Thursday brings us the first American League Division Series games, starting with the winners of the AL West and Central. The Houston Astros and White Sox are quite evenly matched on paper, but each hold strengths in different areas, making this a great series to watch.
Here are our best bets on the series from Adam Burke and Derek Carty:
Houston Astros (-130) vs. Chicago White Sox (+ 110)
Outside of the Dodgers and the Blue Jays, no offense in baseball projects better than Houston’s. For all the garbage can jokes and memes that circulated prior to the season, most studies showed any impact was likely modest at best (not to mention several years ago anyway), so any Astros offensive drop-off expectations were likely to be unfounded coming into 2021 -- and that’s certainly what we witnessed. Houston led Major League Baseball with a 116 wRC+ (a measure of observed offensive quality adjusted for ballpark), and an incredible 11 Astros players posted a wRC+ that was above average this season!
The White Sox offense is certainly formidable, but they are at a disadvantage to Houston in this regard. They finished fourth in baseball in wRC+ , but also had several players overperform their projected talent levels. Comparing their actual wOBA to THE BAT X’s projected “true talent” wOBA, Yasmani Grandal (.402 vs. .345), Luis Robert (.399 vs. .346), Adam Engel (.354 vs. .303) and Gavin Sheets (.352 vs. .305) illustrate this well. This isn’t to say that the White Sox don’t have a good offense or that young players like Luis Robert and Gavin Sheets aren’t terrific prospects with big-time potential, but they likely received a little bit of luck on top of their talent this year. There are also just obvious holes in their lineup that Houston generally lacks, with Cesar Hernandez (or Leury Garcia) at second, Adam Engel (or Garcia) in right field and the revolving door at DH.