The Astros have clinched. Since mid August, when the A’s caught the Astros, the good guys have simply run away from those pesky A’s. There are five games left and there’s no AL or Astro drama whatsoever, at least in terms of the playoff participants and pecking order. Turn to the NL for the drama! I imagine the A’s would rather rest their guys than hope that the Yankees go 1-4 while they go 4-0, just for a home game.
The Astros are the two-seed, and they will play Cleveland in the ALDS. Everything is about preparing the team for that series. In the meantime, there’s a lot to watch for. Here’s five things in particular:
- Charlie Morton: he will pitch sometime against Baltimore, and if he can get through 5 IP looking good, he’s either the 3rd or 4th starter in the Cleveland series and beyond. If Charlie is a no-go, then Josh James, Lance McCullers, and Framber Valdez all enter the mix. A healthy Morton makes the rotation a no-brainer.
- Lance McCullers: not pitching Monday or Tuesday is a bad sign. Today is a bullpen game. Will they try to let Lance throw 2 IP, or 30 pitches or so? Would they bring him back on Sunday for maybe 45 pitches? Would they eventually ramp him up so that he could, in a pinch, make a 4 or 5 IP start by the time of the Boston/NYY/Oakland series, or do they just want to groom him to be a one to two IP guy for the playoffs? HIs usage this week will reveal a lot.
- Carlos Correa: by sitting him for a week, the Astros opened the door to leaving him off the playoff roster. Can Carlos look like Carlos at the plate? As well as the team is playing, they are handicapped without The Captain. Carlos is an elite player, a proven playoff stud with an OPS of .891 over 24 games, in which he’s produced 13 extra base hits and 18 RBI.
- Roster hints: the ALDS has two games off, so a team could get away with 11 pitchers. If the Astros are up 2-1 going into Game 4, they would probably start Morton (assuming Keuchel goes in Game 3). If they’re down 2-1, they could start JV on three days rest since they’d have Cole on regular rest for Game 5. Point being, a 7-man bullpen, with a 4-man rotation, with two days off, means the team could go with 14 position players. I would guess Hinch still goes with 12 pitchers. In which case, assuming a healthy CM: 1) JV 2) Cole 3) DK 4) Morton; 5) James 6) McCullers 7) McHugh 8) Harris 9) Pressly 10) Rondon 11) Sipp 12) Osuna. If McCullers or Morton don’t make the team, then Peacock and Smith are in line. Smith would be more of a lock for a team with a string of tough righties, like NYY or Boston. On the other side, with 13 spots, assuming Marwin is starting LF and White is starting DH, there’s four bench spots. Kemp, Jake, and Maldanado are locks. The 4th spot comes down to Straw vs. Gattis (if Correa is healthy). Has the Big Bear, whose wRC+ has dropped from 121, to 106, to 103 in the past three years done enough the past week? Does his wRC+ of 121 against lefties in 2018 make him a key bench bat against a Cleveland BP that will likely feature a heavy dose of Hand and Miller in any close game after the 6th inning? If Gattis looks lost in the last five games, I imagine Straw starts to look appealing, especially given the Fisher effect in 2017.
- Ted Time. The Spring Training element of these last 5 games makes me eager to see Kyle Tucker starting in RF for the majority of the next 5 games. What about this scenario: Correa is scratched for the playoffs and Ted hits 4 bombs and slashes 400/500/800 from now to season’s end. With Cleveland throwing 4 righties (Kluber, Bauer, Carrasco, Clevinger), does a scorching Ted jump both Straw and Gattis as a bench bat? It’s an outlandish scenario, and Hinch hasn’t trusted Ted to do anything more than pinch run this month. But we can always dream on Ted.