ASTROS PLAYOFFS

Two important keys that can't be ignored heading into Game 3 of Astros-Mariners

Jose Altuve will look to put his stamp on the series in Game 3. Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images.

While things certainly could have gone better at certain points in Games 1 and 2, the ending result of both games has been perfect for the Astros, who travel to Seattle with a 2-0 series lead over the Mariners. Justin Verlander struggling in his start and the offense having to rely on the super-human hitting ability of Yordan Alvarez are two things you hope normalize in the rest of Houston's postseason run.

ALDS Game 3 will be in Seattle on Saturday afternoon, with Lance McCullers Jr. trying to give his team a good start to help them move towards a three-game sweep and get some time off before the ALCS. Outside of his performance, there are two other storylines from Games 1 and 2 that need to be looked at for Game 3:

Houston's bullpen needs to keep it up

In the first two games of this series, only one Seattle run has come against a Houston reliever; Eugenio Suárez's seventh-inning solo home run off Cristian Javier in Game 1. That's one lone run over 8.1 innings of work by Houston's bullpen.

If the Astros are to go far this postseason, they'll need more of the same because with the potential teams they are lined up to face in the ALCS and World Series, even the stout rotation of Houston won't be able to go deep into every game along the way. Speaking of that rotation, that's one reason the bullpen got even better when the regular season ended.

Hunter Brown, who transitioned to the bullpen before the season's end, has continued to impress on the mound in relief, including his scoreless eighth in Game 1, which helped keep the game in reach before Yordan's massive homer won it. Javier, as mentioned, has already come in out of the bullpen as well, leaving the Astros with Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia as two starter-caliber players that could either get plugged into the starter's role in a potential Game 4 or be ready to piggy back Justin Verlander if the Astros choose to start him on short rest.

No matter how things develop, it appears that Houston's pitching strengths continue to put them in an advantageous position in this ALDS series against the Mariners and beyond.

Jose Altuve needs to spark the offense

While Yordan Alvarez's seven RBI through the first two games are incredible, and Houston has also had clutch hits by Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel, it's Houston's leadoff man that has been surprisingly quiet so far. Altuve is 0-for-8 with a walk so far in the ALDS, a stat line that certainly won't continue, but how much he improves may be the key.

I'll be shocked if Jose Altuve doesn't take a hack at the first pitch of ALDS Game 3 if it's anywhere near the zone, as has been his trademark approach for much of his time as a leadoff hitter. If he can connect, it may just be the momentum-grabber that helps lead the Astros to a big offensive day that could win them the series.

Seattle will be fired up for their first home playoff game in over twenty years, so there is no question the noise Altuve will have to deal with will be noticeable. If he can start the game with a hit or, even more preferably, a solo homer, it could quiet the crowd and take away some of Seattle's home-field advantage.

Pair that with solid pitching by McCullers Jr. and the Astros' bullpen to stifle the Mariners' offense, and it could be a recipe that sends Houston to the ALCS again.

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