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American League Division Series presented by T-Mobile

Reigning champion Astros better than last year

MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- The floor was soaked and the air had that, uh, effervescent stench of victory, and let's just say Alex Bregman was in a talkative mood.

"To be honest with you," Bregman said, assessing these 2018 Astros, "[Jose] Altuve goes down, [George] Springer goes down and [Carlos] Correa goes down, and we win 103 games. If those three don't go down and play a full season, you're looking at the most wins in the history of the game. We're going to be honest. You are."

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CLEVELAND -- The floor was soaked and the air had that, uh, effervescent stench of victory, and let's just say Alex Bregman was in a talkative mood.

"To be honest with you," Bregman said, assessing these 2018 Astros, "[Jose] Altuve goes down, [George] Springer goes down and [Carlos] Correa goes down, and we win 103 games. If those three don't go down and play a full season, you're looking at the most wins in the history of the game. We're going to be honest. You are."

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ALCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 1: Tonight, 8:09 p.m. ET/7:09 CT on TBS

Bregman turned to Astros special assistant to the general manager Kevin Goldstein.

"Am I wrong?" he asked.

"You're wrong," Goldstein replied, "but I love you."

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

Bregman, the Majors' hottest hitter this side of Christian Yelich, might very well be wrong about the best-record-in-history boast, but you didn't have to be swept up in the celebration, as the Astros were after completing the 11-3 Game 3 victory on Monday afternoon at Progressive Field that sent them back to the American League Championship Series against either the Yankees or Red Sox, to make some dynamic declarations.

Here's one: The Astros are better than they were a year ago.

You know, when they won the franchise's first World Series?

Now, that doesn't mean the Astros will become the first back-to-back champs since the Yankees' dynasty of 1998-2000, because this tournament has a way of presenting some pinball-worthy quirks and caroms. But it does mean that their rotation is better, their bullpen is better, their lineup is relentless as ever, and, well, they've got that look in their eye, for whatever that's worth.

On Monday, they outlasted the tension that hovered over Game 3 until the back-breaking seventh. They outlasted the crowd that left in droves before the ninth. And yes, they outlasted the Indians, who ran out of answers to every question this loaded Houston roster proposed.

It's funny (and a bit embarrassing) to reflect on our ignorance and innocence now, but a week ago, some of us actually thought this might be the best series of the postseason. These were two of the best starting staffs in the Majors. These were the two toughest teams to strike out. These were the past two AL champs. These were two of the game's more respected skippers in AJ Hinch and Terry Francona. These were two teams that deserved each other, in the best sense possible.

And it was a mismatch basically from the beginning. The Astros took it to Tribe ace Corey Kluber, wrangled Cleveland's lineup with the strikeout artistry of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, beat up on what's left of the Indians' bullpen and supposed X-factor Trevor Bauer, and then cut through all the clamor of this road date in front of a desperate fan base by shaking off some Francisco Lindor heroism and burying the home nine in the late innings.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Hinch on advancing to ALCS after sweep

With the way it ended, it's hard to believe Game 3 was ever an actual ballgame. Oh, but it was. In the third inning, facing Mike Clevinger, Marwin Gonzalez hit a long fly ball to right that, instead of going left of the foul pole for a game-changing grand slam, sailed wide right, into the area in front of The Corner Bar, where frazzled fans probably needed a drink after such a close call. Clevinger somehow escaped that inning unscatched, and, in the bottom half, the Indians got the game's first run on a sacrifice fly.

And even after the Astros tied it in the fifth on a solo shot from George Springer, whose name keeps climbing up the all-time postseason homer ranks, the Indians got what felt like a galvanizing moment in the bottom of the inning, when Lindor literally clocked the digital clock that hangs above the left-field porch -- a 446-foot poke off Dallas Keuchel that made it 2-1.

If teams fold after taking a 2-0 lead in a Division Series, that's about when they fold. They break in a big spot. They invite the other team -- and, just as importantly, its crowd -- back in the best-of-five series. They lose their killer instinct.

In case the final score doesn't make it clear, the Astros didn't do that. And in fact, they rarely do.

"They do a really good job of playing until the game's over," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It's been noticeable for a while. Sometimes, when you beat them, they just run out of time. You gotta have talent, but when you have talent and you play the game the right way, they have a lot of ways to come at you."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer on Astros' return to the ALCS

To Francona's point, no team in this postseason field had fewer blowout losses (defined here as five runs or more) this season than the Astros' eight. They're a tough team to put away, period.

"Not to be, like, cocky at all, but it's really, really tough to blow us out," Bregman said. "I don't remember those eight times, but it must have been, like, the [worst] day of all time for us."

So a little thing like a clock-clanging, potentially season-saving dinger from Lindor wasn't going to affect the Astros much. They just waited around for the seventh, when they got to Bauer's head and his pitches, with his two throwing errors advancing runners and with Gonzalez smacking his four-seamer above the zone into left for the two-run double that changed this game for good.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer, Marwin power offense to sweep

That the Astros were relentless (six runs in the eighth, another totally unnecessary insurance run in the ninth) was befitting of a ballclub that has posted a plus-459 run differential over the past two regular seasons -- the highest in a two-season span since the aforementioned 1998-99 Yankees.

"They keep coming, regardless of whether they're up, down or even," Bauer said.

And they're better than a year ago in that most key of October areas -- the pitching staff. Does anybody want any part of Verlander and Cole in succession in a Game 1 and 2 scenario right now? They front a starting staff that posted an adjusted ERA+ 30 percent better than league average this season -- by far the best in the Majors. That starting staff then hands it over to a bullpen that, a year ago, survived on Hinch's creativity (with Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton memorably closing out the LCS and World Series rounds) and now survives on the straight filth dealt by in-season acquisitions Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna, the convincing conversion of Collin McHugh, and the re-emergence of lefty Tony Sipp.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Astros complete ALDS sweep vs. Indians

"When you look down my card, I'm like, 'Man, I've got something for everybody in different areas of the game,'" Hinch said. "It's comfortable. These games aren't comfortable, but it's a comfortable feeling knowing I've got a couple cards to play when the time matters the most."

Every team has imperfections, and with Correa's back still hindering his hitting and Altuve limping around the bases after tweaking his right knee, the Astros will welcome their earned respite.

"The best thing we did today, for our team, was keep our foot on the gas pedal and finish it in three," Bregman said. "So that way, the guys who are banged up, which is 50 percent of this clubhouse, can get some time off."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Correa feeling great to move to ALCS

But as Bregman said, this team has already overcome some jarring injury issues to put together a special regular season. And in holding the Indians to a team-wide average (.144) only a bit better than your average pitcher posted for the year, it has just made a convincing case that the starting and relief situation are in fairly decent shape.

