Time for Houston to face their next challenge

Astros playoff report presented by APG&E: ALCS Game 1 Preview

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It took more games than expected, but the outcome was as predicted: the Astros are in the ALCS. Their opponent is also no surprise; the New York Yankees who were dominant in a sweep of the Twins. Houston continues to own home-field advantage, so the Yankees have made the trip to Houston (I'll practice self-control and avoid the Seinfeld reference) for Games 1 and 2 on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

To start the series, the Astros will be sending Zack Greinke to the mound after a disappointing start in St. Petersburg in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Rays. New York will turn to Masahiro Tanaka, who holds very stout numbers in his postseason career. Here is a quick rundown of ALCS Game 1:

Game Facts

When: Saturday, 7:08 p.m Central.

Where: Minute Maid Park - Houston, Texas.

TV: FOX.

Streaming: Fox Sports App.

Pitching matchup: Zack Greinke vs Masahiro Tanaka.

Series: tied 0-0.

Series schedule

Date & Time (Central) Location Pitching matchup
Game 1 Saturday 10/12, 7:08 PM Minute Maid Park, Houston TX Greinke vs Tanaka
Game 2 Sunday 10/13, 7:08 PM Minute Maid Park, Houston TX Verlander vs Paxton
Game 3 Tuesday 10/15, 3:08 PM Yankee Stadium, Bronx NY Cole vs Severino
Game 4 Wednesday 10/16, 7:08 PMYankee Stadium, Bronx NY TBD vs TBD
Game 5* Thursday 10/17, 7:08 PM Yankee Stadium, Bronx NY TBD vs TBD
Game 6* Saturday 10/19, 3:08 PM Minute Maid Park, Houston TX TBD vs TBD
Game 7* Sunday 10/20, 6:38 PM Minute Maid Park, Houston TX TBD vs TBD

* If necessary
+ Projected Starters

Game Storylines

Rebound game vital for Greinke and his new team

As mentioned, Greinke did not meet the hype in his first playoff appearance for the Astros. In ALDS Game 3, he went just three and two-thirds innings during which he allowed six earned runs, including three homers. Things will be even more difficult against a potent Yankees lineup looking to capitalize against him and build offensive momentum.

Greinke will have to channel in behind his home crowd and give his team an efficient start. New York will not provide any Houston pitcher many easy outs throughout this series, so the Astros should be prepared to use their bullpen much more often than they did in the ALDS. With that, they cannot afford for Greinke to make an early exit after falling apart again. It will be even more critical for Greinke to limit runs allowed because going opposite of him will be Masahiro Tanaka, who holds a 1.54 ERA in the playoffs in his career over 35 innings of work.

Astros can't allow the Yankees to steal one

Houston wanted and needed home-field advantage for this exact matchup. Everyone remembers how much the Astros struggled in New York in the 2017 ALCS. It took having the four games in Houston and winning them all to come out victorious in that matchup. The Astros are a more experienced and arguably improved team from that 2017 squad, but the Yankees even more so. These Yankees are not the same team that folded in the final two games of the 2017 ALCS.

The Astros will have to fight hard to ensure that they don't let the Yankees steal one of these first two games at Minute Maid Park because it will not be any easier to go into Yankee Stadium in October 2019 than it was two years ago. They are playing with confidence, and have the dangerous lineup to do enough to catch Houston on the wrong foot and take advantage. To combat that, it will be vital for Houston to capture and maintain momentum early and often in Game 1 and try to hold on to it as far into this series as they can.

An offensive showdown

Just looking at these lineups is a mouthwatering gift for those who are hopeful to see some of the game's best sluggers. On Houston's side, you've got George Springer, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, and Yuli Gurriel, all ready to change the complexion of a game with one swing. But the Yankees have bombers of their own, with Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Gardner, and Gleyber Torres all ready to get some swings of their own.

This matchup is what we've been waiting to see for several months, and I expect it will deliver. Will Houston perform and play up to their expectations? We'll find out Saturday night.

Be sure to check SportsMap after the final out for an in-depth recap of the game, and follow me on Twitter for updates and reactions throughout each playoff game: @ChrisCampise

The Astros playoff report is presented by APG&E.

