#1: The Astros' bullpen is a clear advantage, at least on paper
For two teams that match up on paper pretty evenly across the board, this is about the only place where they are uneven.
The Astros, as usual, have one of the best bullpens in baseball. The Rangers, to put it plainly, have one of the worst.
Hector Neris, Bryan Abreu, and Ryan Pressly are about as good as it gets at the back end of the bullpen. Abreu hasn’t allowed an earned run in three months and Pressly is 13-13 in postseason saves.
Neris was a little shaky in Game 1, but was lights out in the 2022 playoffs and had the best year of his career.
The Rangers bullpen is filled with question marks beyond Jose Leclerc. So far in the playoffs they’ve limited the damage, but can Bochy really trust Josh Sborz and Aroldis Chapman to suppress the high-powered Astros.
We’ve seen the Astros come back on the Rangers bullpen already this year. If Houston jumps out to an early lead, it feels like game over. If Texas gets an early lead, it feels like they’re trying to land a place upside down.
The Astros relief edge is the biggest factor that will determine the ALCS. If Houston’s relievers perform as expected, Texas goes home without a whimper.
If one of the Astros vaunted leverage arm falters, or if Bochy gets creative enough with starters out of the pen (is that Max Scherzer’s music), this one could go all seven games.