PLAYOFF POINTS

Barry Laminack predicts the Astros 25-man roster/Round 1 preview

Tony Kemp might be the odd man out if the Astros go with fewer hitters. Bob Levey/Getty Images

With the playoffs right around the corner I figured we could take a look at the projected Astros’ 25 man roster for the teams first round matchup vs the Cleveland Indians.

First thing we have to figure out is if A.J. Hinch goes with 12 bats or 13. For weeks I’ve thought he’d go with 12 bats, but when I put them on paper, seeing that either Kemp or Marisnick could be left off, combined with the fact that the pitching staff is so deep and talented, I now think he’ll carry 13 bats.

The other, and perhaps the most important reason I think they will carry 13 bats is the health of George Springer. He’s not 100%, so having both Marisneck and Kemp as back-ups makes sense.

Here are the fielders I project will make the cut for round 1:

STARTERS

C: Brian McCann

1B: Yuli Gurriel

2B: Jose Altuve

3B: Alex Bregman

SS: Carlos Correa

LF: Marwin Gonzalez

CF: George Springer

RF: Josh Reddick

DH: Evan Gattis
 

BENCH

Martin Maldonado(C), Tyler White (1B/DH), Jake Marisnick (OF), Tony Kemp (OF/2B)

For the sake of argument, let's say he decides to only carry 12 bats. Who does Hinch leave off, Kemp or Marisnick?

Both can provide speed off the bench to steal you a bag late in a game, but Marisneck’s value as a late game defensive replacement is undeniable. So if they do go with 12 bats, I think Kemp is the odd man out.

Now to the pitching staff.

STARTERS

Justin Verlander

Gerrit Cole

Charlie Morton

Dallas Keuchel

BULLPEN

(MR = Middle Relief, LS = Lefty Specialist, SU = Setup Man, CL = Closer)

MR: Ryan Pressly, Colin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Joe Smith, Josh James

LS: Tony Sipp

SU: Hector Rondon

CL: Roberto Osuna

Much like the hitters, most of the names on this list are no-brainers.

One great sign for this team was Lance McCullers getting in a productive inning of work (his first work since going on the DL in early August), so expect to see him pitch in at least two more games before the playoffs get here.

I think the final 2 spots on this team come down to choosing between Will Harris, Josh James, Brad Peacock, Joe Smith,  and Framber Valdez.

Will Harris just doesn’t have it this year, at least not enough to warrant a playoff spot, and for as good as Framber Valdez has looked this year, his 21 walks in 34.2 innings is going to keep him out of the playoffs.

I think Josh James has shown enough to warrant his addition to the roster. He’s proven that pressure isn’t an issue (look at his outing in Boston) and he’s got electric stuff that can get you a strikeout when needed, but can also go for a while if you find yourself in an extra innings marathon (and I think this could be very likely in at least 1 of the 5 games).

So this was really a choice between Brad Peacock and Joe Smith, and to be honest, you could make a case for both.

Peacock is giving up 1.57 HR/9 and averaging 13/4 Ks per 9 innings, while Smith is giving up 1.22 HR/9 and fanning 9.3 per 9 inning. Smith has shown better control with a .963 WHIP to Peacocks 1.115.

Those numbers are pretty darn good for both guys, so you really can’t go wrong here. I think it comes down to performance in the postseason.

Peacock has a 5.11 ERA (giving up 7 earned runs in 12 postseason inning - all last year).

Smith has pitched in a total of 5 innings of relief in the playoffs (spread over 3 years - 2013, 2014 and 2017) and has yet to give up a run (that included 4 appearances against the Yankees last year in the ALDS).

So because of his postseason success I went with Smith, but if the final playoff spot on your pitching roster is between Joe Smith and Brad Peacock, it’s safe to say your pitching staff is pretty darn good.

SERIES PREDICTION

The Astros are loaded with talent and ready to make another deep playoff run. The Cleveland Indians are no slouch of a team and can match the Astros starter for starter and at bat for at bat. The real difference between these two clubs is the bullpen and that is advantage Astros.

The Astros win this series, but it’ll take all five games.

