I was one of many people that scratched their heads when the Dodgers decided to not start a fully healthy and fully rested Clayton Kershaw in game one yesterday. Kershaw is always the Dodgers game one starter, and they made a big gamble making the move to Hyun-jin Ryu for the opener. I liked what Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz had been doing this year and fired on the Braves for the big upset.
In the end, it looks like the Dodgers knew exactly what they were doing as Ryu pitched a great game and they took care of business in game one. Ryu pitched seven innings of shutout ball, and the Dodgers won this one going away. And Kershaw is slated to start in game two today on extra rest and will be available for game five, on normal rest, if the Dodgers need him. The gamble paid off big time for the Dodgers as they now have control of this series with their best arm ready to go. They say a playoff series hasn’t really started until the home team loses, the Braves will try and get this series going tonight in LA. For today’s pick, we will take a look at the game between the Houston Astros and the Cleveland Indians.
The Houston Astros host the Cleveland Indians today in game one of the best of five American League Divisional Series. The Astros are the defending World Series champs and finished with the second most wins in the major leagues this season despite several injuries to key players, including Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. The Indians very quietly coasted to the Central Division title as the rest of the division was a joke. But make no mistake, the Indians deserve to be here as they are chalked full of talent.
Starting for the Indians is Corey Kluber (20-7 2.89 ERA), and for the Astros, it is Justin Verlander (16-9 2.52 ERA). The Astros are big -152 home favorites. The game total over-under is set at six and a half runs. First pitch is scheduled for 11:05 AM PST from Minute Maid Park in Houston.
The other side of the American League playoff bracket is getting all the attention as the Boston Red Sox match up with the hated New York Yankees in what is sure to be a series for the ages. But in my estimation, it is the winner of this series that I see representing the American League in the World Series this year. And why you ask? Pitching.
Both Cleveland and Houston have a very good starting rotation and bullpen. While the Yankees and Red Sox are more powered by their explosive offenses, the teams in this matchup are elite on the mound. For Houston, you have Verlander, Garret Cole, and Dallas Kuechel as elite starters as well guys like Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers that can both start games or work out of the bullpen in long relief if needed. Last season the Astros went almost exclusively to starters working from the bullpen as guys like McCullers, and Brad Peacock pitched big innings in relief and it won them a world title.
Not to be outdone, the Indians feature the first rotation in MLB history to have four guys strike out at least 200 batters in a season. Any time you are talking about doing things in baseball that have never been done before, you know you are really, really good. Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Mike Clevinger are expected to start in this series with the wild card being Trevor Bauer who also had a huge year this season. So, you can expect a lot of low scoring and tightly contested games in this series as both squads have many elite arms they can turn to in a jam.
Justin Verlander was last year’s hero for the Astros as he carried them to a World Series Championship. Verlander came back this season and looked just as good and had a real shot at winning the Cy Young Award in Houston before having a rough August that likely knocked him out of contention for pitching’s biggest award.
In August, Verlander was just 3-3 with an inflated ERA of 5.29. He does, however, look like he has it dialed back in now as in September he went 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in five starts, and the Astros won all five of those game. The Astros call ill afford to lose a game at home in this series if they want to advance so they will need a big performance tonight out of Verlander to take the series lead and protect their home field advantage.
Corey Kluber has been one of the best pitchers in the American League now for close to a decade and has shown no signs of slowing down. Kluber won a career-high twenty games this season, and he will receive his fair share of votes for the AL Cy Young Award. All the Indians seem to do is win when Kluber pitches. He has just one losing decision going back to mid-July.
In August and September, Kluber was a combined 7-1 with an ERA right around three runs. Kluber has made two starts against Houston this season, both coming way back in March, but he pitched very well as he threw a combined thirteen and a third innings and allowed just two earned runs.
This is an absolute blockbuster pitching matchup today! As many other teams are tinkering with openers and using bullpen guys to pitch the entire game, this is a classic matchup of strength on strength as two of the best starters in game match up today. I like both of these teams, a lot. Like I said above, whichever team emerges from this series is my pick to win the World Series. And so, I was surprised to see a number so high.
Yeah, the Astros are certainly tough to beat at home. And Verlander is a complete stud in the playoffs. But I am not sure I can ever pass up on getting Corey Kluber as a big underdog. The guy could go out and easily give you seven or more innings of shutout ball. With a guy that good on the mound, at this price, I have no choice but to back the underdogs. I see this as a coin flip type of game that could go either way. So, I will hope the coin flips our way, and we get paid off with a bunch of dog money. Give me the Cleveland Indians in a big upset today in game one from Houston at +142!