Jon Lester is already talking World Series

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Red Sox Nation is brimming with confidence these days, and rightly so given the amazing offseason Theo Epstein put together.

They bolstered their bullpen with Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, added Adrian Gonzalez’s big bat to the middle of the lineup and nabbed speed merchant Carl Crawford. So obviously, there is reason for plenty of optimism in Boston.

What’s interesting, though, is that Jon Lester is already talking about the World Series – three weeks before spring training. The Red Sox ace is not the type to go on long-winded (or even medium-winded) rants. Nor is he likely to puff out his chest like an NFL receiver after an 8-yard catch. So his comments to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe should tell you something about how good the Red Sox expect themselves to be this year.

“Mentally and physically, I’m preparing for the World Series,” he said. “I’m doing extra right now to make sure my body holds up for late October. You look at the kind of team we have and I don’t see why (we) can’t get there.”

Lester raved about Wheeler as “one of the best set-up men in the game,” and said the added bonus of having ex-Tampa Bay player Crawford on the team is that he doesn’t have to worry about facing him anymore. The left-hander, who won 19 games last year, also said that the Red Sox are focused and motivated after missing out of the playoffs last season.

We had a good year last year but we didn’t have a great year. Because of the injuries a lot of guys had time off. I think a lot of guys will have a chip on their shoulder.

“There’s a lot to prove in our clubhouse. That can take you a long way as a team.”

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Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).