After the Houston Astros beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-1 earlier this week, they clinched their second AL West championship. Now they have their eyes set on the playoffs, particularly the Cleveland Indians. After locking up the AL Central early this season, the Indians have had plenty of time to rest.
But, that will not decide the series. This ALDS has plenty of storylines, with all of them having the ability to impact the outcome. Here’s what you should be watching for.
Can Correa recover?
The performance of Carlos Correa has turned from small worry to a big concern. Since being activated from the DL (sore back) on August 10, he has hit an abysmal .171 in 121 at-bats. But while Correa wasn’t performing as expected before his injury, he was still within his career averages.
Correa hit .268/.352/.480 in the first half of the season. Many Astros fans viewed this as a regression for Correa after he posted a 155 OPS+ last season. Even so, his performance recently has made his previous play a fond memory.
Since Correa’s return from the DL, his power has completely vanished. He is slugging .219 in the second half of the season and has hit just one home run. If Correa can’t improve his offense, his 35 OPS+ in the second half may stick with him through the ALDS.
Donaldson’s far-reaching impact
When Josh Donaldson was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays by the Cleveland Indians on August 30, many were shocked by the deal. Jose Ramirez was having an MVP caliber season at third base, but was moved to second base by Donaldson’s arrival.
Donaldson was also injured at the time and had not played since May 28. Even though there were concerns, Donaldson has definitely looked like his old self in an Indians uniform. In 14 games, Donaldson is hitting .295/.415/.545 with three home runs and seven RBIs.
While Donaldson has been as advertised, Jose Ramirez has not. Since moving to second base full-time, Ramirez has hit .167/.327/.286 with one home run and 11 RBIs. Even with Ramirez struggling, Donaldson may be able to pick up the slack. The Indians will need both players to return to their MVP caliber play to ensure an Indians ALDS victory.
The mystery that is McCullers
Lance McCullers Jr. has been one of the most vital pitchers in the Astros organization. After an impressive playoff performance with a 2.67 ERA in 27.1 innings, McCullers was expected to take that next step in 2018. But a 3.90 ERA was not the direction McCullers was expected to go.
Even with an inflated 3.90 ERA this season, the Astros are hopeful for his playoff performance. He has been on the DL since August 5 and made his return to the club on September 24. That extended time off will definitely be a boost for McCullers.
His play this season has also shown signs of hope. McCullers punched out a career-high 139 batters and has a respectable 103 ERA+. If the Astros can maximize McCullers appearances, he could have another impressive playoff performance.
Can Kipnis keep it up?
Another domino to fall in the Josh Donaldson trade was Jason Kipnis moving to center field. After Jose Ramirez took his spot, Kipnis made the full-time move to the outfield. It seems the move has invigorated the Indians veteran.
While his season stat line of ..231/.316/.391 and 89 OPS+ are not assuring, his recent sample size is. Kipnis has found his swing again in the past two weeks, hitting 281/.324/.625 with three home runs and eight RBIs. But Kipnis has been changing his narrative for much longer than just two weeks.
After the All-Star break, Kipnis turned back into his old self. He hit .246/.324/.442 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs in the second half of the season. Compared to his first half of .222/.312/.360, there is no question Kipnis has improved. The question is whether he can keep it up at a new position in the playoffs.
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