The Astros begin the postseason relatively healthy after an injury-filled summer and have regained their early-season swagger following an August malaise. In short, the American League West champions are positioned nicely to deliver Houston's first World Series championship, but it certainly won't be easy, and it begins against the Red Sox in the AL Division Series presented by Doosan.
The AL postseason field is deep with experienced clubs like the Indians, who won the AL last year, the upstart Twins, and, of course, the Yankees and Red Sox. Houston's vaunted offense makes it a team that nobody would want to face in October, but that's not the only reason the Astros could win the World Series this year.
The Astros have the most potent offense in the Major Leagues, led by three-time batting champion Jose Altuve, leadoff hitter George Springer and shortstop Carlos Correa, who caught fire at the end of the regular season after missing six weeks with a thumb injury. The lineup is deep and has power throughout with eight players reaching at least 15 homers. Houston led the Majors in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, OPS and struck out fewer times than any other team.
Beyond the core players, third baseman Alex Bregman and rookie first baseman Yuli Gurriel have put together excellent years at the plate, outfielder/infielder Marwin Gonzalez has been one of the team's top offensive weapons and production has come from the catching tandem of Brian McCann and Evan Gattis. There are no holes in the Houston lineup.
2. Justin Verlander
The Astros were going to be a threat to win the American League pennant before they acquired Verlander at the end of August, but the veteran's presence gives them a terrific tandem of AL Cy Young Award winners at the top of the rotation, joining Dallas Keuchel. Verlander has been dominant with the Astros, going 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in his first five starts. He approved the trade from the Tigers so he could pursue that elusive World Series ring at 34 years old.
Verlander's playoff experience will loom large. He has started 16 career games in the playoffs (7-5, 3.39 ERA), including Game 1 of the 2006 and 2012 World Series. With Verlander and Keuchel at the top, the Astros' rotation lengthens with Lance McCullers Jr., Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton fighting for two spots in the ALDS rotation.
The Astros' bullpen isn't as vaunted as the Indians, Yankees or the Red Sox. If the Astros are going to make a run to a pennant and beyond, they'll need solid work from the relievers. Closer Ken Giles had a strong second half, but Will Harris and Chris Devenski will have to pitch better in the playoffs than they did in September. Harris' performance might hold the key to the bullpen's success.
Being able to move Morton (or perhaps McCullers) to the bullpen gives them another weapon, but look out for Joe Musgrove. He struggled in the rotation in the first half of the year and has found his niche as a power relief pitcher who figures to be called upon to get several key outs. He could be Houston's secret weapon.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.