HOUSTON – The Houston Astros made quick work of the Minnesota Twins in the wild-card round. Two days and two wins later, here they are once again on a road to the World Series.
The first stop is in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium where they won the 2017 World Series. This week it’s a best-of-five with their AL West rivals from Oakland. The A’s won the season series by taking seven out of the 10 head-to-head meetings.
That was then. This is now.
These Astros are suddenly oozing with confidence and momentum after sweeping the Twins. The offense wasn’t great but it was better and the pitching staff shined with the starters and bullpen.
They need more of where that came from to eliminate the A’s. Head-to-head, these two teams are similar and we’ll find out if the Astros' postseason experience is a difference-maker in this series.
Let’s go around the horn and see how these two match up ahead of Game 1 on Monday afternoon.
Starting pitching: Astros
HOUSTON: McCullers Jr. goes in Game 1 and Framber Valdez gets the nod in Game 2 followed by Zack Greinke in Game 3. Mix in Jose Urquidy and that’s a solid top-four in the rotation with Cristian Javier out of the pen. This group along with closer Ryan Pressley needs to come up big. I expect McCullers Jr. to get it done in Game 1.
OAKLAND: Chris Bassett leads the A’s with a 2.29 ERA. Then, it’s Jesus Luzardo along with Sean Manaea and former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers who threw the Astros under the bus despite being a part of that same World Series, but I digress. There is a great rotation and a really good bullpen the A’s will send out there. The Astros need to come out swinging and producing early against this group.
FIRST BASE: Oakland’s Matt Olson is a stud with the bat and glove. Yuli Gurriel is proven and reliable with the glove but has struggled a bit offensively. No better time than this week to break out.
SECOND BASE: Is this the week Jose Altuve puts the team on his shoulders? He is due, right? He has a .219 batting average he won’t accept. Look out for Altuve! Oakland’s Tommy La Stella is a .281 hitter and outstanding defensively.
SHORTSTOP: Carlos Correa has 12 postseason home runs and had a big one in Minnesota. He should win a Gold Glove this season. They need his bat to produce in this series after a down year at the plate. The A’s Marcus Semien has struggled against Houston pitching but is solid with the glove.
HOUSTON: The Astros trio of Kyle Tucker, George Springer and Josh Reddick is good. Tucker had a nice series against the Twins and this has been his coming-out party in the big leagues. Springer struggled against the Twins but he’s proven on the big stage and loves to hit at Dodger Stadium. Reddick is good defensively and can deliver at the plate. There is a good chance we’ll see Michael Brantley in the DH role.
OAKLAND: Oakland’s Grossman, Laureano and Canha are producers. Grossman, in particular, has hit very well against his hometown team.
Prediction: Astros in 5 games
I’m going with my gut feeling that playoff experience and mindset will favor the Astros. Add in the neutral site and this has the makings of a very good series. These are two good teams that know each well. Skippers Dusty Baker and Bob Melvin will be challenged with managing each of their pitching staffs with the potential of five games in five days. The keys for the Astros will be getting the offense going early in the games to set the tone and take the pressure off of the pitching staff. McCullers Jr. gets the chance to make his statement Monday afternoon at a stadium he knows well and a mound he says he is very comfortable pitching on. This one is going the distance and the Astros will prevail in game five on Friday.