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Astros Open Forum: Who is the scariest possible AL opponent in the playoffs?

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The Astros have clinched the AL West. That means they could face one of four possible opponents in the ALDS. Who would give the Astros the most competition?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Let me deal with your first two objections right off.

First, the Astros are so good it doesn’t make any difference who they face.

OK, if you think the Astros are invincible, that’s your right as a loyal TCBer. But then, that doesn’t leave much to talk about, does it? Why, if you think that then you don’t have to even watch the games. In fact, why even play them. Just wait for the WS parade downtown in November.

I think the Astros themselves take all the prospective playoff opponents very seriously.

The second objection is that the most feared team is the Yankees, no discussion.

Maybe, but I don’t recall any season, regular or playoff, that didn’t have some surprises. In the playoffs anything can happen. (See objection one)

The Astros won’t face the Yankees in the ALDS, and assuming the Astros advance, there is no guarantee the Astros will face the Yanks in the ALCS. However, just for fun, I’ve included them in this discussion.

The Stats

Just to lead off the discussion I want to give some basic information.

First, let’s look at the AL standings as of Sunday night.

Now let’s look at another rating. This one is the Baseball Reference SRS, which they define as “the number of runs per game (a team) is better or worse than the average team.”

Astros:... 1.4

Yankees: 1.0

A’s:......... 0.9

Twins:......0.7

Rays:........0.5

Indians:...0.3

What about momentum. Some say throw it out the window once the playoffs begin. Others say it carries over. For those who care let’s see how each team has been doing over the last ten games.

Astros:....7-3

Yankees: 6-4

A’s:..........8-2

Twins......7-3

Rays........5-5

Indians....7-3

The following chart shows basic hitting and pitching statistics with league ranks, and for those who believe momentum matters, last 30 days stats as well.

Playoff contenders hitting stats, season and last 30 dyas

Team season wRC+ last 30 wRC+ season runs last 30 runs
Team season wRC+ last 30 wRC+ season runs last 30 runs
Astros 126/1st 143/1st 876/3rd 179/1st
Yankees 118/2nd 116/3rd 908/1st 155/3rd
Twins 116/3rd 11/4th 889/2nd 149/4th
Indians 95/9th 96/7th 730/10 130/7th
TB Rays 102/6th 105/6th 737/9th 140/5th
Oak A's 107/4th 121/2nd 820/5th 177/2nd

A few takeaways.

We love to brag that the Astros are challenging the 1927 Yankees for all-time best at wRC+, an advanced neutralized hitting stat. But you win games with runs, and in runs scored the Astros are only third in the AL, behind the Yankees and Twins.

Hitting momentum is swinging to two teams, the Astros and the A’s, 1 and 2 in wRC+ and runs for the last 30 days.

The following chart indicates the earned run averages of each team for the season and in the last 30 days. I have broken it down to overall staff, starters and relievers.

Pitching stats of AL playoff teams, season, last 30 days

Team ERA overall ERA last 30 ERA starters ERA st last 30 ERA relievers ERA rel. last 30
Team ERA overall ERA last 30 ERA starters ERA st last 30 ERA relievers ERA rel. last 30
Astros 3.71/3rd 3.65/3rd 3.65/1st 3.28/3rd 3.81/3rd 4.25/10th
Yankees 4.31/6th 3.34/2nd 4.55/6th 3.11/2nd 4.02/5th 3.62/2nd
Twins 4.16/5th 4.22/5th 4.17/5th 4.96/7th 4.15/5th 3.38/1st
Indians 3.66/1st 3.29/1st 3.69/3rd 2.84/1st 3.60/1st 4.24/9th
TB Rays 3.69/2nd 4.29/7th 3.62/1st 4.53/6th 3.75/2nd 4.10/7th
Oak A's 4.02/4th 4.03/4th 4.04/4th 4.03/5th 3.99/4th 4.03/6th

Although the Astros rank third in overall pitching, the distinction between the Astros, Rays, and Indians is too small to be meaningful. Considering peripheral stats you’d probably give a slight edge to the Rays, followed by the Astros.

The Yankees and Indians have shown considerable improvement over the last 30 days, while the Rays’ ERA has finally begun to regress to the level of their peripheral stats. But the Rays have something up their sleeves for the playoffs.

The effect of injuries

Let’s look at the injury situation for each team; who’s coming back on board, and which major contributors for 2019 might be unable to contribute during the playoffs.

Astros:

Losses. Collin McHugh, former 2019 5th starter and 2018 relief ace will not return. Not a major factor in 2019 team success.

