HOUSTON -- The Astros had their goal set before the American League Championship Series against the Yankees began: Win as fast as possible.
Sure, the Astros had the chance to end the series in five games on Friday night in New York, but when that failed, the team responded with a 6-4 victory in Game 6 on Saturday night to clinch their second World Series berth in three seasons, leaving them with a fresh Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke to start the first three games of the World Series against the Nationals.
“It's incredible to finish a series at any point,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “I think the nerves and the unpredictability that come with Game 7s are miserable.”
Cole was going to get the ball in Sunday night's Game 7 against Luis Severino if the Yankees walked away with the win on Saturday night. In that case, Cole wouldn’t have been available to pitch again until Game 3 of the World Series on Friday. After that, he possibly could have been rushed back to start Game 6 -- should the series get that far -- on short rest the following Tuesday (Oct. 29) or saved for a potential Game 7 on regular rest.
Now, the Astros have the luxury of getting Cole for two guaranteed outings in the Fall Classic. The red-hot right-hander will get the ball in Game 1 on Tuesday night, Verlander is lined up for Game 2 on Wednesday night and Greinke would then pitch Game 3 on Friday night in Washington. If Houston keeps Cole, who has yet to pitch on fewer than four days of rest this season, on regular rotation, he could then pitch Game 5 (if necessary) next Sunday.
For a guy who went 16-0 with a 1.78 ERA in his last 22 regular-season starts and has allowed just one run in 22 2/3 innings this postseason, that’s an enormous benefit for the Astros.
“We’re going to have a tough road ahead of us,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “Washington’s a great team, but to be able to open up here and be here for the next several days and not have to travel, it’s a huge advantage for our team, huge advantage to have Gerrit Cole probably lined up to go Game 1 and [Verlander] go to Game 2.
“Both of those guys will be able to pitch twice. And Greinke on the road the way he swings the bat should be pretty good, too. I'm looking forward to a really fun series, and it’s going to be fun to see baseball in Washington in October.”
But this early wrapup has benefits far beyond the Astros' stacked rotation.
In an ALCS that was expected to be evenly matched with two powerhouse lineups and solid defenses squaring up against one another, New York’s advantage was expected to be its relief corps. So when the two teams decided to turn to their bullpens for Game 6, the Bronx Bombers may have been the early favorites, but Houston was there to prove the assumption shouldn’t have been made so easily.
The Astros went through seven relievers on Saturday: Brad Peacock (the opener), Josh James, Ryan Pressly -- who exited with right knee discomfort after one pitch -- Jose Urquidy, Will Harris, Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna. With what could’ve easily become an exhausted bullpen, an extra day of rest will only be beneficial against the Nationals.
“Not getting pushed to the brink of Game 7 and having to use not just Gerrit, but it would have been the entire bullpen again in some capacity had we got to that,” Hinch said. “We're lined up better to give ourselves a chance to win another world championship.”