Houston Astros: Three reasons why team has the upper hand in the ALCS

Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Houston Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The Houston Astros are in a fierce battle in the ALCS with the New York Yankees. How should they fare? Here are three reasons why they have the upper hand.

Houston Astros fans, I have to tell you, hearing “this will be all over soon,” part of the lyrics to the second verse of Breaking Benjamin’s single, “Breath,” within gym pump-up music playlist, it emphatically reminded me of the no-show Houston Astros’ offense in Game 1. Looking back throughout the weekend, one was left to wonder: Is there even an ALCS contest?

Indeed, after the 7-0 shellacking the Houston Astros took in the first game of the ALCS, questions still remain about Houston’s viability to reach the World Series. However, with critical wins in Games 2 and 3, the Houston Astros regained a glimmer of hope moving forward against the Bronx batting machine.

Here are three reasons the Houston Astros still have a shot at winning the best-of-seven series against the Yankees:

1) Carlos “Kirk Gibson” Correa

Okay, okay, Carlos Correa didn’t hit a walk-off homer in the World Series with a leg that already died, that was somehow still attached to his living body like Gibson, but the Astros’ shortstop came close — sort of. Correa — as well as Correa’s recently injured back — homered on baseball’s second-biggest stage, a league championship series game, in the bottom of the 11th inning to even the series with the Yankees at a game apiece.

Additionally, Correa was the only Astro to notch multiple extra-base hits in Game 2, as he also doubled in the second inning. And in Game 3 of the series, though the Astros’ shortstop went 0-for-4 at the plate with two strikeouts, he contributed with stellar defense.

2) JV and the Cole Train Band

In Game 2, Justin Verlander made an impressive start, retiring all nine batters faced in his first three innings of work. However, at the top of the fourth, the Astros‘ ace surrendered a lead-off walk to Yankees’ first basemen, DJ LeMahieu. With LeMahieu on first base, Aaron Judge crushed an 0-1 breaking ball to deep right-center field for a go-ahead home run. Despite Verlander’s off-speed pitch to Judge that missed its intended location, the right-hander was rather effective against such a formidable lineup, going 6.2 innings, 109 pitches, and exiting the game in a 2-2 stalemate. With Wednesday’s contest postponed due to weather, look for Verlander to toe the rubber for Game 5 of the series in the Bronx tomorrow.

Not to be outdone, Gerrit Cole made the postseason start of his career. In Game 3, Cole exerted his will on the prodigious Yankees’ lineup going seven shutout innings, surrendering four hits, striking out seven and dominating with a fastball that at times reached 100 miles per hour.

The only blemish to his stellar performance was allowing five walks; however, intentionally pitching out of the strike zone to induce swings-and-misses appeared to be part of his ultimately effective game plan. After all, of Cole’s 112 pitches, only 68 were strikes.

3) The Astros’ core showed signs of life

Unlike the ALCS Game 1 shutout — a three-hit embarrassment suffered by the Astros’ bats — Game 2 was a different story. Though not always pretty offensively, every Astro in the first five spots of Houston’s lineup reached base at least once.

In addition to Correa’s opposite-field walk-off blast to win the game, and Springer’s solo shot in the fifth, both Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman had very effective campaigns, each reaching base three times in five plate appearances. Moreover, in Game 2, Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel combined for 10 at-bats and only one strikeout — a very good indication of putting the ball in play — but they failed to reach base in nine of those 10 opportunities.

In Game 3, the Astros’ bats continued to show a pulse. Every starter reached base at least once, except for Correa. Altuve belted the third pitch of the game over the fence in left-center field. Brantley and Bregman got on three times, while catcher, Martin Maldonado, hammered a double off the left-field fence.

Meanwhile, tension is rising concerning the right field playing time. Josh Reddick’s impactful second inning home run off of Yankees’ starter, Luis Severino in Game 3 will force manager AJ Hinch’s hand in regard to whether Kyle Tucker or Reddick will receive the bulk of the remaining playing

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time to finish the series.

Going into Game 4, both Reddick and Tucker are batting .250 in the ALCS.  The Astros’ organization appears committed to giving Tucker opportunities to face postseason pitching and garner experience as they foresee the 2015 first-round draft pick as a key component of the franchise’s future.

However, one can only imagine that Reddick’s solo shot — providing a pivotal game-3 insurance run — has to be weighing heavily on Hinch’s mind as the Astros’ manager must now ponder who to pencil in the lineup and play in right field with a trip to the World Series on the line. Though Reddick experienced a down year offensively over the course of the regular season, Hinch might be inclined to go with the veteran, if the Astros’ manager thinks he is currently locked in at the plate.

Next. Astros: Gerrit Cole needs to be ready to start Game 6 if necessary. dark

Going forward, the Astros’ bats will need to improve upon driving in runners in scoring position to keep up with the potent Yankees’ lineup — a Yankees’ roster that will likely soon include the return of slugger, Giancarlo Stanton, who allegedly suffered quadriceps discomfort during Game 1 against the Astros. As a team, the Astros’ offense has left a staggering 43 runners on base during the first three games of the series.

What do you think? Feel free to leave your comments below.