The Astros are eight wins away from capturing a World Series title, and based on how the postseason has played out thus far, the defending American League champions could not be better positioned to collect those eight victories.
Though the Mariners went down swinging in the ALDS, the Astros were able to preserve their arms by sweeping the series, giving the pitching staff three full days to recuperate. Moreover, finishing the M’s off in Game 3 allows Justin Verlander to pitch the ALCS opener.
If it wasn’t clear before last weekend, Houston boasts the deepest stable of arms in baseball. Saturday’s herculean, 18-scoreless-innings effort is undoubtedly the best collective pitching performance in franchise history. And now going forward, they’ll ostensibly be 100 percent.
The pitching staff they’ll be facing next presumably will not be, thanks to a necessary fifth game in the Yankees-Guardians series that will, due to last night’s rainout, take place just one day before the start of the ALCS.
Aside from the beneficial scheduling and days off, there’s also home-field advantage.
Because the Padres ended the Dodgers’ season in the NLDS, the Astros are the top overall seed remaining, and will be able to host four games in a series going forward should they need to. Only the Dodgers and Yankees won more home games in the regular season, with the latter club notably going 42-39 on the road.
As evidenced by this postseason, anything can happen in October, but these circumstances are nevertheless ideal for the Astros. The Dodgers’ elimination in particular is significant for more than the one aforementioned reason, and they’re not alone in having made a premature exit.
On October 7, when the playoffs commenced, FanGraphs gave the Astros a 17.8 percent chance of winning the World Series. It was the highest percentage of all 12 contenders, but there were two other clubs that had at least a 15 percent chance: the Dodgers and the Braves. The NLDS featured not one upset, but two, with the Phillies defeating the 2021 world champions in four games.
The Astros’ goal is to win the last game of the season, and doing so now should be considerably easier with arguably their two greatest challengers no longer in the dance. FanGraphs’ current odds reflect that sentiment.
Despite having this optimal path to a championship, however, it’s far from a certainty that Houston will see a parade in a few weeks. The Astros have been in this position before. Multiple times.
Last year. the underdog Braves, who won the fewest regular-season games among all playoff teams in 2021, bested the Astros in a six-game World Series. And they did it without their best player in Ronald Acuña Jr.
What was perhaps the more shocking result was the Fall Classic of three years ago, when the Nationals took the juggernaut 2019 Astros to a seventh game in Houston, and won late in dramatic fashion. Other than generally being a remarkably entertaining World Series, the most memorable part about it was the fact that neither the Astros nor the Nationals won a single game at home.
The Astros could not have asked for a more advantageous set of circumstances heading into their sixth straight ALCS. They have the best, most well-rounded roster of the remaining teams and are by far the most experienced as well.
Despite the unpredictable nature of the postseason, this much is certain for the Astros: The hardware is theirs for the taking.