This, in short, is not your basic back-to-back bid. And you don't have to be soaked in champagne to see or say that.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Houston Astros

What we learned from Astros' ALDS win

Confidence of Bregman, Springer, dominant staff are key
MLB.com

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.

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 Ryan Pressly, Lance McCullers Jr. 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.

Video: CLE@HOU Gm1: Verlander K's 7 Indians, 4 with big heat

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.

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

Houston Astros

Impending Tribe free agents reflect on tenure

MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- In a far corner of the Indians' clubhouse, amid all the hugs and handshakes and the murmur of cliches into microphones about a season ending too soon, three of Cleveland's veterans huddled on Monday night. Josh Tomlin, Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes sat with each other, talking quietly with somber expressions.

They will see each other in the coming days -- during the locker cleanout at Progressive Field and perhaps for some dinners before they go their separate ways for the offseason -- but it is unlikely that they will all wear the same uniform next year. Tomlin and Brantley are among the handful of players facing free agency, which will create a changing of the guard in Cleveland's locker room.

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CLEVELAND -- In a far corner of the Indians' clubhouse, amid all the hugs and handshakes and the murmur of cliches into microphones about a season ending too soon, three of Cleveland's veterans huddled on Monday night. Josh Tomlin, Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes sat with each other, talking quietly with somber expressions.

They will see each other in the coming days -- during the locker cleanout at Progressive Field and perhaps for some dinners before they go their separate ways for the offseason -- but it is unlikely that they will all wear the same uniform next year. Tomlin and Brantley are among the handful of players facing free agency, which will create a changing of the guard in Cleveland's locker room.

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:: ALDS schedule and results ::

"I've got a lot of thinking to do," Brantley said before sitting with his teammates. "I've got my family to talk to. I've got these guys in this room to still talk to. Then, we'll go from there. You never know what's going to happen in the offseason."

And if Brantley did just play his final game for the Indians?

"This organization is in great hands," Brantley said. "You look around this room. They've got phenomenal leaders still, great players. They're going to be good for a long time. I hope to be a part of it."

In the aftermath of the Indians' three-game sweep at the hands of the Astros, who finished off their American League Division Series victory by dealing the Tribe an 11-3 rout, silver linings were not on the minds of Cleveland's players. For a considerable portion of the Indians' roster, this may have been their last chance to win a World Series together.

Brantley has played in parts of 10 seasons for the Indians, who acquired him as a prospect in 2008 to complete the trade that sent CC Sabathia to the Brewers. Tomlin is Cleveland's longest-tenured player, having been picked in the 19th round of the 2006 Draft. Joining them in free agency will be the Indians' all-time saves leader, Cody Allen, who was selected in the 23rd round of the '11 Draft.

Andrew Miller, Josh Donaldson, Lonnie Chisenhall, Melky Cabrera, Oliver Perez and Rajai Davis are also among the players poised to hit the open market this coming offseason.

Only a few minutes after the loss, that reality was not lost on manager Terry Francona.

"We've got a number of guys that are free agents," Francona said. "You know there's going to be some turnover, and it's a real special group to all of us. So that's a hard one, when you're saying goodbye before you're ready."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm 3: Francona on falling in ALDS again

Miller and Allen helped a depleted Indians pitching staff reach the World Series in 2016, but they have not been able to rekindle the same October magic over the past two years. Cleveland's bullpen was a trouble area all season and wound up being the weak spot again in Monday's defeat. The Indians held a 2-1 lead through six innings, but then the relief corps was charged with 10 runs the rest of the way.

In an effort to stabilize the bullpen in the postseason, starter Trevor Bauer took on a relief role. Two throwing errors by Bauer in the seventh inning helped swing the game in Houston's favor, but that was not what Allen focused on in the wake of the Tribe's last loss. Allen saw a pitcher willing to help out in any way possible -- a move necessitated by the rest of the relievers' issues.

"For a guy to want to embrace that challenge and face it head on, you've got to root for a guy like that," Allen said. "Watching what he's done, watching what guys like Josey [Ramirez] and Frankie [Lindor] continue to do, just overall, the culture here is unbelievable. We've seen so many guys get better. It's just unfortunate that I wasn't able to help out in the way that I would've liked to."

Allen then echoed Brantley's belief that -- should they leave via free agency this offseason -- the Indians' roster is in good shape going forward.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Indians discuss ALDS loss to Astros

"I really do [believe that]," Allen said. "This organization's done a pretty good job of putting some pretty good teams on the field without making the big free-agent splashes. ... Guys like Jose Ramirez, Frankie Lindor, Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco -- the backbones and the core and the centerpieces of this club -- either came up in this organization or they got traded for in the Minor Leagues and were developed.

"This organization's going to be just fine with or without whoever the guys are that are free agents."

Miller agreed with that sentiment.

"Every year you have new guys," Miller said. "This organization is set for a long time. There's guys that are going to make this team a contender certainly in the near future. I'm not worried about that right now. I'm worried about trying to process this and move on from it. It's just not the ending we wanted."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians

Brantley savors playoff run after beating injuries

Indians outfielder is 'very appreciative' of return to form
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- Rather than heading home to Texas two winters ago, Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin and his family remained in Cleveland for most of the offseason. One of the driving factors behind that decision was that Michael Brantley was staying back to focus on his rehab from a second right shoulder surgery.

Tomlin knew all too well the mental anguish of rehabbing an injury in solitude. He understood the thoughts that start to infiltrate a player's mind, causing confidence to erode when the finish line is far from view. Tomlin heard Brantley talk about spending his post-playing days at home in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where the outfielder could spend his down time fishing and playing with his kids.

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CLEVELAND -- Rather than heading home to Texas two winters ago, Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin and his family remained in Cleveland for most of the offseason. One of the driving factors behind that decision was that Michael Brantley was staying back to focus on his rehab from a second right shoulder surgery.

Tomlin knew all too well the mental anguish of rehabbing an injury in solitude. He understood the thoughts that start to infiltrate a player's mind, causing confidence to erode when the finish line is far from view. Tomlin heard Brantley talk about spending his post-playing days at home in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where the outfielder could spend his down time fishing and playing with his kids.

View Full Game Coverage

Tomlin knew Brantley needed a close friend nearby to help swat such thoughts away.

