With a start time of just after 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon, Game 1 of the ALDS series between the Cleveland Indians (91-71) and Houston Astros (103-59) will be difficult for many of us out there to catch live. And it’s a shame
Lucky for us, every game in this series is probably going to be a battle. Because while the Red Sox may have gotten most of the attention with a flashy 108-win season, the most complete team (or teams) in the American League won’t be found playing at Fenway this weekend. If you want lights-out pitching and deep lineups, look to Houston and Cleveland on Friday. Here’s a breakdown of what we might expect in this series between the AL Central and AL West Division winners.
A Cy Young Fest on the Mound
Game 1 – Corey Kluber (20-7, 2.89 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (16-9, 2.52 ERA)
Game 2 – Carlos Carrasco (17-10, 3.38 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA)
Game 3 – Mike Clevinger (13-8, 3.02 ERA) vs. Dallas Keuchel (12-11, 3.74 ERA)
*Note: The starting pitching for Houston has yet to be confirmed- above is simply a projection.
To say the Astros have the league’s best arms would be an understatement. In 2018, Houston led all of baseball in ERA, strikeouts, WHIP, total hits allowed, total runs allowed, and quality starts. With the one-two punch of Cy Young hopeful Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in the rotation, and the addition of Roberto Osuna to an already efficient bullpen (Tony Sipp and Collin McHugh are having sneaky excellent seasons), the Astros are a force to be reckoned with on the mound.
Cleveland’s staff, which doesn’t quite match the firepower of Houston, is still one of baseball’s elite units and perhaps even the second-best in the game. The Indians will answer Verlander and Cole with Corey Kluber (also a Cy Young candidate) and Carlos Carrasco, two of the four starters this season for Cleveland to reach 200 strikeouts (the first such occurrence in the history of baseball). Mike Clevinger will start Game 3, and Trevor Bauer will be available for high-leverage situations, and barring minimal use, Game 4. Their bullpen will make heavy use of tried-and-true guys like Andrew Miller, Brad Hand, and Cody Allen.
Advantage: Houston. Too much firepower. Hard to compete with a staff whose likely third starter is a Cy Young winner (Keuchel).
Two Lethal Lineups
Cleveland boasts arguably the game’s best shortstop in Francisco Lindor (.277 BA, 28 HRs, and a gaudy 7.9 WAR), and newly acquired slugger Josh Donaldson to provide depth after Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion. Veterans Melky Cabrera and Jason Kipnis give them some playoff experience at the bottom of the lineup, one that can match up well with any pitcher given they have three starters who are switch hitters. The Indians finished the regular season with the third most hits and second highest team batting average in baseball. They also did damage with their legs, leading the league in stolen bases.
Houston retaliates with a murderer’s row batting one-through-three, in George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman. There are hardly any dead spots in this lineup, with guys like Evan Gattis providing some pop from the DH spot and second-half surprise Tyler White (.276 BA and 12 HRs in 66 games) filling in off the bench as needed. The reason Houston has a slight advantage here (again, this could go either way), comes from the head to head numbers between these two clubs. In 7 games against each other this season, Houston batted .293 against Cleveland with 13 HRs and an OPS of .853. In those same 7 games, Cleveland batted .229 with 10 HRs and only a .650 OPS. So while the season series was split 4 games to 3 in favor of Houston, the offensive numbers here tell a bit more of a one-sided story.
Advantage: Cleveland. But only slightly.
The postseason is probably the only time in baseball where the manager can be a legit game-deciding factor. And A.J. Hinch is nothing to scoff at, leading the Astros to the promised land last year and positioning his team well to make a repeat run this season. But he’s going up against Terry Francona, who in his seasons with Boston and Cleveland has shown an incredible feel for his lineup and a mastery of handling a bullpen. The edge here, while slight, goes to Tito.
Prediction: Houston in 4 games
Good pitching wins in the playoffs. And in a series like this, with two comparable offenses, it’s going to come down to pitching. And Houston has too many big-time arms. Now of course, anything can happen. But unless we see the 22-wins-in-a-row Cleveland team from last season, the Astros with home-field advantage are likely going to be too big of a challenge for Cleveland to overcome in this ALDS.
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