Astros check all postseason boxes

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Baseball’s second season is about to start. Are you ready for change?

All year, you’ve been dealing with faulty starting pitching, leaky relievers, “openers,” home runs, strikeouts and high-scoring affairs. Now, as the wheat separates itself from the chaff, the sport is about to take a 180-degree turn.

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Starting pitching is going to be more reliable, I think. Managers will be a bit more judicious in the way they use their bullpens. Teams are going to actually try to move runners along, play smart, take pitches and not swing for the fences in playing for the big inning.

Why? Because there are no Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins to beat up on in October. Teams can’t feast on substandard pitching, leaky defenses and Swiss cheese batting orders with so many holes in them the way they did in July and August.

Instead, you’re going to be seeing quality pitchers just about every game. And that should make you want to consider changing up your betting strategy.

We know no lead seems to be safe these days, regardless of whether it’s in the American League or the National League. The bullpens have sucked. Teams have been conditioned to look for homers to bail them out. And why not? When pitchers can’t find the plate and they get behind in the count and they have no choice but to throw it close, the hitters load up and you see launch angles sending balls into the stratosphere and exit velocities at 110 mph.

See Jessica Mendoza? I pay attention to that nonsense you spew on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball each week. As for Alex Rodriguez, I still don’t get what the hell you’re talking about half the time. To borrow a line from that old third baseman George Thorogood, you talk too much.

With October comes real baseball. Things like hitting a cutoff man to keep someone from taking an extra base. Or working the count and forcing the pitcher to throw strikes. Or moving runners along by hitting behind them. You know, the way the game is supposed to be played. Not some all-or-nothing video game mentality we see during the summer months.

In October, everything becomes magnified. Each managerial move gets dissected. Every at-bat analyzed. Every pitch thrown has a purpose to it. That’s the beauty of the postseason.

I admit, I rarely wager on sports, baseball included. But if I were making a bet, I’d look for a few things to back my money with come playoff time.

One, which teams are the most fundamentally sound? Who plays the game the right way? Who commits the fewest errors, both physical and mental?

Second, who has the most reliable starting pitching? Who can trot someone out to the mound and give you six really strong innings and either keep you in the lead or, if you fall behind, maintain contact until the bats can help catch up and close the deficit?

Finally, is the manager sharp enough to make the right decisions, take the right risks if necessary and be able to adjust? Or is he a clown who lets his hitters cover for his lack of acumen?

Taking all that into account, I’m thinking the Houston Astros check just about every box. They’re favored to win the AL pennant and the World Series and with good reason.

The starting pitching with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke will match up well against anyone the Astros face. That’s not to say they can’t be beaten but they’ve been pretty tough all year. And most likely, you won’t be laying -300 or -400+ in the playoffs regardless of who is on the mound. But I’ll admit, it won’t come cheap if you back the ‘Stros. Still, if you want to cash tickets, sometimes you need to go with the chalk.

Houston is tied for second in all of baseball in team fielding with a .987 percentage, just two percentage points behind St. Louis.

The Astros lead MLB in team batting average at .276 and are third in home runs, behind the Yankees and the Twins. So if they are forced to play long ball, they certainly can, especially in cozy Minute Maid Park where the Crawford Boxes in left field are as engaging to reach as the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

And I like the way Houston manager A.J. Hinch handles his players. They play hard for him and being a former catcher, he understands the biorhythms of baseball and has a feel for what goes on over the course of a game. Plus he has a World Series ring from 2017.

Does this mean the Astros will win it all? It is baseball after all and weird things always seem to happen (right, Cubs fans?). But they are the team best-equipped to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. And in October, that’s what matters most.

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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