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

"You need someone there pushing you," Tomlin said. "You need someone there telling you, 'Hey, you're full of crap. You're going to play. You're going to play again. You're one of the best players in the league. Keep fighting. Keep going forward.'"

Now, the only part of Brantley's future that is in doubt is which uniform he will don next year. Following three seasons hindered by health setbacks, Cleveland's veteran left fielder turned in a remarkable comeback campaign in 2018. Brantley's swing was as smooth as ever, and his presence in the lineup's No. 2 spot gave the Indians' offense a steady hand between Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.

That is where Brantley batted on Monday, when the Indians were eliminated in Game 3 of the American League Division Series with an 11-3 loss to the Astros, during which Brantley hit a sacrifice fly.

The early exit hastens the questions surrounding Brantley, who will be eligible for free agency after parts of 10 seasons in the big leagues with the Tribe.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Brantley's sacrifice fly opens scoring

Given his comeback, given his inability to impact the past two postseason runs and given his uncertain future, Brantley has been savoring as much as possible this year.

"Every day," Brantley said. "When you go through basically almost a two-year rehab, you don't always know that you're going to come back. Every day that I'm there to be with my teammates, that I'm healthy enough to be in that lineup, where I can joke around and know that I'm going out to left field to play with these guys, I'm very appreciative. I don't take it for granted."

In 143 games this season, Brantley hit .309 with 17 home runs, 36 doubles, 76 RBIs, 89 runs and an .832 OPS for the Indians. He was not the AL Most Valuable Player Award candidate that he was in 2014, but Brantley returned to his status as one of the elite contact-oriented hitters in the game. Brantley led qualified MLB hitters in contact rate (90.9 percent) and swinging-strike rate (4.0 percent), while ranking second in strikeout rate (9.5 percent).

Video: BOS@CLE: Brantley walks it off with a single to left

It took countless hours of work behind the scenes for Brantley to become that type of player again.

Late in the 2015 season, an ill-fated dive on the road in Minnesota caused the initial injury to Brantley's right shoulder. He had surgery, but complications limited him to just 11 games in '16. When the Indians clinched the first of three straight AL Central crowns in Detroit that September, Brantley leaned against a wall outside the visitors' clubhouse at Comerica Park, observing the champagne celebration from afar.

Throughout the run to the World Series that October, Brantley stayed with the team, offering hitting advice or any other insight he could for his teammates. If he could not swing a bat, Brantley wanted to find some other way to help his club.

"I really looked at myself as a coach," Brantley said. "I was talking to guys about at-bats. I was talking to them about their approach with certain pitchers. If anyone had a question of me, I made sure I was in the dugout cheering them on and made sure they knew I was there. I accepted the role, even though I didn't want to."

Brantley returned by the start of the 2017 season and made the AL All-Star team, but then a severe right ankle injury that he sustained in August hobbled him for the remainder of the year. The left fielder made the ALDS roster against the Yankees, but he was playing hurt, and following New York's victory to clinch the series, Brantley exited Progressive Field in a walking boot.

"He's a dying breed," Tomlin said.

Brantley had no such setbacks this season. When the Indians clinched their latest division crown, the outfielder was in the thick of the party in the home clubhouse. All those monotonous hours in the training room or batting cage -- where Brantley would swing one-handed if that was all he could handle -- had paid off.

"On a personal level, I'm just so happy for him, that he can be a part of this," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I saw what he went through. When everybody's getting announced during the World Series and all the excitement, he was back there [in the training room]. He never missed a day."

"You never know when it's going to be your last game or what could happen," Brantley said. "Every day that I came in this season, to be with that group that worked so hard day in and day out by my side, it's an honor."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley

Springer joins Mr. October in exclusive club

Astros slugger has 8 homers in past 9 postseason games; also sets club record for most playoff homers
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- If the Astros are to repeat as World Series champs, they will also need repeat performances from several old reliables who got them that far into the postseason this time last year.

Fittingly, the 2017 World Series Most Valuable Player is at the top of that list, and though it's still early in the postseason, he's already delivering.

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CLEVELAND -- If the Astros are to repeat as World Series champs, they will also need repeat performances from several old reliables who got them that far into the postseason this time last year.

Fittingly, the 2017 World Series Most Valuable Player is at the top of that list, and though it's still early in the postseason, he's already delivering.

View Full Game Coverage

ALCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 1: Saturday, 8:09 p.m. ET/7:09 CT on TBS

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

Though he's one of several Houston hitters battling nagging aches and pains, George Springer has become otherworldly in the playoffs. His recent heroics not only helped the Astros sweep the Indians on Monday afternoon, but they also etched his name in the record books with some of the greatest postseason performers of all-time.

"He's Super Springer," Marwin Gonzalez said, concisely, following the Astros' decisive 11-3 win over the Indians in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.

Springer hit three homers in the final two games of Houston's sweep, including two in the finale. He tied the game at 1-1 with a solo homer off Mike Clevinger in the top of the fifth, and he extended the Astros' lead to 5-2 with another solo shot off Cody Allen in the eighth.

The historic part of his day arrived following the second homer. Springer now has eight long balls in his past nine postseason games, tying him with Reggie Jackson, Jim Thome and his former teammate, Carlos Beltran, for the most over such a stretch.

And Springer has 10 career postseason homers, two more than Beltran and Jose Altuve, a new mark in Astros history.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer mashes a solo homer in the 5th

Springer may not have had all of this information at his disposal when he was fielding questions in a champagne-and-beer soaked visitors' clubhouse at Progressive Field following the win, so when trying to explain why he's so good in October, he opted to keep it simple.

"I just think it's one of those times where the lights get brighter, the stage gets a little bigger and I think guys tend to concentrate more," he said.

Springer said he was a "little reserved" in his first two at-bats Monday, which resulted in strikeouts. Then he simplified his approach.

"It's hard to hit in this league behind in the count," Springer said. "So I just told myself to go get something to hit, and hit it hard. And then, honestly, I don't know. I was just trying to hit the ball hard, and whatever happens, happens."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer on Astros' return to the ALCS

Heading into this series, the unknowns were plentiful -- not just with Springer, but with several hitters who missed time this season with injury. A sprained left thumb sidelined Springer, officially, for a couple of weeks in August. But the discomfort lingered longer than the disabled list stint.

He struggled after returning from the DL on Aug. 17, hitting just three home runs in the final six weeks of the regular season.

Then, October arrived.

"I said this to our team in there -- special teams do special things in October," manager AJ Hinch said. "And I believe that about players. George is one of them. We've seen him come up as an uber prospect, produce at an uncanny level, hit the lowest of the lows in the World Series and then be the World Series MVP. I don't think this should surprise anyone. He's a really special player."

