Mariners or Blue Jays? 5 Reasons the Astros should advance past either in the ALDS

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Gail Burton/AP/Shutterstock (13419472ax) Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve in a baseball game, in Baltimore Astros Orioles Baseball, Baltimore, United States – 25 Sep 2022

Mariners or Blue Jays? 5 Reasons the Astros should advance past either in the ALDS

A playoff trip over twenty years in the making, going up against a team looking to make it back to the World Series for the first time since winning it in 1993. Both the Mariners, who haven’t been to a Fall Classic in their history and haven’t even advanced to the postseason since 2001, and the Blue Jays, who have had their share of playoff exposure in recent years but have come up short, have a storybook picture in mind at the end of the 2022 MLB postseason bracket. 

While they both make for good stories, they are likely to find that the celebration will be short-lived to a Wild Card series victory, as the winner will earn the chance to come to Houston to face the overall favorites of the tournament: the Astros. Yes, anything can happen in a five-game series, so it’s not as though whichever team advances will have zero chance, but there are some pretty clear reasons why they will be underdogs.

1) The Astros will be rested and healthy

The benefits of being one of the top two seeds in each league were very substantial this year. Getting nearly a week to rest, study, and prepare. For Houston, this means several days to nurse any nagging discomforts that linger around during a 162-game season. 

Speaking of injuries, the Astros were lucky enough not to have any surprises down the stretch at the conclusion of the season. Yes, they lost Michael Brantley this year, but they’ve had months to plan for his absence, the same as Jason Castro. Yordan Alvarez’s hand issues appear to have subsided for the moment, and Justin Verlander’s calf issue had no bearing on him looking vintage in his last start. 

Meanwhile, the Mariners and Blue Jays will start their series on Friday afternoon, play Saturday, and should it require a Game 3, will play Sunday afternoon again, meaning a late flight with one workout day in Houston before starting the ALDS. Advantage Houston, who gets to take things easy and prepare.

2) The Astros have been there, done that

It was evident when the Astros secured their playoff berth in September. They lined up on the field for the usual post-game high fives, no over-the-top celebration. Why? They know getting a ticket to the dance is essential, but it’s just that, a way in the door. It’s about those 11 (or 13 this year for a Wild Card team) wins you need to lift the Commissioner’s Trophy.

The Astros are no stranger to the playoff atmosphere, both at Minute Maid Park and elsewhere, and are also well-versed in both leading and trailing in a series. While Seattle and Toronto are both excellent teams, you still have to give the advantage to the team that’s been part of three of the last five World Series. 

3) Going against this rotation? Good luck

While Toronto would likely be the tougher lineup to face, I’m not sure it will matter against this pitching staff. While the full rotation and roles of Houston’s arms will become clearer when the ALDS roster is finalized, you can assume, at the very least, the Wild Card winner will come in and face Justin Verlander in Game 1 and Framber Valdez in Game 2. 

While it’s certainly possible one of the two has a bad day and gets roughed around, scoring enough runs against them back-to-back to steal two games? I wouldn’t count on it. Then, behind those two, the Astros will have several starter-quality pitchers (Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy) loaded up and ready to piggyback games as needed. It may be a different story in the ALCS, but for the ALDS, I see the pitching continuing to be the winning factor for Houston. 

4) Home-field advantage should actually be an advantage this year

Sure, in recent years (looking at you, 2019 World Series), things have been a bit lackluster at home for the Astros, who have not posted an overall winning record at Minute Maid Park in their last three postseason runs, 2020 excluded. Primarily due to the caliber of pitching this season, though, I see that changing. 

During this championship window, the Astros have maintained a lineup that can hold their own in a slugfest, so the lineup should be able to take advantage of the Crawford Boxes just as much as their opponent. I think the difference this year will be Houston’s pitchers keeping, in the case of the ALDS, Seattle, or Toronto, from getting balls into the seats. 

5) Moreso than other teams, it’s a lineup full of game-changers

Fans of the two teams may disagree, but I’d argue that Houston has the advantage in the number of players that you could have a high level of confidence in coming to the plate with a clutch moment needed to turn around a game or the entire ALDS. Yes, both Seattle and Toronto have big names. Julio Rodriguez, likely AL Rookie of the Year, is a young star and goes along with other potent bats in Seattle, but the Astros saw this team 19 times this season, so they’ll have a game plan. 

Houston knows all about former Astro George Springer, and should the Blue Jays be their opponent in the ALDS, getting him for the first out will likely be a sigh of relief in itself. Although he was sluggish to end the season, Vladmir Guerrero Jr. is always a threat for a big hit, as are several others in Toronto’s lineup. 

Still, between Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker, if I were a team looking at the top of my order needing a rally or key hit to change momentum, give me the Astros. 

Sure, it may be an easy side to take if you consider most projections expect the Astros to make and, in several of them, win the World Series, that they will also be the better team in the ALDS. I think that it’s because they are the most well-rounded team, though, that they will get through the ALDS and more. 

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