5 factors that will decide the ALCS between the Astros and Rangers

The Astros and Rangers will square off to determine who represents the AL in the World Series. Let's take a look at what five factors will determine the series outcome.
Division Series - Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins - Game Four
Division Series - Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins - Game Four / Stephen Maturen/GettyImages
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#2: What version of Framber Valdez shows up?

Framber Valdez was a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young at the halfway point of the season. In his 17 first-half starts, Valdez posted a 2.51 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.

Since then, he’s been incredibly erratic, largely pitching to the caliber of his opposition and pressure of the moment. In 14 second-half starts, Valdez posted a 4.66 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. 

He no-hit the Cleveland Guardians, threw seven no-hit innings against the Detroit Tigers, and completed seven innings of one run ball against the Royals in that stretch. He also gave up six runs in a must win game against the Royals, six more against Baltimore, Texas and Seattle.

His only good start against a playoff team in the second-half came against the Rangers, when he completed seven innings of one-run ball, but even that came in a game the Astros won 14-1 and he could pitch entirely pressure free. 

In Valdez' 2023 playoff debut, he followed up a dominant 2022 postseason by laying an egg. He made it through only 4.1 innings, allowing seven hits, three walks and five runs, and was dominated by Pablo Lopez and the Minnesota Twins in the only game the Astros dropped in the ALDS.

Houston will be lined up to throw JV in Game 1 and Framber in Game 2, meaning they’d have both available to throw twice in the series. If Framber is going to start two of a maximum seven games, which Valdez shows up?

Is it the Framber that dominated the AL in the regular season and postseason last year? Or is it the Framber that loses his sinker up and gets blasted across the yard?

If the Astros get two starts from Valdez in which he pitches like the big-game performer he can be, they’ll be playing for a third World Series in five years. If Valdez shrinks in the moment, Houston will be playing from well behind the eight-ball.