Justin Verlander Leads Powerful Astros Offense to 7-2 Game 1 Win vs. Indians

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 5, 2018

Houston Astros' Alex Bregman (2) celebrates his solo home run with teammate Yuli Gurriel (10) as Cleveland Indians catcher Yan Gomes, center, looks on during the fourth inning in Game 1 of an American League Division Series baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Justin Verlander carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and the Houston Astros hammered four home runs en route to a 7-2 victory Friday over the Cleveland Indians in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Alex Bregman opened the scoring with a solo shot in the fourth inning, which was followed by a Josh Reddick RBI single later in the frame. Jose Altuve and George Springer added homers in the fifth as the 'Stros raced out to a 4-0 lead.

The Indians trimmed the lead to two in the sixth, but the Astros pulled away for good with two runs of their own in the seventh, including a home run by Martin Maldonado.

            

Astros Look Primed to Defend Title After Playoff Opener

One of the most common questions in the aftermath of Houston's World Series triumph last year was whether the club had dynasty potential.

An extended rebuilding process, which featured three straight years of at least 106 losses starting in 2011, has yielded a roster with an incredible collection of hitters entering the prime of their careers together. The result was 103 wins during the regular season.

The Astros kept rolling right along Friday. They made quick work of two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, who allowed six hits, two walks and four earned runs in 4.2 innings, and their pitching staff took care of the rest.

Finding a weakness is hard. Even outside of the loaded lineup and a terrific group of starting pitchers, the Astros also possess a dependable relief corps while also being efficient in the field and on the basepaths.

The Indians couldn't find an answer in Game 1 and, if Houston maintains that level of play throughout the postseason, a repeat is certainly possible.

                    

Verlander's Strong Outing Sets Tone for Stacked Staff

All of the tangible factors suggest the Astros are again a serious World Series threat. There are always intangible elements involved in any title run, and one of those is setting the tone in Game 1.

Verlander did that Friday. He kept the Cleveland offense, which ranked third in runs during the regular season, without a hit until the sixth. While his final stat line shows two earned runs in 5.1 innings, he was far more dominant than those numbers suggest.

The 2011 AL MVP also provided the blueprint for attacking the Indians' hitters for the rest of the Astros staff, including fellow starters Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton.

Ultimately, Houston's offense is powerful enough to win a lot of playoff games, but the club is also destined to play some low-scoring pitchers' duels. Being able to win either way is crucial to October success, and perhaps no team is better prepared for that than the Astros.

Verlander and the offense both showed that in the playoff opener.

                  

Tribe Must Take Game 2 To Avoid Quick Exit

Knowing all of those things about the Astros and seeing them firsthand Friday, the Indians must head into Game 2 with a must-win mentality.

It starts with creating more offensive noise early in innings. Only once Friday did Cleveland's leadoff batter get on base—a Yan Gomes single to open the sixth, which is also the only frame the Indians put runs on the board. That's no coincidence.

The Tribe also need a shutdown performance from Carlos Carrasco, who struggled against the high-powered Astros during the regular season. He allowed eight earned runs on 15 hits and three walks in 13.1 innings across two starts against the AL West champions.

If the Indians drop Game 2, it's hard to imagine a path for them to win three consecutive games to complete a monumental comeback against the reigning champs.

             

What's Next?

The host Astros will attempt to take a commanding 2-0 series lead when they send Cole (2.88 ERA) to the mound Saturday against the Tribe's Carrasco (3.38 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 4:37 p.m. ET on TBS.

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