Introducing my portion of our ‘Why ___ will win the Fall Classic', the Houston Astros have as good a chance as any team to take home the Commissioner's Trophy. Houston is ‘ahead of schedule' according to many, but Jeff Luhnow put together a team with pop, speed, youth, and pitching.
The Astros in recent years have been the subject of ribbing and ridicule as a team that did not win many games (no Houston team finished .500 since 2008), could not get a cable deal, and could not fill up the seats. Management decided to blow it all up and start from scratch, draft well, and prepare for later years; in 2015, the Astros are primed to make a serious playoff run.
The wild card game is always impossible to predict; one error, one favorable bounce, one misguided pitch and the game can be lost or won, but the Astros are in great shape to face the Yankees in the Wild Card game. Right now, Dallas Keuchel is a better pitcher than Masahiro Tanaka.
|Masahiro Tanaka||Dallas Keuchel|
Keuchel bested Tanaka in nearly all of the most important pitching categories, save walk rate. The biggest issue, especially at Yankee Stadium, will be the home run rate. Tanaka's home run rate is more than twice that of Keuchel's, which may be a huge hindrance against the potent Astros lineup. Houston tied with the Blue Jays for the most home runs in baseball this season with 230 and posted 15 more dingers than the third-place Orioles. Five players hit more than 20 home runs, including young rookie phenom shortstop, Carlos Correa.
Assuming the Astros get by the Yankees, they will face the Royals in the American League Divisional Series. Houston has a similar running game to the Royals but have an advantage in power. The Astros strike out more often, but they hit 92 more homers than the Royals.
In addition to a potent offense, Houston posted the best AL team earned run average, second best AL FIP (behind the golf-course-bound Indians), and the third best AL xFIP (behind the Indians and Yankees). With a playoff rotation frontlined by the formidable Keuchel, the Astros need only one of Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, or Scott Kazmir to step up into the number two role. While Kazmir has been disappointing since joining the ‘Stros, McHugh and McCullers adjusted and took major steps forward in 2015. McHugh has a 3.58 FIP and McCullers a cool 3.21. McCullers is more rested, having thrown only 120 MLB innings and 32 MiLB innings to McHugh's 203 innings.
Bullpens play a pivotal role in the playoffs, and with a 'pen consisting of right handers Josh Fields (1.2 fWAR) and Luke Gregerson (1.0 fWAR), combined with lefty Tony Sipp (1.0 fWAR), the Astros have a formidable bullpen outperformed in the American League only by the Royals (who recently lost Greg Holland to a season-ending elbow injury). The 'pen is well rested, with Fields, Sipp, and Chad Qualls all throwing fewer than 55 innings.
The Astros are a young team, ahead of their own timeline, and ready for a World Series run. They have a true ‘Ace', decent starters behind him, and a strong rested bullpen. Houston's sluggers hit for significant power and have speed - a combination that none of the other American League teams possesses. Houston is fully capable of going on a postseason run, and don't be surprised if the season ends with the unlikeliest (at the beginning) of teams hoisting up the championship trophy.