The Houston Astros are one step closer to defending their World Series title after completing a three-game sweep over the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.
George Springer hit two home runs in a 3-for-6 day to help Houston earn an 11-3 road win on Monday in Game 3. Cleveland led 2-1 until 10 straight runs led to an easy victory for the visitors.
The three wins in the best-of-five series also gives the Astros their first playoff sweep in franchise history.
Terry Francona Costs Indians With Pitching Staff Gamble
Trevor Bauer was a Cy Young candidate as a starter over the course of the season, but manager Terry Francona has decided to use him exclusively in relief this series, appearing in all three games.
After allowing a run in 2.2 innings to start the series, he gave up three runs (two earned) in a miserable Game 3. He also had a pair of throwing errors that helped extend the decisive seventh inning.
The Astros built their momentum and piled on the scoring against Cody Allen and others, totaling 10 runs in the last three innings. Five relievers were used to cover four innings, and all but one allowed at least one run.
Mike Clevinger had been all the Indians could have hoped for in his first career postseason start, especially after proven starters Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco were unspectacular in Games 1 and 2. A solo home run was the only run he allowed in five innings that also included nine strikeouts.
This wasn't enough to factor into the decision, though, as the bullpen couldn't hold onto the lead.
The Indians succeeded in the past because Francona wasn't afraid to be unconventional with his pitching staff. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen virtually carried the club to the World Series in 2016.
Unfortunately, the bullpen wasn't nearly as effective in 2018 and the manager's gambles didn't pay off in the playoffs. Bruce Hooley of 105.7 The Zone gave his thoughts on the situation:
The players do have to perform, but Francona didn't put his best ones in a position to succeed during the series.
Astros Incredible Depth Makes Them Team to Beat...Again
Just like last postseason, the Astros are getting a lot of production from a wide variety of hitters already in the playoffs.
Jose Altuve is the biggest name in the lineup while Alex Bregman was the best hitter in 2018, but there are several other players who can and will hurt you if given the opportunity.
George Springer hit two home runs, including one in the fifth to start Houston's scoring for the day:
Marwin Gonzalez then came through with the big hit in the seventh inning, driving in two runs with a bases-loaded double:
After an RBI single later in the game, Gonzalez finished 7-for-13 in the ALDS. He and Springer were also two of five Astros players with at least four hits in the series.
Carlos Correa even got in on the action with an eighth-inning three-run home run, which was his first hit of the postseason.
No. 4 hitter Yuli Gurriel did virtually nothing in the series but Houston kept on going with little resistance. We also haven't seen the best out of Altuve, the reigning AL MVP. If these players reach their ability and Correa builds off his big hit, the Astros' lineup could be unstoppable.
Houston had the worst scoring offense of all the AL playoff teams (despite being sixth in the majors), but the team excels because it's not too reliant on one or two players coming through night after night. In a long postseason, this could be the difference.
After the supporting cast showed what it could do a year ago, the Astros look ready for another championship run in 2018.
Indians Must Find Impact Hitter In Offseason After Quiet ALDS
Game 3 was better for the Indians offense than the first two outings, where the team was held to a combined three runs on six hits. However, the final installment wasn't too much better with just three runs, with the problem being a lack of production from the team it was hoping to rely on most.
Jose Ramirez looked like an MVP for much of the regular season but was no help in the ALDS while going 0-for-11 at the plate with three strikeouts.
He was 0-for-4 in the must-win Game 3, ending his season by grounding into a double play. Considering he also hit 2-for-20 in the postseason last year, there are legitimate concerns about his playoff hitting.
Meanwhile, the rest of the middle of the order didn't do much better.
Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson, the team's three through five hitters, combined to go 1-for-10 Monday and the trio only had two hits all series. This won't win too many games regardless of the opponent.
Francisco Lindor did his job, getting a hit in each game of the series with home runs in each of the last two. Still, you need a lot more than just a leadoff hitter in order to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Looking forward, the Indians have some tough decisions with their lineup with Donaldson, Michael Brantley and Melky Cabrera among those hitting free agency this offseason. Whether or not these players are re-signed, the team still needs other hitters it can trust to carry the offense when the other stars aren't hitting.
Even if Ramirez has better days, he and Lindor can't do it all by themselves.
If the Indians want to extend this contention window, they need to add at least one more big-time hitter this winter.
With a ticket already punched in the ALCS, the Astros can now relax until the start of the next round on Oct. 13. The squad will take on the winner of the other ALDS between Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, although Houston will only have home-field advantage against the Yankees.