ALDS GAME 1

Astros ride home run parade to 7-2 win, lead series with Indians 1-0

Alex Bregman (right) got the Astros started with a solo home run and also later drove in a run on a single. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros overpowered the Indians on Friday afternoon, winning 7-2 to kick off the ALDS. The Astros picked right up where they left off in the postseason of 2017, utilizing multiple home runs and solid pitching to get a Game 1 win at home to go up 1-0 in the ALDS.

Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Martin Maldonado hit solo homers to go with two RBIs from Josh Reddick, backing up a strong start from Justin Verlander and efficient work from the bullpen. Verlander went 5.1 innings to go with 2 earned runs and seven strikeouts in the win.

Justin Verlander started the postseason off by getting Francisco Lindor to pop out to shallow center field for the first out. Verlander then worked around a two-out walk, getting a groundout to end the inning. Corey Kluber also issued a two-out walk in the bottom of the inning, to Alex Bregman, but was able to strand him to end the inning.

In the top of the second, Verlander kept the game scoreless with a quick 1-2-3 inning, getting a strikeout, groundout, and fly out on 10 pitches. Marwin Gonzalez led the bottom of the inning off by taking first base after an inside pitch grazed his jersey, then moved to second after Kluber did the same against Tyler White with one out. They'd both get stranded, though, after a double play grounded into by Josh Reddick.

Yan Gomes gave Verlander a battle to start the third, a ten-pitch battle that ended in a strikeout, followed by two more as Verlander would strike out the side. Kluber kept the game gridlocked at 0-0 after the bottom of the inning, getting three quick outs on just 8 pitches.

After the Indians were retired in order again by Verlander in the top of the inning, it was Bregman who notched the first hit and run of the game, a solo home run to the Crawford Boxes in left, making it a 1-0 Astros lead to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Yuli Gurriel was next and worked a walk, advanced to second on a single by White, then scored on a two-out RBI single by Josh Reddick to extend the lead to 2-0 before Kluber could end the inning.

Verlander kept his rhythm going strong, working well with the lead in the top of the fifth with two strikeouts and a fly out to keep Cleveland hitless. Like Bregman the inning before, George Springer took Kluber deep to lead off the bottom of the fifth to make it 3-0, and with the blood in the water Jose Altuve followed with one of his own to make it back-to-back homers and put Houston ahead 4-0. Despite getting a couple of outs from the next two batters, Marwin Gonzalez's two-out single would be the end of the line for Kluber, finishing with four runs in his four and two-thirds innings of work. Adam Cimber would be first out of the bullpen and would get the final out after Gonzalez got caught stealing second.

Verlander finally allowed the Indians to get their first hit of the game to lead off the sixth, then after a one-out single found himself in his first scoring threat of the game. After walking the next batter to load the bases, and at 102 pitches, A.J. Hinch would come out of the dugout and make the call to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly would put his first pitch in the dirt, a wild pitch that would score the runner from third and give Cleveland their first run, making it 4-1. Pressly would get a ground ball for the second out, seceding another run to put the Indians within two at 4-2 before getting a strikeout to end the extended half-inning. Cimber returned to the mound in the bottom half of the inning, getting two more outs before another call to the Indians bullpen to bring in Cody Allen who was able to get the third.

In the top of the seventh, Pressly stayed in the game and threw a strong inning to retire the Indians in order. With Allen still on the mound in the bottom of the inning, Martin Maldonado gave Houston more padding to their lead with the Astros' fourth solo home run of the day to make it 5-2. A single by Springer in the next at-bat ended Allen's appearance and brought in Trevor Bauer from the bullpen. Springer moved to second on a groundout by Altuve, then scored on an RBI-single by Bregman, though Bregman would get caught between bases for the second out. Gurriel made it back-to-back hits with a two-out double and was left stranded, but the Astros still had their lead back to four runs in the 6-2 game.

Lance McCullers Jr. was next out of the pen for Houston and was able to get three quick outs in the top of the eighth to put them three outs away from the win. Tyler White hit a one-out double into the left-field corner off of Dan Otero in the bottom of the inning, then was pinch-run for by Myles Straw whose speed came in handy to score on a single up the middle by Reddick to make the lead 7-2 before a double play sent the game to the final inning.

Roberto Osuna took over in the top of the ninth and worked around a leadoff single by getting the next three batters out to end the game and start the playoffs off with a win. 

Game 2: The ALDS remains in Houston for Game 2 tomorrow afternoon at 3:37 PM Central, and can be seen on TBS. We'll get another high-profile pitching matchup with Gerrit Cole going for the Astros opposite of Carlos Carrasco for the Indians in a battle of strikeout artists. The Astros will try to utilize the home-field advantage to get out to a 2-0 lead in the series so that they only have to win one of the next three and keep the Indians from making it a best-of-3 series.

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

As things continue to relax as far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned, a return to a semblance of normalcy seems imminent. The NBA has some parameters in place for a potential return. Training camps are set to open late this month and the season is supposed to open July 31. Whether that's the rumored Disney-centered one-stop shop or another form, they have a plan in place to return. There's also no argument between the league and players going back and forth about money either (MLB could learn a lesson here).

So when it comes to the potential return, how does that fare for the local team? The Rockets were 40-24 and tied for the fifth seed in the West when the season was shut down. Since they're getting ready to return potentially, we need to be looking at what chances they may have in making a run in the playoffs towards an NBA title.



Harden's new physique

According to his new trainer, James Harden has done more cardio workouts and lost some weight. Specifically, he's done more football player workouts as opposed to basketball player workouts. There was a pic of Harden floating around showing an obvious loss of weight. His new-found cardio and weight loss could mean more late-game and late-season success for Harden and the Rockets.

Westbrook's edge

Russell Westbrook has a competitive fire that can't be put out. It's like one of those never-ending burning torches you see at monuments. He wants nothing more than to prove he's a winner on a high level. Given that he's reunited with a long time friend in Harden, his competitive nature could help fill the gap where Harden may lack. These two have proven they can coexist very well this season. Now could be their time to take surge.

Small-ball

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela, they fully committed to small-ball. There were times they didn't have a guy in the lineup over 6'5. The tallest guy that gets regular time is roughly 6'8. The smaller, quicker lineup is an advantage on the offensive end, but can be a huge liability on the defensive end. Given the stoppage and restart of the season, it could help them. Suppose other teams are sluggish and can't get their chemistry straight. Houston's advantage is that they go through one or two guys and eat off their shooting. Shooting can be worked on during times like these, whereas other aspects of your game can't.


I'm not saying the Rockets have a built-in advantage, but they have as good a shot as they've ever had in the past. The field is wide open to any team that's in the playoff hunt. No team will have a built-in advantage over others. With the Rockets' unique brand of ball, they may be able to make a run at a title this season. Couple that with Harden's weight loss and Westbrook's competitive nature, it could be very interesting. Whenever the NBA comes back this season, which I believe they will, I think this team has a legit shot at winning it all.

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