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How the Astros made it to the ALDS

@brianmctaggart
October 4, 2019

HOUSTON – Pitching, defense, power -- the Astros have it all heading into the playoffs. That, of course, comes with high expectations. Many are picking the Astros to win their second World Series title in three years. They’ll have to play well and get a few breaks along the way,

HOUSTON – Pitching, defense, power -- the Astros have it all heading into the playoffs.

That, of course, comes with high expectations. Many are picking the Astros to win their second World Series title in three years. They’ll have to play well and get a few breaks along the way, but the Astros definitely are going to be a difficult out for the opposition.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 4 HOU 6, TB 2 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 5 HOU 3, TB 1 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 7 TB 10, HOU 3 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 8 TB 4, HOU 1 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 10 HOU 6, TB 1 Watch

Here’s how the Astros grew into a playoff team:

Key managerial decision: resting the regulars

Astros manager AJ Hinch didn’t just write out the lineup card and sit back and watch the magic, despite having the deepest roster in baseball. Hinch had to navigate through significant injuries to such offensive mainstays as George Springer, José Altuve and Carlos Correa, sliding some players, like Alex Bregman, to different positions while mixing in a few rookies no one thought would get playing time.

Throughout the season, Hinch was steadfast in his belief his regular players should get some rest.

“They’re men, not machines,” was a phrase often uttered by Hinch as Michael Brantley, Springer, Altuve and others got regular off-days throughout the season. His hope is that it would pay off in October, with the players fresher and invigorated, unlike last fall, when the Astros had several key players hurt.

Key transaction: Alvarez arrives

Hinch would have liked to have had Yordan Alvarez in his lineup on Opening Day, but he had to wait until June 9 for him to make his debut. It was worth it. Alvarez is likely the runaway American League Rookie of the Year winner, leading AL rookies (minimum 300 plate appearances) in OPS (1.067), on-base percentage (.412) and slugging percentage (.655).

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Alvarez homered in his first game and quickly became entrenched in the middle of the lineup, giving the Astros a huge weapon from the left side of the plate in a lineup dominated by right-handers. Despite ending the regular season in an 0-for-11 slump, he hit .313 with 27 homers and 78 RBIs in 87 games.

Breakout player: Gurriel delivers on promise

First baseman Yuli Gurriel is certainly a known commodity around baseball, but he had far and away his best season while turning 35. Gurriel was hitting .234 with one homer through 107 at-bats on May 1 before going on an MVP-like tear.

In 99 games from May 2-Aug. 31, Gurriel slashed .330/.370/.607 with 26 homers and 88 RBIs and carried the offense for stretches. He became the fifth Cuban-born player in history to reach 40 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBIs in a season.

Calling card: You name it, they have it

The Astros are about as complete of a team as we’ve seen in recent years. After all, their hitters struck out the fewest times in the Majors (1,166), while their pitchers struck out the most batters (1,671). No team had ever done that before. On the mound, the Astros have a star-studded rotation with AL Cy Young Award front-runners Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke. The Astros will have the upper hand on the mound in nearly every game they play.

Astros ready to rely on trio of aces in postseason

Dealing with Houston’s offense is just as big of a challenge. The Astros set a club record for home runs (288) and set a Major League record with a .495 slugging percentage. They led the Majors in walks (645), batting average (.274) and on-base percentage (.352). The lineup starts with tremendous power with Springer and doesn’t let up -- Altuve, Bregman, Correa, Brantley, Alvarez -- for at least seven batters. Gurriel often hit seventh this year in a 30-homer, 100-RBI season. The Astros were also fourth in the Majors in defensive runs saved (90).

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.