The matchup between the high-flying Boston

Red Sox and the defending World Series champion should be epic , and the Game 1 showdown between Chris Sale and Justin Verlander will set the tone for the American League Championship Series.The Red Sox won 108 games this year, and with their ace on the mound, it seems likely they will be at their best. However, the Houston Astros won 103 games in winning the American League West, and they compiled a 54-27 road record, which was the best in the Major Leagues. ALCS ScheduleAll Times ET.Game 1:Saturday, October 13 at Boston (8:09 p.m., TBS)Game 2:Sunday, October 14 at Boston (7:09 p.m., TBS)Game 3:Tuesday, October 16 at Houston (5:09 p.m., TBS)Game 4:Wednesday, October 17 at Houston (8:39 p.m., TBS)Game 5:Thursday, October 18 at Houston (8:09 p.m., TBS)*Game 6:Saturday, October 20 at Boston (5:09 p.m., TBS)*Game 7:Sunday Zack Greinke Jersey , October 21 at Boston (7:39 p.m., TBS)**-if necessary Odds(via OddsShark)Series OddsHouston (-145; bet $145 to win $100)Boston (+115; bet $100 to win $115)The Astros beat the Red Sox 3-1 in last year's American League Division Series matchup, and the rematch appears compelling. A year ago, Alex Cora was the bench coach for manager A.J. Hinch and the Astros, and this year, he is managing the Red Sox.The team he is leading appears to be more aggressive and versatile than last year's version, and that's one of the reasons the Red Sox may have a much better chance of winning the series in 2018.Cora has said he learned quite a bit about postseason managing from Hinch."Be prepared to make adjustments throughout鈥攖hat's the most important thing," Cora said, per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. "One thing I learned last year, to win a World Series is going to take 25, 27 guys to do it, regardless of their roles."In a perfect world, the starter goes six. You have the seventh inning guy, eighth inning, and ninth inning and you move on. To get 27 outs at this stage right now is very difficult. And sometimes you have to go to Plan B or Plan C."The Red Sox are led by a pair of MVP candidates in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. Betts batted a league-leading .346, hit 32 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 129 runs scored. Martinez led the American League with 130 runs batted in, bashed 43 home runs and hit a robust .330.Those two get plenty of support in the lineup from Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi.The Astros have a formidable lineup featuring Alex Bregman Paul Goldschmidt Jersey , George Springer and Jose Altuve. Bregman had the best year with a .286/.394/.532 slash line, while belting 31 homers and driving in 103 runs.Springer is proving to be one of the postseason's best home-run hitters, while Altuve is getting stronger following an injury-plagued 2018 season.Sale was on top of his game in the ALDS against the New York Yankees, as he got the win in Game 1 and then pitched a perfect eighth inning in the clinching Game 4 of the series. Sale showed no signs of the shoulder issues that slowed him in the second half of the season, and he had an earned-run average of 2.84 along with nine strikeouts in 6.1 innings against New York.Cora has decided to start David Price in Game 2 of the series even though the lefty lasted just 1.2 innings in his only appearance against the Yankees. He gave up three earned runs, two home runs, walked two and struck out none.Price has struggled during his postseason career as a starter, but Cora is giving him a chance to get back to his regular-season form when he was 16-7 with 177 strikeouts in 176.1 innings.Verlander has the experience and power to match Sale pitch-for-pitch in the opener. He was 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA during the regular season and struck out 290 batters in 214.0 innings. Verlander earned an ALDS win over the Cleveland Indians as he gave up two hits and two runs in 5.1 innings.Gerrit Cole will pitch for the Astros in Game 2, and he was 15-5 with a 2.88 ERA this season.PredictionThis should be the tightest of series between the two best teams in the American League, and likely all of baseball.The Red Sox are a sharper and more competitive team than they were a year ago, and give Cora credit for turning his team into a destructive unit. After getting beaten by the Astros last year, they are anxious to get some revenge and also get a chance to represent the American League in the World Series.The two teams are equal or at least close in most areas, but the Astros appear to have the stronger bullpen. If any area is likely to break down for the Red Sox, it's the team's relief pitchers.Despite that, we like the Red Sox to win because of their home-field advantage, and the leadership values of Betts and Martinez.Cora has also shown he is not afraid to use his starters out of the bullpen in the postseason.The Red Sox move on to the World Series after beating the Astros in seven games. The Yu Darvish signing was supposed to hoist the Chicago Cubs. Instead, it's taken less than a year to start haunting them.And so it will go for the next five years.It was easy to be optimistic when Darvish and the Cubs joined forces in February. They sorely needed a top-of-the-rotation starter, and he was arguably the best starter on the free-agent market. Moreover , his six-year, $126 million contract was less than he was projected for.Then he debuted with a five-run dud March 31. Then he was sitting on a 4.95 ERA on May 20 through eight starts. Then he was sidelined for months with arm trouble.Now, following a long and (according to the man himself) arduous attempt at a comeback, the 32-year-old's