All season, the simple phrase “earn it” has been the Houston Astros’ mantra and at the center of the team’s marketing. As the Astros awaited their American League Championship Series opponent Wednesday, what they’ve now earned and how they earned it came into focus.
The Astros’ 101-61 regular-season record earned them home field advantage in their best-of-five American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, which they took advantage of to win the series, 3-1.
Regardless of the winner of Thursday night’s ALDS-deciding fifth game between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians, the Astros’ extra time off in the meantime will give them the initial upper hand in the ALCS.
In addition to the benefits of simply having the extra days off to rest by wrapping up their series before their potential opponents on the other side of the playoff bracket, the Astros will get to slot their best two starting pitchers — Dallas Keuchel (starting Game 1) and Justin Verlander (starting Game 2) — for the first two games of the ALCS.
Meanwhile, both the Indians and Yankees had to throw their ace pitchers Thursday night, leaving them at a pitching disadvantage until at least Game 3 of the ALCS.
“I think we’ve earned that; that’s been our catchphrase all year, and we’ve continued to stay with that,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said during a meeting with media Wednesday.
“The 101 wins earned us the right to host the division series, and then we win the division ahead of everybody else, so we get a couple of days off. You keep winning, you keep getting a few perks along the way.”
While each matchup presents their own set of potential advantages and disadvantages for the Astros, Hinch said he had no rooting interest in Thursday night’s Yankees-Indians game.
“I think if you get into choosing who you have to play, you’re getting into baseball karma, which I believe in,” Hinch said. “I don’t want to be told a couple weeks from now that I asked for it.”
A big question on many Astros fans’ minds will be what, if any, alterations Hinch will make from the 25-man ALDS roster to the ALCS roster. Hinch said that information won’t be available until the day of Game 1 on Friday (Hinch has until two hours before the game to file the roster), but he did mention some players who didn’t make the cut for the ALDS roster who might be called upon for the ALCS.
For the ALDS, the Astros carried 11 pitchers and 14 position players, but with the longer best-of-seven ALCS, which includes a stretch of three straight games in the middle, Hinch said carrying one or two more pitchers is likely.
Pitchers who did not make the ALDS roster Hinch mentioned as possibilities for the ALCS roster were Collin McHugh (a regular-season starter who could be used as a long reliever), Francis Martes (who could be used in short or long relief scenarios) and Tyler Clippard (likely to be a situational pitcher).
While the Game 1 and 2 starting pitchers are locked in, Hinch did not reveal who may take the mound in Game 3. ALDS Game 3 starter Brad Peacock struggled in his outing, opening the possibility for Lance McCullers (who had a solid long relief outing in Game 3) or McHugh to get a start.
“After (Game 2) is where it gets a little more thought-provoking,” Hinch said.
Hinch said the team will continue to carry three catchers on the ALCS roster, giving him the flexibility to pinch run for catcher Brian McCann or designated hitter Evan Gattis (the sometimes backup catcher) late in games. The only position player mentioned as potential new addition to the ALCS roster was outfielder Tony Kemp.
The first pitch for Game 1 of the ALCS is scheduled for 7:08 p.m. Friday.