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.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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