An important lesson to keep in mind as Astros roll to another ALCS

Carlos Correa is going to get all the money from somebody. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Houston Astros are headed to their fifth straight American League Championship Series! This trip was courtesy of the Chicago White Sox, their crotchety old manager Tony La Russa, big mouth relief pitcher Ryan Tepera, and the powers that be who've hated on the Astros (looking at you MLB and ESPN). They upended the White Sox 10-1 in game four of the American League Division Series to win it three games to one. While it might be taboo to look forward to next season, the thoughts about how to keep this gravy train going kept crossing my mind.

The future of a couple key pieces to this run specifically came to mind. Carlos Correa and Justin Verlander have held this team down since their respective arrivals. Correa really stepped up as a leader before last season started in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal and its fallout. Verlander was the unquestioned ace of this staff since his literal last second arrival at the waiver wire trade deadline in 2017. Sure Gerrit Cole fans can make a case for him while he was here, but Verlander helped bring a ring to this city. Both Correa and Verlander are set to be free agents this offseason. Both are at the top of their position groups. Both will command a pretty penny. But should the Astros break the bank to keep both?

In Correa's case, I say no. While his leadership and defense are second to none, his bat can be replaced in the lineup by a cheaper option. He's also 27, looking for a long-term mega deal, and very injury prone. My thought is he'll command somewhere north of seven to eight years averaging $30 million plus per year. It's easy to say Jim Crane should pony up and pay the man, but we have to look at the long-term viability of the team as a whole. Pedro Leon could be the next shortstop if Correa isn't brought back. That, or bring in a third baseman and move Alex Bregman back to his natural position.

When it comes to Verlander, my thoughts run along the same lines. Why pay big money (assuming that's what he's going to want) to a soon-to-be 39-year-old pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery? Sure he's a first ballot Hall of Famer, but this team was able to reach two consecutive ALCS appearances without him. Not to mention the players rejected him throwing out the first pitch at one of the home games in the ALDS because he hasn't been around all year.

Gow Media's own John Granato broke that story last week. Considering his teammates feel this way, why would the team bring him back? There are other starters they could spend money on that are much younger, cheaper, and would love to come play for a contender.

The Astros have options. With these two guys' money, along with Zack Greinke's money, all coming off the books, there's room to spend the freed up cash elsewhere and more wisely. Not to mention they may want to keep some of that money to re-sign guys like Framber Valdez, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker. Keeping the dynasty window open is about playing chess, not checkers. Fans have to understand some tough decisions will be made (like letting Cole and George Springer walk). They may not like those decisions at the moment, but everyone loves a winner. In the end, that's all that matters.

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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