The American League Divisional Series is about to begin and the eyes of New England are following the Boston Red Sox as they begin their quest for a fourth 21st Century World Series title.
First pitch of Game 1 takes place from Houston at 4 p.m. EST on MLB Network, with Bob Costas, Jim Kaat and Jon Paul Morosi on the call.
Here in Manchester, Comcast subscribers can watch the game on Channel 269. MLB Network Is also available on DirectTV, Dish Network, PlayStation Vue and many other streaming options.
The game will be on the radio locally on WEEI, 103.7 FM with Tim Neverett and Joe Castiglione.
If you’re here in Manchester and watching or listening to today’s game, but haven’t been following the Red Sox this season, here are a few things to watch for.
Making the Sale
Chris Sale’s poor performance last week against Toronto may have cost him the AL Cy Young Award, but it may have given him more determination as he starts for Boston today.
Sale (17-8, 2.90 ERA) came to Beantown this year after languishing outside of the playoffs for seven years with the Chicago White Sox. The last time he pitched in a playoff game was in 2010, while pitching for Florida Gulf Coast University.
Boston manager John Farrell will likely keep Sale deep into the ballgame. Currently, the starters for Game 3 as well Game 4 and 5 if necessary, have not yet been named by Farrell, indicating the Red Sox evolving bullpen situation will be crucial later in the series.
The Other Ace
Facing Sale will be Justin Verlander, the longtime Detroit Tigers ace traded to Houston earlier this season.
Verlander (15-8, 3.36) is a perfect 5-0 since becoming an Astro, allowing just four runs in 34 innings of work.
Unlike Sale, Verlander has an extensive playoff portfolio, although he’s perhaps best known for dropping two games in the 2006 World Series.
Boston’s hitters have a combined lifetime .211 batting average against Verlander, grabbing three runs in five innings in their last appearance against him, an 11-3 victory against the Tigers on June 10.
Longing for the Long Ball
One key weakness for the Red Sox this season has been the lack of home run production, going counter to the general trend of increasing home runs found elsewhere in the majors.
With 168 home runs during the regular season, Boston finished 27th out of 30 Major League teams, 40 less than the 2016 squad.
That difference comes largely from the retirement of David Ortiz, who contributed 38 home runs last year to cap off his career.
Despite the lack of dingers, Boston was still a respectable sixth among AL teams in runs scored, accumulating more stolen bases than any other AL playoff team.
Still, they pale in comparison to the opposing Astros’ offensive production this season, which posted one of the best first halves of any baseball team ever.