CHARLIE PALLILO

Astros-Indians series will be no walk in the park for the champs

Astros-Indians series will be no walk in the park for the champs
Carlos Correa has struggled of late, and did poorly against the Indians even when he was hitting. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

A week from the start of the Astros-Indians American League Division Series let’s cover some pertinent points. The reigning World Series Champions have a serious challenge on their hands. Anyone thinking the Astros are vastly better than the Tribe is nuts. The Astros are the rightful favorites, but not by much.

If we had a draft today of the starting pitchers available for the series, Indians would be four of the top six choices. The game one matchup of Justin Verlander vs. Cory Kluber is fantastic. Gerrit Cole is a rock solid game two choice for A.J. Hinch, Terry Francona answers with Trevor Bauer or Carlos Carrasco. Both have nasty stuff. While whichever guy doesn’t start game two for the Indians is an easy pick for game three, Hinch will be hoping for the best. What is Charlie Morton’s health? Dallas Keuchel has not been good down the stretch. Josh James has looked good, but would you roll the dice on the road with a guy who has made all of three big league starts going into this weekend?

The Astros rate a clear edge in the bullpen. It’s the biggest gap between the two teams. Even though the Astros have been mediocre at best in close games (losing record in one-run games, losing record in games tied after six innings, tied after seven innings, tied after eight innings, and in extra innings!) they do have the best bullpen earned run average in MLB this season. The Indians rank in the bottom 10. Even if not scoring a lot of runs against the Indians’ starters, it will be extremely helpful for the Astros if they at least have good at bats and drive up pitch counts to where the Indians are going to that pen by the sixth inning.

The Indians have scored more runs than the Astros have this season. A notable part of that is the Indians getting to face four lousy AL Central teams for nearly half their schedule. Also a notable part is that Cleveland has some studs. Jose Ramirez has been as good as Alex Bregman this season. Forget Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor has been as good or better than Jose Altuve. Michael Brantley better than George Springer. Ramirez, Lindor, and Edwin Encarnacion all have hit more home runs this season than any Astro.

In the end, for all study of the tale of the tape (and all my trenchant analysis), it’s a best of five series. Short stretches of games draw guesses not meaningful predictions. A lousy baseball team can beat an excellent team three out of five. The far from lousy Indians winning would be a very mild upset.

Whither Correa?

I’d be surprised if the move is made, but the Astro brain trust isn’t doing its job if it doesn’t consider sitting Carlos Correa against the Indians. He has been sub-awful at the plate for a month and a half and shown basically no signs of coming out of it. In limited sample size, Correa is a career .170 hitter against the Indians’ four possible ALDS starters. Against Kluber and Bauer he has 16 strikeouts in 31 at bats, and none of those ABs came during this extended horror stretch. Expecting Correa to deliver against them now would be silly. Playing Correa and hoping for him to deliver is defensible, in part because Correa’s defense has value.

Correa is no egomaniac, but he has an abundance of pride which would no doubt be hurt by any benching. A reminder that the Astros’ slogan this season is “Never Settle.” They are striving for greatness and back-to-back World Series titles. Decisions in the best interest of the 2018 Astros are what should carry the day right now.

In case you missed it...

Hope you clicked my quickie SportsMap video about Jameson Taillon earlier this week. The SportsMap big cheeses love clicks.

Just passing through

I won’t fake any enthusiasm for Sunday’s Texans-Colts matchup. I’ll certainly watch, though not live for three hours. The internet is the invention that trumps all others when thinking of those impacting our lives in the last 20, 25 years, but how fantastic is the DVR? Most youngsters probably have no idea that with a VCR we couldn’t start watching a recording until the event was complete and the recording halted. Texans-Colts is meant to be watched starting 1, 1:15 our time. Skimming through the commercials and halftime you get caught up somewhere in the fourth quarter to watch what remains live. Unless the Texans are just remains at that point.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Watching the first half of Rams-Vikings Thursday it was as if Bill O’Brien was the offensive coordinator for both teams.  2. For those with low-caliber sarcasm detectors, #1 was sarcasm. 3. American League MVP: Bronze-Alex Bregman (Jose Ramirez if SportsMap was Cleveland-based)  Silver-Mike Trout Gold-Mookie Betts




 

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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