Cleveland Rallies Together as Tribe Takes Astros in Houston
Bob Toth | On 05, Oct 2018
For the third season in a row, there will be meaningful October baseball for the Cleveland Indians organization. The American League Division Series will kick off Friday afternoon from Minute Maid Park where the Houston Astros will play host in their quest for a second straight World Series title.
For the Indians (91-71), it was an underwhelming season in an easy division as the American League Central crown was nearly awarded them in spring training. While the cakewalk schedule may have led to mixed results throughout the season, the offense still wowed with the third-most runs scored in the game (818, trailing only Boston and New York) while the team put up a strong +170 run differential. The bats struck out the fewest times in baseball and on the base paths the team picked off 135 bases to lead the Majors. The Indians play with extra motivation, looking to make up for their disappointing first round exit after losing a 2-0 lead a season ago in the ALDS against the New York Yankees.
The Astros (103-59) put together the best record and winning percentage in 57 seasons of baseball in Houston. AJ Hinch’s club allowed the fewest runs in franchise history (534) in a full season of action while leading the Majors in run differential with a +263 mark. Houston finished just behind the Tribe a year ago in the win column, but was able to knock off New York after their victory against Cleveland on the way to capturing the first title in club history in a seven-game World Series win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kluber will seek to make amends for a rough postseason a year ago while he dealt with injuries on the mound. He made two starts against the Yankees, taking a loss while allowing nine runs on ten hits in just six and one-third innings after going 4-1 in six playoff starts the year before with just seven runs allowed in 34 1/3 innings. The 32-year-old eight-year pro had an up-and-down year for him, but still won 20 games for the first time in his career while exceeding 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for the fifth straight season. The two-time Cy Young winner led the league in innings pitched (215) and all of baseball in shutouts (1) and complete games (2).
Verlander’s career revival continued this season in Houston as he put together a year that will garner him a significant share of the Cy Young votes. He finished third in the AL in ERA (2.52) and first in WHIP (0.90), just two spots ahead of Kluber in both categories. The 35-year-old and 14-year veteran was an All-Star for the first time since 2013 and has put together a 21-9 record in 39 regular season starts with the Astros over the last year and one month. In the postseason a year ago, he was the ALCS MVP and went 4-1 in six games (five starts) with a 2.21 ERA.
Carrasco made his postseason debut a year ago and made it a good one in Game 3 of the ALDS, holding the Yankees scoreless on three hits and three walks over five and two-thirds innings in a 1-0 loss. He had missed the team’s run in 2016 after being struck by an Ian Kinsler line drive in September of that season. Carrasco missed a month of the season after once again being hit by a liner, but he put up solid numbers overall and was the strikeout king of the team’s staff, one that featured four different 200-K pitchers this season. He got better as the season went on (despite less run support), going 6-5 with a 2.52 ERA in 14 games after the break after posting an 11-5 record in the first half with a 4.12 ERA in 18 games.
Cole returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, when he was on the mound for Pittsburgh’s 4-0 Wild Card loss to the Chicago Cubs. He allowed four runs on six hits in five innings in his third career playoff appearance. He previously worked in the 2013 postseason, pitching in Game 2 and 5 of the NLDS against St. Louis, allowing three runs on five hits in eleven innings while splitting a pair of decisions. An underrated offseason acquisition by the Astros, he led baseball with a 12.4 strikeout/nine inning rate and was an All-Star for the second time in his six-year career while putting up numbers that rivaled his 2015 performance with the Pirates. He was second in the American League with 276 strikeouts, doing so in 200 1/3 innings (one of six AL pitchers to reach the 200-inning mark this year).
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ALL-TIME PLAYOFF RECORDS
Cleveland: 56-50 (12 seasons); World Series wins in 1920 and 1948, losses in 1954, 1995, 1997, 2016.
Houston: 35-45 (11 seasons); World Series win in 2017, loss in 2005.
The Indians and Astros lack an extensive history against one another, as Houston spent the bulk of its existence in the National League (through 2012). The two teams began play against each other during Houston’s time in the NL Central when interleague play kicked off in 1997. They played a single series for five straight years, then did not meet up again until 2012. Starting in 2013, the teams have met twice a year.
