In the final weeks of the regular season, the bulk of the baseball world’s attention shifted to the AL Wild Card race, with five teams fighting for two spots. Meanwhile, the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox easily took care of business in their divisional races, quietly advancing to the ALDS which begins with Game 1 on Thursday at Minute Maid Park.

Astros White Sox odds ALDS
The Houston Astros will host Game 1 of the ALDS against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday. (Image: Bob Levey/Getty)

Lance McCullers Jr. will take the mound for the Astros in Game 1, while the White Sox counter with Lance Lynn.

McCullers brings big game experience for Astros

McCullers put up a 13-5 record with a 3.16 ERA this season. But Houston (95-67) has reason to believe in McCullers that go far beyond the numbers. He has big game experience, starting Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, among other huge playoff starts. He also beat the White Sox twice this season. Put those factors together, and McCullers stood out as the obvious choice for Game 1 starter.

“I’m not putting too much stock in it,” McCullers told reporters. “I feel like I have had a nice season, the team and organization, [manager Dusty Baker], they recognize that to give me the ball in Game 1, which I’m very excited about. At the same time, I’m going to go out there and just be myself. I feel like what I bring to the table, I have the ability to pitch with anyone.”

The White Sox (93-69) were the first team to clinch a divisional title this year, ultimately outpacing the Cleveland Indians by 13 games in the AL Central. But Chicago knows that clinching a playoff spot early doesn’t guarantee anything in the postseason. Last year, the White Sox were the first team in the American League to make the playoffs, but lost to Oakland in the first round.

Chicago focusing on World Series run

Rather than dwell on that experience, Chicago says it learned its lesson and will be focused on the ultimate goal of winning the World Series this time around.

“Last year, in the shortened season, it was like a sprint. We played really good baseball. We clinched a spot in the postseason,” White Sox starter Lucas Giolito told reporters. “From there, we kind of lost that edge. Whereas we learned from that and this year the ultimate goal is winning a ring. We won the division. We celebrated, but at the same time, we celebrated where in the back of mind, we knew, ‘Okay, we are going to continue to play good baseball and finish this regular season strong, and be fully prepared for the playoffs.’”

Oddsmakers see a tight series, but the Astros have the advantage – both overall and in Game 1. DraftKings Sportsbook lists Houston and McCullers as the -130 pick to win on Thursday over Chicago (+110). Those odds perfectly mirror the series odds, with DraftKings listing the Astros as a -130 pick to advance to the ALCS.

One key factor for the White Sox could be the availability of first baseman Jose Abreu, who has been battling flu-like symptoms. Chicago says Abreu – the 2020 AL MVP – is improving, and that the illness is not related to COVID-19.