Astros’ Cole brings playoff experience into Game 2 vs. Indians

HOUSTON — Much has been made about the opportunity at hand for Houston Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole, whose offseason acquisition bolstered an already strong pitching staff, one that helped the club claim the 2017 World Series before his arrival.

In Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA), who is scheduled to start Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, the Astros have a pitcher fully capable of assuming the duties of an ace. Instead, Cole is slotted behind Justin Verlander, who carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning of the Astros’ 7-2 victory on Friday in Game 1.

Cole does have experience functioning as an ace, serving in that role with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who made him the top overall selection in the 2011 draft.

Less than four months after making his big-league debut in 2013, Cole was starting Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Pirates’ first postseason appearance in 21 years.

After two decisions in two starts during that series, Cole got the ball the next postseason when the Pirates faced the Chicago Cubs in the NL wild-card game. It’s that experience that he aims to cash in on when he makes his postseason debut with Houston.

“I would hope so,” Cole said. “I can’t speak to the Championship Series or the World Series, but the wild card definitely takes some years off your life. The Division Series against the Cardinals was hard-fought in 2013, and I pitched twice in that. I remember those games really well, so I’m going to draw on those experiences for sure.”

For Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco (17-10, 3.38 ERA), his postseason experience is linked to one outing: Game 3 of the 2017 ALDS against the New York Yankees. Carrasco held the Yankees to three hits and three walks with seven strikeouts in 5 2/3 scoreless innings but did not factor into the decision of a 1-0 loss that spurred the Yankees’ rally from a 2-0 series deficit.

After finishing fourth in Cy Young Award balloting last season, Carrasco produced another exceptional campaign in 2018, lowering his FIP (3.10 to 2.94) and walk rate (5.8 percent to 5.5 percent) from 2017 while increasing his strikeout rate (28.3 percent to 29.5 percent).

Carrasco is 60-36 with a 3.40 ERA since joining the rotation full time in 2015. His elevation in the postseason rotation is deserved.

“Tito (Indians manager Terry Francona) told me that on Sunday on my last game,” Carrasco said of getting the start in Game 2. “He said, ‘Congrats, you’re going to go to the second game.’ I just feel so happy to get to that point. Being pretty much just happy for the way we play this year, and then we get into October.

“But I think … it’s the same baseball. So I’m just going to go out there and have fun. That’s it.”

Carrasco is 4-2 with a 3.45 ERA in eight career appearances (seven starts) against the Astros, including a 2-1 record and 1.17 ERA in three starts at Minute Maid Park. He is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two starts against Houston this season.