Cleveland has historically had the better results in the matchup, posting a 35-24 record all-time, including a 17-14 mark at home and an 18-10 record in Texas. The Indians have dominated the Astros since they joined the American League, but things were much more evenly matched up this season, with Houston claiming four wins (two at home, two on the road) and Cleveland earning three (two at home, one on the road). The Astros outscored the Indians, 45-29, in the seven games.
THE ROAD TO ANOTHER RING
Altuve crushed Indians pitching this season to the tune of a .469 average with 15 hits in seven games. He led Houston with four doubles off of Tribe pitching and added a triple, a homer, and six RBI. He was the leading hitter once again for Houston this season, posting a .316 average on the year. The 28-year-old six-time All-Star and last season’s MVP played in the fewest games since his debut season in 2011, taking the field 137 times with 29 doubles, two triples, 13 homers, and 61 RBI to his credit. His streak of four straight 200-hit campaigns ended this year.
Gattis drove in a team-high seven runs in just five games against the Indians this season while hitting .333 (5-for-15). He was second on the team with 25 homers this year and third with 78 RBI.
Springer was one of three Astros (Gattis, Bregman) to hit two homers against Cleveland this year. He hit .323 in seven games with ten total hits (including three doubles), four walks, and five runs batted in. He hit .265 over the course of the year with 26 doubles, 22 homers, and 71 RBI.
Bregman put up a solid season in his third year in the Majors. The 24-year-old led all of baseball with 51 doubles and added team highs with 31 homers and 103 RBI while putting up a .286/.394/.532 slash in his first All-Star season.
Gurriel was second on the club with eleven hits and a .355 average against the Indians this season. He was second on the Astros with a .291 average and 85 RBI for the season.
Correa had a tougher time than most Astros against the Indians, striking out eight times in 32 plate appearances while hitting just .233. Despite some of the woes, he was second on the club in RBI against Cleveland with six. The 24-year-old and 2015 Rookie of the Year appeared in 110 games in another injury-shortened season, hitting 20 doubles, 15 homers, and 65 RBI while batting a career-low .230. He did lead baseball with eleven sacrifice flies.
Encarnacion had a good season against the Astros staff, hitting .346 (9-for-26) with two doubles, two homers, and five RBI. He was one of three different Indians to drive in five runs against them and hit a pair of homers. He hit just .246 on the year, but once again topped the 30-homer mark for the seventh straight campaign. He led the Indians with 107 RBI in 137 games.
Brantley hit .290 (9-for-31) in seven games against Houston, matching Encarnacion’s production with two doubles, two homers, and five RBI. The pair were tied for the most total bases by an Indians player against the Astros this year. He was the team’s leading hitter in 2018, ending the season with a .309 average with 36 doubles, two triples, 17 homers, and 76 RBI.
Alonso, who had seen plenty of the Astros over the last few years during his time in Oakland and Seattle, hit two homers and drove in four runs against them this season. He was one of four Indians to exceed 20 homers on the year, hitting 23 while driving in 83 runs.
Lindor struggled against Houston, hitting just .097 with three hits in 33 total plate appearances, but he put together an MVP caliber season again against the rest of baseball. He hit .277 with a team-high 183 hits and 42 doubles. He stole 25 bases, added 38 homers, and finished third on the team with 92 RBI.
Ramirez led the club with 39 homers, 34 stolen bases, and 106 walks in just the third 30-30 season in franchise history. A late season slide dropped his year-end average to .270, but he put up a .387 on-base percentage and a .552 slugging mark.
The series moves to Cleveland for Game 3 and Game 4 (if necessary). Game 3 will pit right-hander Mike Clevinger and left-hander Dallas Keuchel in a 1:30 PM ET first pitch. Game 4 is tentatively scheduled to see righty Trevor Bauer or Shane Bieber against fellow righty Charlie Morton in a 4:35 PM ET start (the latter contest in Cleveland could see a time adjustment, depending on the outcomes of other games across the postseason landscape).
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images