What an exciting and satisfying ALDS for the Astros. Three (or was it four) nail-biting games that each came out in favor of our hometown team, ensuring the Astros their record sixth straight ticket to the ALCS.
Enough has been said about the Alvarez home runs that were instrumental in winning Games One and Two. Or the incredible pitching by the Astros bullpen throughout, but especially in the 18 inning, 1-0 Astros win in Game Three. And especially the five innings that closed out Game Three that made cha-cha-cha Luis Garcia the winning pitcher. Here I would like to discuss a few unsung heroes, a few topics, and leave the comments open for any observations that you, the readers, would like to add.
In any normal game, McCullers would have been the hero of Game Three. As it turns out, his six scoreless innings of two-hit, two-walk, seven-K pitching were only one-third of the game and almost completely overlooked in the tension and heroics that ensued. But if the Astros had managed even one run in the first nine innings of play, all the headlines would be how Lance McCullers, battling illness, pitched a playoff game for the ages. And BTW, he looked to me like he could have gone at least one more inning. He left after 88 pitches, and the Mariners were not touching him. The Astros’ third starter easily put up the best starting performance by any Astros starter of the ALDS.
Abreu has been underrated and unsung all year, lost in the shuffle of the best bullpen in baseball. But while Rafael Montero gets a much-deserved write-up by the Athletic, no one seems to notice (except Cody Poage) that Abreu improved his ERA in 2022 from 5.75 to 1.94, his WHIP from 1.47 to 1.18, and his K% from 22.4% to 35.5%. That’s the tenth highest in MLB for pitchers with greater than 50 innings pitched.
But in the ALDS, Abreu was even better, pitching each game, 3.1 innings total, allowing no runs, only one hit, and one walk while striking out six of the 12 batters he faced.
When the lights were on, Abreu flashed elite closer stuff.
On a broader note, how are the Astros as an organization so good at pitcher development?
Jeremy Peña, or why you don’t need to pay $30 million a year for a hero
The season’s over, and now we can make our inevitable Peña versus Correa comparison. After a slow start, Correa had a typical Correa year at the bat, even better than average, ending with a 140 wRC+. Peña started fast, had a bad mid-season slump, but came on stronger at the end, finishing with a 102 wRC+.
In overall fWAR ratings, Correa finished with 4.4 to Peña’s 3.4, as Peña contributed more in defensive value and baserunning than Correa. They both finished with 22 home runs, and Correa beat Peña in RBI by one with 64.
So if you paid Correa to stay on the Astros, you would have gotten one more win for about $29 million+. A perfect example of the Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns. And keep in mind that Peña is an asset that should increase in value in the next few years, while Correa is in his prime and will soon be a declining asset.
Oh, but what about post-season heroics? It turns out Jeremy Peña can get key hits and hit game-winning post-season home runs, too.
The Mariners and Astros are about evenly matched. NOT
Sure, each game wasn’t decided until the final pitch, and the run differential was four in a three-game series. Each game could have easily been won by the Mariners with just a little bit of different luck. I have read commenters in both Houston and Seattle say that each game was a coin flip, and the Astros just happened to win the flip all three times.
First of all, the odds of flipping heads three straight times is eight to one. So if the Mariners are as good as the Astros, to lose the toss all three games is bad luck indeed.
Many compared the Mariners to the Astros in the 2005 World Series with the White Sox, when the Astros lost four straight close games. But who doubts that the White Sox were a much better team, as good as the Astros in pitching that year, and far more potent at the bat.
Similarly, the Astros are just a little better than the Mariners and deserved to win.
In the season series, including the playoffs, the Astros were 15-7 against the Mariners. In both overall hitting and pitching statistics, the Astros had better season averages:
wRC+, Houston 111, Seattle 107,
ERA, Houston 2.90, Seattle 3.59
The case for Astros luck comes down mainly to Yordan Alvarez’s timely home runs. But Alvarez was probably the second-best hitter in baseball this year. That’s what he does, and the Mariners have no one to compare. For the series, Alvarez hit 1.086 OPS, not a big difference from his season average.
On the other hand, how lucky were the Mariners that this year’s fourth-best hitter by wRC+, Jose Altuve, was as useless as a little leaguer at bat in these three games?
The Mariners came into the playoffs red-hot at the bat, with a 127 wRC+ in the last two weeks of the season compared to 106 for the Astros. Then they had the huge comeback win over the Blue Jays in the WC series while the Astros were sitting on their asses for a week. The Mariners had big Mo on their side going in.
Plus, a five-game series was advantageous to the Mariners compared to a seven-game series. But even then, the Astros had more stamina. The Astros just have more pitching depth, as game three showed. What if Seattle had won game three after 18 innings? They had nothing left for Game Four. The Astros would come back with a rested Cristian Javier (season ERA 2.58), an ace on most staffs, with Jose Urquidy behind him. The whole Mariner staff would have been pitching Game Four on fumes.
And then Justin Verlander for Game Five. Oh, did I mention that Verlander happened to pitch his worst game of the season in Game One, and the Astros still won?
Many have noted the top-heavy nature of the Astros lineup. (like almost every other team in baseball) But don’t forget this bit of bad luck: the Astros lost their best on-base guy, Michael Brantley, earlier in the season. His salary is off the books for next year.
How the Astros and Seattle match up next year is another topic for later, but for now, let’s note that the Astros’ window should remain wide open.
So the best team won the ALDS, and if anyone was lucky, it was the Mariners to make a sweep look so close.