KNOW YOUR TEAM

Astros postseason guide for dummies and those who are casual fans

Jose Altuve is the "short one." Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It's playoff baseball time once again here in Houston. For some fans, Friday's ALDS Game 1 serves as a reward for surviving yet another marathon 162-game regular season schedule. All of the treks to the ballpark across scorching asphalt mid summer, all of the subsequent waiting in Minute Maid Park's woefully mismanaged entry lines, all the games caught at a bar or listened to in a car...all of it was for this. You can all put away your September baseball advent calendars and stock up on heartburn medicine, because you made it.

For other fans, the interest is moreso a “rooting” one and less of a “living and breathing” one. You may have checked the standings here and there and caught a game or two, but by and large it wasn't that big of a deal. If you identify with this description...well you are so in luck right now, your head should be spinning because I have you covered, friend. What lies ahead is the most definitive Astros Round One Playoff Primer you could ever be primed with. This is for the fan who knows that Jose Altuve is “the short one that can hit,” and still yells “Woo!” after the anything positive happens in the game. My goal here is to make sure you don't sound dumb talking to your friends about the Astros for the next week. Here we go.

The Matchup

The Astros will be playing the Cleveland Indians in a best of FIVE (not seven, that's later) series. Between the two, Houston had the better regular season record overall and therefore owns home field advantage throughout the series. The first two games will be played here in Houston, the next two will be in Cleveland, and--if needed--a fifth will be played back in Houston.

How Houston Made It

Pitching. Filthy pitching. I'm talking historically filthy, beautiful pitching. Their bats have been great as well, but the story this season has been about Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton laying the smackdown on major league batters night in and night out. The Astros set a franchise record for wins in a season and fended off an unreal late season push by the Oakland Athletics for their second straight AL West division crown.

How Cleveland Made It

Well, oddly enough, pitching as well. It could be argued that the Astros and the Indians have the two best starting rotations in baseball. Last year it was easily the Indians, but this year it swings more in Houston's favor.

So if anyone goes “The Astros are gonna win it!” You can sound smart by saying “Yea, we just have to watch out for the Indians pitching!” You just sounded crazy level-headed. Way to go.

The Indians cruised to an AL Central division title this season despite losing 12 more games than Houston. Much like the Astros case last season, there playoff berth was all but guaranteed, as they were the only team in the division to finish with a record above .500.

Astros Players to Know

Alex Bregman: Third Baseman. Went absolutely bonkers hitting the baseball in June and basically carried the Astros through the season offensively. Played his way into the MVP conversation, but probably won't win because the guys that will started a lot hotter. Have you noticed that when the Astros hit home runs they flash a “blue steel” pose at the nearest dugout camera? Bregman started that. And he's crazy clutch. Let's practice a scenario:

Bregman walks up to bat with runners on the bases. Take a sip of your beer, lean over and explain that “we're basically guaranteed a run because everyone knows how clutch Bregman is.” Be sure to be smug about it. Die hard baseball fans will only give you information in a smug declarative tone.

Justin Verlander: Pitcher. Ace. Pretty old, but still really good. Currently in the conversation for the Cy Young award this year. Verlander is the big daddy of the locker room, second only to the manager, and sometimes I question even that. Currently also the husband to Kate Upton, which at least four people will bring up. That one guy that showed up to watch the game only because people are there and thinks baseball is dumb? He's going to call him “Kate Upton's husband” because he thinks snarky humor is actually funny. Ignore him.

Jose Altuve: Second Basemen. 2017 AL MVP. The most consistent bat the Astros have and also the most perfect height for noogie. Altuve started the playoffs last season with three (THREE!!!) home runs in game one. Don't make height jokes while you're watching, they're overplayed and I already did it for you.

Gerrit Cole: Pitcher. Strikes everyone out. Even you. Voted best hair on the team by me, only slightly edging out outfielder Jake Marisnick and first baseman Yuli Gurriel. His nickname is “Cole Train,” so in game two pepper that in to sound informed.

“Atta boy, Cole train!” --you, post-strikeout.

Carlos Correa: Shortstop. Defensive stud. He will make throws that make you go “wait, what?” He's usually a good hitter, but hurt his back this season and has been hitting pretty poorly lately. Say something like “We really need Correa to heat back up. He's just been trying too hard and needs to stop trying to do too much at the plate.” No one will argue it, because you sound like you have a finger on the pulse of the team.

