For the second time in franchise history, the Houston Astros are in the World Series. The Astros won the AL West by 21 games thanks to a 101-61 record that had them finish just a game behind the Indians for the best record in the American League. In the playoffs Houston dispatched of Boston in the ALDS in four games but had to come back from a 3-2 deficit against New York to win the ALCS and claim the franchise’s first AL pennant.
The Astros’ only other appearance in the World Series came in 2005 when they were still in the National League. That Fall Classic did not go well, as Houston was swept in four games by the Chicago White Sox. How will this one go? Here are five Astros that figure to play a key role as they try to win the franchise’s first World Series title.
1. George Springer, OF
Springer is the catalyst atop the Astros’ lineup. A first-time All-Star this season, Springer swatted 34 home runs and scored 112 runs. He strikes out quite a bit (111 Ks in 548 AB) but he gets on base more than enough to make things happen. After hitting a sizzling .412 in the ALDS, Springer managed just a .115 average in the ALCS. Springer has to find a way to get on base against the Dodgers’ pitching staff to get things started for Houston’s offense.
2. Dallas Keuchel, SP
Keuchel is a former Cy Young winner (2015) who bounced back strong (14-5, 2.90 ERA) after a horrendous 2016 campaign (9-12, 4.55). He’s been solid in this postseason (2-1, 2.60 ERA) in his three starts and gets the Game 1 assignment opposite Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers have fared better against left-handed pitchers this October, but Kuechel still needs to find a way to limit Los Angeles’ bats. One piece of advice: beware of Enrique Hernandez, who has killed lefties this season and hit three home runs against the Cubs in Game 5 of the NLCS.
3. Justin Verlander, SP
This is why the Astros paid the price to trade for the Tigers’ former ace. The 2017 ALCS MVP, all Verlander has done this postseason so far is go 4-0 in four games (3 GS) with a tidy 1.46 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. He has one complete game, a rarity in today’s game especially the playoffs, and has as many strikeouts (24) as innings pitched (24 2/3). He came up short twice in the World Series with Detroit (2006, ’12) and has a 7.20 ERA in three starts in the Fall Classic. Will it be different this time around with Houston? We’ll find out in Game 2 when he matches up with Rich Hill.
4. Marwin Gonazlez, OF/SS/1B/2B/3B
Gonzalez can play anywhere on the diamond, as he made at least 14 starts at five different positions in the regular season. But it was his bat that was a pleasant surprise, posting an impressive .303-23-90 line even though he wasn’t a full-time starter (455 AB). His bat has gone cold in the postseason, however, with more strikeouts (10) than hits (six) in 37 at-bats (.162) thus far. Houston is at its best when it gets production throughout the lineup instead of just relying on Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer to carry the load.
5. Lance McCullers Jr., SP/RP
After making 22 starts in the regular season, McCullers made his first-ever relief appearance in Game 3 of the ALDS. But it was Game 7 of the ALCS where he really shined, pitching four scoreless, one-hit innings with six strikeouts to earn the save in the pennant-clinching victory. Houston has yet to name its starters for Game 3 or 4, but you have to think McCullers is a candidate. Whether it’s as a starter or reliever, the Astros need the 24-year-old righty to build off of what he did the last time he was on the mound.