Gains. Carlos Correa, starting shortstop, Ryan Pressly, bullpen ace, Brad Peacock, likely playoff reliever.

Evaluation. The Astros come into the playoffs at almost full strength after an injury riddled season (despite which they have already won 102 games). Situation favorable to Astros. (One might consider Wade Miley’s sudden demise to be as bad as an injury loss, which leaves the team without a proven fourth starter for the playoffs)

Yankees:

Losses. The Yankees, the most injury vexed team this year, have several important players who will be out of the playoffs. Mike Tauchman, a key contributor in the outfield in the absence of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge for part of the year, will not be available. The Yankees’ winningest pitcher, Domingo German, has been suspended for domestic abuse allegations. Aaron Hicks, out since early August, will probably not return as well.

Gains. These are major. Giancarlo Stanton, 2017 NL MVP and major slugger, has missed almost all of the season but is just now returning to the lineup. Yankees ace, Luis Severino, made his second start of the season on Sunday, and in nine innings pitched has not allowed a run.

Evaluation. Stanton and Severino more than make up for the loss of Tauchman and German. Injury situation favorable to Yankees.

Twins:

Gains. None

Losses. CF Byron Buxton, out with shoulder. RF Max Kepler, likely out with shoulder soreness. Michael Pineda, pitcher, suspended for drug violation.

Evaluation. Twins come into playoffs without three major regular season contributors worth 7.8 bWAR. Twins are hampered by injuries going into the playoffs

Indians:

Gains. ??????

Losses. 2B Jason Kipnis, hamate, out. Ace pitcher, Corey Kluber, fractured ulna bone, likely out. OF Tyler Naquin, ACL, out. 3B Jose Ramirez, uncertain return due to hamate injury.

Evaluation. Jose Ramirez would be a major loss, although his return is likely. How well he can swing after hamate surgery is questionable. The Indians claim there is an outside chance for the return of Kluber if the Indians advance in the playoffs, but he has not been a major factor for the Indians this season. Tyler Naquin’s contribution of 1.4 bWAR and Kipnis’ of 0.4 will be lost. Injuries have hurt the Indians all year, but how well Ramirez can recover from hamate surgery will be an important factor for the Indians in the playoffs.

Rays:

Gains. P Blake Snell and P Tyler Glasnow

Losses. 3B Yandy Diaz

Evaluation. Yandy Diaz was a 1.9 bWAR producer in about half a season. However, If last year’s Cy young winner Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow can come back in full form, the Rays automatically have perhaps the second best starting pitching trio in the AL to go with Charlie Morton. This could instantly reverse the regression seen recently in the Rays pitching performance. (side note: since August 21, Charlie Morton’s ERA has been 4.96, xFIP 4.04) Injury situation favorable for Rays.

A’s:

Gains. P Frankie Montas, back from drug suspension. P Sean Manaea.

Losses. RF Stephen Piscotty, ankle, return for playoffs uncertain. Blake Treinen out due to back issues.

Evaluation. In a recent four game series, the A’s won three games against the Astros in MMP. They did not use their two best pitchers who have just returned from suspension or IL, Montas and Manaea. In 23.2 innings since his return, Manaea has allowed only 3 runs. In 90 innings this year, Montas has a 2.70 ERA. The A’s, who are wielding hot bats going into the playoffs, are getting a huge upgrade in their starting pitching about as dramatic as that of the Rays.

Editor’s note: Montas will NOT be eligible for post-season play due to his drug suspension.

Piscotty has not been one of the main offensive weapons for the A’s, and Treinen has been ineffective as a relief pitcher all year, so his inactivity is not a major loss. With their two best pitchers back, the A’s go into the playoffs stronger than than they were for most of the season. Injury situation favorable to the A’s.

You decide

So who’s the scariest playoff opponent for the Astros? Is it the Yankees, with their offensive depth and bullpen? Is it the Twins, with their five hitters with 30+ homers. Is it the Indians, with their strong pitching, especially lately? Or do the Rays with Snell and Glasnow returning scare you more? How about the red-hot A’s, who also get a big boost in their starting pitching for the playoffs?

Comment below, and answer the poll.

Poll

Which AL team is the scariest playoff opponent?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Yankees
    (467 votes)
  • 3%
    Twins
    (40 votes)
  • 1%
    Indians
    (16 votes)
  • 4%
    Rays
    (58 votes)
  • 53%
    A’s
    (669 votes)
1250 votes total Vote Now