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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Houston look ready to return to the World Series

Astros value to come through American League playoffs

Justin Verlander is a superb pitcher for the Houston Astros
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Starts Tuesday

The MLB postseason starts on Tuesday night but the National League picture had an uncertain look about it right up to Monday night as two divisions required a tie-breaker match to determine the finishing order.

The upshot was that the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers have gone straight to the divisional playoffs while the unlucky losers, the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies, meet on Tuesday night in a one-off wildcard game.

In contrast the American League playoff schedule is set and ready to go. The good news for readers who took Racing Post Sport's advice to back the Yankees to win the AL in April is that they have made the playoffs, but the bad news is they will have to host the wild-card game against Oakland.

The single-game elimination match is highly volatile, although the Bronx Bombers can count themselves unlucky that they have not made the playoffs proper. In normal circumstances 100 wins would be pretty much certain to mean a place in the Division Series, but the Yankees have run into a Boston team who have won a monstrous 108 games.

The Yankees will at least have home-field advantage on Wednesday and are the favourites to progress to the next stage, but if they get there they will once again come up against the Red Sox, and if this team are to go deep into the postseason they will have to do it the hard way.

Boston have been getting all the headlines but the Houston Astros have won 103 games and they could have the best chance of all of returning to the World Series.

Normally when a team reaches a century of wins they can be a bit flattered by the high total but that is not the case with the Astros. Their run differential is more consistent with a 109-win team, and that is backed up by their underlying stats totals (home runs, strikeouts and stolen bases among others) which are also excellent.

Making contact with the baseball and forcing mistakes by putting the opposition’s defence under pressure has become important in postseason play in recent times. The team with the lower strikeout percentage has gone 20-14 in playoff series in the last five years, compared with the team with the most regular season wins which is only 18-16 in the same period.

The two teams with the lowest strikeout rate who have reached the playoffs are the Cleveland Indians and Houston, and the Astros look to have a strong chance of winning back-to-back World Series.

They also have two of the best starting pitchers in the league this season, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Both have impressive earned-run averages under three, and lead the league in wins above replacement. Due to the travel days in between games you can get away with using no more than three starters for most of the postseason which will suit the Astros.

If they can take a lead into the latter innings then they have a strong chance of holding on to it – the bullpen had the lowest combined ERA of any in the Major Leagues.

The AL playoffs have a competitive look about them this year, but Houston are a quality team and 15-8 looks a little generous.

Playoff scheduleWild-Card games (Single game) Tuesday: NL; Wednesday: AL: Oakland at Yankees; Division Series (Best of five) Thursday: NL; Friday: Wild-card winner at Boston; Cleveland at Houston; Championship Series (best of seven): Friday, October 12; World Series (best of seven): Tuesday, October 23.

Houston Astros to win American League
2pts 15-8 Hills

Already advised
New York Yankees to win American League
2pts 3-1 general (March 29)
Chicago Cubs to win National League
2pts 4-1 general (March 29)

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The Astros have two of the best starting pitchers in the league this season in Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole
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