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan

What a week.The Rockets look terrible in losing consecutive games to losing teams, and that doesn't register as the tiniest ripple in the week's pond of Houston sports woe. Pond? More like ocean.

The Astros are irrefutably confirmed for all-time as cheaters and liars over a multi-season period. Jim Crane is no idiot, but specifically on the issue of whether the Astros' 2017 World Series championship is tainted, Jim Crane is an idiot if he really thinks it is not. Astro lackeys, toadies, and homers should stop the "a bunch of other teams did it too!" and "Mike Fiers is an a-hole" lameness. The Astros were guilty, caught, and deserved to get hammered. If/when others are proven as guilty as the Astros, so should they be hammered.

So after Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's lowering of a rightful boom, and then Jim Crane firing Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, what does it all mean for the 2020 Astros? It's a wow of a story, but really not a crisis. The loss of Gerrit Cole is much more meaningful. Luhnow's shoes are fairly easily filled for this season. Hence for now, Crane himself will head up baseball operations. The Astros weren't and aren't pursuing any meaningful free agents or major trades. Before his demise Luhnow finished the financial corner cutting moves that filled out the roster.

It's not as if Luhnow's personal expertise made all scouting, drafting, and signing decisions. And now the Astros have no first or second round pick to make this June anyway. 30 year old Pete Putila is the ranking baseball guy still employed by the club, but he is a branch of the Luhnow tree. If Crane's goal is the "housecleaning" he termed the Luhnow and Hinch firings as being, how can he promote a Luhnow lieutenant? Every front office in baseball has shrewd analytic minds, looking to move up. Crane can easily hire one of them.

As for field manager, Hinch was a great handler of people (well….with one kind of important exception) but this roster is strong enough to operate on autopilot to a good extent. Bench coach Joe Espada is highly regarded and been a finalist for other managerial gigs. But he was on Hinch's staff when cheating was ongoing in 2018. That seems pretty much disqualifying. Two known interviewees are quality options, though neither has skippered a team to the World Series. Buck Showalter was always extremely highly regarded, John Gibbons steered the Blue Jays to back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016. Between those two I'd lean Showalter but either would be fine.

Remember The Texans

How thankful are Bill O'Brien and the Texans for the Astros' mess grabbing all the headlines not even 24 hours after the Texans' collapse in Kansas City? It's almost impossible to get blown out of an NFL game in which you lead 24-nothing. Almost. The Texans pulled it off! Won't that cute little AFC South Champion banner be extra cute when it hangs next season? Hangs like a dead man from a noose.

As I put it last week, the Chiefs' offense is better than the Texans' offense, the Chiefs' defense better than the Texans' defense, and the Chiefs' coaching better than the Texans' coaching. But the way the game played out was still preposterous.

If Travis Kelce had beaten Lonnie Johnson any worse than he did Johnson's name should have been legally changed to Rented Mule. J.J. Watt was essentially a zero. No tackles, no assists on tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Are you going to pay 15 and a half million dollars to a 31 year old Watt after his three major injuries in the last four seasons. That's a yes.

At least we have clarity that the Texans must dedicate their first round pick to a pass rusher or a defensive back. Wait, they don't have a first round pick. Well, in 2021 then. Wait. Bill O'Brien traded that away too. Speaking of O'Brien…

Opting for the field goal on fourth and one up 21-0 early second quarter was not indefensible. However, O'Brien's explanation for doing so was pitiful. The fake punt? Most agree, dumb.But not absolutely indefensible. This was the O'Brien Is Not Fit For Command moment of the game: He needed to use a timeout, with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter, the Texans down 17, facing fourth and fourth and four, in Chiefs' territory, to decide to go for the first down rather than punt. A cinder block could have displayed the same game management IQ. O'Brien has three seasons left on his contract. Unless Cal McNair takes a decidedly different tack than his father did, O'Brien's job is as safe as any Supreme Court Justice's.

Speaking of Cal, since the loss he's been spotted as often and been as vocal this week as Alex Bregman.

Buzzer Beaters

1. So, if guaranteed the truth: For a million dollars is your bet Altuve was wearing something or not? 2. Alex Cora should be banned from ever again managing a Major League team. 3. Famous "scandals": Bronze-Teapot Dome Silver-Patty Smyth fronted band, had big hit with Goodbye to You Gold-Kerry Washington and the TV show.

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