Charlie Pallilo

Astros-Indians series will have plenty of intrigue

Will Carlos Correa wake up? Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Points to be mindful of during the Astros-Indians American League Division Series…

Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch really couldn’t make any bad decisions with his bullpen roster selections: Lance McCullers/Will Harris/Josh James in, Hector Rondon/Brad Peacock/Joe Smith. McCullers’s pure talent and competitive fire got him his spot. Harris had a September 0.00 ERA, albeit covering just seven innings. James is a multi-inning option if a longer relief stint is needed. Rondon was bad in four out of five outings in a late season stretch. Lefthanded hitters put up huge numbers vs. Peacock this year and the Indians top three hitters are switch/lefty/switch. A little surprised Smith was left off but a bad final week of the season did him in. As always it will come down to performance and results.

These two teams have the AL pitchers who finished second through eighth in ERA among qualifiers. That’s amazing. Only AL Cy Young favorite Blake Snell of Tampa Bay was better.

The Indians led the American League in stolen bases this season with 135. As point of reference, the Astros stole 71. You never know how a given game or series will play out but given the caliber of starting pitchers on both teams, runs could be difficult to come by even for two potent offenses. The Indians will likely be aggressive when Brian McCann is behind the plate. Martin Maldonado is vastly better against the running game, but with the Indians using all righthanded starting pitchers we’ll have to see whether Hinch starts him or prefers to use Maldonado as a late inning defensive replacement or if McCann is lifted for a pinch hitter or pinch runner. Of course, you can’t steal second if you don’t figure out a way to reach first.

With the Indians adding Josh Donaldson their defense changes with Donaldson at third base, Jose Ramirez moving from third to second, and Jason Kipnis from second to centerfield. Kipnis is not a good center fielder. Neither Michael Brantley nor Melky Cabrera is confused with Gold Glove winning defense in the corner spots. The Astros love to run the bases aggressively, sometimes overly so. In this series they should be aggressive but mindful of that line between aggressive and dopey.

Three of the Tribe’s best four relief pitchers are lefties. The Astros overall hit lefties decidedly better than they did righties this season. That is why the single biggest Indian x-factor going in is how Terry Francona uses usual starter Trevor Bauer as a bullpen weapon.

Does either sleeping giant awaken? Carlos Correa hit a feeble .180 in 37 games played after his return from the disabled list. Indians stud Jose Ramirez finished with second tier MVP candidate numbers, but over his last 40 games Ramirez hit a feebler .166.

No disrespect

It certainly would have been better for more people wanting to attend or watch Game 1 for the Astros to have gotten the 3:15 start which went to the Brewers and Rockies. But the Astros not getting a prime time slot was not disrespect toward the reigning champs. It’s a business. Pure and simple, Red Sox-Yankees draws a larger audience than Astros-Indians so Sox-Yanks was getting the slot with the greater audience potential. Los Angeles is the only Friday site west of the central time zone so obviously Dodgers-Braves was going in the later evening slot.

Last call for Texans

The Texans better beat the Cowboys Sunday night or at 1-4 they become generally irrelevant in this city, certainly for as long as the Astros are in the postseason. Plus the Rockets tip off their regular season in less than two weeks.

J.J. Watt has been tremendous two games in a row, racking up five sacks and three forced fumbles. In fairly assessing his performance it has to be noted Watt primarily destroyed backup right tackles against the Giants and Colts. Cowboys RT La’el Collins is no All-Pro but should provide a better test of where Watt again sits on the scale of dominance.

Melo out, folks

I could almost hear the grousing of some fans when in his first two possessions in a Rockets’ uniform Carmelo Anthony first got completely lost defensively with his man hitting a wide open three point shot, then right back the other end the first time he touched the ball Melo bricked a three. Patience people! Anthony made a generally positive first impression. And who couldn’t think “what if?” after watching Chris Paul on two healthy hamstrings look absolutely fantastic. Topping last season’s 65 wins is an extremely ambitious goal, but the Rockets are going to be great. We have six months of excellence about to get going. If you are a Rockets’ fan don’t sweat the Warriors until May/June.

Buzzer Beaters

1. ARMY took Oklahoma to OT a couple of weeks ago. Opportunity knocks for the Longhorns to vault themselves to Big 12 regular season favorites.  2. The NHL season is underway. Just letting you know. 3. Best seasons: Bronze-summer Silver-spring Gold-fall.

 

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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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