In the 2017 playoffs, the Astros relied heavily on a revved up offense and masterful management of an extremely think bullpen by manager A.J. Hinch. So far in this postseason has been a little different. The first two games of the 2018 ALDS have featured two of the best pitchers in the game at their absolute best, dominating the Cleveland Indians and putting the 'Stros one victory from the American League Championship Series.
In the "businessman's special" Friday game one opener, team ace Justin Verlander picked up right where he left off this season, going five-and-a-third innings, allowing two runs and striking out seven. He held a no hitter through five before handling the ball over to the bullpen. Unlike 2017, there were few worries about the arms that would take over.
Ryan Pressly handled the remainder of the sixth and the seventh innings allowing no hits or walks and striking out a pair. Lance McCullers, Jr. reprised his bullpen role from last season with a perfect eighth. And Astros closer Roberto Osuna allowed one run and struck out one to complete a bullpen outing that allowed one hit, no runs and struck out three to lock down the game.
Meanwhile at the plate where the Astros haven't exactly been lights out this season — inside Minute Maid Park anyway — the team got four solo home runs from Alex Bregman, George Springer, Jose Altuve (Springer and Altuve went back-to-back in the fifth) and Martin Maldonado, catching in the first postseason game of his career.
The team never trailed and added a pair of RBIs from Josh Reddick to take a 7-2 game one win.
And if you thought the pitching was good in game one, in came Gerrit Cole for game two. He became only the second pitcher to record 12 strikeouts and no walks in a playoff game — the other was Hall of Famer Tom Seaver in 1973. Cole went seven nearly flawless innings allowing only three hits and one run, a third-inning homer to Francisco Lindor. Cole was followed by Pressly who got a pair of outs and walked one before being replaced by Osuna, who walked one and allowed no hits for a four-out save.
Offensively, the bats weren't quite as hot, but timely hitting from Marwin Gonzales, who drove in two with a opposite field double in the sixth, and an insurance home run from Bregman in the seventh was more than enough.
It should be noted that Bregman hit both of his home runs in two days off Indians reliever Trevor Bauer, which is notable because Bauer criticized the Astros earlier this year claiming they used pine tar to help increase the spin rate of pitches. Bregman responded with this gem:
Relax Tyler ... those World Series balls spin a little different.... ???? https://t.co/MZ7iIPXhbC— Alex Bregman (@ABREG_1) May 1, 2018
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In fact, the two train together in the offseason, so it was a good-natured jab. Nevertheless, it seemed fitting that Bregman's jacks should be at the expensive of his training buddy.
It's hard to imagine a more dominant pair of performances from the Astros, particularly on the mound. The concerns they had last year and the juggling Hinch had to do was nowhere to be found Friday and Saturday. And the bats, not always a willing participant at home this season, were exactly as we remembered them from the 2017 postseason, powerful and timely.
The two teams head to Cleveland where the Astros could close it out Monday night with Dallas Keuchel on the hill to be followed by Charlie Morton if needed. While the Yankees-Red Sox series is knotted at one each, the Astros could seal the deal in their side of the AL bracket on Monday. Given how dominant they were in the first two games against a great offensive team with terrific starting pitching, it wouldn't be shocking to see the series end in a sweep.
And unlike much of the 2017 postseason, they won't have to worry rely solely on their hitting to get it done.