The American League Division Series is about to start. We’re getting close to seeing two juggernauts collide starting this Thursday at Minute Maid Park. It’s power against power, great lineup against great lineup. In what could be a series of lots of home runs, it’s time to see who has an edge, analyzing position by position for both teams.
Let’s get down to business…
Martín Maldonado vs Yasmani Grandal
Here, we’re bringing two great defensive, game-calling catchers into the conversation. But the big difference here is the offense. While Grandal is not the kind of batter that gets lots of hits, he makes them count. 48 percent of Grandal’s hits this season were extra-bases (nine doubles, 23 home runs), a big reason why he put up a .939 OPS.
Plus, Grandal’s plate discipline is among the best in the league. In the regular season, he recorded more walks (87) than strikeouts (82) and finished with a .420 on-base percentage. Regarding his offense, Maldonado has his occasional power as his biggest point.
Advantage White Sox
Yasmani Grandal has Martín Maldonado’s skills behind the plate, but he’s clearly better at the batter’s box. He has more than one way to hurt you.
Yuli Gurriel vs José Abreu
If I ask you to name two Cuban stars, you’ll probably come with Abreu (3.0 bWAR) and Gurriel (3.7 bWAR). While Abreu is the reigning AL MVP, Gurriel just won the AL batting crown. These two countrymen have been among the best first basemen —both offensively and defensively— in the league for a while now. Both have been so consistent with their production that it is something to admire.
Even though Abreu’s insane production level can make people believe the White Sox have the advantage here, Yuli is a lethal weapon too. Gurriel is the perfect fit for a lineup just like the Astros’: he gets on base, he’s a clutch hitter, he doesn’t strike out often, and gets tons of hits.
Yuli Gurriel and José Abreu have great lineups around them and get plenty of opportunities with runners on base. Both are dangerous and powerful hitters, have different roles, and play solid defense at first base.
José Altuve vs César Hernández
This is the easiest choice so far. After a rough 2020, Altuve regained his star status this year, hitting 32 doubles and 31 home runs (tied career-high). He put up his highest bWAR (4.4) since 2018 (5.1) and just outperformed Hernández in every offensive category.
Even though Altuve is no longer the kind of hitter that wins batting titles, he’s still a star. He will be leading off for the Astros this Thursday in what will be the 64th postseason game of his career.
José Altuve’s offense is still lights out. César Hernández hasn’t found himself this year at the plate and kept struggling after arriving at Chicago.
Alex Bregman vs Yoán Moncada
It’s time to analyze two of the youngest, most talented third basemen in the game. Both Bregman and Moncada have power, get on base at a consistent rate, and —even though Moncada is a bit better according to advanced stats— play good defense at third base.
The difference here is a game-changer one. Bregman’s plate discipline is much better than Moncada’s. Alex is just a tougher out. While Moncada strikes out every 3.3 at-bats, Bregman does so every 6.6 trips to the plate.
In a short series like this, details make the difference. So if you don’t give outs away by striking out and, instead, put the ball in play, you will have a chance. That’s what Alex Bregman does.
Carlos Correa vs Tim Anderson
These two are crucial members of both teams and offer more than just playing. The two All-Stars have similarities, though Correa has more power and Anderson has more speed on the basepaths. While Correa draws more walks, Anderson gets more hits.
BUT… Correa is a better defender than Anderson at shortstop and even covers more ground. Plus, he’s a home-run threat and always comes clutch in the postseason.
Even though Carlos Correa is only 27 years old, he’s arguably having his best season and is entering his ground: the postseason. The Astros’ shortstop is made for October, a reputation he’s built thanks to clutch hits and a notorious leadership. Close call here, but Correa it is.
Michael Brantley vs Eloy Jiménez
It’s pure hitting vs raw power here. Since joining the Astros, Brantley has proved why he’s a world-class hitter, slashing .310/.367/.474 across 315 games with 376 total hits and only 147 strikeouts. On the other side, injuries have kept Jiménez from playing his first full season in the MLB, though he’s got big-time power.