That sentiment was repeated numerous times throughout the clubhouse celebration, though some had more creative ways to express how much they've grown to expect -- and respect -- Springer's October output.

"Conor McGregor said when he beat Nate Diaz in the Octagon," said Alex Bregman, the team's unofficial keeper of all things pop culture. "'I'm not surprised.' I'm not surprised.'"

The Astros' ability to sweep the series could prove helpful as the postseason progresses. Not only does it give them a chance to reset their rotation, but it also enables some of those hobbling hitters to rest for a few days before the AL Championship Series begins Saturday.

Springer, it appears, will be ready.

"I don't care how hurt you are, how hurt I am," he said. "This is all about the team, and you have to do whatever you have to do to play the nine-plus innings, for as long as it takes. I'm happy to be out there. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I stay out there."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Houston Astros, George Springer

Astros power past Indians, cruise into ALCS

MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- The Astros passed their first October test as the defending World Series champions with flying colors, burying the Indians with a relentless offense and solid pitching on Monday afternoon to earn a champagne celebration they hope won't be their last.

Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run double in the seventh inning to break a tie, and George Springer etched his name in history by cranking two first-pitch solo homers to send the Astros to an 11-3 win over the Indians at Progressive Field and a three-game sweep of the American League Division Series.

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CLEVELAND -- The Astros passed their first October test as the defending World Series champions with flying colors, burying the Indians with a relentless offense and solid pitching on Monday afternoon to earn a champagne celebration they hope won't be their last.

Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run double in the seventh inning to break a tie, and George Springer etched his name in history by cranking two first-pitch solo homers to send the Astros to an 11-3 win over the Indians at Progressive Field and a three-game sweep of the American League Division Series.

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ALCS presented by Google Assistant, Game 1: Saturday, 8:09 p.m. ET/7:09 CT on TBS

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

A three-run homer by Carlos Correa -- his first hit of the ALDS -- capped a six-run eighth inning as the Astros secured their first playoff sweep in franchise history.

"When we have an opportunity to advance, you've got play well against really good teams," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "Cleveland is really good. Their pitching staff is really good. I know we scored runs, I know we put pressure on them, but our team stays the course. We don't back down and don't settle. Our team really shows up."

The Astros advanced to the AL Championship Series, awaiting the winner of the Red Sox-Yankees ALDS that was tied at one game apiece entering Monday. Game 1 would be on Saturday in Boston (if the Red Sox advance) or in Houston (if the Yankees move on).

"They present a lot of challenges, and they're worthy of moving on," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Whoever they play, they'll be a handful."

The Astros dominated the series, outscoring the Indians, 21-6, with the pitching staff posting a 0.70 WHIP. Houston was 11-for-30 with runners in scoring position, compared with 0-for-6 for Cleveland.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer, Marwin power offense to sweep

"We just came in here knowing we were a better ballclub," Astros outfielder Josh Reddick said. "Going up 2-0 at home was huge. We've been the best ballclub I've seen on the road. We came in here with all the confidence in the world we were going to get the job done. Credit the pitching staff for setting the tone for us so we can stay in games."

Dress for success: Get Astros gear for ALCS

Springer, last year's World Series MVP, homered in the fifth inning to tie the score and become the Astros' franchise leader with nine career playoff homers. He added a solo blast in the seventh for No. 10, and his eighth in his past nine postseason games, tying a record held by Reggie Jackson (1977-78), Jim Thome (1998-99) and Carlos Beltran (2004 with the Astros).

"It's not about personal stuff here," said Springer, whose 32 playoff hits are the third-most in franchise history, behind Craig Biggio (39) and Lance Berkman (34). "It's about the team. So I'll take it."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer cranks his 2nd homer of game

After smothering the Indians with dominant starting pitching in Games 1 and 2, the Astros withstood five solid innings from Tribe starter Mike Clevinger before Cleveland's defense unraveled in the seventh. The Indians' bullpen imploded an inning later.

Trevor Bauer, who came on in the sixth inning with a 2-1 lead, made two errors throwing to the bases in the seventh that helped Houston tie the score on Jose Altuve's fielder's choice. With the bases loaded, Gonzalez hit a shoulders-high fastball off Bauer into the left-corner for a two-run double to score a pair and put Houston ahead, 4-2.

"It was an ugly swing, but I was lucky enough to keep it fair and get the lead by that time," Gonzalez said. "What I just wanted to do in that at-bat was at least get a fly ball and bring in a run and then get the lead. Everybody knows what Bauer can do on the mound. He's a good pitcher. I was looking to keep the ball fair."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Gonzalez's double off 4.22-ft high pitch

The Astros batted around in the seventh and eighth, scoring nine runs to blow open the game, and scored 14 of their 21 runs in the series in the seventh inning or later. Houston's bullpen allowed one run and four hits in 9 2/3 innings.

"We gave ourselves so many opportunities, and at the end we broke through," Hinch said. "I love this team, because we can beat you in a couple of different ways. We put up really good at-bats. Our bullpen was unbelievable, and you have guys step up who had up-and-down seasons. Marwin Gonzalez, up-and-down season, comes through. Obviously, [Alex] Bregman had a great series. Yuli [Gurriel] didn't get a lot of love but had some big at-bats. It doesn't matter where we are in the order. We can hurt you."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Hinch on Marwin's performance in sweep

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The score was tied at 2 with one out in the seventh when Bregman hit a chopper back to the mound. It was a tailor-made double-play ball for Bauer, who had a chance to end the inning and keep the game even if he could turn it. Instead he turned and threw wide of second base, allowing Altuve to slide in safely, and the relay throw to first was late. A walk to Gurriel loaded the bases, then Gonzalez doubled to give the Astros the lead.

"Honestly, I was trying to put something in play," Bregman said. "It was hard to see with the shadows. I got jammed. He threw a good fastball in, a two-seamer in."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Altuve, Bregman safe after Bauer's error

SOUND SMART
The Astros are 14-2 in the postseason when Altuve has at least one hit, and 11-0 when he has at least one RBI.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Altuve hits game-tying fielder's choice

HE SAID IT
"Our guys came out ready to play and ready to show we're the World [Series] champions. The World Series runs through us and runs through Houston, and that's what we came out and did from the jump." -- Collin McHugh, who got the win in Game 3

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: McHugh K's 4, earns win in Astros' sweep

UP NEXT
The Astros advance to face either the Red Sox or the Yankees in the ALCS. Justin Verlander is likely to be Houston's Game 1 starter.

