HOUSTON – The Houston Astros opened up their 2019 playoff run with a very impressive 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in game 1 of the American League Division Series. Behind a masterful performance from Justin Verlander on the mound and a key home run from Jose Altuve, Houston handled the pressure of playing as the favorite very well.
Here's what we learned about the Astros from game 1. Game 2 is Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.
An ace is an ace
Verlander walked the first batter he faced in game 1. He then induced a double-play on a fantastic turn by Alex Bregman at third base, who fired to Altuve at second, who then made the throw to first base, that Yuli Gurriel made a flawless scoop on.
Verlander faced the minimum through the first three innings and allowed just one hit in seven innings and that lone hit - a single - didn't come until the top of the fifth inning. Verlander is 4-0 in his four game 1 starts for the Astros in the playoffs in his two-plus seasons with Houston. It never seemed like Verlander had his best stuff, maybe until the seventh inning, his last, when he struck out the side. He induced four swings and misses in the inning, including on strike three to all three batters.
He is also now 8-0 all-time in Division Series games.
Altuve swings a big postseason stick
Altuve had the biggest swing in the game. His swing on the 1-1 pitch, a four-seam fastball, with a runner on first base and none out in the fifth was the key play in the game. He sent the pitch over the wall in left field for a two-run homer and a 2-0 lead for the Astros.
He was coming off hitting a career-high 31 home runs in the 2019 regular season, Altuve belted a game one division series home run for the third consecutive season. Two years ago against Boston, Altuve homered three times in leading Houston to an 8-2 game 1 victory. Last year, Altuve homered in support of Verlander in Houston's 7-2 game 1 win over Cleveland. And now he homered in Houston's 6-2 game 1 win against Tampa.
Altuve's at bat/home run rate the last three regular seasons is 23.88. That rate skyrockets to 12.22 in the postseason over those three postseasons. For reference, a 12.22 at bat per home run ratio would've been the sixth-best figure in the major leagues, right behind possible National League MVP Cody Bellinger and right in front of American League home run champion Jorge Soler.
There is concern about Ryan Pressly
Houston allowed five hits in game 1 - four of them came off Ryan Pressly in the eighth inning when he managed to retire just two of the six batters he faced before being lifted from the game after recording only two outs.
In the regular season, Pressly was scored upon in just eight of his 55 outings and allowed just 14 earned runs all season. He made four scoreless appearances in the final month of the regular season following a knee procedure in late August. That gave the Astros confidence that would be the pitcher that was a first time all-star this season.
An effective Pressly turns the Astros bullpen from good to great.