MLB Roundtable: ALDS Predictions

By SI Staff

Three of the four remaining American League teams made it to the World Series in each of the last four seasons. 

The Astros, who host the White Sox on Thursday afternoon, won it all in 2017 and lost the 2019 World Series. The Red Sox beat the Dodgers in 2018, while their opponent Thursday night, the Rays, lost to the Dodgers in last year's Fall Classic. While these three teams have cycled through players, coaches and front office personnel, they do have some of the experience necessary to make it through the AL bracket.

And then there are the White Sox, a roster of mostly young, dynamic players mixed with a few veterans—who are managed by 77-year-old Tony La Russa. There are plenty of story lines to follow in this round, from the five-decade relationship of La Russa and Houston manager Dusty Baker to the AL East rivalry between Boston and Tampa Bay. It should be fun.

With that, it's time for some ALDS predictions from Sports Illustrated's MLB staff.

Erik Williams/USA TODAY Sports

Tom Verducci

Matchup: Astros vs. White Sox

A coin flip of a series, Houston has the fifth game at home.

Prediction: Astros (five games)

Matchup: Rays vs. Red Sox

Boston needs a healthy J.D. Martinez. Tampa Bay has the deeper pitching staff.

Prediction: Rays (four games)

Stephanie Apstein

Matchup: Astros vs. White Sox

The White Sox are the most fun team in the playoffs, but the Astros might be the best. In another year, Chicago will be right there.

Prediction: Astros (five games)

Matchup: Rays vs. Red Sox

Alex Cora is a magician and the lineup is dangerous, but Boston just doesn't have the pitching. Tampa scores runs now (second in the majors!) and the bullpen remains lethal.

Prediction: Rays (four games)

Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports

Emma Baccellieri

Matchup: Astros vs. White Sox

This is my pick for the most fun and dynamic of all the divisional series—two clubs that are well-matched with a fascinating managerial pairing, plus lots of young, exciting talent. (Tim Anderson finally getting a national stage? Yes, please.) Houston has the best offense in the playoffs (113 OPS+) and Chicago has the pitching staff in the American League (117 ERA+). Ultimately, however, I think I'm swayed by the power of these Astros bats, and I think they'll come out on top.

Prediction: Astros (five games)

Matchup: Rays vs. Red Sox

These teams are obviously quite familiar with each other. Tampa Bay had the better record in head-to-head play this year, 11–8, but that isn't too important. The biggest difference here will be the gap in their bullpens. The Rays have one of the best in the game. The Red Sox ... very much do not.

Prediction: Rays (four games)

Will Laws

Matchup: Astros vs. White Sox

Whichever team wins this matchup will be my choice to represent the AL in the World Series. There are plenty of reasons to pick the Astros. Just to name a few: their postseason experience, their No. 1-ranked offense, Chicago's sub-.500 record against winning teams and Lance Lynn's spotty history against Houston's fastball-hunting hitters. But Chicago's lineup is finally at full strength after enduring a bunch of injuries, the bullpen has been quietly excellent in the second half and I like the White Sox' chances of winning Games 2 and 3 behind Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease. Giolito hurled a three-hit complete game against the Astros in July and recorded the third-lowest ERA (2.65) among AL starters in the second half. Cease recorded the AL's third-highest strikeout rate (31.9%), behind only Cy Young co-favorites Gerrit Cole and Robbie Ray, and seems primed for a breakout postseason outing.

Prediction: White Sox (five games)

Matchup: Rays vs. Red Sox

As a franchise, the Red Sox lost their underdog sheen a few World Series titles ago. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is still searching for its first Commissioner's Trophy. But the Rays are deserved favorites in this series. I have my reservations about their chances to make a deep run with an inexperienced, unorthodox rotation composed mostly of rookies and former relievers. But they possess the lineup versatility and bullpen depth to make things difficult for Boston in a five-game series. Boston's best starter, Chris Sale, will probably find it difficult to navigate through the Rays' righty-heavy lineup, which includes Randy Arozarena, Wander Franco, Nelson Cruz, Yandy Díaz and Mike Zunino. The Red Sox will also likely be without J.D. Martinez. It all just seems too much to overcome with Nathan Eovaldi limited to one appearance after his wild-card game heroics.

Prediction: Rays (four games)

Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports

Matt Martell

Matchup: Astros vs. White Sox

This is a tough one. Houston's strength is its offense, while Chicago's is its pitching. If you consider those two strengths on equal footing, turn to the flip side of them: Astros pitching vs. White Sox hitting. This isn't a one-sided affair either, but I'll give the edge to the White Sox, whose lineup is finally healthy after playing much of the season without multiple middle-of-the-order bats.

Prediction: White Sox (five games)

Matchup: Rays vs. Red Sox

I really don't trust Boston's bullpen. In a five-game series, the Red Sox could feasibly use starters as relievers to get through the back half of games. Tanner Houck, Garrett Richards and Eduardo Rodriguez could all be used in relief. Nathan Eovaldi will be limited to just one start during the ALDS, but as we saw in the 2018 World Series, he's willing to take the ball in any role. Maybe Alex Cora will turn to him in a high-leverage spot late in one of the games. 

In the end, the Rays have too much pitching depth and an offense that's much better than they've had in recent seasons. Brandon Lowe's bat went cold in last year's playoffs, and they still won the AL pennant. Don't expect that to happen again. Plus, Wander Franco is batting third and playing shortstop.

Prediction: Rays (five games)

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Nick Selbe

Matchup: Astros vs. White Sox

The starting pitching matchups here will be intriguing, and the White Sox possess one of the best bullpens in the league that will give Houston's lineup all it can handle. But the depth of the Astros lineup is too much for me to pick against, even if I see this series going all the way.

Prediction: Astros (five games)

Matchup: Rays vs. Red Sox

Nathan Eovaldi was brilliant against the Yankees in Tuesday's wild-card game, but having him now only be able to make one start against Tampa Bay will force Boston to use its less-reliable options. The Rays are the deeper and more talented team, and won 11 of 19 meetings in the regular season (including nine out of 13 in the second half). Tampa Bay will make a return to the ALCS for a rematch against the Astros.

Prediction: Rays (four games)

Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

Michael Shapiro

Matchup: Astros vs. White Sox

The Astros lead baseball in OBP and WRC+, and they enter the postseason with perhaps the sport’s deepest lineup. Even with a shaky bullpen, home field and a continued contract drive from Carlos Correa will vault Houston back to the ALCS

Prediction: Astros (four games)

Matchup: Rays vs. Red Sox

Tampa’s unproven rotation will make this a closer series than many assume, but the variety of arms in the bullpen will ultimately make the difference. Expect the ALDS to be the first of many dominant postseason series for Wander Franco as the Rays advance


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