The Astros are going for the clean sweep

Astros playoff report presented by APG&E: ALDS Game 3 preview

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With the incredible start by Gerrit Cole fueling them to a win on Saturday night, the Astros are now in the driver's seat with a 2-0 lead in the ALDS against the Rays. Game 3 may be the most challenging yet for Houston, with the series shifting to Tampa Bay's home stadium at Tropicana Field, and going up against their toughest starting pitcher in Charlie Morton.

Still, Houston is an understandable favorite to win the game and make it a clean sweep to advance to the ALCS. Here is a quick rundown of how and what to watch for in Game 3 on Monday afternoon:

Game Facts

When: Monday, 12:05 p.m Central.

Where: Tropicana Field - St. Petersburg, Florida.

TV: MLB Network.

Streaming: MLB.TV (Subscription or Cable Login Required)

Pitching matchup: Zack Greinke vs. Charlie Morton.

Series: HOU leads 2-0.

Series schedule

Date & Time (Central)LocationPitching matchup
Game 1Astros 6, Rays 2Minute Maid Park, HoustonVerlander (W) vs. Glasnow (L)
Game 2Astros 3, Rays 1Minute Maid Park, HoustonCole (W) vs. Snell (L)
Game 3Monday 10/7, 12:05 PMTropicana Field, St. PetersburgGreinke vs Morton
Game 4*Tuesday 10/8, TBDTropicana Field, St. PetersburgTBD vs. TBD
Game 5*Thursday 10/10, TBDMinute Maid Park, HoustonTBD vs. TBD

* If necessary.

Game Storylines

Time for Greinke to show that the trade was worth it

While Houston's trade for Zack Greinke was not solely to improve their playoff chances in 2019, but rather to add a piece for the next couple of seasons, bringing him in to be a part of the playoff rotation and aid in playoff success was a large part of the consideration. He will be well-rested, having last pitched on September 25th in Seattle when he brought a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Mariners.

However, Greinke has a career 3-4 record and 4.03 ERA in the postseason, with his most recent appearances in 2017 with the Diamondbacks where he had a rough 3.2 inning, four-run start in the Wild Card game that Arizona would end up winning, then followed that with a five-inning, three-run loss to the Dodgers in the NLDS. Also, he faced this Rays team back on August 29th in Houston, a game where they tagged him with five earned runs, including two homers, over five and two-thirds innings of work. While Greinke may have the strikeout numbers of Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole, he will still need to bring his A-game to induce soft contact and easy outs to help the Astros win this ALDS.

Chance for ALDS Sweep in back-to-back seasons

If they do clinch the sweep on Monday afternoon, that will make it two-straight years where the Astros have done so, also winning the ALDS in three-straight games against the Indians in 2018. They would also improve to 9-1 in ALDS games over the last three years, having lost just one game against the Red Sox in the 2017 series before clinching it 3-1 in Game 4. To do so, they'll have to go through former teammate Charlie Morton.

While Houston was able to get after Morton for six runs over four innings on August 27th, that game was in Houston. If you rewind to the first series of the 2019 season, the Astros had a tough offensive series at Tropicana field, including losing to Morton, who held them to two runs over five innings. The Astros have had notable struggles in St. Petersburg; when you look at the last three years combined as visitors in that ballpark, they have gone 48-for-355 at the plate collectively, a paltry .211 average (according to FanGraphs). They will need to erase those struggles from their memory and instead focus on replicating the offensive success that has gotten them to this position.

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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