Starter Yankees missed out on gives Astros commanding lead

HOUSTON — Everyone knows about the Astros’ amazing starting pitchers, led by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole — you remember him Yankees fans.

But it is not just the starters, the Astros have a complete staff, something rare these days, as they rebuilt their bullpen this season. They added setup man Ryan Pressly and closer Roberto Osuna. With a bullpen base of former starters Lance McCullers Jr. and Collin McHugh, in addition to Will Harris, Tony Sipp and Josh Harris, this is a strong staff.

Quite simply, the Astros’ bullpen is a beast, too.

They showed powerful arms again Saturday in a 3-1 win over the Indians at Minute Maid Park to take a 2-0 lead in the ALDS. One more win and the defending world champions will be back in the ALCS.

Cole was masterful. The only run the big right-hander allowed over seven innings came on a Francisco Lindor home run in the third. The Yankees wanted Cole but could not come up with a trade for the Pirates and Cole wound up landing with a huge rival.

He makes the defending world champions that much more difficult to beat and the road to the World Series that much tougher for the Yankees. His ability to power past hitters is October elite, so special.

Cole struck out 12, a postseason career high for him. He did not walk a batter. The only pitcher to have more strikeouts and zero walks in a postseason game was the Mets’ Tom Seaver, who struck out 13, exactly 45 years ago to the day.

That’s how good Gerrit Cole was on this day. He allowed just three hits.

The Astros took the lead in sixth, when Carlos Carrasco surrendered an infield hit to Jose Altuve and a walk to Alex Bregman. After a fly out, Terry Francona went to his bullpen for ex-Yankee Andrew Miller, and it did not work out. Marwin Gonzalez lined a shot into the right-field corner that Melky Cabrera bobbled. By the time he got the ball in, two runs had scored and Minute Maid Park went bonkers.

Bregman then hit his second home run of the series in the seventh.

Pressly, who came over from the Twins, got his first postseason experience Friday and came back Saturday to get two outs in the eighth as Osuna got the four-out save.

Osuna appeared in 14 postseason games for the Blue Jays.

Moving McCullers into the bullpen helps with the bridge and the value of that cannot be underestimated.

A.J. Hinch knows what an advantage he has in McCullers, who pitched a hitless eighth inning Friday.

“It’s big because he’s such a weapon,” Hinch said before the game. “I know often times during the season we fall into these routines and what you expect out of your guys, and then chaos hits in the postseason and you’re not quite sure when you’re going to use guys. Some guys can adapt to that. Some guys can’t.

“He’s a shutdown pitcher, and I say that because it could be in the first inning when he starts or in a relief inning like we saw [Friday]. I just love his demeanor. I love his poise. I love his competitiveness. Ultimately, I love his pitches.

For the Astros, it’s all about having strong options from start to finish and after winning the world championship in 2017, they addressed some of their weaknesses to become an even stronger team.

Francona has to find a way to deal with this pitching. When he was asked what made that bullpen so effective against his team, the Tribe manager shot back: “It’s not just against us. They’re effective against just about everybody. They’re really good. Some of the guys they left off their roster are really good. They’re deep. They have power. They have different looks. Tony Sipp’s having kind of a bounce-back year. You can put a starter like McCullers out there. A guy like McHugh who had success starting, put him in the bullpen, and he’s got a minuscule ERA. They have a lot of good pitchers.”

They sure do, whether it is an incredible starter like Cole and his K-show, or relief, Astros pitchers are Houston Strong.