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

Houston Astros, Carlos Correa, George Springer

Drama short-lived as Tribe's season ends in G3

Clevinger fans 9 in 5 IP before Lindor's 446-foot HR provides lead, but 'pen yields 10 runs down stretch
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- As the baseball caromed off the clock beyond Progressive Field's intimidating left-field wall, and as Francisco Lindor jumped in the air, pumped his fist and then tossed his bat away, it felt like the Indians just might be able to complete Step 1 in their improbable comeback bid.

For that moment in the fifth inning on Monday afternoon, while the Cleveland crowd shook the stadium, the past seven decades of baseball in this city were an afterthought. Then the Astros quickly reminded everyone that they are the reigning World Series champions, storming back to deal the Tribe an 11-3 defeat that sealed a three-game sweep of the American League Division Series.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- As the baseball caromed off the clock beyond Progressive Field's intimidating left-field wall, and as Francisco Lindor jumped in the air, pumped his fist and then tossed his bat away, it felt like the Indians just might be able to complete Step 1 in their improbable comeback bid.

For that moment in the fifth inning on Monday afternoon, while the Cleveland crowd shook the stadium, the past seven decades of baseball in this city were an afterthought. Then the Astros quickly reminded everyone that they are the reigning World Series champions, storming back to deal the Tribe an 11-3 defeat that sealed a three-game sweep of the American League Division Series.

View Full Game Coverage

"We've got to go home now -- before we're ready to. That hurts. It always stings," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "You know there's going to be some turnover, and it's a real special group to all of us. So that's a hard one, when you're saying goodbye before you're ready."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Francona on Indians being swept in ALDS

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

All that energy that was unleashed from the stands -- fueled further by Lindor's celebratory sprint around the bases after a go-ahead home run -- will now give way to the frustration of another early-arriving offseason. A 10-run collapse by Cleveland's bullpen across the seventh, eighth and ninth innings paved the way for the final loss of the 2018 campaign.

With no World Series title since 1948, the Indians have the longest drought in the Majors. The defeat carries with it the lingering sting of the past two Octobers, too. Cleveland reached the World Series in 2016, only to lose Game 7 to the Cubs. A year ago, the Tribe had a stacked roster that looked prime for a deep run, but the team was bounced in the ALDS by the Yankees.

"I didn't expect us to lose the way we lost -- 3-0," said Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion. "With the talent we have in this clubhouse, that's not supposed to happen."

The relief corps was an issue for most of this season, so the Indians devised a different strategy for October. Starter Trevor Bauer would be utilized as a multi-inning leverage weapon to aid the shaky staff. In the finale of this best-of-five series, a pair of throwing errors by Bauer gave Houston the opening it needed to soak another clubhouse with champagne.

"It was my job to get us to the finish line," Bauer said. "I didn't do that."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Bauer on his performance in Game 3

Following a drama-free sixth, and with the Indians clinging to a 2-1 lead, Bauer remained on the hill for the seventh. The righty promptly allowed a single to the fleet-footed Tony Kemp and then misfired on a pickoff attempt to allow the runner to reach second. Next up was George Springer, who sent a dribbler up the third-base line for an unlikely single.

With runners on the corners, Bauer induced a grounder off the bat of Jose Altuve, but Cleveland was only able to convert the out at second. Kemp scored with ease on the play to pull the game into a 2-2 deadlock. That set things up for Alex Bregman, who chopped a pitch back to the mound, where Bauer gloved the ball.

In an attempt to start an inning-ending double play, Bauer fired the ball wildly to Lindor, pulling the shortstop off the base for the pitcher's second error of the inning.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Altuve, Bregman safe after Bauer's error

"There's no way around it. That shoulda been the end of the inning," Bauer said. "It's a 2-2 game in the seventh. We've got a chance. And I didn't execute."

Bauer then walked Yuli Gurriel to load the bases for Marwin Gonzalez, who connected on a 95-mph fastball elevated and out of the zone, sending it into left for a two-run double. The three-run outburst by the 103-win Astros put the Indians in a 4-2 hole that the club was unable to overcome.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Gonzalez's double off 4.22-ft high pitch

That rendered an outstanding effort by Tribe starter Mike Clevinger moot. Over five innings, Clevinger piled up nine strikeouts and allowed only a solo home run to Springer in the fifth. The right-hander generated 18 swinging strikes against Houston, which had 16 swinging strikes combined in Games 1 and 2 against starters Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Clevinger K's 9, limits Astros to 1 run

"It doesn't mean anything," Clevinger said of his performance.

Springer, who holds the Astros' club record for playoff home runs with 10 in his career, also launched a solo shot in a six-run eighth that transformed the game into a blowout.

After being overpowered by Houston righties Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in the first two games, Cleveland had to contend with the left-handed Dallas Keuchel, who takes the sting out of bats more than he blows batters away. For much of his five frames, Keuchel succeeded in that regard, limiting the Tribe to a sacrifice fly from Michael Brantley until Lindor's game-changing shot.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Brantley's sacrifice fly opens scoring

With two outs in the fifth, Lindor crushed a first-pitch fastball over the middle to left field, where it rocketed out at 109.6 mph, per Statcast™. The 446-foot shot was Lindor's longest of the season and the farthest home run of his career from the right side of the plate. The shortstop jumped out of the batter's box, pumped his fist around second, howled to the heavens and clapped his hands hard upon reaching the dugout.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Lindor launches 446-ft dinger off clock

Overall, in the series, the Indians' lineup scored six runs and hit .144 as a team. Lindor launched two home runs, but he downplayed his personal performance.

"I wish I could have helped my team a little better," said the shortstop.

