After falling short in the 2018 ALCS, what did the Houston Astros do to respond in 2019? Oh, just another 100-win season, delivering a franchise record 107 wins. Houston’s record season ensured them home field advantage throughout the American League playoffs as well as the World Series, should they reach that far. The Astros will await the winner of the Rays and A’s wild card matchup. both are capable of pulling off a first-round upset, but the Astros are the best in baseball for a reason. Let’s examine the two teams, then I’ll offer my prediction of how far Houston will go into October.
The good news for the Athletics is that they have won six of their last eight meetings with the Astros, including taking three of four in Minute Maid from September 9–12. Overall, the A’s are 8–11 against the Astros this season. Their familiarity with Houston is what makes Oakland an early postseason threat to the Astros.
Besides their experience against Houston, the A’s have a good lineup capable of scoring runs. They were 8th in baseball in runs scored, and they can also slug the ball (5th in home runs). When it comes to pitching, they may not have the marquee names the Astros have, but the A’s do have a good pitching staff, finishing the regular season 6th in the league in ERA and 5th in WHIP. Much of Oakland’s pitching prowess was thanks in large part to their starting pitching getting better. The A’s starters posted a 4.17 ERA in the first half of the season, but then posted a 3.81 ERA in the second half.
The A’s have played the Astros extremely hard this year, and more often than not, the games are close.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are not in the AL West, but they are no schmucks either. Tampa Bay has 2017 Astros postseason hero Charlie Morton and reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell atop their rotation. Snell may have struggled in 2019, going 6–7 with a 4.21 ERA, and missed significant time following elbow surgery, but he is still one of the top pitchers in baseball.
As a team, the Rays can pitch, finishing 2nd in baseball in ERA and 3rd in WHIP. The Rays and Astros pitching staffs are 2nd and 3rd in each of those two categories; only the Dodgers pitching staff was statistically better than the Rays and Astros. Of course, the playoffs are a different ballgame from the regular season, but in a series between Tampa Bay and Houston, you may not see a lot of offense.
While the Rays’ pitching is something to gloat about, their offense is a different story. Tampa Bay finished 17th in the Majors in runs scored, so if their pitching were to fail, can they score enough to remain competitive?
If there is one slight advantage that could help the Rays, it is that since 2017, the Astros are 4–7 at Tropicana Field. The sample size for this data is small, but when facing a top-tier team like the Astros, you have to look under any rock for any kind of advantage, even if only to boost team morale heading into the series.
Who Should the Astros Want?
The biggest question around Social Media is which opponent the Astros should want. The answer is simple: Who cares? The Astros are the best team in baseball for a good reason: they are loaded. So why would it matter who they get?
The Biggest challenger? Neither; both the Rays and A’s are good teams and present their unique challenges. But only injuries or a total meltdown will prevent Houston from reaching the ALCS a third consecutive season. That is not to say Oakland and Tampa Bay can’t stress Houston out, because I think the series is going to go the full five games no matter whom Houston faces.
With the pitching staffs of both teams, and with the A’s hitting, whoever wins the right to play Houston should make the Astros sweat a little. After the way the Astros obliterated the Indians in last year’s ALDS, I believe a more challenging ALDS will be good for them; it will help prepare them for their likely impending 2017 ALCS rematch with the Yankees (or Twins, if they somehow pull off the upset).
My Astros Postseason Prediction
The Astros got what they wanted: They have the best record in baseball; everything runs through Houston; now is the time to back it up. Here is who I believe they will face, and how many games each series will go.
ALDS: The A’s will beat the Rays Wednesday night and will play Houston in the ALDS. Unlike the Indians, who were beaten like a drum, the A’s will bring a much better fight. The Astros are the superior team, but the familiarity between the A’s and Houston is what will make this series extremely competitive. The Astros will get past the A’s in 5 games.
ALCS: I do not believe the Twins have a shot against the Yankees. New York has battled injuries all season long and their starting pitching has been questionable at times, but unless something dramatic happens, we’re getting the 2017 ALCS rematch. I wrote back in August that I would lean heavily towards the team with the home field. Since it happens to be Houston, I will lean towards them.
However, unlike 2017, I believe the Astros will snatch one in Yankee Stadium after taking the first two games of the series; Houston will close the Yankees out in Houston in Game 6 to advance to the World Series.
World Series: Barring something crazy on the National League side, we are likely getting a rematch of the 2017 World Series between the Astros and Dodgers. The good news for LA would be that the only way they lose another World Series at home is if they lose in 4 or 5 games. Against the Astros, that is certainly plausible.
I have believed the American League is the strongest of the two leagues; in fact, six of the top ten teams reside in the AL (only the 93–69 Indians failed to make the playoffs). The Astros proved to be the strongest team, in the strongest league, and will back it up in the World Series. The Dodgers will show some pride and will not allow Houston to celebrate in Los Angeles for a second time, pushing the series to six.
In Game 6, Houston will claim their second World Series in three years in front of a raucous Minute Maid Park.
The best way the Astros could cap off an amazing season would be to win another championship; otherwise, what a huge letdown it would be to come up empty-handed. While the postseason officially starts with the National League Wild Card game, the Astros begin their quest for redemption Friday in Game One of the ALDS. The regular season is over; it is time to see if baseball’s best team can, indeed, #TakeItBack.