2018 American League Division Series 2
|2018 American League Division Series|
103 - 59 in the AL
|3 - 0
91 - 71 in the AL
The second Division Series of 2018 featured the two most recent American League pennant winners in the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros. The Indians had won their division almost without breaking a sweat, while the Astros had managed to exceed their win total of their very successful 2017 season, so both teams had big ambitions coming into the series, and in fact had been eyeing one another for weeks now, as the match-up had been almost certain to happen since mid-August, if not earlier. The resulting match-up had never occurred before in the postseason.
If the series looked to be close on paper, it was not the case when the games were actually played. The Astros won all three games, and while Cleveland got good performances from its starters in two of the three games, its bullpen was a virtual disaster area, while its batters never got going, leading to an early exit. The Astros though looked every bit the defending champions as they thoroughly dominated the series.
Returning to the postseason as defending champions, the Astros were determined to win it all again, and they had shown they were serious during the regular season as they set a team record for wins. To begin, they had the best starting rotation in the league, with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel leading the charge. That strength gave them the luxury of using Lance McCullers out of the bullpen in this Series, something they had done all season with Collin McHugh, who would have probably been the number two starter on most teams. One preoccupation earlier in the season had been the bullpen, with closer Ken Giles having an up-and-down year, but a controversial trade for disgraced Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna had seemingly solved that problem. There were still some questions about the rest of the bullpen, but nothing like some of their rivals who were praying for games not to be decided by relievers.
While the pitching was impressive, so was the hitting. Injuries had turned last year's MVP, 2B Jose Altuve, into a mere mortal during the regular season, but he was back in full health. In his absence, 3B Alex Bregman had stepped up and established himself as one of the league's top players, and the rest of the line-up was full of good bats, with the likes of George Springer, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez and Tyler White all ready to give opposite pitchers headaches. Manager A.J. Hinch had a deep and very talented team on his hands.
The Indians had had a very easy run to the division title as no other team in the AL Central had put up much of a fight, so the fact that they did not pile up a huge total of wins should not be given too much weight: they clinched the division way ahead of any other team, and focused more on getting ready for the postseason than on obliterating opponents. Like the Astros, the Indians were built first and foremost on solid starting pitching, being the first team in history to have four pitchers strike out 200 or more batters, in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Trevor Bauer. In fact, Bauer was putting together a Cy Young Award-type season when a freak injury pushed him aside, and he had barely returned to work in late September, pushing him to the bullpen for the moment. And the bullpen needed the help, as in the absence of Andrew Miller, out for most of the season, and Bryan Shaw, gone as a free agent, the remainder of the group struggled mightily, starting with closer Cody Allen. Miller was back, but his health was still a question mark and likely to prevent him from being used as aggressively as during the team's run to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. The result was that manager Terry Francona was hoping for his starters to go as deep as possible into their games.
On the batting side, there were a lot of weapons, starting like Houston with an infield tandem, this one composed of SS Francisco Lindor and 3B Jose Ramirez, both superlative players. They were surrounded by two classic power hitters in 1B Yonder Alonso and DH Edwin Encarnacion, and a couple of underrated batters in LF Michael Brantley and C Yan Gomes. However, the other positions were more problematic, which had prompted the Indians to trade for injured 3B Josh Donaldson on August 31st; they had bet that he would be healthy again in time for the postseason and seemed to have won that wager as he was in the starting line-up. But that still left two of the three outfield spots as clearly below average, and a bench that was not particularly strong.
|1||Cleveland Indians 2 Houston Astros 7||October 5||Corey Kluber (0-1) Justin Verlander (1-0)||2:05 pm|
|2||Cleveland Indians 1 Houston Astros 3||October 6||Carlos Carrasco (0-1) Gerrit Cole (1-0)||4:37 pm|
|3||Houston Astros 11 Cleveland Indians 3||October 8||Dallas Keuchel (0-0) Mike Clevinger (0-0)||1:30 pm|
Game 1 @ Minute Maid Park
|WP: Justin Verlander (1-0); LP: Corey Kluber (0-1)|
|Home Runs: HOU - Alex Bregman (1), George Springer (1), Jose Altuve (1), Martin Maldonado (1)|
- Attendance: 43,514
The Astros basically pounded the Indians into submission in Game 1, by hitting four long balls at home. With two marquee pitchers starting in Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber, a low-scoring affair was expected, and that's exactly what unfolded for the first 3 1/2 innings, before the Astros got serious. In the bottom of the 4th, Alex Bregman led off with a homer to left, then Yuli Gurriel walked and after a couple of outs, Tyler White hit a single. Josh Reddick followed with another single, driving in Gurriel with a second run. In the 5th, the Astros went at it again as George Springer and Jose Altuve led off the frame with back-to-back long balls. Kluber remained in the game, but after he gave up a hit to Marwin Gonzalez with two outs, he was replaced by Adam Cimber. Cimber did not face a batter as Gonzalez was caught stealing to end the inning.
