Depth on display as Astros muscle to ALCS-opening win

Astros win ALCS Game 1 2022

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The Astros were never going to be anyone’s sympathy case. Houston is baseball’s pre-eminent hybrid team, built to succeed in the modern age with a dynamic blend of slugging, speed and skill. General manager Jeff Luhnow has

been constructing this roster for five years now, so it was only a matter of time until his team carried him to relevance again. This year’s Astros are built around an explosive

batting order that has produced more than 5 runs per game on its own (which is rather rare). The bullpen is stocked with righthanders who can attack lefty bats and vice versa — something that will come in handy against playoff teams like the Red Sox, Indians and Yankees.

Even if Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander aren’t pitching at their best right now, that doesn’t mean they can’t snap right back into the postseason mode we saw in 2015 and ’17. We learned

all of these things during Wednesday night’s ALCS opener at Minute Maid Park between the upstart Astros and the veteran Red Sox. There are still plenty of questions about both teams as this series progresses, but here are five takeaways from Game 1:

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A Stunning Display of Outfield Defense The Astros lead the majors in defensive runs saved, and it showed in the form of incredible catches on Wednesday. George

 

Springer tracked down Mookie Betts’s two-run home run in the first inning, and fellow outfielder Josh Reddick also made a crazy play on the warning track in left field.

But the play that really stood out came in the sixth inning, when Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi unleashed a rocket in between left and center field that suddenly had a clear path to the wall. But the ball suddenly popped out

of the glove of a leaping George Springer, and it appeared like the Astros’ outfielder had just caught a line drive in his back pocket. Springer’s incredible grab will be the defining defensive play of this series, and he’s poised to make

more plays like that given his speed and athleticism.

Springer has always been a fantastic defender, but he’s shown a new level of skill and awareness in the outfield this season thanks in part to some help from the Astros’ coaching staff. ## Carlos Correa’s Return Was a Bright Spot The Astros’

franchise shortstop had been held out of the starting lineup for the first five games of this postseason because of a bruised right forearm he sustained in Game 3 of the ALDS. But Correa was activated just before the start of this series, and he went 0-for-2 with a pair of walks in his first g

ame back. That may not sound like much, but the walks are a positive sign that his at-bats are progressing toward full strength. Correa’s bat will be crucial in the ALCS, and he might have found his timing with a single to left field in the second inning. With each game,

Correa will look more and more like himself — which is scary for the rest of the league. ## Yuli and the Killer Bs Are Still Killer Yuli Gurriel and the rest of the Astros’ vaunted “Killer Bs” have been on a tear lately, and they showed no signs of slowing down in Game 1.

Gurriel, who had two home runs in the ALDS, connected for two more against the Red Sox, giving him five dingers in his last three games. Gurriel’s fellow Killer B, third baseman Alex Bregman, also went deep with a two-run shot in the fifth inning, giving him six homers in his last eight games.

Bregman has been one of the best players in the league since the All-Star break, hitting .349 with 16 homers and an OPS over 1.000 in the season’s final two months. The Killer Bs have been elite throughout the year, but they’re making a strong case that they’re capable of carrying the Astros to a World Series title. ## Lance McCullers Will Be a Factor Again Soon The Astros’

playoff rotation was set to feature Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Brad Peacock in Games 1, 2 and 3, respectively. But Peacock was forced to leave his start in Game 3 with a strained right forearm, and he was promptly placed on the disabled list. That left the Astros without a starter in Game 4,

which they originally hoped to fill with Roberto Osuna — who had been serving a 75-game suspension for domestic violence. But Major League Baseball determined that Osuna hadn’t fulfilled the terms of his suspension, and he’s now ineligible to play for the rest of the postseason.

That left Astros manager AJ Hinch no choice but to go to his bullpen for Game 4, and he turned to his ace for Game 5. Hinch had used McCullers for three innings in relief in Game 2 of the ALDS, and the righthander responded with three more scoreless frames in Game 4 on Monday.

McCullers’s return could decide this series, but he had to sit out an entire game just to get ready to pitch. ## Jose Altuve Is Human After All The diminutive Astros skipper had been one of the best hitters in baseball this season, leading the AL in batting average, hits, total bases,

doubles and OPS. Even though Altuve had a disappointing ALDS, he appeared to be getting hot again just in time for the ALCS. The reigning AL MVP hit .389 with a .455 OBP in the first 10 games of this postseason, but he was held hitless on Wednesday night. Altuve was 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts against the Red Sox, and his subpar performance was compounded by an error at second base.

The AL’s best player is due for a bounceback, and Altuve’s slump could be just a small sample-size fluke. Even so, it was a reminder that even the best players have bad days at the plate sometimes. ## Astros Bullpen Usage Going Forward? TBD This article is written before we know how the rest of this series plays out,

but we can still make some educated guesses about how the Astros may proceed with their bullpen. Brad Peacock will likely remain on the disabled list until the team’s rotation is healthy again,

which means that McCullers will stay in the rotation for now. That may change if McCullers gets roughed up in a start, but for now Houston’s plan is to ride him as a starter. The Astros could also choose to use Chris Devenski out of the pen, since he’s the only other pitcher on the team who has pitched in this series.

Devenski has been excellent, but he’s also been used in high-leverage spots, so he may need a break at some point. The Astros have proven they’re strong enough to withstand an injury or two, but they may also need to lean heavily on their bullpen if they intend to win this series.

And if they do, they’ll have to do something they haven’t all year: go without their best reliever, Roberto Osuna. ## Conclusion This series will be a test for both the Astros and Red Sox. Houston has proven they can come back from adversity and win close games, but the Red Sox have been a team that has been tested all year.

The two teams are very similar, so this series will likely come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes and who executes when it counts. The Astros have been the better team all year, but this series is going to be close. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out,

but if these two teams get to a seventh game, don’t blink. It may be a classic. END ## Above All Else, This Series Is Going to Be Close The Astros have been the better team all year

, but this series is going to be close. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, but if these two teams get to a seventh game, don’t blink. It may be a classic.

This is going to be a series of pitching changes, defensive positioning and timely hitting. Both of these teams are built to win close games, and there is no better way to


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