HOUSTON -- Coming off a sweep of the Indians in the American League Division Series, the Astros set their sights on what should be a riveting AL Championship Series against either the Red Sox or the Yankees, both of whom were eliminated by Houston in the postseason last year on its way to the World Series title.
The Astros smothered the Indians with dominant starting pitching in Games 1 and 2 in Houston, and then they rocked Cleveland's bullpen in Game 3, earning the team's first postseason sweep. They'll be rested for whichever team comes next, and they'll have to prepare for a best-of-seven series against another 100-win team.
• ALCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 1: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET/7:09 CT on TBS
:: ALCS schedule and results ::
Here are five things we learned about the Astros as a result of their ALDS victory:
1. Their confidence is through the roof.
The Astros have had a chip on their shoulder all season. Really, it started in the spring, when the Yankees were picked by many to win the World Series, and it continued through the summer en route to Houston's club-record 103 wins. But this team was as confident as it could get in the ALDS, and it played with swagger. The Astros took their game to another level, and they looked like a team that wasn't going to let anybody stop it from repeating.
2. The revamped bullpen is the real deal.
The Astros left three quality, playoff-seasoned relief pitchers off their ALDS roster: Hector Rondon, Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock. And they didn't even need to use relievers Tony Sipp and Josh James to sweep the Indians. Talk about depth. The Thomas Pressly, Lance McCullers and Roberto Osuna trifecta at the back end of games looks untouchable. So does Collin McHugh, who struck out four in two innings in Game 3.
3. George Springer is the Astros' Mr. October.
Springer trudged through an unspectacular second half of the season dealing with a sore thumb and not hitting for much power. He hit only three homers in his final 120 at-bats, but he cranked a pair of big flies in Game 3 and reminded everyone he's one of the game's best clutch playoff performers. He socked five homers in last year's World Series to win Most Valuable Player honors, and now he has 10 postseason homers in his career, which is two more than any other Astros player. Good luck to opposing pitchers.
4. Their starting pitching is nearly untouchable.
Imagine winning a postseason series without needing to use Charlie Morton? That's the kind of luxury the Astros had with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole dominating in Games 1 and 2 and Dallas Keuchel holding his own in Game 3. Verlander and Cole looked like the early-season versions of themselves, pitching deep and piling up strikeouts. It's hard to imagine anyone being able to beat Verlander and Cole twice in a seven-game series. Add Morton to the mix with the game's best bullpen waiting in the wings, and it's an intimidating scenario for opponents.
5. Alex Bregman is worth the price of admission.
Bregman is one of the best players in baseball, and he is easing into a role as the guy whom opposing fans love to hate. Astros fans, though, can't get enough him -- and he's proven to be pretty clutch in the playoffs, too, hitting homers in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS. So far, Bregman's playoff interviews have been as entertaining as his play. He struts to the plate and you sit up. He's confident, maybe even cocky, but he speaks the truth. And if you don't like it, it's probably because he tore your team's heart out. The game needs more Alex Bregman.