Will the Astros Repeat as American League Champions?

by Taylor Smith
on September 27, 2018
7

Minute Read

While the National League playoff race is set to come down to the final weekend of the regular season, there isn’t nearly as much drama on the American League side. All 5 playoff representatives are already set. The Boston Red Sox have clinched home field advantage throughout the entire postseason, while the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians won their respective divisions, as well. The lone remaining unsettled aspect of the AL playoff picture is whether the New York Yankees or Oakland Athletics will host the Wild Card Game. The Yankees are the favorites as of this writing, but we’ll see what happens.

The Red Sox will face the winners of the aforementioned Wild Card Game, while the Astros and Indians will square off in a series in which Houston holds home field advantage. Will the Astros get through the competitors and win the American League pennant for the second year running? Or will a new team represent the AL in the World Series?

(Odds via MyBookie.ag)

Odds to win American League Pennant

  • Boston Red Sox +175
  • Houston Astros +180
  • Cleveland Indians +550
  • New York Yankees +650
  • Oakland Athletics +900

Wild Card Game

The Yankees and A’s certainly took different routes to the postseason. The Yankees spent most of the season with the second-best record in the American League, but the Red Sox having their most prolific regular season ever kept New York pretty much at bay. The Yankees have also battled quite a few injuries to key hitters, but there was never a point where it looked like they were at risk of missing out on the postseason.

The Athletics got off to a middling start this season before ramping things up once the summer months rolled around. Oakland spent the first half of the season alternating between third and fourth place in their own division before mounting an incredible charge. At one point, the A’s even overtook the Astros at the top of the AL West. Houston eventually settled things down, but the Athletics showed that they had staying power.

At this point, neither team has announced who will start the game on Wednesday night. Luis Severino has been serving as the ace of the Yankees’ staff for most of the season, but he is scheduled to start Sunday’s regular season finale against the Red Sox. New York wouldn’t throw him on two days’ rest, so he’s out of the running barring a scheduling change. That essentially means either J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka or CC Sabathia will start the Wild Card Game for the Yankees. At this point, my guess would be Happ gets the nod.

As for Oakland, who knows? The A’s have been skating along despite a makeshift rotation for most of the season. Sean Manaea, the would-be ace of the staff, is out for the season due to injury. Mike Fiers has been the team’s most reliable starter since coming over in a trade from the Tigers last month, so I would think he’s the most likely candidate to take the mound.

Oakland has had an incredible season and they have enough power in the lineup to where they can make quick work of whichever starter takes the mound. Both teams have elite bullpens, as well, so I’d imagine whomever starts the game will have a fairly quick hook if things start to go south early on. I’m not necessarily convinced by the Yankees at this point, but I would still give New York the overall edge here. Assuming the game takes place in the Bronx, I think the Yankees will most likely advance to the ALDS to take on Boston.

Can Cleveland Dethrone Houston?

The Indians would appear to have plenty of ammunition. In Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, the Tribe has 3 legitimate ace-type pitchers atop the rotation. Mike Clevinger is a solid No. 4. Bauer has been slowly ramping things back up after missing significant time with injury, though, so it remains to be seen whether he’s able to go deep into any games once the playoffs roll around.

The key for the Indians in this series will be whether their bullpen can hold up. The bullpen was hugely important during Cleveland’s run to the brink of a championship in 2016, and it was once again a hallmark of last year’s team. Despite most of the same pitchers returning this season, the ‘pen hasn’t gotten the same consistently great results. Andrew Miller has battled injury troubles of his own this season, and he hasn’t pitched up to par when healthy, either.

The Indians’ bullpen has a team ERA of 4.51 this season, which is the eighth-worst mark in the big leagues. That’s a problem! Only the Rockies, who play half of their games in the most hitter-friendly park in all of baseball, have a bullpen with a worse ERA. The other 4 teams in the AL playoff picture rank in the top-7 in bullpen ERA this season. Cleveland is going to need its starters to pitch extraordinarily well in order to beat the Astros in this series.

Speaking of the Astros, they check all of the boxes. Houston has the very best bullpen ERA in all of baseball. They also happen to have the best ERA among starters in all of baseball. In adding Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly via trades, the Astros fortified what was already a strong group of relievers. In Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr., the Astros have 5 bona fide All-Stars in the rotation.

Both teams boast stellar offenses, as well. The Astros’ lineup has more depth, but it’s also fair to say the Indians may have 2 of the 3 best hitters between the teams in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. That said, pitching is the key here, especially in the playoffs. The Indians have far more question marks on the pitching side of things than the Astros do, so at this point I would say Houston should be the pretty heavy favorite here. The Indians definitely have enough talent to win it all, but the American League is just stacked this season. Cleveland would be my favorite bet if they were in the NL, but I can’t seriously vouch for them in the AL. Give me the Astros to advance to the ALCS.

Astros or Red Sox?

Can the Yankees or Athletics beat the Red Sox if they advance to the ALDS? It’s certainly possible, but at this point I feel confident in saying Boston will emerge victorious against either New York or Oakland. So, let’s run through a potential Astros-Red Sox ALCS.

These teams met last year in the Division Series in a series the Astros took in 4 games. Boston ace Chris Sale pitched in two of those games, with poor results. He was blasted for 7 runs on 9 hits in Houston in Game 1 of that series before allowing a couple of runs on 4 hits in 4.2 innings in relief in what was ultimately the decisive Game 4.

Sale is the best pitcher in all of baseball, but he also has an injury concern. He has missed most of the last couple of months with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. The team has been cautious in terms of ramping him up as we get closer to the postseason. Sale threw 92 pitches in his last tune-up start before the playoffs and allowed 3 runs on 4 hits in 4.2 innings against the lowly Orioles along the way.

If the Red Sox are to reach their full potential, they will need the best version of Sale they can possibly get. It’s also worth noting that the starters behind him in the rotation haven’t been all that reliable. David Price has been sobbly in his last couple of starts, while Nate Eovaldi and Rick Porcello aren’t really pitchers that scare opposing offenses.

Boston’s bullpen has been a strength on the whole this season, but the relief corps as a whole has taken a nosedive over the last month or so. Craig Kimbrel is still a rock at the end of games, but bridging the gap between starters and Kimbrel has been a source of trouble recently for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox are likely to enter the postseason as the betting favorites to represent the American League in the World Series, but their weaknesses give me plenty of pause. I don’t think Boston is a bad bet my any means to win the AL pennant at +175, and having home field should help. Still, just look at the Houston roster. Sale is the best pitcher between the teams in this series, but the argument can be made that the 4 next-best starters belong to the Astros.

The Astros at +180 to win the American League makes them an awesome value. I don’t hate the notion of taking a long shot bet on Cleveland at +550, but I don’t have nearly enough confidence in them to suggest that they should be a priority here. I’ll rank my favorite values to win the American League pennant this season as follows:

  1. Houston Astros +180
  2. Cleveland Indians +550
  3. Boston Red Sox +175
  4. New York Yankees +650
  5. Oakland Athletics +900
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