Lindor did not want the Tribe's 2018 journey to end. Neither did his audience. Now, Cleveland's long wait for a World Series triumph continues.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Indians discuss ALDS loss to Astros

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Allen's last outing?
With the bases loaded and Houston holding a 4-2 lead in the seventh, the Tribe handed longtime closer Cody Allen the ball for what may have been his final game in a Cleveland uniform. Allen -- eligible for free agency this offseason -- then struck out Tyler White to end the threat.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Allen K's White with bases loaded in 7th

Allen returned in the eighth, but he allowed Springer's second home run, gave up a double to Altuve, threw a wild pitch and issued two intentional walks. After Allen's exit, lefty Brad Hand gave up a three-run blast to Carlos Correa.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Springer cranks his 2nd homer of game

"I was not good," Allen said. "I was not good, and I feel bad for the guys who were extremely good this year and carried us to this point, because I did not help in getting us past a very, very good team in Houston. We knew we were going to have to play our best baseball, and we didn't, and I didn't."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm 3: Brantley, Allen, Miller on free agency

Impending Tribe free agents reflect on tenure

Clevinger's escape: Following a leadoff walk to Kemp in the third, Encarnacion could not corral a pickoff attempt at first base, resulting in an error that allowed the runner to reach second. Clevinger later yielded a one-out single to Altuve and hit Bregman with a pitch to load the bases with one out. It was a critical point in the game, and the Tribe starter was up to the challenge. Clevinger struck out Gurriel and induced a flyout from Gonzalez, leaving Houston empty-handed.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Clevinger strands the bases loaded

"He battled like crazy. I thought he had great stuff," Francona said. "Obviously, a lot of deep counts. I mean, he was close to 100 after 5. They had some really good opportunities, but he made some really good pitches to keep it [close]."

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Francona on Clevinger's outing in loss

SOUND SMART
Clevinger's nine strikeouts against the Astros set a franchise record for a pitcher making his first career postseason start. Kluber (seven strikeouts in Game 2 of the 2016 ALDS) and Carrasco (seven strikeouts in Game 3 of the 2017 ALDS) shared the previous mark for the Indians.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Clevinger on his start in Game 3

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Cody Allen, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Francisco Lindor

Lindor homers off clock for 2nd blast of playoffs

MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- Big postseason home runs are all about timing. Sometimes literally.

Francisco Lindor's 446-foot home off Dallas Keuchel in the fifth inning not only gave the Indians a temporary lead over the Astros in Monday afternoon's 11-3 loss in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, but it also struck the digital clock that hangs from the walkway above Progressive Field's left-field home run porch. It was believed to be the first dinger to clock the clock, and the timing of the 109.6-mph blast was impeccable for a Tribe team that couldn't keep its season alive.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- Big postseason home runs are all about timing. Sometimes literally.

Francisco Lindor's 446-foot home off Dallas Keuchel in the fifth inning not only gave the Indians a temporary lead over the Astros in Monday afternoon's 11-3 loss in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, but it also struck the digital clock that hangs from the walkway above Progressive Field's left-field home run porch. It was believed to be the first dinger to clock the clock, and the timing of the 109.6-mph blast was impeccable for a Tribe team that couldn't keep its season alive.

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

Lindor's two-out solo homer -- his second of the ALDS and his longest from the right side of the plate in his career, per Statcast™ -- came on a first-pitch four-seamer and in the bottom half of an inning in which the Astros evened things up at 1 apiece on a George Springer shot off Mike Clevinger.

The long balls were all part of a tense and entertaining tilt filled with frightening fly balls, frayed nerves and frantic home fans with the Indians in an 0-2 hole in the best-of-five set.

There was even some bunting to go with the bunting.

In the third inning, Clevinger pitched himself into a jam. He gave up a leadoff walk to No. 9 hitter Tony Kemp. Then, with Kemp a stolen-base threat, Clevinger made a pickoff attempt that Edwin Encarnacion could not snare, allowing the runner to reach scoring position. Clevinger struck out Springer but gave up a ground-ball single through the left side to Jose Altuve, putting runners on the corners. He got ahead of the red-hot Alex Bregman but lost the matchup when he plunked Bregman, who had just missed a hanging breaking ball by lining it into the seats down the third-base line, in the left hip with a fastball to load the bases.

Up came Yuli Gurriel, and Clevinger put him away with a beautiful breaking ball that Gurriel swung through for strike three. All that separated Clevinger from escape was Marwin Gonzalez, who smacked a first-pitch four-seamer high and deep to right. The ball just barely went wide of the foul pole, landing in front of Progressive Field's Corner Bar, whose patrons no doubt needed a drink after that sudden scare.

When Gonzalez lined out harmlessly to left, Clevinger had escaped the big threat unscathed. In the bottom of the inning, the Indians got something going against Keuchel with back-to-back singles from Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis. Lindor bunted back to Keuchel to advance the runners before Michael Brantley lifted a fly ball to deep center to score Gomes from third on the sacrifice that brought home the game's first run.

Video: HOU@CLE Gm3: Brantley's sac fly opens scoring on TBS

Brantley's sacrifice fly snapped a string of eight consecutive scoreless frames for the Tribe's offense, its first run since Lindor's homer in the third inning of Game 2. Cleveland also scored first in that game and did not win. Including Monday's loss, teams that score first this postseason are 11-2, with both defeats courtesy of the Indians.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley, Mike Clevinger, Yan Gomes, Francisco Lindor

Kemp's tenacity translates into 1st playoffs start

Hinch proud of utility man's patience, mindset; Marwin making mark as postseason OF
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- Considering he didn't make the Astros' roster to begin the season, Tony Kemp's first career postseason start in Monday's Game 3 of the American League Division Series is a credit to his perseverance and determination. Kemp started at designated hitter, batting ninth.

"One of the most disappointing parts of the spring was having to tell him he didn't make our team," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "All he did was go down and outperform the league in Triple-A and wait for his opportunity. When his opportunity came, it was the first time that he had a legit chance to play and play pretty regularly. Maybe not every single day, maybe not every single opportunity, but there was something."

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CLEVELAND -- Considering he didn't make the Astros' roster to begin the season, Tony Kemp's first career postseason start in Monday's Game 3 of the American League Division Series is a credit to his perseverance and determination. Kemp started at designated hitter, batting ninth.

"One of the most disappointing parts of the spring was having to tell him he didn't make our team," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "All he did was go down and outperform the league in Triple-A and wait for his opportunity. When his opportunity came, it was the first time that he had a legit chance to play and play pretty regularly. Maybe not every single day, maybe not every single opportunity, but there was something."

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

Kemp, a fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2013, had appeared in 76 games for the Astros in the previous two years before was called up on May 26. He wound up playing in 97 games and providing quality at-bats, especially from the nine-hole in the order. By the time the playoffs rolled around, he was a no-brainer to make the ALDS roster.

• 5-foot-6 Kemp lifts Astros teammates after homers

"What he did was come in and convince me and the coaching staff that he could be a valuable part of a really good team," Hinch said. "I'm really proud of the mindset that he took, for the patience that he showed and ultimately for the production. I mean, this guy came in and I don't know how many games this season he became a sparkplug for us or lead off an inning or get up and get a big pinch-hit and move them around the field a little bit. Great attitude, great approach. Really valuable player."

