It is funny how the lack of expectations coming into the post-season for the Astros has slowly turned into a small pile of expectations after they emerged victorious from the first two rounds.
There was really no reason to believe the Astros would get through either of the first two rounds other than the random chance of three-game and five-game series and perhaps the lack of post-season success by their two opponents. The Twins and the A’s were both much better regular season teams than the Astros and while the Twins continued a long streak of playoff losses against the Astros, the A’s had rebounded from an ALDS opening game loss to the White Sox and a 3-0 deficit in the dramatic third game to win their first playoff series since 2006. On top of that the Astros had suffered a slew of injuries and a stack of underperformance and had barely made it into the post-season.
But the Astros ground out two Wild Card wins against Minnesota and got their swagger back (seemingly) in taking three out of four from Oakland in the ALDS.
After two losses against the Tampa Bay Rays, the swagger has been replaced with a bit of frustration. The script that won the first two series has flipped. The Astros won Game 1, 4-1 against the Twins due to an error by Jorge Polanco that led to a 3 run ninth and took the wind out of Minnesota’s sails. An error by Marcus Semien in the first game against the A’s led to 4 unearned runs and flipped a deficit into a lead on the way to a critical 1-0 lead in that series. The obvious contrast here is the mis-play between Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel that led to 3 unearned runs and a 3-0 hole in the first inning of the Astros 4-2 loss in game 2 against the Rays.
The Astros have scored three runs total in the first two games of the ALCS, going 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position. They were not great with RISP in the ALDS (12 for 36) but good enough, especially with 12 HRs sprinkled in the mix and averaged 8.25 runs per game against the A’s. They have had plenty of hits – outhitting the Rays 19 -10 in the two games, but they have been unproductive. In the series against the A’s and Twins hard hit balls found the holes. In the Rays’ series to date, most of the hard hit balls have found gloves.
The Rays’ ability to stem most of the Astros’ hard hit balls has two components. First is almost prescient positioning by Tampa Bay, which is undoubtedly tied to excellent scouting/metrics by that franchise. The second is a bit of luck. Yes, you put people in certain positions due to the likelihood of someone hitting in that quadrant, but you certainly don’t plan on them hitting the ball at 100 mph within a step of the fielders. This again is a bit of a flipped script as the Astros in their 2017 WS run rode the success of extreme shifting to an advantage over the opposition.
The Astros improbable playoff run is riding on the backs of the next two “home” games in San Diego. Lose them both and it is over. Split them and you are down 3-1 and on life support. Win them both and perhaps the miracle continues.
The Astros have gotten good pitching so far in this series, but they need the bats to wake up or be prepared to be packed away for another unusual off-season.
Two weeks ago we did not expect the Astros to be here. But now that they are here, it is hard to not be disappointed a bit if it ends soon. Humans are funny creatures.