Dallas Keuchel: Pitcher. He's the one with the long, overly man-scaped beard. Showed his butt in The Body Issue of ESPN the Magazine. Wasn't bad. He doesn't strike people out as much as Verlander and Cole, rather he relies on fooling batters into swinging at bad pitches. They do, and it usually results in a ground out. He was bad in the beginning of the season, but leveled out after the all star break. Want to sound smart for game three? Drop this on your buddies: “He usually gives up most of his runs in the first inning. After that he settles in, so if we get through that we're golden.”

Indians Players to Know

Corey Kluber: Pitcher. Former Cy Young award winner. He’s filthy, and he will frustrate you game one. Nicknamed “Klubot.” I don’t really get it. His wife bet he couldn’t go a year without shaving so he didn’t until she gave in in late August. Not sure if that matters.

Francisco Lindor: Shortstop. He’s one of Cleveland’s biggest offensive threats. You’re going to be frustrated and not want to like him, but he’s actually a really, really great guy. Save your wrath for someone far more deserving. Someone like:

Trevor Bauer: Pitcher. Instigator. Bauer is a good pitcher, but also a weird dude who uses Twitter more than he should. Here's what you need to know about this gu. He had his team in the thick of a legit World Series Championship approach, but ruined his pitching hand with a drone. That’s a real thing. So too is his accusation of the Astros as cheaters. This is where you channel your boos. Also, call him Tyler. Trust me.

Jose Ramirez: Third Baseman. Fearsome hitter. On the fringes of the MVP discussion. Just like Lindor, you’re going to want to get amd at him but these two guys are just such great humans off the field, I can’t endorse that.

What to Expect

Fast, low scoring games. I say that, but last year we were all hyped up for Verlander versus Chris Sale and it ended up as an 8-2 Astros win. The Cleveland Indians are a team deserving of your concern in a 5 game series because of their elite pitching and the ability of their bats to get really hot really quick. I still expect the Astros to win in four and we can run this back and learn about some more baseball teams. Now go out there, talk baseball, and make me proud.

 

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Martin Truex Jr. won his 2nd race of the season last week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR returns to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. This is the first of two races here at this track as they will race on Sunday afternoon. This will be different from the normal night race they usually have here as this will definitely affect the racing surface considering how much the sun could make the track slick. It should be a fun race come Sunday.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. passed Denny Hamlin to capture his second win of the season after rain moved the race to Sunday. He became the first driver to win multiple races after a fierce battle with his teammate Denny Hamlin. The race was filled with tons of wrecks including a fifteen car pileup including Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. It was one of the better races of the season as there was lots of beating and banging.

The race was not without controversy but not the kind you would expect. Early in the race Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and James Davison were involved in an altercation. The two were battling towards the back of the pack when Ware decided to drive through his teammate in turn four. The race got much worse for Cody Ware as he was involved in three more cautions all throughout the race. Many people around the sport were quite perturbed by his antics including broadcaster Mike Joy as he was audibly annoyed after Ware spun out later in the race. Many have questioned if the fifth-year driver should even be in the car and overall I can understand why some of those people think that. In his five years of driving, he has finished on the lead lap one time. I hope that he is able to figure it out and find success in the future, but this was not a good look.

The slump continues for two-time champion Kyle Busch

Throughout the race, Busch was running okay for the most part but towards the closing laps of the race he and Chris Buescher got together triggering a fifteen car pileup. Despite all this, he was able to rebound to a respectable tenth place finish. This has been more than likely the toughest stretch of his career since his championship in 2019. Many would say that the omission of Practice and Qualifying has really affected his performance. Whatever the issue is, this team really needs to find some speed, or he could be in danger of missing the playoffs. I look for this team to bounce back considering how talented he is.

Prediction

The driver that I have winning this week is Kyle Larson. This has been an incredible rebound season for Larson as he currently sits fourth in points. He is also second in laps led only to Denny Hamlin. Richmond has been a great track for him as it fits his driving style perfectly as he can run the outside line and find grip where others can't. This track is also rather sentimental to him considering he won his first pole award here during his rookie season in 2014. While he may not have the results he would want he has always been extremely fast here and even won back in 2017. I look for him to capture his second victory of 2021 come Sunday.

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