Here are some advantages Houston Astros will look to exploit for potential ALDS closeout

Lance McCullers starts Game 3 for Houston. Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images.

Well that was easy. OK, not easy given what it took to win game one, and game two was no breeze, but the Astros taking both to open their American League Division Series with Seattle has them on the cusp of becoming the first team to reach the American League Championship Series six consecutive seasons. The hay is not yet in the barn but the baler travels. Obviously the Mariners could win two straight at home and then take a winner takes all fifth game back in Houston Monday. But highly probably not. Let’s call it a 91.7 percent probability that the Astros will again be playing in MLB’s version of the Final Four, and Yordan Alvarez climbs multiple rungs on the Astros Legends Ladder.

In going for the sweep Saturday the Astros ask Lance McCullers to deliver a good outing on the road, which has not been his career norm. As I noted before the series started, McCullers has been outstanding in his career at home (2.67 earned run average), not so good elsewhere (4.43 ERA on the road). That’s what made Dusty Baker’s decision to start Valdez in game two at home and holding back McCullers for game three on the road a questionable one. In addition to McCullers historically being significantly better at home, Valdez was notably better on the road this season. By no means was it a stupid choice, but certainly questionable. Part of the rationale is having Verlander ready on four days rest for game four, with Valdez available on three days rest for a prospective fifth and decisive game. Now that is highly questionable. The track record in this era of starters going on short rest is not very good. Starting Verlander in game four and Framber in game five would mean the Astros second best starter over the final weeks of the season (Cristian Javier) was relegated to just a little bullpen work in the series. Javier starting game four would be more sensible. If they won in four the rotation starts fresh for the ALCS. If a game five, Verlander would be ready. The Astros intend to render such matters moot.

When there’s a roof, Lance McCullers prefers it be closed when he’s pitching. Another reason if I’m the Mariners the roof is open for game three. That and the game time forecast calling for perfect outdoor baseball weather, mostly sunny and about 70 degrees. Should there be a game four Sunday, the weather will again be gorgeous in the Emerald City. The Astros hope to be home watching football or doing whatever else they’d do on a second consecutive idle Sunday. The Mariners switched up from their original starting pitching plan. Rookie right-hander George Kirby gets the call. Kirby replaces Robbie Ray, who was last seen grooving the fastball Yordan Alvarez hit approximately 9000 feet to win game one.

Should the Astros finish off the sweep, they will have three game-less days ahead of opening the American League Championship Series Wednesday at Minute Maid Park. The schedule for that series is of course TV-dictated. Games one and two at MMP Wednesday and Thursday, a travel day ahead of games three, four, and (if necessary) five in New York or Cleveland, with no day off before an if necessary game six (and seven) in Houston. The LCS schedule means that if the series goes the distance, unless using a starter on short rest, five different starting pitchers will be needed. That would seemingly be to the Astros’ benefit.

There is no reason for alarm re: Justin Verlander off of his lousy game one performance. It’s not as if he faded down the stretch of the regular season. After returning from his near three week Injured List stint because of a calf tweak, Verlander pitched to a 1.17 ERA in four starts. That he was rusty in game one really doesn’t fly. He started game one on six days rest. Verlander made the majority (16 of 28) of his regular season starts on five days rest. In his seven starts made on six or more days rest his ERA was 0.63. Verlander just stunk Tuesday. It happens. It is true that in his last six postseason starts Verlander has met the “quality start” definition just once. If not needed for another start vs. the Mariners, there should be no hesitation in going with Verlander in ALCS game one.

So where does Yordan’s monster shot to win game one slot on the list of top five most dramatic Astros moments ever at Minute Maid Park? Talking positive Astros moments, or Albert Pujols’s 2005 NLCS blast off of Brad Lidge would have to fit in somewhere. Recency bias would put Yordan at the top. It came as very surprising that Alvarez is the first player in postseason history to hit a game-ending homer with his team down by more than one run. Still, it was game one of the Division Series so I place it fourth. Number five: Chris Burke’s 18th inning series ending homer in the 2005 Division Series vs. the Braves. That game took so long some crowd fatigue had set in, and with Burke being light-hitting, there was nothing close to the drama to his AB as when Yordan strode to the plate. Number three: Jeff Kent’s game winning blast in the bottom of the ninth of game five of the 2004 NLCS. That was a 0-0 game before Kent launched. Number two: Alex Bregman’s 2017 World Series game five 10th inning single that ended the most exhilarating game in Astros’ history. Number one: Jose Altuve’s 2019 American League pennant winning homer vs. the Yankees.

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