After making easy work of the Red Sox in the first two games of their ALDS series, are the Houston Astros on a clear course to the World Series?
It would have been difficult for the Houston Astros to begin the 2017 postseason in more convincing fashion. Facing off against a Boston Red Sox team that won 93 games and went 35-19 in August and September, the Astros have simply overpowered the AL East champs in taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the ALDS.
Houston outscored Boston 16-4 in the series’ first two games – a pair of 8-2 victories – outclassing the Sox on the mound and especially at the plate. On an off-day in the series, it’s worth asking: After their resounding display in Games 1 and 2, are the Astros suddenly the most dangerous team in the playoff field?
The Astros gave us plenty of reasons to believe in their first two performances of the postseason, and there’s no better person to start with than Jose Altuve. The sparkplug second baseman went 5-for-7 in the series’ first two contests, with five runs scored and four RBI. He belted three home runs in Game 1, becoming just the ninth player in history to achieve that feat in a playoff game. If you didn’t think Altuve deserved the American League MVP before, perhaps your perception has shifted.
Altuve has been far from the only standout member of the starting lineup, either. After going 0-for-4 in the first game, shortstop Carlos Correa went 2-for-4 on Friday with a two-run homer and four RBI. In similar fashion, outfielder and leadoff man George Springer also followed up an o-fer with a two-hit performance, mashing a home run of his own in Game 2.
Alex Bregman (3-for-9, HR) and Evan Gattis (3-for-6, 2 2B, RBI) are worthy of mention as well. In all, the offense generated 16 runs on 24 hits and eight walks, reminding everyone just how deep and productive it can be.
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But if pitching wins championships, Houston is looking formidable in that regard as well. Justin Verlander went out and did exactly what the Astros traded for him to do in Game 1. He limited Boston to two runs on six hits over six innings, notching his first postseason win since 2013 with the Tigers. The veteran right-hander has been money ever since he arrived in H-Town, allowing just four runs in 34 regular season innings for the Astros down the stretch.
Not to be outdone, Dallas Keuchel also turned in a strong outing in Game 2, surrendering one run on three hits with seven strikeouts in 5.2 frames. With a pair of former Cy Young winners forming an intimidating one-two punch at the front of the rotation, the Astros match up well against just about any of the teams still remaining.
If you thought the bullpen may be a weak link, there hasn’t been much cause for concern in the early going. Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Francisco Liriano, Joe Musgrove, Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles have combined to let up only one run over 6.1 innings.
Obviously, there is still plenty of October baseball to come. In all honesty, it’s hard to argue that the Cleveland Indians aren’t still the team to beat in the AL, especially after coming back from an 8-3 deficit to take Game 2 of their series against the Yankees, a game in which their ace (and quite possibly this year’s Cy Young winner) Corey Kluber lasted just 2.2 frames and they lost slugger Edwin Encarnacion to injury in the first inning.
Nevertheless, the Astros are making noise, and if we’re destined for a Houston-Cleveland ALCS, it should be one for the books.