However, and just like Bregman, Brantley is the toughest out of the two. He barely strikes out and he can hit tons of extra-base hits. Some offensive inconsistencies have harmed Jiménez’s numbers. As a matter of fact, he was a .213/.288/.319 hitter through 25 games in September/October.
Besides everything I just said about Brantley, he’s a righty killer: .363/.418/.507 this year. Plus, he’s 8-for-25 with five extra-base hits and seven RBIs against the White Sox in seven games in 2021 (.320/.370/.720).
Jake Meyers vs Luis Robert
I know Jake has done a pretty good job in his first year in the Majors. But Robert is just a better player. He’s got the full package —he launches homers, hits for average, runs, and plays solid defense in center— and is set to vindicate himself after losing a big portion of the season to injury.
The best part of Robert is that he hasn’t stopped improving. This year, he had a better exit velocity average (91.2 MPH) and struck out at a lower rate: from 32.2 K% to 20.6. Dangerous player.
Advantage White Sox
Luis Robert is on his way to become a star. Not for nothing, the White Sox locked him up on a contract extension even before he made his MLB debut. 2021 has been his year despite losing a big chunk on the injured list.
Kyle Tucker vs Leury García
Even though García has more experience, you can’t compare him to King Tucker. Since May 2, Tucker had the third-highest OPS in the American League (.996), only behind Yasmani Grandal (1.021) and Luis Robert (1.016). Also, Tucker was second in slugging percentage (.605) and third in batting average (.324) in the young circuit.
While Tucker was lights out since May, García is a decent player who offers good speed, defense, and will add some doubles to his team’s totals. But he’s not the most dangerous hitter on the White Sox’s lineup.
Based on what he did since May 2, Kyle Tucker is among the best youngsters in the game. You can say he’s the Luis Robert of the Astros. As a fun fact, they were the only 30-30 players through the Minors system in the 2019 season.
Yordan Álvarez vs Andrew Vaughn
Before the season, Vaughn was the best prospect in the White Sox organization. But he’s not on Yordan’s level yet. Álvarez has crushed the opposition since he got to the Major Leagues and this year wasn’t the exception. In his first full season, Álvarez registered 35 doubles and 33 home runs with 104 runs batted in.
Only three players in MLB recorded at least 35 doubles, 39 four-baggers, 100 ribbies, and a .275 batting average. Those were Red Sox’s Rafael Devers, Reds’ Nick Castellanos, and Yordan. Regarding Vaughn, you can say he was rushed into the Bigs this year, though he hit 22 doubles and 15 dingers.
Yordan Álvarez is atop the most powerful lefties in the game. No doubt. After having the original Big Hurt (Frank Thomas), the White Sox may be in front of the new Big Hurt.
With Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, former Astro Dallas Keuchel, Carlos Rodón, and Dylan Cease, the White Sox are in an excellent position especially in a short series like this. All of those, except for Keuchel, had strong seasons and helped the White Sox have the best starters’ ERA in the American League (3.57).
On the other side, the Astros got to this point with some ifs. Zack Greinke —who might pitch out of the ‘pen— just came back from the injured list and has allowed 20 earned runs in his last 15 1/3 innings. Luis García has pitched well, but he’s a rookie. José Urquidy has had a hard time trying to go deep in games. And Jake Odorizzi has been a man full of inconsistencies on the mound.
Advantage White Sox
It seems the White Sox got to the postseason in the middle of a better chapter in terms of starting pitching. The Astros were second in the American League in starters’ ERA, but Chicago is better at this moment.
The White Sox have more depth in their reliever staff as well as more late-inning options. They have two formidable men to close in Liam Hendriks (the AL leader in saves) and Craig Kimbrel, acquired from the Cubs before the trade deadline. Those two are accompanied by José Ruiz, Aaron Bummer, Ryan Tepera, and more. Plus, there’s lefty Garrett Crochet, who was a force against left-handed hitters (12-for-70, no home runs, and 25 strikeouts across 70 at-bats).
The Astros are also good, but Kendall Graveman and long reliever Cristian Javier need to leave their struggles well behind. Also, Ryne Stanek needs to stay dominant through October.
Advantage White Sox
There are so many names and so much quality over the Chicago bullpen that it’s impossible not to say they have the advantage this time.