Rangers vs. Astros ALCS prediction and MLB Playoffs preview

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Texas Rangers vs. Houston Astros ALCS Preview

Those who like less playoff baseball have to be enjoying this postseason. With four best-of-three Wild Card series and four best-of-five Division Series, we have only seen 22 out of 32 possible games. All four Wild Card series ended in sweeps (8/12) and two of the four Division Series ended in sweeps (14/20).

 

The Texas Rangers were part of one of them, as they disposed of the top dog in the AL with a Game 3 home victory after taking both games in Baltimore. The Houston Astros needed a fourth game against the Twins to advance, but they didn’t need a return trip to the Lone Star State. Instead, their return to Houston is for Game 1 of the ALCS.

It is the SEVENTH straight ALCS appearance for the Astros, who have been to four World Series in that span and have won two of them. The Rangers are in the ALCS for the first time since 2011, when they lost the World Series for the second straight season. The Rangers began as the Washington Senators in 1961 and moved to Texas in 1972. Those consecutive WS losses in 2010 and 2011 are their only appearances, so they are one of six teams to have never won baseball’s ultimate prize.

Will they give themselves that chance this season?

MLB Odds | MLB Betting Splits | MLB Matchups

MLB Playoffs ALCS Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

Rangers +120 / Astros -140

Rangers vs. Astros schedule and how to watch

Game 1 (@ HOU): Sunday October 15, 8:15 p.m. ET (FOX)
Game 2 (@ HOU): Monday October 16, 4:37 p.m. ET (FOX/FS1)
Game 3 (@ TEX): Wednesday October 18, 8:03 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 4 (@ TEX): Thursday October 19, 8:03 p.m. ET (FS1)
Game 5 (@ TEX): Friday October 20, 5:07 p.m. ET (FS1) (if necessary)
Game 6 (@ HOU): Sunday October 22, 8:03 p.m. ET (FS1) (if necessary)
Game 7 (@ HOU): Monday October 23, 8:03 p.m. ET (FOX/FS1) (if necessary)

Note the days with an early start – those are days where both series are scheduled to be in action. Also, note the 2-3-2 format for the best-of-seven series.

Pitching Matchups

(Note: based on my guesses)

Game 1: Jordan Montgomery vs. Justin Verlander
Game 2: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Framber Valdez
Game 3: Cristian Javier vs. Max Scherzer
Game 4: Jose Urquidy vs. Dane Dunning
Game 5: Justin Verlander vs. Jordan Montgomery
Game 6: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Framber Valdez
Game 7: Max Scherzer vs. Cristian Javier

As I will discuss further, Max Scherzer’s presence here might be the x-factor for the Rangers. Scherzer threw 60 pitches in a sim game on Wednesday after the Rangers eliminated the Orioles. Even though Monday would be a regular turn in the rotation, I could see the Rangers giving him until Wednesday to make the start at home. This allows him to throw a good bullpen over the weekend and then be ready for Wednesday.

Wednesday would also mean that Scherzer could come back the following Monday on regular rest if a decisive Game 7 was needed.

I also feel like the Rangers prefer the right-handed Dunning over the left-handed Andrew Heaney.

Rangers vs. Astros series preview

The Astros won the division on the final day of the regular season to get the bye and secure home-field advantage here, though I’m not sure how much it really matters. The travel is not remotely taxing and both teams are very familiar with each other’s venues. I guess the fan atmosphere matters to some degree, but I’m not letting that factor much into my thoughts on the series. Nor does it really matter that much to me that Houston went 9-4 to have that season series tiebreaker. (Nor does it really matter that Houston swept the final regular season series 39-10)

I am really curious to see how the best-of-seven format works out for these two teams. The stars of the show are mostly on offense for both squads. Rotation depth is the major question mark for both teams. A deep series will really test that, which is why Scherzer’s return could be huge for the Rangers. Even though Scherzer is likely to only be stretched out to 75ish pitches, Mad Max at 75-80% is way better than running out left-hander Andrew Heaney against an Astros team that pummels lefties or using a Cody Bradford or somebody like that.

So far this postseason, the Rangers are hitting .282/.373/.492 as a team and the Astros are hitting .261/.311/.507. Houston had 10 homers in the four-game series against the Twins, while the Rangers have hit just seven homers in their five games. We’ll see if that’s the difference, but the Astros also only drew nine walks against Minnesota and Texas has drawn 26 free passes. The Rangers also have 15 doubles, so they’ve had no problem hitting for slugging percentage. On the homer note, my friend MLBDream on X looked it up and the team with more homers in a game is 14-1 this postseason.

The sample sizes are uber-small, but the Rangers are doing what it takes to win in October. If you’re not going to hit a ton of homers, you have to get hits with RISP. They’re batting .296/.418/.593 in that split over 67 plate appearances, which is a lot over a five-game span. The Astros had 33 PA with RISP against the Twins and only had six hits. They’re batting .194/.242/.290 in that split.

If that disparity continues, this could be a short series and the Rangers will be going to the World Series. Hitting with RISP is very volatile, but the Rangers were among the league’s best in that department during the regular season. So, too, were the Astros, so we’ll see if they can get their high-leverage bats going.

Along with Scherzer’s availability, the other most interesting pitching angle to me is the likely matchup for Game 2 (and Game 6 if necessary) and that is Eovaldi vs. Valdez. Eovaldi has allowed two runs on 11 hits in 13.2 innings with 15 strikeouts against zero walks in two playoff starts. Valdez was awful in his Game 2 outing against the Twins with five runs allowed on seven hits, a continuation of what was a pretty poor second half.

The Astros posted a 142 wRC+ against lefties from August 1 through the end of the regular season, while the Rangers posted a 97 wRC+ in that split. A mark of 100 is league average, meaning that the Astros were 42% better than league average against LHP in that span and the Rangers were 3% below league average.

Against righties, the Astros were second to the Braves with a 122 wRC+ in that span, while the Rangers were eighth with a 113 wRC+. Given how good Montgomery has been this postseason, and given how he is being looked at to set the tone for the series, Houston’s numbers against lefties are undoubtedly a concern. Texas’s performance against lefties is also something to consider with that Valdez matchup looming.

So, I think it’s pretty easy to make a case for both sides here. I do find the Astros bullpen more trustworthy overall, but the Rangers pen was good down the stretch in September and has allowed four runs on 11 hits in 16.2 innings here in the playoffs. The Astros pen has allowed six runs on 10 hits in 15 innings, but opposing batters are only hitting .189. The Rangers pen has allowed a .190 BA.

It is also worth noting that the Rangers rely heavily on lefties in high-leverage with Will Smith and Aroldis Chapman, something that could benefit a right-handed-heavy Astros lineup in late-game situations.

Add it all up and I lean slightly towards the Rangers, but do not have a bet on the side for the series. Montgomery has been good to me this postseason, but the Astros do destroy lefties, so I don’t even want to start the series with a Rangers position in case they do lose Game 1.

Over 5.5 Games is -180 at DraftKings and that’s just too cost-prohibitive for me, but I do think it will be a long series. Over 6.5 Games is +200 and that’s not a good enough price to gamble on a seventh game.

This should be a great series with two teams that know each other’s personnel inside and out. Houston may win, but I don’t think it would have anything to do with the September series (the Rangers were playing AWFUL at that time) or the season series. It’s all about the present and both teams are playing very well.

Catch VSiN Daily Baseball Bets and also see Adam Burke’s daily MLB best bets and picks every day throughout the MLB Playoffs.