The Houston Astros have officially made their first World Series since 2005, and their first as a member of the American League, after defeating the New York Yankees 4-0 tonight in Game 7 of the ALCS. In a back-and-forth battle of incredible pitching staffs, it was Houston’s that stepped up today; starter Charlie Morton went 5 strong innings, allowing only three baserunners and no runs on 54 pitches, and fellow starter Lance McCullers slammed the door with 4 shutout innings of his own. The only runs in the game came in the 4th and 5th innings—two solo homeruns from Evan Gattis and Jose Altuve gave the Astros a 2-0 lead, and the momentum of the game was secured when catcher Brian McCann, a Yankee just last season, smacked a two-run double off of reliever Tommy Kahnle to plate the final runs of the game.
The team now prepares to face off against the pennant winners in the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Dave Roberts’s team has had a few days to scout their potential opponents after dispatching of the defending champion Chicago Cubs in five games, so they have the advantage of rest going into the World Series. The Astros, meanwhile, after struggling for much of the post-season, seem to have found their bats when it matters most, and have an excellent pitching staff the likes of which the Dodgers have not seen yet in these play-offs. So who pulls out the win? Here’s my brief breakdown of the match-ups in the series:
LA has the unbeatable Clayton Kershaw, who seems to have overcome his play-off demons thus far, and Yu Darvish has looked pretty good, too. But Rich Hills has labored through a lot of pitches, and Alex Wood has been very poor. Houston, meanwhile, can counter with four fantastic starters—its two back-end guys were McCullers and Morton, who combined to shut down the Yankees tonight, and its two front-end guys, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, have been excellent so far. Houston’s got the advantage.
The Houston bullpen hasn’t really had to do a whole lot thus far due to their starters’ excellent performances. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have gotten their normal lights-out performances from Kenley Janson, and the rest of the “no-namers” around him have been very good thus far. The bats of the Diamondbacks and Cubs, though, did not quite have the firepower that the ‘Stros do, and I worry that LA’s bullpen will fall back into the slump that it had to battle through in the regular season. For that reason, I think Houston has a slight advantage.
As I mentioned earlier, the Astros bats have been very inconsistent, seemingly having an on-off switch relating to their productivity, which is strange considering how excellent it was during the regular season. The Dodgers have had no such problems—they have averaged six runs per game in their post-season run thus far, and that includes not having arguably their most balanced hitter, Corey Seager, absent due to injury for the entire NLCS. They’ve gotten excellent hitting up and down the order, and their big guns, especially Justin Turner, have really stepped up to the plate. LA has the advantage here.
Both teams feature a lot of athleticism, but I think that the Dodgers have harnessed theirs a little bit better on the base paths so far—outside of the play at the plate that became a non-factor due to Gary Sanchez’s hard hands, the Astros weren’t that aggressive in taking the extra base. LA hasn’t been afraid to try, and so far, it’s worked to their advantage.
If you can’t understand why I’d give Houston the advantage here, watch the highlights of the last two ALCS games. You’ll see the athleticism of Carlos Correa, the ranginess of Jose Altuve, the instinct of Alex Bregman, and the freak of nature that is George Springer. This isn’t to say that the Dodgers have a bad defense—they don’t—but Houston’s is one of the most capable ones in the league.
Dave Roberts and AJ Hinch are both intelligent former players that have pushed every button correctly so far in these play-offs. I don’t think either team has an advantage here.
Prediction: Astros in 7
I think that the first six games of this one will be won by the home team—as I mentioned earlier, the visitors have had a really tough time getting going, in any series thus far—and that would give us a winner-take-all showdown in Game 6. If the pitching rotations go in the order that they have up to this point, that would mean a Game 7 match-up between the two starters that have arguably looked the best in these play-offs, Darvish and Verlander. In the end, though, I think that the advantage that Houston has in its bullpen—not just in Ken Giles and Chris Devenski, but in guys like McCullers, who showed that he is a very capable reliever tonight, and Morton. I expect one of those guys to be on the hill when Houston pulls out their first championship in franchise history.