Matt Marton/Associated Press
Thursday is the final day without postseason baseball for at least a week.
After an unusually fast ALDS and NLDS, the second round of the Major League Baseball postseason begins Friday with Game 1 of the NLCS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers.
The ALCS pitting the Houston Astros against the Boston Red Sox opens up Saturday night at Fenway Park.
Since all four teams were seen as World Series contenders before the postseason, the odds for each of them to win the title are low heading into the ALCS and NLCS, per OddsShark.
And then there were four. https://t.co/zkz6Us6fGL
Milwaukee In 6
Milwaukee’s lineup will be tested right away Friday, as Clayton Kershaw trots out to the mound for the Dodgers.
Kershaw will pitch in Game 1 of the NLCS on extra rest and off a tremendous outing in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves.
While an eight-inning performance is more of what we expect out of Kershaw, he’s had mixed results on the road in the last two postseasons.
The Brewers are hoping they get to Kershaw like the Astros did in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, which would force the Dodgers to outhit the home side at Miller Park.
Aaron Gash/Associated Press
During the regular season, the Brewers tied with the Chicago Cubs for the most home wins of any team in the National League.
Milwaukee reeled off two more home victories in the NLDS over the Colorado Rockies, and in order to put pressure on the defending NL champion, it must take Game 1.
Forcing Kershaw out of the game before the fifth inning will be made possible by the bats in the middle of the Milwaukee order.
If Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich reach base, Ryan Braun and Mike Moustakas should continue their strong performances at the plate, as the pair combined for nine hits in three games versus the Rockies.
By getting out to an early lead, the Brewers set a goal for their starters to reach the sixth or seventh inning before the dominant bullpen takes over.
That formula can be followed throughout the series, and it will lead to a home victory in Game 5 and a road triumph in Game 6 after tough sledding at Dodger Stadium in Games 3 and 4.
Containing Los Angeles’ top bats won’t be an easy task for the Milwaukee pitching staff, but it proved in the NLDS it’s up to the task by recording two straight shutouts to finish off the series.
Boston in 7
You can make a convincing argument for either the Astros or Red Sox to advance to the World Series.
Houston carries the most postseason experience of the four remaining teams after capturing the title in 2017, while the Red Sox have one of the best lineups in baseball and a powerful pitching staff anchored by Chris Sale.
What occurs beneath Sale in the Boston rotation could alter the shape of the series, as David Price struggled once again in October in Game 2 of the ALDS.
Charles Krupa/Associated Press
To start the series, Sale will oppose Justin Verlander in one of the top postseason pitching battles in recent history, and it’s a matchup we could see at least once more if the series goes the distance.
Price is currently slated to go against Gerrit Cole in Sunday’s Game 2, but if he comes anywhere close to repeating his 1.2-inning outing, Red Sox manager Alex Cora has to consider pulling him from the rotation in favor of Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello or another pitcher.
Price’s effectiveness on the mound could also affect the freshness of Boston’s bullpen, but the Red Sox will be able to cover up the shortcomings with their offense.
Although home-field advantage is important in any series, the Red Sox and Astros could trade road wins since they were the two best road teams in the American League in the regular season.
Houston’s 57-24 road mark was the same record posted by the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Both offenses will have a game in which they unleash three or four home runs, and there could be multiple occurrences of that given the talent in each lineup.
With the margins being so tight throughout the series, the AL pennant will come down to a Game 7 showdown between Sale and Verlander.
Sale is 12-6 at Fenway Park in his career and produced one of the best outings of the division series against the New York Yankees, as he struck out nine and conceded two earned runs over 6.1 innings.
If the left-hander posts similar numbers in Game 7, he’ll give the Red Sox an opportunity to return to the World Series for the first time since 2013.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90
Statistics obtained from Baseball Reference