CHARLIE PALLILO

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