Astros Clinch Spot in 2018 MLB Playoffs with Win vs. Angels

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2018

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros celebrates with Tony Kemp #18 and George Springer #4 after all three scored on a double by Alex Bregman #2 in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Minute Maid Park on September 5, 2018 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Houston Astros will have a chance to defend their World Series title after clinching a playoff berth with an 11-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night.

After winning the franchise's first championship in 2017, the Astros have shown no signs of a hangover this season. At 96-57, they are on pace to post their second consecutive year with at least 100 wins, which would make them the first team since the 2004-05 St. Louis Cardinals to accomplish that feat.

This team's formula for success has been different than last year's group. The lineup during their run to the World Series last year produced at a historic rate. Their 122 weighted runs created plus (a stat that measures a total offensive value based on runs) was the best by any team since 2000.

While Houston's lineup is still strong in 2018—the team ranks fifth in MLB in runs scored and sixth in OPS—pitching has been the biggest reason the Astros are back in the postseason.

Their pitchers lead MLB with a 3.15 ERA, 28.8 FanGraphs wins above replacement and 10.47 strikeouts per nine innings. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton all have ERAs at 3.15 or better and average at least 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

That depth of starting pitching has allowed the Astros to navigate things while reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer all spent time on the disabled list.

Alex Bregman has turned into an MVP candidate with a historic season:

All the pieces are in place for the Astros to make another deep postseason run. They have been in playoff mode for weeks, trying to fight off the Oakland Athletics atop the American League West, and continue to play at a high level.

Now that Houston is officially back in the postseason, it can become the first club to win consecutive World Series titles since the New York Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000.

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