The Houston Astros have entered the game. With the Wild Card round over, the long awaited return for postseason baseball in Houston is at hand.
The Astros will play their division foe the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS. Seattle made it to the ALDS behind a dominant Luis Castillo outing followed by an incredible seven run come from behind victory against the Toronto Blue Jays, only the third ever rally of that margin in playoff history.
To recap, the Astros won the season series against the Mariners 12-7 including winning seven of their last eight games against each other. Their final series was the Astros sweeping Seattle at T-Mobile Park.
5 Houston Astros players whose performances could be the determining factor in the ALDS.
It wasn’t long after this sweep the Mariners made the second biggest trade acquisition behind Juan Soto and Josh Bell going to the San Diego Padres by trading for Luis Castillo.
Castillo cost them a lot in terms of prospects but seems to be worth the bounty as he came in and shut down the Toronto Blue Jays vaunted offense in the first game of the Wild Card round. He was brought in to dominate and start a series in just such ways,.
Despite Castillo’s presence at the top of the Mariners rotation the Astros still have the edge in pretty much every category from starting pitching to bullpen to offense with the defensive side of things being much closer. The Astros are third in all of baseball in defensive efficiency at .719 while the Mariners are fourth at .710.
Suffice to say the statistic that continues to be brought up in each broadcast is whoever hits the ball out of the park the most will win. That is especially true when balls that don’t leave the yard get snagged on a great dive or leaping catch,.
The Astros have the edge offensively as they do have a lot of power that Seattle lacks. With defense seeming to play such a critical factor in this series, if the Astros just do what they’ve done all year which is leave the park on a couple mistake pitches while their rotation and bullpen keep the other offense at bay they should win this series.
Here are the five players for the Astros that will determine their series win.
Jeremy Pena’s defense and power will be a huge advantage over the Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford.
Jeremy Pena’s rookie season has been quite impressive. Considering the pressure he had to fill the shoes of one of the most beloved, clutch and confident Astros to ever don the uniform he has done a pretty great job not having Astros fans pleading for Jim Crane to re-sign Correa next year.
Pena matched Carlos Correa’s power output this season with 22 home runs in two less games played, though Correa had a better propensity for getting on-base and hitting for average.
Defensively this year Pena has been stellar. It is hard to quantify defense but the number we commonly go to in order to value a player’s defense is defensive runs saved. In that category, Pena is top 15 in the league with 15 defensive runs saved.
He’s tied with Mookie Betts and Steven Kwan. While Kwan is also a rookie, to be mentioned in the same sentence with an MVP level player like Betts who has won five gold gloves in his career is a true accomplishment.
Pena’s counterpart in this series is J.P. Crawford. Where Crawford lacks Pena excels and vice versa. Crawford defensively according to the numbers has been pretty rough with negative three defensive runs saved. He also doesn’t hit for any power with only six home runs on the year in 145 games.
But the one thing he does well that Pena doesn’t is walk and not strikeout. Crawford has 68 walks to 80 strikeouts in 603 plate appearances. Compare that to Pena who has 22 walks to 135 strikeouts in 558 plate appearances.
How will Pena’s bat play offensively against the tough pitching of Luis Castillo, Andrew Munoz and Paul Seward?
The Astros have an extremely high winning percentage since putting Pena in the two hole in the lineup sandwiched between arguably the Astros two best hitters. But if he strikes out at a high clip in between Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez at-bats he’ll have to make up for it with his defense where he could rob the Mariners of some hits.
On the flip side Crawford’s defensive deficiency and the Astros speed could cause the Mariners some problems as a slow chopper or ball in the hole could lead to some soft hit singles that could result in big innings for the Astros.
Pena’s defense and power need to outplay Crawford’s plate discipline and ability to run up pitch counts (Crawford sees the second most pitches on the Mariners with 4.09 per plate appearance.)
If Pena starts to strike out a lot and the bright lights cause a bobble here or there on the field the Astros distinct advantage at shorstop becomes a much thinner margin that could change the series.