Hard to believe it’s mid-October and we’re only at the start of the league championship series. The league championships will feature an all Texas ALCS with the Houston Astros looking to defend against the Texas Rangers. The NLCS will see the upstarts in the NL East and West, the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks, in a very interesting matchup.
With Justin Verlander back in the fold and slated to pitch Game 1, the Astros rotation looks deeper than it did much of the season as they begin the ALCS. Cristian Javier is pitching his best ball of the year right now, while lefty Framber Valdez and right-handers Jose Urquidy and Hunter Brown give them solid depth at a time of year where that can be hard to come by. And of course, the Astros feature a very experienced and dangerous lineup, and a proven postseason bullpen. If they can get outfielder Kyle Tucker going in this series, that lineup is going to be a big problem for the Rangers.
The Rangers were the team that went all-in on top free agents Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, and rapidly constructed an excellent young offense around them. Adolis Garcia, catcher Jonah Heim, Josh Jung, and a great draft find in Evan Carter has that offense hitting on all cylinders. They’ll go with left hander Jordan Montgomery in Game 1.
The Rangers added Max Scherzer to the postseason roster today, but it remains to be seen whether he’s got much in the tank to help them at this point. He’s likely to pitch Game 3 on Wednesday against Javier. Nathan Eovaldi will likely handle Game 2 against Valdez in what should be an even matchup. Lefty Andrew Heaney will likely start Game 3. The Rangers bullpen remains a question mark compared to the Astros, but may be putting it together at just the right time.
Overall, I think these offenses are evenly matched, but the pitching edge goes to Houston.
Game 1: Sunday, October 15 at 8:15 p.m. ET in Houston
Game 2: Monday, October 16 at 4:30 p.m. ET in Houston
Game 3: Wednesday, October 18 at 8:00 p.m. ET in Texas
Game 4: Thursday, October 19 at 8:00 p.m. ET in Texas
Game 5: Friday, October 20 at 5:00 p.m. ET in Texas
Game 6: Sunday, October 22 at 8:00 p.m. ET in Houston
Game 7: Monday, October 23 at 8:00 p.m. ET in Houston
Meanwhile the scrappy underdogs prevailed in the National League and should provide a really good mix of established star power in both veterans and young players. Nick Castellanos crushed two home runs in both Game 3 and 4 to make history as the only player to have back-to-back two homer games in the postseason, but of course Bryce Harper vs. the Diamondbacks budding superstar Corbin Carroll will be on the marquee. The Diamondbacks pummeled a depleted Dodgers rotation in the NLDS, but they’ll have a tougher test against the Phillies rotation.
The biggest advantage between these teams may well be that Phillies rotation. Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suarez have been absolutely dominant in the playoffs for the Phillies. Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, and a deep bench of relief options will have to match up against that Phillies rotation. Right-hander Brandon Pfaadt has done a nice job lengthening Arizona’s rotation and he might end up being a big factor if the Diamondbacks end up taming this hot Phillies offense.
The Phillies looked to have the bullpen advantage, but with Craig Kimbrel looking shaky and Gregory Soto still a wild card every time he takes the mound, the Diamondbacks may actually have the better group going right now
For the Diamondbacks, team speed might be the biggest advantage. They may have a hard time matching the Phillies’ power and playoff experience, but if they can keep traffic on the basepaths they’ll be able to apply a lot of pressure to the Phillies pitchers and defense.
Game 1: Monday, October 16 at 8:00 p.m. ET in Philadelphia
Game 2: Tuesday, October 17 at 8:00 p.m. ET in Philadelphia
Game 3: Thursday, October 19 at 5:00 p.m. ET in Arizona
Game 4: Friday, October 20 at 8:00 p.m. ET in Arizona
Game 5: Saturday, October 21 at 8:00 p.m. ET in Arizona
Game 6: Monday, October 23 at 5:00 p.m. ET in Philadelphia
Game 7: Tuesday, October 24 at 8:00 p.m. ET in Philadelphia