Marwin making mark in outfield
For an infielder, Marwin Gonzalez has forged quite a career as one of the Astros' top outfielder performers in playoff history. Gonzalez made his 20th career postseason outfield start in Game 3 of the ALDS, which is the fourth most in club history. George Springer, who started his 27th game in the outfield on Monday, has the most.

Gonzalez, who was acquired by the Astros only hours after Jeff Luhnow took over as general manager in December 2011, has played every position other than catcher and pitcher in his career. He started every game for Houston in the postseason last year -- all but one start in left field -- and hit the biggest homer in franchise history, a game-tying ninth-inning blast off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in Game 2 of last year World Series.

Video: Extended Cut: Marwin's HR off Jansen ties it in 9th

"When I first got here in 2015, he was an early conversation that I had, because he wanted to know where he fit in," Hinch said.

Gonzalez had played only four games in the outfield in his big league prior to Hinch's arrival as manager in 2015, and with Jose Altuve entrenched at second base, shortstop Carlos Correa arriving in the big leagues in '15 and third baseman Alex Bregman coming a year later, the Astros shifted Gonzalez to first base. Last year, he became the team's left fielder down the stretch.

"It became a running joke," Hinch said. "He had an outfield glove, an infield glove, a first-base glove. We had him catch a couple bullpens. I told him all that mattered was he'd get an opportunity somewhere. ... It speaks to his baseball acumen and his athleticism, his value to us. He's the answer.

"It's no disrespect to him that he's not the primary reason that you play a position. But when Correa went down early in his career, Marwin can play short. When Jose went on the DL for the first time this season, Marwin can play second. When we needed him at first or third or left, he was there. I put him in center this year. I think I may have even played him in right field. He's a fantasy baseball dream and also a manager's dream. He's the answer for everything."

Video: CLE@HOU Gm2: Gonzalez notches 4 hits, drives in 2

Hinch proud of Kratz
Brewers catcher Erik Kratz became the oldest player since 1905 to make his postseason debut on Friday in the National League Division Series against the Rockies, and he came up with a two-run single in Milwaukee's win in Game 2. Kratz spent 14 games with the Astros in 2016 and is most notably known for tripping himself while running onto the field during pregame introductions on Opening Day that season to settle a bet.

The Astros acquired Kratz late in Spring Training in 2016 when Max Stassi got hurt, but they released him two months later. He's since played with six organizations since leaving Houston, but Hinch is thrilled to see Kratz finally earn some spotlight for something other than his on-field prank with the Astros.

Video: COL@MIL Gm2: Kratz plates a pair on single in the 8th

"I've texted back and forth with him like I do a lot of our players or ex-players," Hinch said. "I still remember him running out for intros and falling down to win a bet. I'll always remember that. But I watch almost every pitch that I can [of the playoffs]. I'm a baseball enthusiast, a baseball fan. … He was a proud Astro, so I'm happy when guys succeed when they go elsewhere."

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

Houston Astros, Marwin Gonzalez, Tony Kemp

'No hesitancy' to tab Bieber for possible G4 start

Francona confident in first-year right-hander; Bauer also in mix for Tuesday nod
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- Before Shane Bieber even arrived to the Major Leagues this season, Indians manager Terry Francona said the feedback from the player development staff was that the pitcher had the kind of poise along the lines of ace Corey Kluber. Francona's faith in Bieber only grew as the summer wore on.

Now, Bieber is potentially in line to start a must-win Game 4 on Tuesday against the Astros in the American League Division Series at Progressive Field. Prior to Game 3 on Monday, Francona's message to the rookie was to prepare as though he was going to start against the Astros.

View Full Game Coverage

CLEVELAND -- Before Shane Bieber even arrived to the Major Leagues this season, Indians manager Terry Francona said the feedback from the player development staff was that the pitcher had the kind of poise along the lines of ace Corey Kluber. Francona's faith in Bieber only grew as the summer wore on.

Now, Bieber is potentially in line to start a must-win Game 4 on Tuesday against the Astros in the American League Division Series at Progressive Field. Prior to Game 3 on Monday, Francona's message to the rookie was to prepare as though he was going to start against the Astros.

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

"His maturity level is beyond his three months in the Major Leagues," Francona said prior to Game 3. "That's exciting for us, because we view this kid as being here for a long time, and he's going to get better, too. And it's exciting. If we are able to give him the ball [for Game 4], there will be no hesitancy from anybody. That's a big compliment to that kid."

Bieber starting a potential Game 4 is not set in stone. First, the Indians need to see how they navigate through Game 3. If right-hander Trevor Bauer sees action in a Cleveland victory in Game 3, then Bieber would get the nod on Tuesday. If the Indians win, but Bauer's services are not required, then he could be the one to start Game 4, with Bieber in the bullpen.

In 20 appearances this season, the 23-year-old Bieber went 11-5 with a 4.55 ERA, posting 118 strikeouts against 23 walks in 114 2/3 innings.

Francona said his message to Bieber prior to Game 3 was a simple one.

"He's the starter for [Tuesday]," Francona said. "Obviously we've got to win, but the object is to win three. So, you've got to kind of keep some things in order or you don't really give yourself a chance."

Martin on the mend
Outfielder Leonys Martin, who is home in Florida still recovering from the serious bacterial infection that ended his season in August, posted a message for his Indians teammates prior to Game 3 of the ALDS.

"Let's do this today guys, one at the time," Martin wrote.

Tweet from @leonys27martin: Let���s do this today guys, one at the time #RallyTogether #letsgotribe #Indians pic.twitter.com/0UZzvj1J6j

Francona said Martin is "healing so fast" that it has even surprised some of the doctors overseeing his recovery. Cleveland fully expect the center fielder (acquired from the Tigers prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline) to be healthy and ready by the time Spring Training arrives next year.

"He's been in communication with everybody," Francona said. "He just needs to have a little distance, I think, for his sake. He's doing OK."

Worth noting
• With Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel on the mound for Game 3, Francona went with Brandon Guyer in right field and Yandy Diaz at designated hitter. The manager was asked if he also considered sitting center fielder Jason Kipnis. Francona cited Greg Allen's season OPS against lefties (.484) and Rajai Davis' career showing against Keuchel (0-for-20) as reasons for keeping the lefty-swinging Kipnis in the ninth spot.

• Francona said he was impressed with the energy level from his players during Sunday's optional workout at Progressive Field. Said the manager: "When I left here [Sunday], I felt better than when I came in. Well, that's good. I mean, there's some sense of, you're like, '[Come on], we can do this.'"

