MLB Series Picks and Expert Predictions: Cleveland Indians vs Houston Astros
The reigning World Series Champions have their work cut out for them in the opening round of the 2018 MLB postseason. Houston, who finished with an outstanding record of 103-59, gets the unfortunate task of facing an Indians team who finished with a record of 91-71 and captured their third-consecutive AL Central title. It's a tough matchup to call, and the betting odds seem to reflect that as well.
As of writing this, the Astros are +185 to win the AL Pennant , while the Indians are right behind them at +500. As for the series price, the Astros are currently -165 to win the series, with the Indians checking in at +135. But before we get into breaking down the pitching and hitting lineups, let's take a look at what each team brings into this postseason. For starters, this will be the first postseason meeting between these two franchises, so the narrative of the series has yet to be written.
As a franchise, the Indians have won the World Series just once in their history, and that was all the way back in 1948. Since then, they've been to the World Series four times and lost each one, including in 2016 to the Chicago Cubs.
On the other hand, the Astros are the defending World Series Champions, and last year's title was the first in franchise history. Prior to that, the Astros have only one previous World Series appearance, and that was in 2005 when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox. The Astros are hoping to be the first team to defend their title since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000.
The Indians pitching rotation features four starters that topped the 200-strikeout mark, which makes that the first time it's been in MLB history. Those pitchers are Carlos Carrasco with 231, Corey Kluber with 222, Trevor Bauer with 221 and Mike Clevinger with 207. The Indians plan on giving the ball to Kluber in Game 1 and Carrasco in Game 2, so they have the edge right off the hop in front-end rotation.
Not to mention, the pitching staff as a whole finished ninth in overall ERA at 3.78, had the most complete games in the Majors with five, had the second-most shutouts in the Majors with 17, and finished Top 10 in both quality starts (87) and earned runs allowed (611). The pitching staff also held opponents to a .242 batting average, which was good enough for 12 th in the Majors this season.
As mentioned above, the rotation is littered with strikeout pitchers, and the Houston Astros will have a hard time keeping up with them. Kluber led the rotation in games started with 33 and innings pitched with 215. He was also the team leader in wins with 20 and WHIP at 0.99 and had the second-best ERA at 2.89. It'll be tough to find a pitching rotation as balanced and as powerful as the Indians, so the Astros' hitters have their work cut out for them.
The Astros pitching staff has been one of the best rotations in the league throughout the year. They are led by a trio of pitchers who each pitched in 200+ innings, and that includes Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel and Gerrit Cole. Verlander led the team with a 16-9 record and a 2.52 ERA while posting a 0.90 WHIP and 290 strikeouts. Keuchel and Cole combined for a 27-16 record, so the Indians lineup will be in tough for the first three games of the series. Beyond that trio, and should the series reach a Game 4, Charlie Morton will likely get the ball, and he posted a 15-4 record with a 3.13 era.
This pitching matchup is the best matchup we are going to see this postseason, so don't be surprised if the majority of these games finish "under" the posted total.
The Indians made a big splash this season by bringing over Josh Donaldson from the Blue Jays. The Indians are hoping a healthy Donaldson will extend the lineup and make it tough on opposing pitchers. Offensively, the power and production go through the trio of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion. Lindor led the team in runs scored with 129 and finished one home run back of Ramirez with 38. Ramirez led the team in long balls with 39 but finished two RBIs back of Encarnacion. Beyond them, Michael Brantley led the team in batting average, so you see how deep and efficient this lineup is. It'll be interesting to see how Donaldson is used in this series as he was a big part of the Jays postseason run a few years back.
On the other hand, the Astros lineup is about as consistent as you can get, led by Alex Bregman who posted 103 RBIs, 105 runs scored and 31 home runs to lead the team in all three categories. Injuries played a big part in the down year for Jose Altuve, but we expect Altuve to be ready to go and produce like we are used to. Beyond Altuve, George Springer and Yuli Gurriel offer the most secondary support. However, going up against the flame-throwing pitching staff that the Indians possess will pose a big challenge for the defending champs.
Who Has the Edge
On paper, this is the tightest series. Both teams possess solid pitching rotations. And as I mentioned already, the "under" could be a great bet in each game this series. It's always a tricky task to defend a championship. However, aside from that fact, I trust the Indians rotation more in this series given the fact that they don't give up a lot of contact, as seen by their strikeout record. I'll take the Indians in four games. However, if you don't like pitching duels, this isn't the series for you to watch.
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