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The Astros need to beat up on the lowly Rangers. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Collectively so far this season the Astros would not make for very good garbage men. Meaning they haven't been so good at taking out the trash. Swept in a series at Detroit when the Tigers were terrible, swept at Minute Maid Park by the sorry Orioles, swept in an early season series at the Rangers. Presently the Rangers are an atrocity. A nine game losing streak has them 35-62, buried deeply in last place in the American League West, 23 games behind the Astros. So the Astros need to whip up on them in this weekend's three game set, before the Astros head west for a three city road trip with stops in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

15. The number of home runs Jose Altuve has hit over his last 37 games. Multiply by four and that's a 60 homers in 148 games pace. Over those 37 games, Altuve is batting just .242. But slugging .577.

.029. Carlos Correa's batting average dating back 10 games played. One hit in his last 34 at bats. 14 strikeouts and just one walk over the stretch. That is what you call a funk. Certainly not a way to curry 300 million dollar contract offers.

The Rangers have just two 100 loss seasons in their history, their first two seasons after becoming the Rangers upon moving from Washington D.C. In 1972 the Ted Williams managed squad went 62-100, Ted quit, and the next year the Rangers finished 57-105. If the Astros sweep them this weekend, the Rangers will be on pace to lose 105 games.

It will be a decade ago this October that the Rangers came as close to winning a World Series as any team has ever come without winning the Series. In 2011 the Rangers carried a three games to two lead into game six at St. Louis. The Rangers led game six 7-5 with two on, two out, and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals' David Freese drilled a ball toward the base of the right field wall. Rangers' right fielder Nelson Cruz didn't make an error but didn't play the ball well, going back awkwardly and reaching out at the last second as if afraid of the wall. It went for a two run triple to tie the game. Two innings later Freese hit a game winning homer to force game seven.

The inning before that the Rangers again came within one strike of winning it all. A Josh Hamilton two run homer had the Rangers up 9-7 going to the bottom of the 10th. The Cards got within 9-8. With the tying run on second and two out, Rangers' Manager Ron Washington opted to intentionally walk Albert Pujols. Albert was still a tremendous player in 2011 (his last with the Redbirds), but he was not better than Lance Berkman that season, definitely not against right-handed pitching. Walking Pujols brought up Berkman to face right-hander Scott Feldman (a matchup of former Astro and future Astro). Berkman lined a two-two pitch to center field tying the game 9-9, ahead of Freese's 11th inning walk-off homer. One of the most incredible games in World Series history.

NCAA

Quite the story hitting that Texas and Oklahoma may be plotting to bolt the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. That neither UT, OU, nor the SEC denied it has smoke billowing. The Sooners have won the last six Big 12 football championships. The Longhorns last won in 2009. Oklahoma St., Kansas St., Baylor, TCU, all have more recently won at least a share of the conference title. An SEC UT could be looking at being in a division with Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M. UT marketing folks should be exploring a huge sponsorship deal with 7-Eleven. You know, Big Gulp. But as usual, follow the money.

The week ahead…

Wednesday: The Texans open training camp! Wait. Delete the exclamation point. Whither Deshaun Watson?

Thursday: The NBA Draft. Unless the Rockets pull off a thunderbolt of a trade to move up to number one and select Cade Cunningham, the winds of opinion are blowing in the direction of the Rockets taking wing Jalen Green second overall pick. That would be fine. Green is generally considered the most potential-laden explosive scorer on the board. The Rockets can use just about everything, a premium wing scorer would be excellent.

Friday: The MLB trade deadline. Does James Click bolster the Astros' shaky bullpen. The Astros have also been linked to Marlins' center fielder Starling Marte. Growing from his wretched start Myles Straw has been plenty acceptable. Free agent-to-be Marte would be a notable upgrade.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. First big beat the deadline win goes to the Rays. 41-year-old designated hitter Nelson Cruz still mashes. Simple frame of reference: he's been notably better than Yordan Alvarez this year.

2. The delayed by a year 2020 Summer Olympics are underway. Any interest at all?

3. Baseball's greatest Cruzes: Bronze-Jose Jr. Silver-Nelson Gold-Jose Sr.

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