The Pallilog

After finally dispatching Rays, Astros get long anticipated showdown with Yankees

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It wasn't inevitable, but an Astros-Yankees American League Championship Series was the most likely pairing and most anticipated matchup in the AL playoffs. We get the payoff starting Saturday night. More on it a couple of paragraphs down. But first…

Credit to the Rays for pushing the Astros the distance in the Division Series. Ultimately, more credit to the Astros for their championship caliber response with their previously mostly dormant offense exploding for four runs in the bottom of the first of Thursday night's decisive game five. That was more than enough for Gerrit Cole who was overpowering and brilliant in both his starts in the series.

There have been postseason series pitching performances that go down as greater than Cole's but only in best of seven series. For one pitcher to so dominate a best of five? The top challenger that comes to mind there victimized the Astros. In a 1998 NLDS Kevin Brown throttled them twice. In game one Brown threw eight innings of two hit 16 strikeout shutout ball, then on three days rest he pitched into the seventh inning giving up just one run. The Padres won both games 2-1. Brown gets bonus points for snuffing an Astros' 1998 offense which was tremendous, vastly superior to the Rays' offense Cole destroyed. On the other hand, Brown didn't start a game with his team facing elimination.

The clear on paper edge for the Astros over the Yankees is in starting pitching. The Rays pushing them five means neither Cole nor Justin Verlander goes in the series opener Saturday night. Zack Greinke was a disaster in his start at St. Petersburg. While it's not redemption he pitches for in game one the Astros could really use him to pitch at least decently. The Yankees are going to score runs. Their lineup is spectacularly deep, power laden top to bottom even more so than the Astros' lineup, and patient. Pitch counts in Cole's and Verlander's starts loom important. The Yankees rate the clear edge out of the bullpen, it's better and deeper.

If it is to be a seven game series, Greinke going in game one works out fine for the Astros. It's highly unlikely the Astros again use a starting pitcher on three days rest, so Greinke sets up for games one and five, Verlander for games two and six, and if the Astros have another winner takes all game coming, Gerrit Cole would start it again, at Minute Maid Park again, after he goes in game three at Yankee Stadium.

Two years ago in the ALCS between these two the home team won all seven games. That is unlikely to happen again, but a reprise of Astros in seven seems a quite viable guess/prediction. From the 1920s forward, the Yankees have gone no decade without reaching at least one World Series. The Astros can snap that near 100 years run over the next week and a half.

With the Dodgers out in the National League some will talk of Astros-Yankees as the de facto World Series. That of course is stupid. Whoever wins the NLCS between the Nationals and Cardinals will obviously be capable of winning, but the AL Champ will be the rightful favorite.

Texans can make a statement

After five games we really have no idea what to make of the 3-2 Texans. A phenomenal offensive showing against the Falcons last Sunday came just one week after a pitiful offensive showing against the Panthers the week before. The Falcons stink. The components of Texans' offense are really promising. A healthy Will Fuller not dropping balls makes him more dangerous to defenses than DeAndre Hopkins. The offensive line will probably continue its ups and downs, but starting rookie first and second round picks means the up percentage should grow as the season goes along. Overpaying in draft picks for Laremy Tunsil is problematic down the road, but he is a vast upgrade anchoring Deshaun Watson's blind side.

Excellence requires consistency. We should have a better grasp of what the 2019 Texans might be after these next two Sundays as they play at Kansas City and Indianapolis. This past Sunday night the Colts largely shutdown the Chiefs' usually sensational offense and did so with a banged up defense. Patrick Mahomes was gimpy and mortal looking. Splitting these two games would be fine, if you had your pick the Colts game should be the choice since it's a division game. If somehow the Texans win both to be 5-2, they become the lead horse in the race in the race for the second AFC first round playoff bye. Losing both is more likely than winning both.

Buzzer beaters

1. Who knows how the game will go but Texas +11 is the side to play vs. OU. 2. Lock of the weekend: Daryl Morey goes this weekend Tweet-less. 3. Greatest single series pitching performances since 1980: Bronze-Mike Scott 1986 NLCS Silver-Madison Bumgarner 2014 World Series Gold-Randy Johnson 2001 World Series

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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