The MLB playoffs are in full swing. With the Divisional Series on both the National and the American League being played this week, it is the perfect time to separate which teams can really contend in each league. And if we take a look at the American League, we can realize the top team is not the one most experts believe.
If we look at the record, there is no question the Cleveland Indians have a clear edge. The reigning AL champs finished the season with a 102-60 record and in first place, meaning they will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But they might not make it to the World Series for a second straight year. The reason? This time there is a better team than them. We are talking about the Houston Astros.
Houston ended the regular season with an impressive 101-61 register. And before Sunday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, they have a comfortable 2-0 lead in the ALDS series against the AL East winners. But their strength is not in the numbers. They have an experienced rotation, a deadly offense, and enough depth to battle against any team in the league.
A Stacked Offense
The main weapon offensively is Jose Altuve. The MVP candidate led the majors with a .346 average and also hit 24 homers with .957 OPS. As if that wasn’t enough, he started the playoffs on a tear hitting three homers in the first game against Boston, and .714 overall. Small-sample-size applies here, but there is no doubt he has been one of the best hitters in all of baseball this season.
If one would think Altuve is the lone weapon, then it would be a glaring mistake. If the Venezuelan is on a bad day, then opposing pitchers have to deal with the likes of Carlos Correa (.315, 24 HR, 84 RBI), George Springer (.283, 34 HR, 85 RBI), or Josh Reddick (.314 average). And we are not even mentioning Marwin Gonzalez, Yuli Gurriel, or Alex Bregman. In short – they are stacked. Few opposing pitchers can contain them all at the same time.
One would think the rotation is Houston’s weak link, but that is not the case. With a 1-2 punch of Justin Verlander (5-0, 1.06 ERA since joining from the Detroit Tigers) and Dallas Keuchel (14-5, 2.90 ERA), the Astros can match up with any rotation in the bigs in a short series. The rest of the rotation is a bit suspect, but the talent is there. Lance McCullers Jr. (7-4, 4.25 ERA), Mike Fiers (8-10, 5.22 ERA) and Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) do not feature impressive numbers, but there is no question they are quality arms.
The bullpen might hurt them down the stretch as the Indians have significantly better alternatives from the pen, but Houston can counter with their offense. They can inflict damage to virtually any opposing pitcher in the MLB. If not, just ask Chris Sale after the Astros obliterated him in Game 1 of the ALDS.
How Do They Match Up With Cleveland?
The Indians match up quite well with Houston. They certainly have the rotation and exciting young players, but the loss of Edwin Encarnacion might be too much for them. Losing a star player in such a short series could hurt Cleveland, and his absence could be a difference maker against them. It will also put some extra pressure on the franchise’s arms. And we know what happened last year when the rotation and the bullpen had to carry the Indians to the 2016 World Series.
Houston and Cleveland played six times, and the Indians won five of those games. But they haven’t played each other since May 21. A lot of things can change in almost five months. And this time, the Astros look better equipped to take on Cleveland.
Do not sleep on them to reach the World Series. They might not be the best team on paper, but as or right now, they certainly look like the top team in the American League.