The 2023 ALCS features two teams, the Astros and Rangers, that couldn’t be more equally matched on paper. Both had identical season records. According to wRC+, the two teams were fourth and fifth in MLB, the Rangers at 114, the Astros at 112. Pitching-wise, the Astros held an edge in terms of ERA, ranked eighth to the Rangers’ eighteenth, but that gap narrowed with a second-half slump by Astros starters.
The Astros did not hold court at home in the ALCS, going 0-2, but they have a losing record at home overall this year, whereas their road record is 51-30. In the Division Series, the Astros split with the Twins at home and won both road games to clinch. The Astros hope that a little road cooking might wake up their dormant bats. So far in the ALCS, only Yordan Alvarez is hitting for the Astros, and Jose Altuve and Kyle Tucker have compiled nothing but 0-fers.
But this game could hinge on starting pitching, and predicting how that turns out for both teams is difficult. The only thing predictable about tonight’s pitchers, Max Scherzer for the Rangers, and Cristian Javier for the Astros, is that they are unpredictable.
Scherzer is pitching for the first time in five weeks, just off IL. And even before that stint, in his previous five games, he allowed 0, 7, 0, 2, and 3 runs, the three runs in three innings. Overall, that’s 12 runs in 25 innings. Will the time off provide needed rest or just rust? Is he truly healed? We’ll find out soon enough.
In his last five regular season games, Javier allowed 0, 3, 1, 3, and 4 runs. In the last game, the four runs came in four innings. That’s 11 runs in 25.2 innings. Of course, he gave the team five scoreless innings in the ALDS, but his five walks allowed won’t stand up against the deep Rangers lineup.
So, this game requires us to predict not one but two unpredictable, erratic pitchers.
It is doubtful, after such a long layoff, that Scherzer goes past four or five innings, which might allow the Astros to reach the soft underbelly of the Rangers’ bullpen, the team’s greatest weakness, and something the Astros haven’t had the opportunity to do yet. However, the Rangers’ bullpen ERA so far this postseason is 2.50, compared to a 24th-ranked ERA of 4.77 during the regular season.
Of course, if the Astros want to avoid a sweep in Arlington, they’ll need the bats besides that of Alvarez to get hot again. Only Alvarez and Alex Bregman among players who have played both games have OPS’s above .800. The rest of the team have OPS’s that look more like batting averages.
As a team in the last two games, the Astros are slashing .169/.229/.323 with a .552 OPS.
The game starts at 7:03. See you in the threads.