Astros best playoff matchup No. 3 — Cleveland Guardians
Record vs. Cleveland Guardians 2022 Regular Season: 4-3. Outscored opponent 26-18 in seven games.
A month ago the Guardians would have been higher on this list of teams the Astros want to play. But they are scorching hot which is always a terrifying prospect coming into October as the Astros have found out from playing the 2019 Washington Nationals and 2021 Atlanta Braves.
The Guardians went 21-8 in September and have arguably the best closer in baseball with Emmanuel Clase at the back end.
Clase leads all of major league baseball with 41 saves and has been so dominant that he won three of the past four reliever of the month awards since June. A lock down closer is terrifying in postseason baseball as that means you basically have eight innings to get the lead or else the game is over.
Shortening the game with a dominant bullpen is huge for October and the Guardians, while also offensively challenged, seem to have the best back end of any team in baseball not named the Astros.
In fact the Guardians are right behind the Astros bullpen in a litany of categories. The Astros are second in Major League baseball in save percentage at 76 percent. The Guardians are third at 74 percent.
The Astros are second in baseball with only 17 losses in relief. The Guardians are third in all of baseball with 18 losses in relief. The Astros are second in baseball with 52 saves. The Guardians are fourth with 50 saves. You get the point.
While the Guardians offense is second to last in all of baseball in home runs at 126, their offensive runs per game is right at the league average of 4.29 per game. That’s more than the Seattle Mariners at 4.22 and the Tampa Bay Rays average of 4.15 runs per game ranking 19th and 21st respectively in all of baseball.
What the Guardians lack in pop they make up for in not striking out. They strikeout the least of any team in major league baseball. The team that strikes out the second least is the Astros. One thing that could frustrate Houston pitching is not being able to put guys away and foul ball after foul ball extending at-bats and raising pitch counts getting starters out by the fifth inning which could spell trouble for Houston.
The Astros bullpen depth, which could include as many as three starters, should be able to carry any extra workload they may endure if anyone in their playoff rotation goes short. But the longer a series goes and the more taxed a bullpen gets the less sharp the pitches are.
Houston still should be able to beat Cleveland should they meet in the ALCS, which is the only scenario they would meet since Cleveland is locked in at the three seed and the Astros only ALDS matchup can be between the four and five seed. But the Guardians could cause problems for the Astros more than the Rays or Mariners could.