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Shane Bieber

Astros-Indians G3: Lineups, matchups, FAQs

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Behind dominant pitching performances from Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and a shutdown bullpen, the Astros have held the Indians to six hits in two victories in Houston in the American League Division Series, and they can punch a ticket to the AL Championship Series with a win in today's Game 3 in Cleveland.

The Indians have managed only nine total bases and have struck out 24 times while drawing only four walks heading into a Game 3, in which they'll face former AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, a lefty. The Astros have taken advantage of the Tribe's aggressiveness at the plate, but Keuchel pitches more to contact and feasts on ground balls.

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HOUSTON -- Behind dominant pitching performances from Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and a shutdown bullpen, the Astros have held the Indians to six hits in two victories in Houston in the American League Division Series, and they can punch a ticket to the AL Championship Series with a win in today's Game 3 in Cleveland.

The Indians have managed only nine total bases and have struck out 24 times while drawing only four walks heading into a Game 3, in which they'll face former AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, a lefty. The Astros have taken advantage of the Tribe's aggressiveness at the plate, but Keuchel pitches more to contact and feasts on ground balls.

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

Meanwhile, the Indians have struck out the Astros only 10 times in two games, while allowing 39 total bases to Houston's offense. It will be up to right-hander Mike Clevinger to try to keep the defending champions from eliminating Cleveland.

Cole dominates, Astros rally for 2-0 ALDS lead

What do the starting lineups look like?
Astros: Brian McCann will start at catcher instead of Martin Maldonado, and Tony Kemp gets his first start in the outfield, facing another right-hander. Carlos Correa (0-for-7) stays in the lineup because of his defense with hopes that his bat will come around.

1. George Springer, CF
2. Jose Altuve, 2B
3. Alex Bregman, 3B
4. Yuli Gurriel, 1B
5. Marwin Gonzalez, LF
6. Josh Reddick, RF
7. Carlos Correa, SS
8. Brian McCann, C
9. Tony Kemp, DH

• Marwin's 4-for-4 day, Bregman's homer jolt Astros

Indians: With a lefty in Keuchel on the mound, the Indians will have both Brandon Guyer (124 OPS+ vs. left-handers) and Yandy Diaz (103 OPS+ vs. lefties) in the lineup. The rest of the Tribe's nine remain the same.

1. Francisco Lindor, SS
2. Michael Brantley, LF
3. Jose Ramirez, 2B
4. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
5. Josh Donaldson, 3B
6. Yandy Diaz, DH
7. Brandon Guyer, RF
8. Yan Gomes, C
9. Jason Kipnis, CF

Who are the starting pitchers?
Astros: Keuchel (12-11, 3.74 ERA) put together a solid season following a slow start. He went 9-3 with a 3.23 ERA in his final 20 starts. This will be the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner's eighth career playoff start. He's 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA in eight career playoff appearances, including one relief appearance against the Royals in 2015.

Keuchel is 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA in eight career games (seven starts) against the Indians, and he allowed 14 hits and six earned runs in 11 innings across two starts against them this year. He's 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in four career starts at Progressive Field.

Video: HOU@CLE: Keuchel fans 5, allows 2 runs in 6 innings

Indians: Clevinger (13-8, 3.02 ERA) will take the ball in Game 3, marking the first postseason start of his career. Clevinger finished the 2018 campaign with a career high in innings (200) and strikeouts (207), and he enjoyed a stellar second half. In 13 starts after the summer's intermission, the righty had a 2.31 ERA, which was the third-lowest mark in the AL in that span (minimum 60 innings).

Clevinger faced Houston twice this year, going 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA (eight earned runs in 11 2/3 innings) in back-to-back outings (May 18 and 24). In 17 starts this season at Progressive Field, the right-hander went 7-3 with a 3.14 ERA with 114 strikeouts vs. 29 walks in 106 innings.

Video: HO@CLE Gm3: Clevinger discusses his start in Game 3

How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Astros: Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna pitched in the first two games of the series , and Lance McCullers Jr. went in Game 1. The Astros' other four relievers are well rested, and following Sunday's off-day, Pressly and Osuna should be ready to pitch again in Game 3.

• McCullers key to Hinch's bullpen deployment

Video: CLE@HOU Gm1: Pressly fans Encarnacion in the 6th

Indians: Cleveland leaned on righty Trevor Bauer in each of the first two games, and he will likely continue to be a leverage option for Game 3. With the Tribe in must-win mode, Bauer will likely be leaned on for multiple innings if Clevinger runs into trouble. With the exception of starters Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber, it will be all hands on deck.

Video: MLB Tonight on Francona's use of Tribe's bullpen

Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Astros: None.

Indians: Between Sunday's off-day and the fact that the Indians have not overextended any relievers, expect everyone to be available for duty.

Any injuries of note?
Astros: Altuve appeared to tweak his sore right knee running to first base in the sixth inning of Game 2, but he said he'll be ready for today.

Video: CLE@HOU ALDS Gm2: Hinch on Altuve's baserunning scare

Indians: None.

Who is hot and who is not?
Astros: Bregman is 3-for-6 with two walks and two homers in the first two games, and Gonzalez is 5-for-7. White is 3-for-5 with two intentional walks. Meanwhile, Correa and Gurriel (1-for-7) have gotten off to slow starts.

7 facts you need to know about Bregman

Video: MLB Tonight examines Bregman's approach at the plate

Indians: After posting a .171 average and a .550 OPS in the ALDS a year go, Cleveland's lineup has gone cold once again (6-for-60) to start October. The middle of the Tribe's order (Ramirez, Encarnacion and Donaldson) has gone especially frigid, with a 1-for-22 showing through the first two games. Lindor tried to light an offensive fuse in Game 2 with a solo home run off Cole, but that was the extent of the lineup's output.

Video: CLE@HOU Gm2: Lindor hits a solo homer to right

Anything else fans might want to know?
The Indians went 49-32 this season at home, averaging 5.47 runs per game on offense and posting a 3.82 ERA as a staff. Cleveland's 151 home victories over the 2016-18 seasons trail only the Red Sox and Yankees (152 apiece) in the AL. The Indians have won an AL-high 289 home games under manager Terry Francona from 2013-18.

The Astros went 57-24 on the road this season, marking the second-best road record in the Major Leagues since the schedule expanded to 162 games in 1961. They won 15 of their final 18 games on the road in the regular season and averaged 5.2 runs per game away from home this year (4.6 runs per game at home).

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

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

Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Mike Clevinger, Dallas Keuchel