SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale breaks down the four division series and predicts who will be left standing for the championship series.
USA TODAY Sports
HOUSTON — Five takeaways from the Astros’ 8-2 win over the Indians in Game 1 of the ALDS at Minute Maid Park on Thursday.
1. Altuve ready for close-up
“How good is Jose Altuve?” Astros manager A.J. Hinch asked at the start of his postgame media session.
He’s very good. The presumptive AL MVP and longest tenured Astros player put on a historic performance in Game 1, blasting three homers — including two off Chris Sale — to carry Houston to the win. Altuve has been one of the game’s best all-around players for four years running, but he has slowly tacked power onto his swing in that time and Thursday’s performance marked the first three-homer game of his life at any level, by his own account.
2. Biggest hurdle cleared
Red Sox Game 2 Drew Pomeranz had a great season and Game 3 guy Doug Fister pitched well for stretches, but the Astros’ most obvious challenge in this series was beating Sale. There’s a chance manager John Farrell will turn to Sale again if the Sox’ face elimination in Game 4, but the prospect of a short-rest start from Sale seems hardly overwhelming after he got tagged for seven runs in five innings by the Astros’ offense. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game — striking out 308 in 214? innings this year — and a safe bet to bounce back, but Boston’s clearest route past the Astros included a more dominant Sale in Game 1.
Jose, can you three? Altuve slugs trio of homers in Game 1
Bauer power: Indians blank Yankees in Game 1
3. The Sox have a soft spot
Farrell sent Sale out to start the sixth while trailing, 5-2, then turned to hard-throwing reliever Joe Kelly when Sale allowed the first two batters to reach base. Kelly’s hardly a bad pitcher, but he’s just not the type of overpowering arm we’ve become increasingly accustomed to seeing in that spot in playoff games. Andrew Miller ain’t walking through that door (unless the Sox face the Indians in the ALCS and he wants to say hello to his former teammates). Craig Kimbrel stacks up against any closer in the postseason or anywhere else, but the Red Sox’s bullpen — though effective in the regular season — doesn’t seem to match some of the other playoff teams for depth.
4. Still don’t run on Reddick
Dustin Pedroia cost the Sox an out and nearly cost them a run when he ignored the recent baseball adage — “Don’t run on Reddick” — and tested former teammate Josh Reddick’s arm on a single to right field. Hustling for third, Pedroia arrived just behind Reddick’s one-hop throw from right and, to the umpires’ eyes at least, a moment before Mitch Moreland crossed home plate. Replay showed Moreland scored before Pedroia was tagged out, but Reddick showed off his arm again later in the game when he fired an off-balance throw home that made Rafael Devers’ fourth-inning sacrifice fly a closer play than it should have been.
5. Gattis on track
Astros DH Evan Gattis missed time in August due to a concussion and did not hit well after his return from the disabled list. But El Oso Blanco appeared back in form on Thursday, ripping a pair of doubles and drawing a walk in four plate appearances before leaving for a pinch-runner in the eighth. Though he hit better against right-handed pitchers than lefties during the season, he could get another start Friday against the southpaw Pomeranz. There appear to be no holes whatsoever in the Astros’ lineup.
GALLERY: Best of the postseason