The ALDS matchup that will be getting national attention is the Red Sox – Yankees media darling series, where the East Coast bias wishes they could meet again in the ALCS and the World Series. But there is another ALDS matchup occurring outside prime time that is likely a closer match than the two team’s records (Astros 103-59 / Indians 91-71) would indicate.
The Astros’ fans were not looking forward to playing Cleveland in the 2017 playoffs after being dominated 1-5 by the Tribe during the season and thanks to the Yankees that matchup never occurred. This season, the Astros took 2 of 3 at home with Cleveland and then split 4 on the road.
In 2018, the Indians got off to a slow start and were 25-25 after the first 50 games, they then went 66-46 the rest of the way and coasted to the AL Central title by 13 games. The Astros played much better than the Indians early (they were 32-18 after 50 games), but due to great play by the Mariners early and the A’s late they never had a comfortable lead the whole season. Their 6 game lead at the end of the season was the biggest they ever held.
So how do these two teams matchup heading into their playoff matchup?
If the teams had to use a five-man rotation, the Astros would get the nod here, but with a more likely 4 or perhaps for the Indians 3 man rotation, this area is really close. The Indians top three are Corey Kluber (20-7, 2.89 ERA), Carlos Carrasco (17-10, 3.38 ERA) and Mike Clevinger (13-8, 3.02 ERA), while the Astros boast Justin Verlander (16-9, 2.52 ERA), Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA) and Dallas Keuchel (12-11, 3.74 ERA). The fourth starter is where it gets interesting. Due to injury, Trevor Bauer (12-6, 2.71 ERA) has not pitched more than 4 innings in a game since Aug. 11. Similarly, Charlie Morton (15-3, 3.13 ERA) has pitched only 4 innings total since Sept. 15. The series could be decided on this spot.
SP’s – Toss Up
This was an area that hurt the Indians in the early going and so they traded one of the top catching prospects in the game Francisco Mejia to the Padres for All Star closer Brad Hand (8 saves, 2.28 ERA since coming over) and reliever Adam Cimber (0-3, 4.05 ERA, 1.650 WHIP, but on the playoff roster). Behind Hand they have former Astro killers, Cody Allen (4-6, 4.70, 22 saves), whose struggles led to the trade and Andrew Miller (2-4, 4.24 ERA, 2 saves) who missed June and July with injuries. Former Astro Oliver Perez has been murder on both righties and lefties this season (1-1, 1.39 ERA, 0.742 WHIP). Dan Otero (2-1, 5.22 ERA) like Cimber is a weak spot for the Indians out of the ‘pen.
The Astros have been so strong that they have left off pitchers who would easily slide into the Indians bullpen. New closer Roberto Osuna (2-2, 1.99 ERA, 12 saves), shutdown set-up man Ryan Pressly (1-0, 0.77 ERA, 0.600 WHIP), Collin McHugh (6-2, 1.99 ERA, 0.912 WHIP) and Tony Sipp (3-1, 1.86 ERA) have been very good in 2018, though McHugh slid down the stretch. Lance McCullers Jr. (10-6, 3.86 ERA) comes back from injury to give them a multi-inning option, Will Harris (5-3, 3.49 ERA) slides into the bullpen based on strong numbers down the stretch and Josh James (2-0, 2.35 ERA, 0.957 WHIP) gives them 100 mph X-factor as needed. Again, it is hard to see the Indians being able to leave off their roster, Hector Rondon, Brad Peacock, Joe Smith and Framber Valdez.
RP’s – Advantage Astros
Infield and Catcher
After 2017’s great season, it is hard to believe that the Astros team would face a team with a better infield, but with great performances on the Indians side and injury-plagued and performance plagued seasons by Jose Altuve (.316 BA, 13 HR, 61 RBI) and Carlos Correa (.239 BA, 15 HR and 65 RBI) it is so. Yuli Gurriel (.291 BA, 33 doubles, 85 RBIs) is a bit better than Yonder Alonso (.250 BA, 23 HRs, 83 RBIs). Altuve is not as good as new 2B (formerly at 3B) Jose Ramirez (110 runs, 39 HR, 105 RBIs) and Correa is not near Francisco Lindor (129 runs, 38 HR, 92 RBIs). Yan Gomes (.266 BA/.313/.762) is a better hitter at catcher than Martin Maldonado (.231/.257/.655), though Maldonado has been gunning runners down at a huge rate compared to Gomes. The X-Factor here is newly acquired 3B Josh Donaldson, picked up at the waiver deadline in a controversial move (the Astros protested that he was not healthy when traded having played in one rehab game and immediately going back on the DL). Alex Bregman (105 runs, 51 doubles, 31 HRs, 103 RBIs) is not better than the Donaldson of 2014-2017, but he may be better than the current one, who had been injured most of the year. This is a key battle and the series may be greatly affected by the performance of these two players.
Infield/Catcher – Advantage Indians
Outfield and DH
The Astros assumed starting outfield would be Marwin Gonzalez (.247 BA/.733 OPS/ 16 HRs/68 RBIs), George Springer (.265 BA/.780 OPS/ 102 runs/22 HRs/ 71 RBIs) and Josh Reddick (.247 BA/.718 OPS/17 HRs/47 RBIs) against the Indians’ Michael Brantley (.257 BA/ .832 OPS/ 17 HR/ 76 RBIs), Jason Kipnis (.230 BA/ .704 OPS/ 18 HR/ 75 RBIs) and Melky Cabrera (.280 BA / .755 OPS/ 6 HRs/ 39 RBIs). Hitting-wise there might be a small plus on the Indian’s side. Fielding-wise the Astros are miles ahead. The DH battle will be interesting as Edwin Encarnacion (.246 BA/ .810 OPS/ 32 HR/ 107 RBIs) has tons more experience, but Tyler White has much better numbers (.276 BA/ .888 OPS/ 12 HRs/ 42 RBIs) in a smaller 2018 sample.
OF and DH – Toss Up
The Astros bench consists of Brian McCann (.212 BA/ .640 OPS/ 7 HR/ 23 RBIs), Evan Gattis (.226 BA/ .736 OPS/ 25 HR/ 78 RBIs), Jake Marisnick (.211 BA/ .674 OPS/ 10 HRs/ 28 RBIs), Tony Kemp (.263 BA/ .743 OPS/ 6 HRs/ 30 RBIs/ 9 SB) and Myles Straw (In 9 games – .333 BA/ 1.067 OPS/ 4 runs/ 1 HR/ 1 RBI/ 2 SBs). The Indians bench consists of C Roberto Perez (.168 BA/ .519 OPS/ 2 HRs/ 19 RBIs), OF Rajai Davis (.224 BA/ .559 OPS/ 1 HR/ 6 RBIs/ 21 SBs), OF Greg Allen (.252 BA/ .654 OPS/ 2 HR/ 20 RBIs/ 21 SBs), OF Brandon Guyer (.206 BA/ .671 OPS/ 7 HR/ 27 RBIs) and IF Yandy Diaz (.312 BA/ .797 OPS/ 1 HR/ 15 RBIs).
The Astros would seem to have an advantage at backup catcher and with Gattis’ power off the bench. Both teams have speed off their benches and it would seem that if the teams have to substitute on the infield they may look to their outfield (Marwin Gonzalez, Jason Kipnis) before their bench.
Bench – Advantage Astros
In the end this looks like a very tight series with the Astros getting a slight nod. I’m not an Astros’ homer (Pinocchio’s nose growing by the minute). This will be a huge test for the Astros and their experience in the playoffs last year may prove to be the difference.