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.

 

Houston Astros/Facebook

The Astros had a bad 4-6 road trip and looked forward to getting home to Minute Maid Park where they have been dominant this season. The pitiful Detroit Tigers arrived in Houston with a record since the All Star Break of nine wins and 27 losses. They literally do not have one non-pitcher who would make a healthy Astros' roster. That includes the way over the hill sure fire Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. Splitting four games at home with the Tigers would have been a fail. The Astros did not fail, though "only" taking three out of four seems a little disappointing. The S.S. Astros Good Ship Lollipop has sprung a couple of leaks. Neither that can't be plugged with good health, but the Astros have two notable health issues.

Carlos Correa's next endorsement deal should be for peanut brittle, emphasis not on the peanut. Some guys just have a propensity toward getting injured. Unfortunately the Correa resume grows that he is one of those guys. That back problems have resurfaced is troubling, to no one more so than Correa himself. It's clear the guy loves the game and is spectacularly talented, but durability is one component of greatness and to this point Correa simply has not demonstrated durability. If he can't produce a fully healthy bigtime season or two in the next year or two, any visions of a Manny Machado-like 10 year 300 million dollar contract will be up in smoke. Still, Correa turns only 25 years old next month so there's time to prove sturdiness, but more sand has seeped through the hourglass. For the 2019 Astros the dropdown is huge from Correa at shortstop to either Miles Straw or Aledmys Diaz being in the lineup. As for 2020, please tell anyone saying the Astros should trade Correa to be quiet.

The loss of Ryan Pressly for most if not all of the rest of the regular season is a big blow to the bullpen. Of even bigger concern is whether he can get back and get sharp to start the postseason.

This doesn't mean the ship is sinking. The Astros enter the weekend just one game behind the Yankees for the best record in the American League, and the Astros own the tiebreaker (having won the season series 4-3). They are three back of the Dodgers for best in MLB, the Astros have a three game lead in the tiebreaker with LA (intradivision record). The Yankees play at the Dodgers this weekend so if you're a glass half full person: a Dodger or Yankee loss is guaranteed three days in a row! If you're glass half empty: a Dodger or Yankee win is guaranteed three days in a row!

NFL on the horizon

A little over 2 weeks until the Texans begin their 18th season of play in the National Football League. We've all heard the saying, the 18th time is the charm. So is this the season the Texans are finally a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Probably not. The Texans do not look like a notably improved football team. On paper their schedule is clearly more difficult than last season's. Within the AFC the Chiefs clearly have more overall talent and are better coached. The Patriots still exist. One of these years Tom Brady really will slip. Maybe at age 42 this is the season.

If Jadeveon Clowney opts to sit out, or is traded, anyone thinking he won't be missed, is wrong. Clowney is not a superstar but he's really good. The Texans will be easier to run on without him. And while not an elite pass rusher, Clowney has to be accounted for. Anyone thinking, ah, he's hurt all the time anyway…wrong again. Clowney missed one game last season, and the season before that he played in every game.

If you want a couple of reasons for plausible optimism, here you go. Coming off of last season Deshaun Watson does not rate as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL. He could well vault into that echelon this season. The Texans' offensive line remains something between a question mark and a glaring weakness, but really, can it be worse than it was the last couple of seasons? DeAndre Hopkins is about as good as it gets today at wide receiver, the same for J.J. Watt at defensive end though the clock is ticking down on his prime.

The Texans probably begin their season by losing at New Orleans. On the other hand the Buccaneers started their 5-11 2018 season by beating the 13-3 to be Saints in New Orleans.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Connor McGregor pitches some "number 12" brand of whisky. As a human being he seems much more a piece of number two. 2. Two peas in a pitching pod: Justin Verlander 15-5, 2.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts. Gerrit Cole 15-5, 2.75 ERA, 238 strikeouts. 3. Worst tasting vegetables: Bronze-kale Silver-peas Gold-lima beans


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