By: Sam Gagliardi
October Baseball is back and the Houston Astros will attempt to defend their title starting this Friday afternoon against the Cleveland Indians. Let's break down what will be the most competitive series of the Division round between what I believe are the two best teams in the Playoffs.
The Astros: After winning the commissioner's trophy last year, the Astros were not content. They went out made the largest offseason pitching splash by trading for Gerrit Cole, and he has not disappointed with a 2.88 ERA and 276 SOs. Cole is scheduled to start Game 2 after Justin Verlander starts Game 1. After finally winning his first title last year with the stros, Verlander has not only pitched this year like a huge weight has been lifted from his shoulders, but he has pitched like he is 25 again. He may lose out on the Cy Young award to Blake Snell but this has been his most impressive year pitching with a 2.52 ERA, .902 WHIP and a whopping 290 SOs. The Astros offense is still great. Carlos Correa may not be 100% but Alex Bregman is hitting well-enough to make up most of that production with 31 HRs and 103 RBI while flashing a great glove at 3rd base. Finally, the bullpen may be their greatest weakness. What was a questionable character decision acquiring — more-or-less-guilty wife beater — Roberto Osuna from the Blue Jays, it was never a questionable baseball X’s and O’s decision, as Osuna has performed great since the trade, stabilizing the backend of the their pen.
The Indians: Up 3-1 and one game away from the club’s first title in 68 years, the Indians could not close out the Cubs in 2016. They returned to the postseason last year with the AL’s best record and 22 game winning streak in hand, only to choke again and blow a 2-0 ALDS lead to the Yankees. This year is different. It feels different. The players have said all the right thing, but they know this is the current club’s last hurrah before some large franchise players reach free agency this offseason. They became the first team in MLB history to have 4 pitchers with 200+ strikeouts. Jose Ramirez became the first player since 2012 to record 30+ homeruns and 30+ steals (Mookie Betts also accomplished the feat a two weeks later), and they strikeout least often compared to any other club in the big leagues — a formula the Astors used to win it all last year.
Starting Pitching - Even: If Trevor Bauer were 100% it would be the Indians.
Relief pitching - Indians: (If and only if Andrew Miller is back to his old self).
Batting - Astros: They posses the more consistent hitters.
Manger - Indians: Nothing Against A.J Hinch, but Terry Francona is a Hall-of-Famer.
Predicting playoffs is never straightforward. Momentum is everything, except when it isn’t. The Indians rallied from a 5 run deficit in the 8th inning against the Yankees last year, only to get shut down by Tanaka and then watch the momentum swing to the Yankees who did capitalize on it. The point: Its best to analysis a baseball series 1 game at a time.
Game 1: I’ll give it to the Indians for two reasons. First, they’re hungrier and will be willing to prove the AL Central haters wrong. Secondly, historically they have hit Verlander well. Up through the 2017 season the Indians had a 24-20 career record against Verlander, hanging a 4.71 ERA on him. The Indians have the best record against him compared to any other major league club, at one point leading to Verlander and his former team the Tigers insinuating the Indians were stealing his pitching signs. Game 2: It will be a squeaker, but I also expect the Indians to win. Carlos Carrasco is phenomenal on the road compared to at home where he is almost a full point better on his ERA and batters hit only .222 against. He’ll match Cole early, allowing some magic late from either Francisco Lindor or Ramirez — or maybe Josh Donaldson anyone? Then Trevor Bauer will come in, in relief for the final 3 innings and shutdown the Stros lineup. Game 3: Will go to the Astros because they are desperate, and the lefty Dallas Keuchel will stimey Lindor and Ramirez at the plate. Game 4: And the series will goes to the Indians. For two reasons: The Indians, after the last two years, have finally learned to close a series and not allow the other team life, and for the Astors,it is so difficult to repeat as Champs. The Indians probably are not the better team but they want it more, thus is playoff baseball. Indians in 4.
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