Baseball is a conundrum.
After a marathon of a Regular Season, 162 games with few to no time for a breather, here come the Playoffs, do or die 3–5–7 game series deciding whether it was worth the effort going through such peripecies.
For some teams, Dodgers Astros and a few others, the race ended weeks ago so that they had the chance to regroup and get ready, for others though it was a desperate dive in the end zone, a much dreamed target they achieved through thick and thin, ask the Padres, and against all odds and curses, welcome back Mariners!
There’s little to no time for those clubs to idle around as Wild Card rounds are about to start, and there’s a lot to choices to make, rosters to decide, rotations to line up. I already looked at the Astros case and now, as unbiased as I can be, I’ll analyze the AL field on Houston’s perspective, looking for each team’s ups and downs and whether it’s a good or bad matchup for them Stros.
Let’s get the party started!
New York Yankees
Top of the pops: smoking aces
Gerrit Cole is an ace indeed, a la Max Scherzer as in striking out a ton of guys and allowing the occasional moonshot, and when he sees Houston he has another gear, look at his complete game masterpiece in Minute Maid; Nestor Cortes surged as a valuable #2 made of mettle and deception, things the Astros hitters hate to see. Oh, Luis Severino is also back from the dead throwing 100 mph and a disgusting slider…quite the trio!
Their combination of pure stuff, Cole and Severino, and on-field antics, Cortes, makes them a tough pill to swallow for an offense that has to scratch 4 runs to guarantee a win.
Bottom of the chart: not Judging, and question marks
By now you all know what Aaron Judge did: a new AL HR record with 62 bombs, a run at a Triple Crown and a 11.5 WAR season, yep not a typo. His bat carried the entire NY offense more often than not, and that’s an issue.
Giancarlo Stanton still mashes and Anthony Rizzo was a smart signing, providing tough LH ABs and 30 HR pop, but everybody else had average to below seasons. Gleyber Torres is not fully back yet, Josh Donaldson is on his way to memory lane and how much can you ask from rookies Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza?
The situation may be even worse for what was the Yankees’ strength early in the season: their bullpen. Once dominant Clay Holmes went to the IL and back merely good, Aroldis Chapman is a remnant of days gone by and Zack Britton is donezo. The brunt of the workload will be on Johnatan Loaisiga, Scott Effross and lefties Wandy Peralta and Lucas Luetge…which is to say there’s a lot to be worried about.
Grade of difficulty: 8/10
Houston’s best bet against the Yankees is working their starters to bits, long ABs and a deluge of foul balls to get to the pen as early as they can. Also, not letting Judge beat you is obvious but I’d watch out for Stanton’s classic mashing in October.
Top of the pops: straight gas, homie!
Seattle is back! 21 years later the Mariners are reaccustomed to Postseason baseball, and whereas their latest run was made of a devastating lineup, one with Ichiro, Ken Griffey Jr and Edgar Martinez, this rendition is based on pitching and stuff, for both starters and relievers.
Rotation is 4 deep with filth all over it: Luis Castillo has kicked it up a notch since the trade, Robbie Ray may not be last year’s CY Young stalwart but he can still bring it and both Logan Gilbert and George Kirby have heat and breaking balls to spare. The pen ain’t bad either with flamethrowing Andres Munoz, untouchable Erik Swanson and spinners such as Paul Sewald and Diego Castillo.
Control is where it’s at for Seattle: if their starters can locate their fastball/sinkers, Houston is in for a sweat, otherwise the Astros lineup’s patience should prevail.
Bottom of the chart: Julio, Julio!…and?
Akin to the Yankees, Seattle has a depth problem in the lineup: Julio Rodriguez is a marvel but he’s dinged and a bit lonely 1–9. Eugenio Suarez homers a lot and strikes out more, Cal Raleigh is really good but whiffs too, Ty France hasn’t been the same post ASG, JP Crawford lacked all season.
Asking the likes of Carlos Santana and Mitch Haniger to carry Julio home is doable but a bit of a stretch. Maybe Jarred Kelenic? Who knows!?
Grade of difficulty: 7/10
Houston dominated Seattle in the season series but they didn’t always have Julio nor Luis Castillo. This is a matchup that depends on whether someone else rather than Rodriguez can step up and provide runs, while Ray and Kirby will be asked for much better than their last showings.
Tampa Bay Rays
Top of the pops: pieces of weaponry
Tampa Bay never fails when it comes to pitching: no Blake Snell? Welcome your new LHP overlord in Shane McClanahan! No old reliable Rich Hill? I raise old reliable Corey Kluber! Need a RHP dominant #2 starter? I’ve got a Tyler Glasnow for you! More LHP, deception variety? Watch what I did with Jeffrey Springs!
Bullpen is always new and always damn good: can you believe guys like Jason Adam, Brooks Raley and JT Chargois are now elite arms to deploy late game?!
Kevin Cash loves to mix and match things up with his array of rotation option and stable of unique looks in the pen, and this Postseason ain’t much different. Houston has actually hit well TB’s starters BUT not Glasnow, who’s only now back from the IL and the defining factor of the possible encounter. If he’s back back, we have a problem.
Bottom of the chart: video killed the pop stars
Tampa’s lineup though is not what you want: Wander Franco is true to his name but his power has disappeared, same for Ji Man Choi. Isaac Paredes leads the team in bombs but he also K’s a ton, as does ex-Astro Jose Siri.
