ASTROS PLAYOFFS

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

Astros Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve
Jose Altuve will look to put his stamp on the series in Game 3. Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images.
1st world probs: 2 best teams in MLB sh​are same impossible dilemma

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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The Texans are back in action! Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans are back on the field for voluntary OTAs, and it sure is nice to see one face in particular. Tank Dell is already participating in on-field drills after suffering a gunshot wound to the leg just a few weeks ago.

After the incident, Texans CEO Cal McNair said Dell would take a while to get back to where he was in his broken fibula rehab before suffering the gunshot wound. Clearly, Dell is ahead of schedule, and that's a great thing for QB CJ Stroud and the rest of the offense.

Head coach DeMeco Ryans spoke about Tank Dell's return.

Notable absences

The biggest addition of the offseason, Stefon Diggs, is not present at OTAs. Tytus Howard, Laremy Tunsil, and Shaq Mason are not in attendance either. Let's keep in mind, these workouts are voluntary, but it would have been great to see Diggs show up to build chemistry with Stroud.

Speaking of building chemistry with Stroud. The Texans' most productive receiver last season, Nico Collins, is on the field preparing for a huge contract year.

All Collins really has to prove this year is that he can stay healthy. He recorded 1,297 receiving yards and 8 TDs over 15 games in 2023.

He hasn't made it through a season healthy over his three-year career. Hopefully he bucks the trend in 2024. If he does, he likely will receive a contract extension similar to Colts receiver Michael Pittman. A three-year, $70 million deal with $46 million in guarantees. If he remains healthy, he'll get that money from someone, whether it's the Texans or another team.

Especially if Diggs leaves after the season when his contract expires.

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