Astros outlook for ALCS

By Randy McIlvoy - Sports Director
2018 Getty Images

Carlos Correa #1 of the Houston Astros celebrates with Marwin Gonzalez #9 after hitting a three-run home run in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during Game Three of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on…

HOUSTON - One box has been checked on the Astros' Road 2 A Repeat, and they fully expect two more are on their playoff horizon.

The season is a marathon, and some would argue it is way too long, but when you reach this point of the grind, the players just keep pushing. Spring training began back in February, so nine months later it's time for the Astros to finish the job.

The Astros are the reigning World Series champs, and it doesn't appear any team, even Boston, will have the firepower to dethrone our local nine. They will have to settle it on the field.

The Astros just don't have a few parts, they have the total package, from starting pitching to an improved bullpen to stellar defense to a lineup that packs a punch.

George Springer is doing damage again, and Monday showed there is no stage that is too big for him as he belted two more home runs in Houston's 11-3 rout in Game 3 that finished off a sweep of the Indians. Springer's pair of dingers sent his career postseason total to 10.

My takeaways from the American League Division Series cakewalk are simple and won't come as a shock to anyone:

1. The lineup is loaded with guys that produce and who are happy to share the successes of their teammates. A hero almost every night, and they are more than OK with that. In fact, the players I speak with said the entire clubhouse embraces that. As a reporter who has covered a lot of Major League Baseball for the last 30 years, I can tell you that is refreshing to see.

"In this series we didn't rely on one person," Jose Altuve told us in the clubhouse. "We had everyone step up for us to win this series."

2. Springer is a gamer and so is Alex Bregman. Again, no surprise. Their work ethic is incredible, and their comfort level on baseball's biggest stages is unmatched. They are having fun and always smiling; then when it is their turn to produce they deliver. Pretty simple stuff.

3. Marwin Gonzalez. What more can you say? The guy is so valuable wherever manager A.J. Hinch pencils him in the lineup. Gonzo had a huge series against the Indians, and more is on the way.

4. Their starting pitching is simply the best in baseball and has proven that all year. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton (who didn't even pitch in the ALDS), along with other big pieces.

5. Relief Pitching: I also believe during these playoffs, relievers like Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers Jr., Ryan Pressley and Roberto Osuna offer so many options at Hinch's disposal. Take your pick and they will get the job done.

So the Astros sit and wait on the outcome of the Red Sox-Yankees series that Boston now leads 2-1. They fly back to Houston Tuesday after staying in Cleveland Monday night, riding a wave of confidence and momentum after putting on a clinic against the Indians.

A big series win indeed, but these 2018 Astros are not satisfied. Not even close to it.

"This was a great series for us, and we will celebrate," Carlos Correa told us in the clubhouse Monday. "But this is something we have been focused on since spring training, and it is just one step. We want to do this two more times in the ALCS and World Series."

So what have they learned so far even after a three-game sweep?

"We have learned that winning back-to-back World Series is not easy," Josh Reddick told us Monday while puffing on his celebratory cigar and downing a cold brew.

The Astros now have their eyes on winning another American League pennant, and the journey begins Saturday either at Fenway Park, in Boston, or against the Yankees, at Minute Maid Park.

Isn't October fun? Let's all enjoy the ride, because we are witnessing an Astros era that will be talked about for decades to come.

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