RBIs in the regular season.
Ticket prices for Game 1 of the NLCS range from $82 to more than $10,000 on the secondary market as of Friday afternoon. Atlanta's Truist Park is expected to host about 41,000 fans.
Schedule for postseason (in EDT)
ALCS Game 1: Red Sox at Astros at 8 p.m. on Fox
ALCS Game 2: Red Sox at Astros at 4:20 p.m. on Fox and FS1
NLCS Game 1: Dodgers at Braves at 8 p.m. on TBS
NLCS Game 2: Dodgers at Braves at 7:30 p.m. on TBS
ALCS Game 3: Astros at Red Sox at 8 p.m. on FS1
NLCS Game 3: Braves at Dodgers at TBD on TBS
ALCS Game 4: Astros at Red Sox at TBD on FS1
ALCS Game 5 (if necessary): Astros at Red Sox at TBD on FS1
NLCS Game 4: Braves at Dodgers at TBD on TBS
NLCS Game 5 (if necessary): Braves at Dodgers at TBD on TBS
ALCS Game 6 (if necessary): Red Sox at Astros at TBD on FS1
NLCS Game 6 (if necessary): Dodgers at Braves at TBD on TBS
ALCS Game 7 (if necessary): Red Sox at Astros at TBD on FS1
NLCS Game 7 (if necessary): Dodgers at Braves at TBD on TBS