Best bets for Astros-White Sox ALDS

By VSiN Staff  (VSiN.com) 

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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)

Carty:

Offense

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.

Starting Pitching

Where Chicago gains its biggest advantage is with pitching.  Their starting rotation is elite, perhaps only bested by Milwaukee and the Dodgers in all of baseball.  Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon project via THE BAT among the top 25 pitchers in baseball, while Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease project among the top 40.  The Dodgers are the only other team to boast at least four top-40 pitchers.  (It’s worth mentioning that Rodon had been working back from injury at the end of the year and we don’t know exactly what he’ll be capable of this postseason, but the Sox seem optimistic that he’ll be used in some capacity.)

The Astros, meanwhile, have just two in the top 40: Lance McCullers (No. 26) and Framber Valdez (No. 28).  This mean they’ll be able to match Chicago through Games 1 and 2 and a possible Game 5, but Chicago will have a big pitching advantage in Games 3 and 4 as Houston’s Luis Garcia (No. 90) and Jose Urquidy (No. 121) are mid-rotation arms at best.

Bullpen

No team in baseball has a bullpen that can match Chicago’s, either in terms of high-end arms or depth.  Aaron Bummer is second only to Milwaukee’s Josh Hader among relievers.  Liam Hendriks completes the trio of relievers that project for a context-neutral ERA under 3.00, via THE BAT.  You can’t get more of a sure thing to lock down the eighth and ninth innings than Bummer and Hendriks, and they have depth on top of depth for the earlier innings as well.  The White Sox have six relievers who project for a context-neutral ERA under 4.00 (something only three other teams in baseball can claim).  While Houston’s offense is elite, they’ll be facing pitching that is even better.

Houston’s bullpen is pretty good on its own merits, even if it can’t match Chicago.  Ryan Pressly is a high-quality late-inning reliever, but the Astros’ real strength is in depth.  They have a bullpen full of serviceable relievers without any truly bad ones.

Speed, defense and baserunning

While the White Sox have the better pitching, Houston can claim the better defense to support its hurlers.  They finished second in baseball in Statcast’s Outs Above Average this year and among the top 10 in UZR.  Chicago’s defense is fairly average, as both teams are in the speed and base-running department.

Final Report Card

 

Astros

White Sox

Offense

A

B+

Rotation

B

A+

Bullpen

B

A+

Defense

A

C+

Baserunning

C-

C

 

Best bet

All told, this is a pretty evenly-matched pair of teams, but the Astros are ultimately the better squad.  And judging by the odds, they are the better team by enough to be worth betting on.  THE BAT X has them with a 61% chance to take Game 1, but their -135 odds imply just a 57.5% chance.  Betting on favorites doesn’t always offer that kind of value, so get in before the lines change.

Picks: Houston Game 1 ML -135

Burke: The White Sox would look like a much more daunting opponent for the Astros if Carlos Rodon was healthy. Rodon went from a top contender for the AL Cy Young to throwing just 28 innings over August and September. He pitched well when he was out there, but Rodon may not even be used in this series following a big velocity drop.

Velocity is the key to success for the White Sox. Per Codify Baseball, the White Sox threw 6,626 pitches of at least 95 mph. The Yankees were second with 5,112, followed by the Red Sox with 5,033 and the Brewers with 4,966. Maybe non-playoff teams should take notice, but I digress.

As an Indians (now Guardians) fan, I can poke the same hole in the White Sox that I did with the Indians for the last four years: The AL Central isn’t the dumpster fire it once was, but it was the only division with one team to finish with a winning record. The Astros were among the best offensive teams in baseball all season long. By wRC+ , Minnesota was 1 percent above league average, Cleveland and Detroit were 7 percent below and Kansas City was 11 percent below.

The caveat is that Chicago’s offense is way better than Cleveland’s was at any point during their window of contention, but you really do have to wonder about Chicago’s pitching staff in this series. Per Baseball Savant, the Astros were sixth in wOBA on pitches of 95+ mph. Houston also had the lowest strikeout percentage in baseball. I’m not sure the White Sox pitching staff can carry the load.

That means it will fall on the offense, which isn’t a bad place to be with all that talent, but the White Sox really feasted on bad pitching. They scored 229 runs in the 38 games against the Twins and Tigers, but they scored just 4.1 runs per game against teams that finished .500 or better. They also only played 56 games against those teams.

Houston, meanwhile, played 77 games against teams that finished .500 or above. The Astros are also a stronger front office and have shown to have excellent advance scouting reports in the playoffs. The White Sox haven’t really been in that situation recently.

The one great equalizer here could be the White Sox bullpen against the Astros bullpen. Houston has had relief issues all season long. The White Sox finished the regular season second in reliever fWAR, trailing only Tampa Bay. Even after Houston made some Trade Deadline moves, the White Sox nearly doubled the Astros in reliever fWAR from August 1 through the end of the regular season and posted a much better FIP.

I’ll give the slight nod to the Astros here, but if the White Sox can play from in front, their bullpen can be the deciding factor in the series. That should make for some good live betting opportunities within the games.

Pick: Houston Astros (-130)

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