HOUSTON – The Astros will have to wait until next week to find out their opponent in the American League Division Series, which is the luxury they have for finishing with the best record in the AL and being the top seed in the playoffs.
The Astros (104-55) have posted the second-most wins in franchise history behind the best rotation in the AL -- Houston leads the AL in wins, strikeouts and ERA -- and has an experienced lineup led by Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman.
Here’s an FAQ to get you ready for the stretch run and the postseason to follow:
What could the postseason roster look like?
C: Martín Maldonado, Christian Vázquez
1B: Yuli Gurriel
2B: Jose Altuve
SS: Jeremy Peña
3B: Alex Bregman
UT: Aledmys Díaz, David Hensley
DH: Trey Mancini
OF: Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers
Pitchers: Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr., José Urquidy, Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier, Bryan Abreu, Phil Maton, Rafael Montero, Héctor Neris, Ryan Pressly, Ryne Stanek, Will Smith
When does the ALDS start?
The best-of-five series begins Oct. 11, which means the Astros would have five days off from the end of the regular season (Oct. 5) before Game 1 at Minute Maid Park. Game 2 would be on Oct. 13 in Houston before the series shifts to the lower seed for Game 3 on Oct. 15 and Game 4 (if necessary) on Oct. 16. There is no day off before a possible Game 5, which would be Oct. 17 in Houston.
Who will they play in the ALDS?
Their opponent will be either the Rays, Mariners or Blue Jays in the ALDS. The Astros will play the winner of the AL Wild Card Series between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the AL, which entering Monday would be the winner of a series between the Blue Jays and Mariners.
Houston went 12-7 against Seattle in the regular season, winning six of the seven meetings against its AL West foe in the second half. That included a three-game sweep at T-Mobile Park from July 22-24 and winning three of four at Minute Maid Park a week later.
The Blue Jays won four of six meetings from the Astros earlier this year. One of Houston’s wins was a walk-off homer by Peña off Toronto closer Jordan Romano in the 10th inning on April 24. Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah would be a formidable 1-2 to match up against Verlander and Valdez, and facing José Berríos is no walk in the park.
The Astros went 5-1 against the Rays, sweeping them in Tampa Bay Sept. 19-21 before taking two of three games from them over the weekend in Houston. The Rays beat the Astros in the AL Championship Series in 2020.
What will the postseason rotation be?
What’s known for sure is that Verlander and Valdez will give the Astros a formidable 1-2 punch atop the rotation. Houston wouldn’t need a fourth starter unless the ALDS goes five games, so McCullers could pitch in Game 3, then Verlander could go again on normal rest in Game 4.
If the Astros choose to hold Verlander for a possible Game 5, they’d have some great options to choose in Game 4 from among Urquidy, Garcia, Javier and perhaps even prospect Hunter Brown, if he makes the ALDS roster. Starting pitching depth is Houston's luxury this year.
What health issues face the Astros?
Well, none really. They’re as healthy as they’ve been all year. Two of the three players on the IL -- outfielder Michael Brantley and catcher Jason Castro -- were lost for the season in June. The other -- relief pitcher Josh James -- didn’t figure into their plans this year.
If the Astros make the ALCS for a sixth consecutive season, would they set a record?
No. The longest streak of consecutive LCS appearances belongs to the Braves, with eight in a row from 1991-99 (not counting '94, when there were no playoffs). The second-longest streak belongs to the Athletics, who went to five a row from 1971-75. The Astros have the longest active streak at five in a row (2017-21).