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Red Sox/Astros

What better way to kick off the post-Wild Card portion of the playoffs than with a matchup of two longtime aces starting Game 1 of a postseason series for teams that acquired them within the past year to do just that. After finishing the regular season with a three-game series at Fenway Park, the Red Sox and Astros take things to Minute Maid Park to start a best-of-five clash. Chris Sale is making the first playoff start of his career, while Justin Verlander is taking the mound in a playoff game for the 17th time.

Boston Red Sox (Chris Sale) at Houston Astros (Justin Verlander), 4:08 PM ET

PECOTA odds of winning: 68% Astros, 32% Red Sox

Projected Starting Lineups

Red Sox vs. Verlander (R)

Astros vs. Sale (L)

Xander Bogaerts (R) SS

George Springer (R) CF

Eduardo Nunez (R) DH

Alex Bregman (R) 3B

Andrew Benintendi (L) LF

Jose Altuve (R) 2B

Mookie Betts (R) RF

Carlos Correa (R) SS

Mitch Moreland (L) 1B

Evan Gattis (R) DH

Dustin Pedroia (R) 2B

Josh Reddick (L) RF

Rafael Devers (L) 3B

Yulieski Gurriel (R) 1B

Sandy Leon (S) C

Marwin Gonzalez (S) LF

Jackie Bradley (L) CF

Brian McCann (L) C

Injuries/Availability

Bogaerts moved to the leadoff spot in mid-September when Nunez got hurt, hitting .321/.430/.449 with 21 runs scored in his final 20 games. As part of that shift, the Red Sox also moved Betts to the cleanup spot, where his team-leading 24 homers are a more traditional fit. Christian Vazquez was Boston’s primary catcher during the regular season, but Leon was paired with Sale in 30 of 32 starts and the battery had a ton of success. Nunez is healthy enough to play again, so he starts at DH, pushing Hanley Ramirez to the bench and Pedroia down in the order. The bullpen should be fresh.

Reddick, who hits left-handed and has been banged up of late, is starting against Sale, with August waiver pickup Cameron Maybin on the bench after playing a big role down the stretch following Jake Marisnick’s season-ending thumb injury. The bullpen should be fresh.

Outlook

Verlander was brilliant for Houston down the stretch, going 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in five starts while racking up a 43/5 K/BB ratio in 34 innings. Sale was brilliant for Boston all season and figures to finish runner-up for the Cy Young award, but he did struggle (by his standards, at least) a bit in September with a 3.72 ERA in five starts. Of course, even within those “struggles” he managed 44 strikeouts in 29 innings and tossed eight innings of shutout, 13-strikeout ball in his second-to-last outing.

Boston ranked just 12th among American League teams with a .729 OPS against right-handed pitchers, and the Red Sox have managed just six earned runs in six starts against Verlander since 2015. Meanwhile, the Astros ranked second in the American League with an .814 OPS against left-handed pitchers and it’s easy to see why, as Houston can stack the lineup with right-handed power.

PECOTA sees the Astros as heavy favorites in Game 1, even with Sale on the mound for the Red Sox.

Yankees/Indians

Cleveland’s reward for steamrolling its way into the AL’s top spot with a 22-game winning streak and a 55-20 second-half record is a matchup against the team with the second-best record in the league after the All-Star break. These two teams ranked first and second in run differential this season, with the Indians leading all of baseball at +254 and the Yankees finishing runner-up at +198.

Cleveland’s bullpen was one of the biggest stories of last October, but now New York is following that same blueprint with a five-headed monster of flame-throwing relievers. Luis Severino failed to make it out of the first inning of the Wild Card game, but New York added Sonny Gray at midseason for just this type of assignment. Meanwhile, the Indians surprised everyone by choosing Trevor Bauer, not Corey Kluber, as the Game 1 starter, opting to hold back the likely Cy Young winner for Game 2 and (if necessary) Game 5.

New York Yankees (Sonny Gray) at Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 7:30 PM ET

PECOTA odds of winning: 62% Indians, 38% Yankees

Projected Starting Lineups

Yankees vs. Bauer (R)

Indians vs. Gray (R)

Brett Gardner (L) LF

Francisco Lindor (S) SS

Aaron Judge (R) RF

Jason Kipnis (L) CF

Gary Sanchez (R) C

Jose Ramirez (S) 2B

Didi Gregorius (L) SS

Edwin Encarnacion (R) DH

Starlin Castro (R) 2B

Jay Bruce (L) RF

Greg Bird (L) 1B

Carlos Santana (S) 1B

Todd Frazier (R) 3B

Lonnie Chisenhall (L) LF

Chase Headley (S) DH

Roberto Perez (R) C

Aaron Hicks (S) CF

Giovanny Urshela (R) 3B

Injuries/Availability

New York emptied out the bullpen in Tuesday night’s Wild Card game win over Minnesota, getting 26 outs from Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Aroldis Chapman. Robertson in particular went above and beyond his normal workload, logging a career-high 3 1/3 innings on 52 pitches. Of course, the Yankees’ incredible bullpen depth means they can give Robertson a break and simply lean heavily on Dellin Betances to set up Chapman in Game 1. Hicks starts over Jacoby Ellsbury in center field.

Cleveland added Bruce at the trade deadline in part because of Michael Brantley’s uncertain health status, and the Indians are also without outfielders Bradley Zimmer and Brandon Guyer. On a related note, Kipnis is suddenly a starting center fielder after an 11-game crash course at the new position. Chisenhall starts over Austin Jackson in left field, adding another left-handed bat. Yan Gomes was the Indians’ primary catcher during the regular season, but always gives way to Perez with Bauer on the mound. The bullpen should be fresh.

Outlook

Terry Francona’s decision to bypass Kluber in Game 1 leaves a lot of room for second-guessing, but Bauer went 8-1 with a 2.57 ERA and 79/18 K/BB ratio in August and September after carrying a 5.25 ERA through the first four months. However, his overall ERA was above 4.00 for the sixth time in six seasons and he mostly struggled last October, including a bloody mess of a two-out start against the Blue Jays in the ALCS.

Gray was somewhat underwhelming for the Yankees after coming over from the A’s in a July 31 blockbuster deal, going 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA and 59/27 K/BB ratio in 65 innings while serving up 11 homers in 11 starts. He failed to make it out of the fifth inning in two of his final three starts, but did fare well against the Indians on August 3 and July 14 (while getting knocked around by them on May 30).

PECOTA sees the Indians as sizable favorites in Game 1, and a series-opening win with Kluber able to start two of the final four games would put the Yankees in trouble right away.