The 2018 American League Division Series is finally here! Starting us off is a true Clash of the Titans matchup. The Cleveland Indians look to stop the Houston Astros’ dreams of a repeat.
In order to determine who will win, we must absorb everything there is to know about who will represent each team in each position. After a grueling few days, one team will have to come out on top.
Who has the advantage?
First Base – Yuri Gurriel (HOU) v. Yonder Alonso (CLE)
While he regressed in the power game this season (13 home runs over last season’s 18), Yuri Gurriel is still a force to be reckoned with. He has a solid .291/.323/.751 slash line to go along with 85 RBIs and a 2.2 WAR. One of the most consistent bats on the Astros, if Gurriel starts to get hot there is no stopping him.
On the other side, Alonso his hitting .250/.317/.738 with 23 home runs and 83 RBIs. While he provides more pop at the plate, being able to produce outside of the home run is a big factor.
Second Base – Jose Altuve (HOU) v. Jose Ramirez (CLE)
This almost doesn’t seem fair, as both are playing MVP-caliber baseball.
While he has missed games this season, Altuve has still managed to slash .316/.386/.451 with 169 hits. A fixture in the middle of the lineup, Altuve can hit the ball wherever he wants it to go. The man is also an Indians killer; collecting 15 hits in seven regular season games over Cleveland’s staff.
If you want some pop, talk to Jose Ramirez. Slugging 39 home runs in 157 games, Ramirez played the part of a true stopper. With a .552 SLG, the 26-year-old can get hot at just the right moment. Unfortunately, that also means he can get cold. In his last 30 games, Ramirez hit .171/.307/.297, a scary sign for a team looking to head back into the World Series.
Shortstop – Carlos Correa (HOU) v. Francisco Lindor (CLE)
This was a season to forget for Carlos Correa and one to remember for Francisco Lindor.
In 110 games, Correa had a .239/.323/.405 slash line with 15 home runs and drove in 65. Injuries affected his season, throwing off his timing. It took until the last week of baseball to produce multiple hits for the first time in months.
If Mookie Betts or J.D. Martinez weren’t automatic lock’s for AL MVP, Franciso Lindor would be a solid choice to represent the American League. He scored 129 runs, 30 more than last season. He also slugged a career-high 38 home runs while hitting .277.
Third Base – Alex Bregman (HOU) v. Josh Donaldson (CLE)
Another person who could be an AL MVP candidate, Alex Bregman had a hot second half. In his last 30 games, Bregman hit .299/.427/.598 with seven home runs and 32 hits. When the playoffs kick off, Bregman will have to turn it up a notch.
After being traded to the Indians from the Blue Jays at the deadline, Donaldson started to pick up the pace. He hit .280 in 16 games with three home runs. When it comes down to it, the playoffs are all about who has the most momentum. The way he is going, Donaldson’s stock might be moving on up.
Catcher – Martin Maldonado (HOU) v. Yan Gomes (CLE)
The Indians led all of baseball with over 135 stolen bases. If the Astros want to prevent the steal game from costing them a series, Maldonado is their guy. Acquired by the Angels via trade, Maldonado threw out 17 of 35 batters this season.
On the other side, Gomes only caught 20 runners on 69 attempts. While Gomes’ power (.266 BA and 16 home runs) is stronger than Maldonado’s, it is the ability to play stopper that trumps everything.
DH – Evan Gattis (HOU) v. Edwin Encarnacion (CLE)
Pretty one-sided, don’t you think? In 110 games as the designated hitter, Gattis drove in 78 while hitting 25 home runs. His .284 OBP is nothing compared to Edwin’s .336. Encarnacion got hot at the right time, slashing .305/.405/.486 in his last 30 games. The only thing that will change the outcome of this position is if Tyler White starts in Gattis’ place.
Outfield – Marwin Gonzalez, George Springer, Josh Reddick (HOU) v. Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Melky Cabrera (CLE)
Like most players, injuries have dropped the value in a few Astros players.
George Springer, last year’s World Series MVP, has lost some of his power and consistency from 2017. Reddick, while a reliable starter, can only go so far. Finally, Marwin Gonzalez’s .247 average and dip in his overall playing ability is a bit concerning.
Health is something the Indians have been worrying about for a while, until now. Michael Brantley is batting .309 with 17 home runs while driving in 76 runs. It is reminiscent of his 2014 run, when he placed third in the MVP discussion. While only playing in 78 games, Melky’s .280 batting average and reliable arm is always something to be thankful for. Finally, Jason Kipnis, a former All-Star second baseman, has held his own in the outfield. In 14 games in center, he hit .261, and he hit .230 overall in 147 games. While not sexy numbers, the consistency is there.
With a team ERA of 3.16, it may be safe to say the Astros have the best rotation in all of baseball. That does not diminish the accomplishments of the Indians’ staff, however.
The Astros have Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel. The third pitcher named may very well be a fourth starter, and that 15-3 record and 3.13 ERA is pretty scary for any opposing team.
With Verlander having a Cy Young season with a 16-9 record and Cole being the best offseason pickup for the Astros (4-0 in his last seven starts), there is no denying the durability of these pitchers.
It won’t be easy, especially with an Indians staff that has four 200+ strikeout pitchers. The Indians fight back with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevenger. There is a factor in regards to who a fourth starter could be, especially since two options are in the bullpen. That level of uncertainty puts the Astros’ rotation into perspective.
The Astros excluded Hector Rondon and Joe Smith from their playoff roster. Instead, Ryan Pressly, Lance McCullers Jr, Collin McHugh and Tony Sipp will accompany closer Roberto Osuna. Rookie Josh James and Will Harris are also available.
For the Indians, they are rolling with Andrew Miller, Brad Hand, Cody Allen, Oliver Perez, Adam Cimber and Dan Otero. They will also have rotation players Trevor Bauer and Shane Bieber available.
This one is tough as there is no doubt in anyone’s minds these two have great, young bullpen arms.
When it all comes down to it, we could witness one of the best ALDS’ of all time. This is even with the Yankees / Red Sox series coming up. Expect a lot of drama and for it to go all the way.
Prediction: Astros in five