season is over. He's been officially shut down with a triceps strain and a stress reaction in his right elbow.There is some good news regarding the four-time All-Star, who arrived on the North Side with a 3.42 career ERA and the highest strikeout rate in history. Although he had Tommy John surgery in 2015, that has no bearing on his current status."I should note there was some good news with the testing," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told reporters. "His ligament that was reconstructed looked really good and in place and stable."For their part, the Cubs could be in a worse spot. Although they haven't gotten what they expected out of Darvish, they still have the best record in the National League.That's about the extent of the good news, however.Dylan Buell/Getty ImagesDespite his early misadventures, the Cubs were still anticipating having Darvish back in their rotation for the stretch run. With that nixed, they must move forward with a group that's struggled with a 4.75 ERA since the All-Star break.There's a chance this costs the Cubs their lead in the NL Central. There's an even better chance that it costs them in the postseason, where they'll be chasing their second World Series title in three years.And while Darvish might return happy, healthy and ready to go in 2019, the more realistic outlook is that he's only begun to be a drain on the Cubs.He is, after all, a 32-year-old power pitcher with 2,173 professional innings on his arm Randy Johnson Jersey , as well as two season-wrecking injuries on his record. In all likelihood, the twilight of his stardom is here for good.The Cubs must have figured that Darvish's breakdown would come eventually, but they surely hoped it wouldn't be until after they'd gotten their money's worth. That's presumably why they agreed to the specific structure of his contract.It's not actually a four-year, $126 million deal. Because of the opt-out clause after 2019, it's really a two-year, $45 million deal with a four-year, $81 million player option.Had Darvish lived up to his billing in his first two years with the Cubs, he likely would have taken advantage of his opt-out and reentered the open market. That may have been just fine by the Cubs, as it could have been their ticket out of paying big sums to an aging hurler.It's now all but certain that he won't do that.Even if Darvish bounces back in 2019, he'll be a 33-year-old with a checkered past. The free-agent market only mustered $75 million for James Shields in 2015, when he was 33 and had a long history of durability and productivity. There's no way the same market will value Darvish at more than that. The smart thing for him will be to opt into the final four seasons of his current deal.As it is, the Cubs are already ticketed for a difficult financial situation this winter.Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesGiven how much his own stardom has waned, it's doubtful that Jason Heyward will exercise his opt-out and spare the Cubs from the five years and $106 million remaining on his contract.While Cole Hamels will probably be gone by way of a $6 million buyout, Jose Quintana ($10.5 million team option), Pedro Strop ($6.25 million team option) and Brandon Kintzler ($5 million player option) are likely sticking around. That would bring the Cubs to $152.5 million in guaranteed money for just 13 players.Elsewhere, Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell will be heading for second rounds of arbitration. Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber will be up for the first time. If anything, Baseball Reference's projection of $31.4 million in arbitration payouts may be conservative.As such , the 2019 Cubs are already projected to beat the franchise-record $182.4 million payroll with which they opened 2018. Barring some drastic cost-cutting measures, that plus fear of the luxury tax might preclude or restrict pursuits of big-ticket free agents such as Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.Different things might have been in store for the Cubs after 2019 if Darvish were to exercise his opt-out. But assuming he doesn't, things aren't slated to be that different ahead of 2020. Some money (including Ben Zobrist's four-year, $56 million deal) will be coming off their books, but those savings could be more than wiped out by additional arbitration costs for Bryant, Hendricks, Russell, Baez and Schwarber.In the meantime, the Cubs are sitting on a farm system that checked in at No. 29 on Bleacher Report's most recent rankings. This won't necessarily bar them from blockbuster trades, but it won't make them any easier.By winning the 2016 World Series despite getting next to nothing out of Heyward, it is some comfort that the current Cubs regime has proved that it knows how to survive a contract flop.But that looks like child's play relative to the test that lies ahead. They'll be tasked with withstanding two contract flops this time around, and without the advantage of ultra-cheap talent at their core.The Cubs aren't in this position because of a unique brand of incompetence. Sure, maybe they could have re-signed Jake Arrieta for less and avoided all this trouble. But Darvish did seem to have fewer red flags at the time, and no win-now team with deep pockets should ever be faulted for betting big.Rather, this is a case of what usually happens to win-now teams that bet big: Inevitably, their costs soar and cracks begin to form.Since the Cubs can't travel back in time and do things differently, all they can do now is try to soldier through it. Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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