The Houston Astros will host Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night, with Framber Valdez taking the ball against Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox.
The series features plenty of storylines, but Red Sox manager Alex Cora sits at the center of the drama thanks to his roles with both franchises over the past five seasons.
Cora ‘feels weird’ about return to Houston
Cora says he’s focused on helping Boston win the ALCS. Still, his past looms over the series. In 2017, Cora served as the bench coach for the Astros when they won the World Series. He would go on to lead the Red Sox to a World Series title as a rookie manager in 2018.
In 2020, the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal cast a pall over those achievements. MLB found that Cora was a significant part of the 2017 scandal, and the league suspended the manager for the entirety of the 2020 season. The Red Sox rehired Cora in November 2020, and the move has worked for them so far. Cora has the team back in the ALCS, but he acknowledges that there’s a lot of history wrapped up in this series.
“It feels weird because I was part of it,” Cora told reporters. “I made a mistake and paid the consequences. I’m still paying the consequences. For me, it’s a little bit hard. But it’s what we did. We put ourselves in this situation.”
Astros, Red Sox start struggling pitchers in Game 1
As for the series itself, both teams are close to full strength after winning their ALDS matchups in just four games. The Astros did leave starter Lance McCullers Jr. off their roster for the series, however. McCullers suffered from tightness in his right elbow in Game 4 of the ALDS.
“Obviously anytime you have a pitcher coming out with a forearm anything, you want to take your precautions and just make sure you know exactly what’s going on,” Astros general manager James Click told reporters.
Valdez (11-6, 3.14 ERA) will pitch Game 1 of the ALCS for Houston. The 24-year-old lefty made one start against the White Sox in the ALDS, going just 4.1 innings and allowing four runs in a 9-4 Houston win. The Red Sox are countering with Sale (5-1, 3.16 ERA), who has struggled mightily as of late. Sale went just one inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 2 of the ALDS and lasted just 2.1 innings in his final regular-season start after enjoying an excellent stretch run for Boston.
Oddsmakers are giving the Astros the edge in the matchup at home. FanDuel Sportsbook lists Houston as a -144 pick in Game 1 of the ALCS, with the Red Sox coming in at +122. Those numbers largely reflect the overall look of the seven-game series, with Houston rating as a slightly larger -146 favorite to move on to the World Series.