The American League Central and West division winners kind of flew under the radar in a season dominated by the National League West battle between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers and the ubercompetitive AL East, which produced both AL Wild Card teams.
But, the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros won their respective divisions comfortably and are both really good teams with tons of high-end talent. So, their AL Division Series matchup, which starts on Thursday night in Houston, should be a great one.
These teams are also a nice contrast in terms of strengths and weaknesses. While both were top-five offenses, they scored in different ways. The Astros were one of the best teams at avoiding strikeouts and led baseball in on-base percentage despite not walking a ton, which shows just how effective their hitters are at putting the ball in play (with hard contact). They led baseball in batting average and were ninth in home runs.
On the other hand, the White Sox were merely middle-of-the-pack in home runs and strikeouts but managed to score the seventh-most runs in the majors by drawing the fourth-most walks and posting a solid if unspectacular batting average and slugging percentage. They leaned heavily on José Abreu (117 RBIs) to drive runners in as he was the only Chicago player with more than 62 RBIs. Due to various long-term injuries to key players, the White Sox relied on guys throughout their organization — many of whom aren’t even on Chicago’s postseason roster — to chip in.
The BetUS Sportsbook has the Astros as -140 series favorites and the White Sox as +110 series underdogs. Thursday’s first pitch from Minute Maid Park is set for 4:07 p.m. ET.
The White Sox are still deciding between Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito to start Game 1. Carlos Rodón and Dylan Cease are options for later in the series while former Astro Dallas Keuchel may not even make Chicago’s postseason roster. The Astros’ rotation plans are also still up in the air, but the group of Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, and José Urquidy gives Dusty Baker plenty of reliable arms. Veteran Zack Greinke is slated to be a bullpen option.
Houston Lineup is Deadly
Clearly, the current MLB lines like Houston’s chances of reaching the AL Championship Series. It’s not going to be easy for the White Sox — even with one of the best bullpens in baseball — to hold down the Astros’ offensive attack. Even with George Springer in Toronto, Houston’s core of Alex Bregman, free-agent-to-be Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Yulieski Gurriel and Yordan Álvarez is, frankly, insane. They all put up big numbers despite Bregman and Brantley missing significant time due to injury. But, they are all healthy now and that means baseball’s deepest lineup is still intact.
What has separated this Astros team from past years, though, is Kyle Tucker. The former top prospect showed promise during his first few seasons but couldn’t stay on the field. In 2021, he hit 30 home runs in 140 games with a .947 OPS. He even steals bases and plays plus-outfield defense. Tucker extends the Houston lineup even more and is another scary left-handed bat for opponents to worry about.
Ancillary players like Aledmys Díaz, Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers and even Jason Castro have all contributed as well, which gives the Astros some useful bench options. This team is just loaded from top to bottom. If you’re betting online, roll with Houston.
Chicago Too Top-Heavy
Abreu shoulders so much of the load for the White Sox offense. Tim Anderson is a great table-setter and the young trio of Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez all have superstar potential that seems to be on the cusp of breaking out, but none of them have shown the ability to consistently help out Abreu enough in the power department. Robert and Jiménez both could have put up similar numbers to Abreu if they stayed healthy. It’s just a little too optimistic to rely on those guys against a really good Astros team.
Yasmani Grandal also dealt with some nagging injuries during the season though he produced whenever he was on the field, hitting 23 home runs in 92 games and walking a staggering 87 times in just 375 plate appearances. He is going to be very important for Chicago’s offense. The White Sox also need trade-deadline pickup César Hernández to return to form. Rookies Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets have displayed impressive power, but they’re both limited defensively so they’ll likely be confined to DH duty.
The White Sox just can’t match Houston’s depth so the MLB odds are siding with the Astros.
White Sox Bullpen Could Be Key
If there is any place in this matchup that Chicago has an advantage, it’s in the bullpen. The White Sox have two of baseball’s top closers in Craig Kimbrel and Liam Hendriks and also have Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet as flame-throwing, late-inning options. Aaron Bummer, José Ruiz, and Ryan Tepera are also reliable relievers who Tony La Russa can count on. So, if Chicago’s starters struggle, there will be players to turn to in the middle and late innings.
After Ryan Pressly, Kendall Graveman and Christian Javier, the Astros’ bullpen can get dicey. Ryne Stanek, Yimi García, Blake Taylor and Phil Maton have been fine but Houston would be hard-pressed to put the fate of a playoff game in their hands. Greinke could be an interesting multi-inning option, but there’s always the risk that he isn’t as good out of the bullpen as he is when he starts games. Advantage definitely goes to the White Sox here.
Still, in terms of MLB picks, the Astros are a safe choice overall.