Buckle up for an epic ALCS as 108-win Red Sox and 103-win Astros collide

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The Red Sox won 108 games, a franchise record for one of the most storied organizations in the sport — and they’re not even favored to win the series. The Astros are the defending champions and won 103 games behind their star-laden lineup and an even deeper pitching staff than last season. It’s the first meeting of 100-win teams in a championship series since 1977. It’s the first meeting of 103-win (or more) teams in any playoff series since the 1942 World Series. The 211 combined victories of the two teams is tied for second-most in any playoff series, behind only the 212 of the Yankees and Padres in the 1998 World Series.

The rosters are dripping with exciting, talented players — Mookie Betts is the likely AL MVP, Jose Altuve was last year’s MVP, J.D. Martinez chased a Triple Crown, Alex Bregman emerged as one of the game’s best all-around players. As a bonus, we get Justin Verlander facing Chris Sale — both Cy Young candidates — in the opener of the best-of-seven series.

“I think it’s the two best teams playing against each other,” Bregman said. “So it’s going to be fun. You’ve got two of the best fan bases in baseball, two of the best pitching staffs, two of the best offenses going at it.”

With this showdown, there is no need for extra motivation, no chips on the shoulder required to help you focus, no Sinatra songs needed to celebrate in victory. It’s the best versus the best, the pennant on the line, the journey that began in spring training now at its most intense.5

“You’ve got a chance to win four games and go to the World Series and win eight games and get a ring,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. Of course, there is another reward in ultimate victory: “Like I joked with [the players], but it’s true, that check in December is a good one.”

Cora received a fat World Series check last year after serving as bench coach for the Astros. Most of the Astros won a ring, but the front office didn’t sit on last season’s roster. There are 10 players on their championship series roster — including five new to the organization — who weren’t on the World Series roster. The Astros’ run differential improved from plus-196 to plus-263. “Last year — I thought we have the best team we could ever have,” Altuve said. “And then we show up this year. And on paper the team looks way better.” Indeed, the rotation went from sixth in the majors in ERA to first and 17th to first in bullpen ERA.

It all begins Saturday night, forecast as a chilly night at Fenway, with Verlander and Sale, two of the game’s elite starters, in a rematch of last year’s Game 1 in the division series, when Sale struggled. With today’s emphasis on bullpens, it’s a throwback storyline to the not-so-recent past when starting pitchers were the key to postseason success. “I think it’s just better for the game,” Sale said. “It’s kind of one of those things were you have this starter versus this starter, against these lineups. … This is more, I guess, the traditional way to play the game, and the way I like to play the game.”