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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The Texans have a big decision to make. Composite image by Jack Brame

The last few weeks have brought us some very interesting episodes of "As Kirby Turns." Cal McNair has admitted he hasn't spoken with Deshaun Watson and has also doubled down on his affinity for Jack Easterby by saying he's staying around. The franchise's only member of their Ring of Honor, Andre Johnson, came completely out of character by tweeting his support for Watson to "stand his ground" in what most assume is his desire to play elsewhere. Newly hired general manager Nick Caserio has the hardest job in the NFL because he's basically a one leg man in a bleep kicking contest. National and local media are all floating rumors and opinions about Watson's status with the team. Meanwhile, Watson himself has been cryptic and hasn't come out and said one thing either way about his status with the team.

My opinion is that he won't be traded and this is his way of using the leverage he has to get some things done his way to ensure more of his career won't be wasted. Once they hire a head coach he approves of and they talk, he'll be back in the fold and blow things over by saying he never demanded a trade and was only upset about some things due to miscommunication. Blah blah blah. However, where there's smoke, there must be fire. I'll examine some pros and cons to a potential trade of Watson.

Bad news first. This franchise has waited its entire existence for a franchise quarterback like Watson. Finally getting one and having to deal him amidst the bumbling owner and charlatan right-hand man would be a big blow to overcome. This coming year is shaping up to be difficult as it is, but doing so with Watson wearing a different jersey could prove to be a near fatal blow. It would take an additional year or so to recover. The only way this timeline is expedited, is if they get a quarterback back in the trade or with one of the draft picks that they feel can be the man moving forward.

The bright side. Watson is this team's most attractive asset as it looks to rebuild. There are teams in the top five of this year's draft who need quarterbacks, and a couple of them have multiple first round picks. The Jets, #2 and #23 overall in the first round this draft, are the most intriguing destination because they may be bad next season with Watson if you get that pick in the trade as well. Throw in Sam Darnold, who's still young and salvageable, and this could be a hard reset that may not take as long. The Dolphins, #3 and #18 overall this draft, also have a lot to offer. Rumor has it Watson would like to go to Miami in a deal that includes Tua Tagovailoa, who was a guy Caserio liked when entering the draft. Again, another potential hard reset that may not take long if either young quarterback pans out. You could also trade back from those top slots to acquire more picks to help fill some of the many holes you have.

I reiterate, I do not believe Watson will be traded. I'm not even sure his no trade clause is applicable since he's still under his rookie contract and his extension hasn't kicked in yet. The new CBA rules call for stiffer penalties for players who refuse to report, so a holdout is highly unlikely. I'll be glad when they hire a coach Watson likes, and we get the happy family press conference introducing him, so this soap opera can move on to its next episode.

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