In a series that featured two of the best teams in the American League, the Houston Astros made their presence known once again in October.
This was supposed to be a fairly even series between two teams that were loaded in the bullpen, starting rotation and their lineups. Some thought this would be a five-game series and the winner would be a heavy favorite in the ALCS.
Instead, Houston turned the Cleveland Indians into dust. It never really appeared to even be a competitive series, the Astros were the superior team and they cruised to a three-game sweep.
In such a decisive series, several players stood out. From phenomenal performances to games that will stick with players for the rest of the offseason, this series had it all.
Here are the winners and losers from Houston’s ALDS victory over Cleveland.
Winner: Alex Bregman
Houston’s pitching dominated for much of this series, but it needed the timely hits to really get momentum in each game and one man provided that the most.
From his solo shot off Corey Kluber in Game 1 that broke the scoreless tie to his solo home run in Game 2 to double Houston’s one-run lead in the seventh inning, we saw the 24-year-old really break through in this series. Now that Bregman Has continued his MVP performance to October, it makes Houston nearly unstoppable.
Loser: Corey Kluber
Taking the mound in Game 1 in Houston, Kluber had the chance to steal a game from the Astros and immediately give momentum to Cleveland. Instead, Kluber turned in the worst start if his postseason career.
The 32-year-old ace started well carrying a no-hitter early into the game, then Bregman’s home run broke it. That home run opened the floodgates to back-to-back home runs and four runs allowed.
Kluber’s brief outing forced the Indians to eat into their bullpen and Game 1 ended quickly. The Astros may have ultimately won this series anyway, but Kluber’s outing was a crushing blow.
Winner: Gerrit Cole
While Kluber turned in an embarrassing effort in his start, Cole was simply sensational in Game 2 against the Cleveland Indians. Francisco Lindor took him deep once. Though, that was only one of three hits Cole yielded in the game.
The 28-year-old’s track record in October has been mixed. His playoff debut in 2013 saw him post aa 0.64 WHIP and 2.45 ERA in two starts. Then he stumbled in 2015 with four runs allowed in his lone appearance.
Houston seemed to figure out some of Cole’s issues this season and it could lead to him turning in performances just like this one as the Astros look ahead to the ALCS.
Loser: Josh Donaldson
Cleveland acquired Donaldson specifically for October. They let him spend time on the disabled list before working his way back in the season’s final few weeks so he would be ready for the postseason. Unfortunately, it just never worked out for either side.
Donaldson was hitless until his final at-bat of the series, never giving the Indians the timely hit they needed in close games. Houston’s pitchers repeatedly frustrated him and strikeouts became far too common for the All-Star third baseman.
It’s the end of a dreadful season for Donaldson. A year ago, he would have been one of the top free agents available this offseason. Now after a season riddled with injuries and struggles at the plate, the former star will have to settle for a disappointing contract.
Winner: Marwin Gonzalez
Coming off a regular season in which he posted a .733 OPS, expectations for Gonzalez were low. The 29-year-old utility player suddenly became Houston’s best hitter in the ALDS and deserves a lot of the credit for this ending in a sweep.
Gonzalez was everything for the Astros’ lineup in Game 2. In the sixth inning when Cleveland started to gain momentum with a 1-0 lead and had a win in its sight, Gonzalez came through with a two-run double to put Houston back on top. Once the Astros were back in the lead, the bullpen carried them to a win.
He brought the magic back in Game 3 as well. In the seventh inning after Houston tied the game, Gonzalez drilled a two-run double to put the Astros back on top. Two clutch go-ahead doubles and five total RBIs made a difference in this series and Gonzalez now becomes a player everyone must watch in the ALCS.
Loser: Trevor Bauer
Bauer became one of the best pitchers in baseball in the regular season, but we never saw that version of him in October.
Cleveland’s decision to use Bauer out of the bullpen made sense given he was still returning from an injury that sidelined him towards the end of the regular season. However, deploying him in all three games of this series backfired.
In four innings, Bauer allowed eight baserunners to reach base and allowed three earned runs. The frequent outings seemed to catch up with him in Game 3, where he allowed five baserunners and committed a throwing error that cost Cleveland dearly. While the Indians failed to produce much offensively, Bauer’s issues throughout the series killed Cleveland.
Winner: Francisco Lindor
In a series where so much went wrong and a majority of Cleveland’s players struggled, Lindor stood out as the lone bright spot for his team in the series.
Of the five total runs the Indians scored in the three-game series, their star shortstop accounted for three of them. Lindor hit a go-ahead home run in Game 2 and came through again with a go-ahead, 446-foot bomb in Game 3. Yet, Cleveland’s pitching staff couldn’t hold the lead and his fellow hitters couldn’t tack on insurance runs.
There is a lot of blame to go around in Cleveland, but Lindor shouldn’t take any responsibility for an ugly three-game sweep and the team’s season ending. On a team with a plethora of All-Star players, only one stepped up.
Loser: Cody Allen
2018 will go down as an utter disaster for Allen. The 29-year-old came into the year fresh off three consecutive seasons with 30-plus saves, 85-plus strikeouts and a sub-3.00 ERA. If he could come close to repeating those numbers, he would hit the jackpot in free agency.
Instead, everything fell apart for Allen. He lost the closer’s role and posted a 4.70 ERA with five blown saves in the regular season. Cleveland knew they couldn’t rely on him this October and everyone saw why in his two appearances.
Allen surrendered six earned runs and recorded three outs in October. Each time he took the mound, he turned Houston’s small lead into something Cleveland could never come back from. He’ll turn 30 this offseason and now may have to choose between ‘prove-it’ deals as a free agent.
Winner: George Springer
We might very well be on the verge of the new “Mr. October”. Springer dominated the 2017 postseason with six home runs, 21 hits and a .997 OPS on Houston’s path to a championship. He may top those numbers this October if he keeps things up.
Springer drilled three home runs in the series and collected six hits against Cleveland. He now has 10 home runs in his postseason career and the 29-year-old still has plenty of time to keep climbing up the all-time home run list in October.
Loser: Winner of Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees series
Houston does not have a problem, however, New York or Boston will. The Astros made Cleveland look like a Triple-A team in their series and they could very well do the same to the Red Sox or Yankees.
For one, the Astros’ rotation can take on either lineup in the ALCS and quiet them down. When it gets into the late innings, the Astros have the bullpen to protect leads and match up in any situation thrown their way.
As for Houston’s lineup, look no further than its collection of All-Star talent spread across the batting order. Whether it needs timely base hits or big home runs, a number of Houston’s bats can deliver. The Red Sox or Yankees will be able to celebrate for a moment, but the Astros will quickly take that excitement away once the ALCS begins.