The Indians stirred in the 6th, when they managed to load the bases with one out on a pair of singles and a walk. Verlander gave way to Ryan Pressly and he uncorked a wild pitch to allow a first run to score. Jose Ramirez followed with a ground out, but that scored a second run and it was now 4-2. In the bottom of the 6th, Cimber retired the first two batters, then Cody Allen, nominally the Indians' closer, came out to retire Reddick for the final out. Just as the momentum appeared to be shifting, Pressly doused Cleveland's hopes with cold water as he reeled off a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the 7th. Martin Maldonado then reminded Indians fans why the adjective "embattled" was often affixed to closer Allen's name these days, as he homered off him to lead off the bottom of the inning. After Springer followed with a single, Terry Francona pulled out Allen in favor of Trevor Bauer, normally a starter. He got Altuve to ground out, moving Springer to second, but Bregman followed with another single to make it 6-2. Bregman was "caught stretching" at second, which turned out to be a big break as Gurriel followed with another double before Bauer struck out Gonzalez to end another damaging inning.
The Astros then also brought in a starting pitcher not required for such duties in this series in Lance McCullers. He had thrived in that role the previous postseason, and in the 8th he gave manager A.J. Hinch a 1-2-3 inning. Francona was forced to dig again into his shaky bullpen for the bottom of the inning, and the card he pulled out, Dan Otero, was not a winning one. He allowed a one-out double to White, followed by a single to Reddick which scored pinch-runner Myles Straw. The 7-2 score would be the final one. Hinch gave closer Roberto Osuna some work in the 9th, and while he gave up a lead-off single to Michael Brantley, he retired the next three batters in order to clinch the win. It was just the start the Astros wanted in the defence of their title.
Game 2 @ Minute Maid Park
|WP: Gerrit Cole (1-0); LP: Carlos Carrasco (0-1); SV: Roberto Osuna (1)|
|Home Runs: CLE - Francisco Lindor (1); HOU - Alex Bregman (2)|
- Attendance: 43,520
Game 2 was a pitching duel for the first six innings, with Gerrit Cole for the Astros and Carlos Carrasco for the Indians exchanging goose eggs. Only one batter was able to break that pattern, Francisco Lindor, who hit a solo homer off Cole with two outs in the 3rd. It was the only blemish on Cole's record however. In a masterful performance, he gave up just 3 hits and no walks in 7 innings, striking out 12. His opponent Carrasco was also stingy, allowing only 5 singles through the first 5 innings. The Astros' best scoring chance during that stretch came in the bottom of the 3rd when Josh Reddick led off with a single and Martin Maldonado bunted him over to second. George Springer followed with an infield single, but Jose Altuve then grounded to Josh Donaldson at third, who started a 5-4-3 double play, with 2B Jose Ramirez falling over backwards when making the throw to first but still managing to beat out the rapid Altuve.
It was thus still 1-0 in favor of the Indians with Carrasco still pitching in the bottom of the 6th. Altuve led off that frame with a single, and Carrasco issued his first walk of the day, to Alex Bregman. Yuli Gurriel then lined out to left field and Terry Francona decided to bring in his best reliever, Andrew Miller. However, he was greeted by a double to right by Marwin Gonzalez that allowed both baserunners to score, and the Astros had a 2-1 lead. Miller then walked Carlos Correa and threw a wild pitch while facing Tyler White, who was issued an intentional walk to load the bases. Miller left in favor of Trevor Bauer, having failed to retire anyone and with the Astros on the verge of breaking the game open. However, Bauer doused the flames, getting pinch-hitter Evan Gattis to pop out to second and then striking out Maldonado.
In the bottom of the 7th, Bauer retired the first two batters before Bregman hit his second homer of the series to increase the lead to 3-1. The good news for the Indians was that A.J. Hinch took the unhittable Cole out of the game at that point, bringing in reliever Ryan Pressly. Yan Gomes managed to draw a one-out walk, but he went no further as Pressly then struck out Jason Kipnis, after which Hinch called for closer Roberto Osuna, who struck out Lindor to end the inning. The Astros stranded a pair of runners against Brad Hand in the bottom of the 8th, then Osuna returned to pitch the 9th. He got Michael Brantley and Ramirez to ground out, then after walking Edwin Encarnacion, retired Donaldson on a fly ball to center field to give his team a two games to none lead.
