During the regular season, in spite of their struggles in September, the Astros still had the better lineup. Houston was ninth in the AL in OPS, seventh in runs scored, 10th in batting average, 10th in home runs and fourth in doubles. Oakland was 10th in OPS, eighth in runs scored, 14th in batting average, ninth in homers and 10th in doubles.
They’re also missing their best all-around player, third baseman Matt Chapman. Jake Lamb has filled in admirably, but key players like Matt Olson, Ramon Laureano and Marcus Semien have all struggled this season. The only players who hit above .250 are Lamb (who played 13 games with the team) and trade deadline acquisition Tommy LaStella.
The Astros had solid seasons from George Springer, Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker. There are some real sleeping giants in Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa. Even without Yordan Alvarez, this is a dangerous lineup, and if most of them can get going, the Oakland pitching staff will have a tough time. ADVANTAGE: Astros
The Astros had the fewest errors in the AL and the best fielding percentage. They have a Gold Glove candidate at shortstop in Carlos Correa, former Gold Glove winners Josh Reddick, Altuve, Martin Maldonado and Zack Greinke, and other excellent defenders in Springer and Gurriel. This isn’t a group that makes many mistakes.
The A’s finished fourth in the AL in errors and fielding percentage. However, they’re missing arguably the game’s best defensive player at any position in Chapman. Olson is a Gold Glover, but the loss of Chapman is big. They’re still not a bad defensive team, but losing an elite talent like that is never a good thing. ADVANTAGE: Astros
The Astros are starting Lance McCullers in Game One and Framber Valdez in Game Two. McCullers was on fire down the stretch, and Valdez was the team’s most consistent starter all year. Future Hall of Famer Zack Greinke and postseason phenom Jose Urquidy loom for the next two games, and hotshot rookie Cristian Javier could be used in a possible Game Five. This is a solid group from top to bottom.
The A’s will start Chris Bassitt in Game One and Sean Manaea in Game Two. Bassitt had a great year, posting a 2.29 ERA in 11 starts and a 2.65 ERA in three starts against the Astros. Manaea pitched to a 4.50 ERA this season, and Jesus Luzardo, who could go in Game Three, put up a 4.12 ERA.
Oakland has two other candidates, one of which is Frankie Montas, who had a 5.60 ERA this year. The other, of course, is Mike Fiers, who had a 4.58 ERA this year but has been avoiding the Astros like the plague and did not pitch well in the Wild Card round. So the A’s have a quality ace in Bassitt, a couple of respectable starters in Manaea and Luzardo, but a couple of potential liabilities in Montas and Fiers. The Astros’ superior depth is the difference. ADVANTAGE: Astros
Oakland has assembled a stout group of relievers. Closer Liam Hendriks is a stud, with a 1.78 ERA and 37 strikeouts against just three walks. J.B. Wendelken, Joakim Soria, Jake Diekman and Yusmeiro Petit all had excellent seasons as well, with Soria being the only one of these five with an ERA above 2.00 this season (his was 2.82). They have a few other intriguing arms as well, and they rely on this excellent and deep bullpen for a lot of their innings.
The Astros got by in the Wild Card round with only using two of their traditional relievers, but that won’t be the case this time. Ryan Pressly has been a bit shaky as the closer, looking dominant one day and blowing a save the next. Rookies Blake Taylor, Enoli Paredes and Andre Scrubb have done well this year, but Paredes and Scrubb have issues with free passes and none of them have seen the postseason.
Brooks Raley has been decent as a lefty specialist, and Josh James pitched brilliantly in the season’s last couple of weeks. It’s hard to rely on anyone beyond this group, though, and together they don’t have nearly the pedigree of the Oakland bullpen. Dusty Baker will be trying to squeeze as many innings out of his starters as he can. ADVANTAGE: A’s