After winning a franchise-record and Major League-best 107 games, the Astros will head into the playoffs owning home-field advantage through the World Series. That’s key, considering the Astros went 60-21 at home this year, joining the 1998 Yankees as the only teams in the last 40 years to win as many as 60 games at home.
Back in the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years, Houston is getting ready for Friday’s Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
Here are some questions about what’s next for the Astros now that the postseason is upon us:
Q: Who will the Astros play in the playoffs?
With the best record in the AL, the Astros will play the Rays, who defeated the A's, 5-1, in the AL Wild Card Game. Houston lost the season series against the Rays (3-4).
Q: Will the Astros be healthy in the playoffs?
The only lingering health issue is shortstop Carlos Correa, who missed the final six games of the regular season with a stiff back. Correa saw a doctor in Los Angeles on Thursday, and he was told he should be good to go for the playoffs, but the former All-Star shortstop is going to have to prove it to the Astros during workouts this week. Correa missed 26 games from Aug. 20-Sept. 16 with back discomfort.
Q: What would the Astros’ playoff rotation look like?
Astros manager AJ Hinch set his pitching rotation for the first three games of the ALDS, with Justin Verlander getting the ball in Game 1 on Friday at Minute Maid Park. Gerrit Cole will start Game 2 on Saturday night in Houston, while Zack Greinke will pitch on the road in Game 3 on Monday. Cole (20-5) set the franchise record for strikeouts with 326 this year and set a Major League record by striking out at least 10 batters in nine consecutive starts, all to end the year. Verlander (21-6) reached 3,000 career strikeouts and 300 strikeouts for the season in his final start of 2019 on Saturday in Anaheim. They are a formidable 1-2 foe for any ALDS opponent.
The Game 4 starter is up in the air, but Jose Urquidy might have the leg up after he threw six scoreless innings in Friday’s 4-0 win over the Angels. Urquidy -- who began his season at Double-A, was promoted to Triple-A in May and to the big leagues in July -- has posted a 3.95 ERA in nine outings with the Astros this year, including seven starts. That could be enough for the Astros to keep him in the rotation in October instead of Wade Miley, who had a 16.68 ERA in September.
Q: When does the playoff roster have to be set, and who’s eligible?
The ALDS roster has to be set the morning of Game 1 of the series. Any player who is on the club’s 40-man roster or 60-day injured list as of Aug. 31 is eligible for the postseason. The playoff roster can be tweaked in between each round.
Q: What surprises could we see on the playoff roster?
The status of Correa will go a long way in determining who makes the final couple of position-player spots. Outfielder Kyle Tucker is probably a lock at this point, which would leave infielder Abraham Toro and infielder/outfielder Myles Straw battling for the final spot. If Correa is injured or if the Astros decide to carry an extra position player, they both could make it.
On the pitching side, Urquidy is probably on the roster after his strong start Friday. Another name to watch? Rookie right-hander Bryan Abreu, who struck out 13 batters and allowed one run in 8 2/3 innings over his first seven Major League outings. Hinch raved about Abreu’s ability to spin the ball, his poise and command. He gets a lot of swings and misses. Abreu could impact the October roster.
Q: When do the playoffs start?
Game 1 of the ALDS is set for Friday at Minute Maid Park, with Game 2 to follow on Saturday, also in Houston. Games 3 (Oct. 7) and 4 (Oct. 8) would be on the road, and a decisive fifth game, if necessary, would be held on Oct. 10 in Houston.
Q: How many times have the Astros made the playoffs?
This year marks the 13th time the Astros have made the postseason, including three years in a row. They’ve only done that once previously, when they won three consecutive National League Central titles from 1997-99. Houston has made the playoffs in four of five years since Hinch took over as manager prior to the 2015 season.