Boston Red Sox (93-69) vs. Houston Astros (101-61)
The Red Sox -- in their first season with left-hander Chris Sale and without slugger David Ortiz -- have had as uninspiring a 93-win season as team could have while winning the American League East. It was obvious they missed Ortiz. As good as that Red Sox lineup can be, it never felt dangerous.
The Red Sox had two exceedingly ugly moments in 2017 that, to me, point to a lack of leadership from manger John Farrell.
The first one came from the beanball wars against Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado early in the season as sick retribution for a sloppy, but not illegal, slide by Machado. The other incident -- with larger ramifications -- was their admitted cheating by using electronic equipment against the New York Yankees to steal signs. Sign-stealing has gone on as long as signs have been given in baseball, but what sets this apart is the use of modern technology.
Aside from those issues, the Astros are just a much better team. Their lineup is more consistently dangerous. And since right-hander Justin Verlander arrived in Houston, he has pitched in five games and gone 5-0. In 34 innings, Verlander has 43 strikeouts and just five walks, with a 1.06 ERA and 0.64 WHIP. He'll face the Red Sox twice. Case closed.
Houston's bullpen is also much stronger and versatile, although Red Sox lefty David Price could be a moveable piece that could influence this series. I haven't even had to play the "Houston Strong" card. That is a factor as well.
PICK: Astros in four games
New York Yankees (91-71) vs. Cleveland Indians (102-60)
If you don't think the Yankees are an exceedingly dangerous team at this point, think again.
Indians manager Terry Francona has slotted his best pitcher, right-hander Corey Kluber, for Game 2, behind right-hander Trevor Bauer, who will start Game 1. While some fans may think this is crazy, it's actually a show of respect from Francona. Kluber is now set up to start Game 5, if necessary, on full rest. If the Indians get a win in Game 1 behind Bauer, the series is all but over thanks to a Game 2 matchup pitting Kluber vs. Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia. Also, if the Indians win the series without having to use Kluber in Game 5, he will be well-rested and ready for the ALCS opener.
The fact that I'm be picking the Indians doesn't lessen my respect for what Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has done during the past 14-15 months. They are a scary team, as evidenced by just how much depth they have in their bullpen. (They didn't even blink when they went down 3-0 in the first inning of the one-game wild-card playoff with the Minnesota Twins Oct. 3)
In light of right-hander Luis Severino's flame-out during the wild-card game -- in which he failed to get out of the first inning -- it will be interesting to see is manager Joe Girardi starts him during the ALDS or moves right-hander Masahiro Tanaka up for a key start in Game 3. I had originally thought Girardi might use Tanaka the way Boston will use Price, but now all bets are off.
PICK: Indians in three games