On paper, the Astros are two games better this year than they were last year. The 2017 squad tended to bludgeon opponents into submission. Oddly enough, Carlos Beltran is the only big bat missing but several Houston hitters had less productive years in the power department and the big run explosions happened far less often.
A classic staredown
(c) Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle
Seemingly, the 2018 version had to work harder and needed more late rallies to pull out victories. Their bullpen is stronger this year and I doubt you'll see the pen practically vanish as they did in the ALCS and World Series of last year.
What makes this club special is the starting pitching. Full seasons of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole (the starters for Games 1 and 2), another special season for Charlie Morton and a year where Dallas Keuchel found a zone after a tough few opening weeks. Houston's 3.11 team ERA was over half-a-run better than anyone else in the league.
But don't fall asleep on the Indians. They had five starters with double-digit wins led by Corey Kluber (20-7), a former Cy Young winner. Carlos Carrasco (17-10) is a solid Game 2 matchup for Cole. Both are gritty and sometimes make up in heart what they lack in numbers. Trevor Bauer (12-6) and Mike Clevinger (13-8) can also be tough customers.
Where they suffer is in the bullpen which was once the lynchpin of the team's success. Trade acquisition Brad Hand and ancient lefty Oliver Perez are the only bullpen members with ERAs under 4.00 so the strategy will likely be to take a lot of pitches and try to wear out the starters so they can feast on the bullpen.
The Tribe, like the Astros, are relatively healthy. Catcher Yan Gomes has a hurt hand but expects to play. Outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall is a scratch. The Indians are full of lefty hitters and switch hitters which will create matchup problems for Houston's bullpen.
Cleveland's offense outpaced the Astros in practically every category but not by great numbers. Houston will have to be wary of seven bats in the lineup with double-digit homers and that does not include late acquisition Josh Donaldson, a former league MVP. The Astros put 10 hitters into the double-digits for homers but only one with 30 or more while the Indians have three.
Friday's game at Minute Maid is slated to start at 1:05 p.m. on TBS while Saturday's Game 2 will be at 3:05 p.m. Despite the yawns coming from New York and Boston, this will be a great series worth watching.
- Bob Hulsey