Without Brandon Lowe and Mike Zunino there’s much less oomph in the Rays lineup, and come late October that’s what you need to score runs.
Grade of difficulty: 7.5/10
Tampa’s postseason hopes rest on the pitching staff to constantly allow less than 3 runs, letting their lineup scratch enough to bring home a W. They are a scary bunch pitching-wise, stuff monsters in Glasnow and McClanahan with a lot of options in their pen.
Top of the pops: no touch zone
Cleveland has TB’s plan to win the October sweepstakes: let the pitchers annihilate the opposition and manufacture a couple runs to win.
Shane Bieber’s stuff is diminished but his control is not, if he spots his offerings he’s a true ace; Triston McKenzie’s 2022 saw him rise as a glorious #2, working heat up and unleashing a demonic, true 12–6 breaking ball; Cal Quantrill’s sinkers gets bad groundballs and Aaron Civale racks up soft flyballs.
They only need to get through 5 too as Cleveland’s pen is what nightmares are made of: Eli Morgan’s changeup and Trevor Stephan’s splitter are real out-pitches, James Karinchak is back with his antics and domination, pretty sure nobody will ever figure out how to hit Emmanuel Clase’s 100 mph cutter.
If the game is close halfway, it’s advantage Cleveland, even with Houston’s bats and bullpen.
Bottom of the chart: Jose and his friends
If there’s a lineup with less pop than TB, it’s Cleveland: perennially underrated Jose Ramirez, burgeoning star Andres Gimenez and mentally deranged Josh Naylor are the only HR threats, while the rest of the lineup is full of no-whiff, no-chase slash and dash hitters, from top, rookie sensation Steven Kwan, to bottom, ex-Astro Myles Straw, and in between, Oscar Gonzalez, Owen Miller and such.
They’ll have to get 3 baserunners to make a run, and that is harder to do against elite pitching instead of whatever the White Sox, Royals and Tigers threw out there. A contact-laden offense, Cleveland could have a bad go if Verlander and Valdez are able to get them in swing mode and rack up less strikeouts and more abysmal BIP.
Grade of difficulty: 7.5/10
The Guardians look easier than they actually are: don’t sleep on their marvelous pitching staff top to bottom and if your starter has a bad day control-wise, you’re pretty much done for.
Houston has a nice record against them in the season but McKenzie and Quantrill already dominated the Astros lineup once, so this is not a nice stroll at the park by any means.
Toronto Blue Jays
Top of the pops: times are a-changing
Toronto’s quest to the Postseason was harder than it should have as the team still hasn’t fully clicked yet, although that doesn’t imply they are an easy out.
Alek Manoah is an old school workhorse out there, sinking and cutting you to death; Kevin Gausman’s splitter is still the thing; Ross Stripling has been damn fine while Jose Berrios is the most mercurial arm out there, 7 shoutout or 6 ER in 3 and nothing in between.
Their offense has no breaks whatsoever: forever Astro George Springer is ready to leadoff with a bang, both Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr had disappointing yet above average seasons, Teoscar Hernandez hides on 7–9 ready to mash, Matt Chapman is a threat and the Danny Jansen/Alejandro Kirk duo is the best catching tandem in the Postseason.
With premium stuff on the bump and a missile crisis always incoming at the plate, Toronto is a terrifying proposition, even more so if Bo, Vlad or both get hot.
Bottom of the chart: late night funk
Simply put, Toronto doesn’t have a bullpen: with the sole, lonesome Jordan Romano closing games, there’s a lot to be left up for grabs in the middle to late innings. Anthony Bass has been a good addition, David Phelps is solid and Yimi Garcia has been there, done that. Tim Mayza can get lefties out, but you’d rather not see too much Trent Thornton or the enigma called Yusei Kikuchi on the mound for the Jays.
A lot will be asked to both Manoah and Gausman: not only they have to deal, but they have to go the distance or at least seven, Romano waiting to get the last 3 outs and whoever has the hot hand bridging hopefully not so long gaps.
Grade of difficulty: 8.5/10
You read it right: Toronto is the scaries enemy the Astros have in the AL. Both Manoah and Gausman rely on devastating offspeed pitches, one of the few Astros kryptonites, both are almost unhittable if they get into their rythm and if they can stretch it to the late game up, things are bleak for Houston.
Toronto’s lineup is also quite bothersome: while they swing and miss a bit, there’s an abundance of power everywhere up and down 1–9, leaving few to no room for errors from flyball enthusiasts such as Verlander, Javier and Garcia/Urquidy. Rogers Centre is also hell on Earth come Playoffs, and that matters.
FanGraphs loves Houston’s WS chances, over 17% leading the competition, still there’s a lot of work for the Astros.
Ultimately it all rests on whether Houston’s lineup is awake or not: pitching rarely has given up a 5 spot, there’s so many arms Dusty Baker can go to before a pitcher goes completely sideways so run prevention should be there. Run creation has been a glaring issue for Houston though, a lineup that is able to draw 10 and be silenced the game after like clockwork.
With most teams relying more on pitching, Houston’s offense will have to show up in flocks, not a single hitter or two getting hot for a minute.
What about the NL though? I wouldn’t look so forward now…yet I’ll do it sooner rather than later for the sake of completion so stay tuned!
It’s Playoffs time, everybody!