Having dispatched with the Red Sox in the American League Division Series presented by Doosan, the Astros now have three days off before starting the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World on Friday.
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And given that the Astros are one of the most analytically inclined teams in baseball, they will surely relish the extra days to have their scouts and data folks dive in on the Indians and Yankees. Against the Red Sox, Astros hitters were clearly prepared, hitting .421 with four homers in the first inning and limiting Boston starting pitchers to a total of 11 1/3 innings pitched across four games.
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There are some complications, of course. They don't know who they're playing. They don't know where they're playing. And they won't know the answers to those questions until late Wednesday night, when the Yankees and Indians play a deciding Game 5 in Cleveland. (If the Yankees win, the Astros will host Game 1. Houston will be on the road if its opponent is Cleveland.)
Those are nice problems to have, obviously. The Astros get to rest their roster, reset their pitchers, and they'll be relaxing Wednesday night while the Yankees and Indians play a high-stress game, perhaps emptying their bullpens while doing so. Still, the outcome matters. Should the Astros prefer to be in Cleveland on Friday, or to welcome the Yankees to Houston?
It's not as clear-cut as it seems, because both Cleveland and New York are very talented clubs with deep bullpens built for October; there's no "easy" option here. If there's a real rooting interest here for Astros fans, it ought to be something along the lines of "a game that goes 17 innings." But this is a choice every fan gets to make for him- or herself, so let's help them along with some information. Here's how the educated Houston fan ought to view Game 5.
Don't get caught up with head-to-head record
When sitting down to enjoy Game 5, what happened during the 2017 regular season might come to mind. The Astros took five of seven from the Yankees while losing five of six to Cleveland, and it's only natural to try to place meaning upon that.
That, however, would be a mistake, because it's been long proven that regular-season success has little meaning in the postseason, partially because teams can look very different weeks or months later. As an example, the Dodgers just swept Arizona out of the postseason, despite going 8-11 against the D-backs this year and being swept by them not once but twice in the last six weeks of the season. It didn't matter. Perhaps most famous in recent history is that the Mets were 0-7 against the Cubs during the 2015 regular season only to sweep them in the NLCS.
Better yet, think about it this way: If the Yankees advance, then the premise is by itself proven false. New York did, after all, lose five of its seven meetings with Cleveland in 2017.
While it's true Houston did well against New York this year, all seven meetings took place by the first week of July, before the Yankees traded for Player Page for David Robertson or Sonny Gray or Todd Frazier or Tommy Kahnle. Two of the games were started for New York by Michael Pineda, who blew out his elbow in July, and a third was Jordan Montgomery, who hasn't thrown a pitch this postseason. In three different games, the Astros used Dayan Diaz, who was cut later in the summer and ended up pitching for the Angels. Brett Gardner's huge grand slam was hit off of James Hoyt, who isn't on the roster. These are different teams with different players in a different situation, is the point.
What matters: Cleveland's roster may be more affected
If there's any reason to want to see the Indians, it might be because of what's going to happen with their rotation now that they're stretched to a Game 5. Corey Kluber, the presumptive AL Cy Young Award winner, is going to start, and that would knock him out until at least Game 3 of the ALCS, next Monday. That would keep him on normal rest, but it also means he's guaranteed only a single start. He could come back on short rest for a Game 6 or regular rest for a Game 7, but only if the series went that long.
Not only that, but Kluber's first start would come on the road. Obviously, he's good anywhere; it's not like his road numbers of a 2.83 ERA and a .266 wOBA allowed are poor. But Kluber has been absolutely spectacular at home, with a 1.81 ERA and a .218 wOBA against, with the latter number being the best of any home starter in baseball this year.
It's not that the Indians don't have other talented starters, of course. Carlos Carrasco was dominating in a 1-0 loss to Masahiro Tanaka in Game 3, and Trevor Bauer, despite a disappointing display in Game 4, showed what he's capable of in a fantastic Game 1 start.
Still, any time you can get in a situation where one of the best pitchers in baseball can't be used to his full capacity, that's a win.
Don't forget, also, that Cleveland's lineup has been somewhat diminished by the ankle injury to Edwin Encarnacion in Game 2. While the Indians hold out hope he can return, replacement designated hitter Michael Brantley has managed just one hit in 11 plate appearances, and the team has scored just three runs over the past two games.
What also matters: The top Yankees pitchers may be less affected
While it's true that the only thing better than seeing Kluber less is not seeing him at all, things are set up differently for the Yankees. As effective as Game 5 starter Carsten Sabathia can be, he's pretty clearly the fourth-best Yankee starter behind Luis Severino, Tanaka, and Gray. While it's impossible to know how Game 5 will play out other than that Sabathia is not expected to go deep, the Yankees' relievers are pretty rested. Chad Green will enter Wednesday on four days of rest, and Albertin Chapman and Robertson will have two apiece. Even if (and when) they're used, they would still enter Friday's Game 1 without undue overwork.
But it's worth noting here that the home-field advantage the Astros would hold over the Yankees may not matter as much as you'd think it would. For every example like Dallas Keuchel (2.26 ERA, .236 wOBA at home, vs 3.53 ERA, .305 wOBA on the road), there's Jose Altuve (a good .311/.371/.463 at home; a massive .381/.449/.633 on the road). The Yankees can point to Aaron Judge being much better at home (.312/.440/.725) than he was away (.256/.404/.531); they can also note that no hitter in baseball had a larger pro-road split than Frazier, who was shockingly weak at home (.165/.302/.309, .276 wOBA) and very good away (.261/.385/.546, .393 wOBA).
That carries through to the team records. At home, the Yankees were an outstanding 51-30, a .630 winning percentage. On the road, that was merely 40-41, or .493. But while the Astros were very good at home (48-33, .593), they were even better away (53-28, .654).
All of which is to say: Don't worry about home field all that much, Astros fans. Both the Yankees and Indians are extremely good teams, capable of reaching and winning the World Series. In Game 5, root for an outcome that weakens one side or the other. Root for Kluber to throw 120 pitches; root for Gray to be called upon to throw four innings of relief; root for many, many extra innings. Mostly, cheer for the Astros; appreciate that they managed to overcome Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, David Price and a very good Red Sox team to wrap their series up in four.
After all, no one wants to be playing in a Game 5. Regardless of the opponent, avoiding that situation is the best advantage the Astros could have right now.