Game 3 @ Progressive Field
|WP: Collin McHugh (1-0); LP: Trevor Bauer (0-1)|
|Home Runs: CLE - Francisco Lindor (2); HOU - George Springer 2 (3), Carlos Correa (1)|
- Attendance: 37,252
The series moved to Cleveland for Game 3, with a match-up of Dallas Keuchel and Mike Clevinger. For a while, the Indians gave the impression that they were a team that wanted to get back in the series, and until the 7th inning, they even held a 2-1 lead. But the end was very ugly for their fans. Both teams made a few changes to their line-up, whith Brian McCann and Tony Kemp making their first starts for Houston, and Brandon Guyer and Yandy Diaz doing so for Cleveland.
Things went smoothly for both pitchers through the first two innings. However, Clevinger had to work hard in the 3rd. He started off by walking Kemp, then after striking out George Springer, he made an errant pick-off throw, allowing Kemp to advance to second. Jose Altuve then hit a single, with Kemp stopping at third. Clevinger then hit Alex Bregman with a pitch to load the bases, but he managed to strike out Yuli Gurriel and got Marwin Gonzalez to line out to left to end the inning, but he had expended a lot of pitches. In the bottom of the inning, Yan Gomes led off with a single, as did Jason Kipnis. Francisco Lindor was up next, and he tried to surprise the defence with a bunt down the third base line, but Keuchel, a multiple Gold Glove winner, fielded it barehanded and threw him out at first. The next two batters, Michael Brantley and Jose Ramirez hit fly balls to deep center, but both stayed in the park, Brantley's becoming a sacrifice fly, giving Cleveland a 1-0 lead. After all that tension, things settled down again in the 4th. In the 5th, Springer hit a solo homer off Clevinger with one out, knotting up the score. Clevinger completed his stint on the mound with 9 strikeouts in 5 innings. When Lindor homered with two outs in the bottom of the 5th, it put him in line for the win.
However, the Astros still had four turns at bat, and the bullpen was clearly Cleveland's weak link. Terry Francona called upon Trevor Bauer to pitch in a third straight game, and he gave him a scoreless 6th. In the bottom of the inning, Collin McHugh came in to pitch for Houston, and he retired the Indians in order. The Indians were still ahead, 2-1, but they were about to enter a chamber of horrors. Bauer came out for a second inning, a questionable decision in itself, but Francona had few relievers he trusted a this point. The Astros immediately began to pile on the pressure as Kemp led off with a single and moved to second on another wild pick-off throw. Springer then hit a ball maybe 20 feet in front of home plate, but it was the equivalent of a perfect bunt and there were runners on the corners. Altuve then hit a grounder to short, but the Indians were only able to get the force out at second as Kemp scored the tying run. Bregman hit a ball back to Bauer, but he made another wild throw, pulling Lindor off the second base bag, and what should have been an inning-ending double play resulted in everyone being safe. Bauer then walked Gurriel to load the bases; he was obviously struggling, but Francona left him in, and he allowed a double to Gonzalez on a ball that tied him up but fell down the left field line into no man's land. Two runs scored on the play. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen had to both be summoned from the bullpen to record the last two outs, leaving the bases loaded. The score was 4-2 in favor of Houston, but given Cleveland's lack of offensive production, it was a steep climb. McHugh then pitched another shutdown inning to make it even harder.
If the 7th inning had been bad for Cleveland, the 8th was a veritable nightmare. After one out, Springer hit his second homer of the day and third of the series to make it 5-2. Altuve then doubled and Bregman was walked intentionally, but Allen immediately negated that strategic move by throwing a wild pitch, allowing both runners to advance 90 feet. So that led to another intentional walk, to Gurriel. Closer Brad Hand now came out in an impossible situation and he gave up a single to Gonzalez, driving in a 6th run. Evan Gattis then batted for Josh Reddick, but he struck out for the second out. Carlos Correa was up next, and it was Hand's turn to throw a wild pitch, resulting in another run. Then with a 3-0 count, Correa, who had been struggling badly of late, drove a pitch to the opposite field stands for a three-run homer. The score was 10-2, and it was all over but the shouting. Both teams scored a run in the 9th, but it hardly mattered: the Astros won the game 11-3, and swept the series.
- Scott Boeck: "4 deciding factors in Astros-Indians ALDS", USA Today, October 5, 2018. 
- Anthony Castrovince: "Who has edge? Astros-Tribe position by position: Houston took four of seven games in season series", mlb.com, October 3, 2018. 
- Brian McTaggart and Jordan Bastian: "Indians-Astros: Lineups, matchups, FAQs", mlb.com, October 5, 2018. 
- Brian McTaggart: "Astros power past Indians, cruise into ALCS", mlb.com, October 8, 2018. 
- Jesse Yomtov: "Astros rout Indians to complete ALDS sweep", USA Today, October 8, 2018. 
|Major League Baseball American League Division Series