Houston Astros Playoff Run

Breaking down Astros vs. Indians

Justin Verlander gets the call in Game 1. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros and Indians begin the ALDS on Friday at Minute Maid Park.  The series features two teams with dominant rotations and deep lineups.  While the Astros come in with home field advantage and a much gaudier regular season win total, the Indians shouldn’t be overlooked.

ROTATIONS:

Game One: Corey Kluber vs Justin Verlander

Kluber and Verlander might be the best pitching matchup anyone will see throughout the entire postseason.  Yes, that includes a possible Sale and Verlander matchup. Kluber is a two-time Cy Young Award winner that turned in another Cy Young worthy campaign in 2018,  leading the league in innings pitched with 215.0. He turned in a 2.89 ERA, striking out 222 hitters.

Kluber dominates with movement and effective pitch tunneling, as shown here.

There’s hundreds of examples of this sort of tunneling from Kluber.  For those unfamiliar with the term tunneling, it means that pitches look like the same for an extended period of time.  For instance, in the video link above, two pitches are overlaid from the same at-bat, a 90 MPH two-seam fastball and an 88 MPH cutter.  They look like the same pitch out of the hand, but the two-seamer darts away late and the cutter runs in on the hitter’s hands. This leads to extremely uncomfortable at-bats for hitters, because they don’t know what pitch to look for.

Kluber will be opposed by another Cy Young candidate in Verlander.  Verlander has found the fountain of youth in Houston, dominating the 2018 season at the age of 35.  Verlander was just as much of a workhorse for Houston as Kluber was for Cleveland, throwing one less inning than Kluber, but striking out 70 more hitters, which led the league.  Verlander’s 2.52 ERA is also slightly better than Kluber’s. Put simply, these two will be an amazing matchup to watch, and my guess is the first team to two wins.

Game Two: Carlos Carrasco vs Gerrit Cole

Game two features another marquee pitching matchup between Carrasco and Cole.  Cole certainly had a better season than Carrasco, as he had a lower ERA and FIP, more strikeouts, and more innings pitched.  

Digging deeper into the numbers, game two looks even more encouraging for Houston.  Carrasco started two games against Houston this year, both in May. Houston touched up Carrasco in game one.  While he did last 7 ⅔ innings, the Astros scattered eight hits, scoring three runs. Brian McCann had a homer for Houston, and both Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel had doubles.  In his second start against Houston, Carrasco got roughed up even more, allowing five runs and seven hits in 5 ⅔ innings. Carrasco came away with the win that day, as Lance McCullers struggled, giving up seven runs in 4 ⅓.

Cleveland has seen Gerrit Cole once this year, which was a wild Sunday day game in Cleveland that went to extra innings.  Cole lasted seven innings, allowing four hits. Three of the four hits he allowed were homers, and Cleveland went on to win 10-9 in 10 innings.  

These numbers bode well for Houston.  The Astros will be seeing Carrasco for the third time this year while the Indians will be seeing Cole just for the second time.  Not to mention, Carrasco has been a member of the Indians since 2009, and the Astros have seen him a lot over the last few seasons.  Cole has been pitching in the NL, so Houston will be much more familiar with Carrasco than Cleveland will be with Cole. Cole will obviously be looking to defend against the long ball since Cleveland mashed three of them against him earlier in the year, but getting to pitch at Minute Maid Park instead of at Progressive Field on a hot day in May where the ball carries well will help.

Game Three: Mike Clevinger vs Dallas Keuchel

The Astros win game three off of name recognition, but it will still be quite the pitching matchup.  Clevinger had a fantastic season for Cleveland, logging 200 innings, the first time he’s hit the mark in his three year career.  He also had a 3.02 ERA and a 3.52 FIP while striking out 207 batters. Keuchel struggled with inconsistency in 2018. He routinely started off games rough before settling in and pitching better late in games.  In the playoffs pitchers don’t get the luxury of time, and A.J. Hinch will certainly have a quick hook. Keuchel pitched 204 ⅔ innings in 2018 to the tune of a 3.74 ERA, which was in line with a 3.69 FIP.

Similar to Carrasco, Clevinger struggled against Houston in 2018.  Clevinger lasted 6 ⅓ in his first start against the ‘Stros, allowing eight hits and four walks, leading to three Astros runs.  George Springer homered off of Clevinger in that game. In his second start against Houston, Clevinger lasted 5 ⅓, giving up five runs on seven hits and three walks.  Alex Bregman homered and doubled off of Clevinger.

In a microcosm of his season, Keuchel was inconsistent against the Indians in 2018.  He was touched up in his first start against them, allowing four runs and lasting just five innings.  In his second start, he was much better, allowing two runs in six innings, scattering eight hits.

ASTROS KEYS TO SUCCESS:

Look for the Astros to grind out long at bats against the Cleveland starters and try to get them to turn it over to the bullpen.  Cleveland’s bullpen is better than it was when the teams played six games against each other in May, but it still has a fair share of holes.  Starting pitchers Trevor Bauer and Shane Bieber will be available to provide length out of the bullpen, but the back end is spotty. Andrew Miller hasn’t had the type of year baseball fans are used to seeing him have, and he hasn’t been any better down the stretch.  Over the last 28 days, Miller has a 6.30 ERA in 10 games pitched. Cody Allen has also had a really tough year, with a 4.70 ERA in 70 games pitched. His numbers over the last month are similar to Miller’s, as he’s pitched in 10 games with a 6.48 ERA. Adam Cimber also hasn’t been the reliable arm the Indians expected him to be when they acquired him alongside Brad Hand at the trade deadline.  Cimber has a 4.05 ERA and a 6.06 FIP in an Indians uniform. While he’s been much better than Miller and Allen in September, he’s been far from shutdown. The only worrisome arm in Cleveland’s bullpen will be Hand, whose been just as spectacular as an Indian as he was as a Padre.

INDIANS KEYS TO SUCCESS:

While the Astros will be looking to grind out at bats, the Indians should be looking to combat that.  Expect the Indians pitchers to really attack the Astros hitters and try to force them to swing the bat early in counts.  It sounds like a scary strategy considering the Astros lineup, but the Houston offense isn’t nearly as good this postseason as it was last postseason.  While Springer has swung the bat for a high average as of late, the thumb injury he suffered against the Los Angeles Dodgers has zapped his power, hitting just seven extra base hits in the month and a half since suffering the injury.  Altuve hasn’t hit for as much power this year, Carlos Correa has been lost at the plate, and Gurriel isn’t a power hitting first baseman that will strike fear into the Cleveland staff. Frankly, Cleveland can attack Houston hitters without having to worry too much about obscene damage being done outside of Bregman.  If Cleveland can force the Astros to swing the bat early in the count and keep the Astros from doing damage with those swings, they have a chance to upset the defending World Series champions.

 

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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