If statistics could win athletic contests, the Cleveland Indians would be shaking in their spikes this week in anticipation of the opening game of the American League Division Series Friday against the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park.

First of all, the Astros had their best season in franchise history by winning 103 games, with 57 of them being road victories—a franchise best–and the second highest total of the expansion era (since 1961) trailing only the 59 by the 2001 Seattle Mariners.

The Astros are flying high, coming into the playoffs after posting a major league-best 21-6 record in September.

Pitching is said to be the main ingredient of baseball which also brings the Astros to the forefront by setting a major league baseball-record strikeout total of 1,687 for Houston’s pitching staff, breaking the mark of 1,614 set by theses same Cleveland Indians last season.

Another franchise record for the ‘Stroes is that three starting pitchers attained 200 or more strikeouts in 2018—Justin Verlander (290), Gerrit Cole (276) and Charlie Morton (201).

This is only the second such trio in franchise history to strikeout 200 or more batters in a season, joining the 1969 threesome of Don Wilson (235), Larry Dierker (232) and Tom Griffin (200), according to Monday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle.

Besides leading the American League in strikeouts, Verlander also led the league with a 0.90 WHIP.

Other Astros individual accolades mostly involves third baseman Alex Bregman who made major league baseball history by being the only player with a 50-double, 30-homer season. The former LSU star smacked 51 doubles and 31 home runs.

Bregman also has a current club-record streak of 56 road games in which he has reached base, the longest such streak in the major leagues since Derek Jeter’s 59-game skein over 2006-07.

Bregman still is irked at the Arizona Diamondbacks for not making him the Number One overall pick in the 2015 major league baseball draft but is certainly happy to be a Houston Astro.

Second baseman Jose Altuve led the team once again with a best team batting average of .315, which ranked third in the American League. He won the batting title the previous two years.

Infielder Yuli Gurriel finished third in the majors with a .403 batting average with runners in scoring position and back-up catcher Martin Maldonado threw out 45.4 percentage of base stealers which ranked second in the MLB.

This is not to say that the Cleveland Indians are an inferior division champion, because they finished with a 91-71 record, which was 13 games better than runner-up Minnesota. The Astros didn’t clinch the AL West Division until last week with only four games remaining in the season over the gritty Oakland A’s.

However, the USA Today Sports Weekly’s power rankings has Cleveland as the No. 5 team while Houston is No. 2 just behind the Boston Red Sox.

Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters after Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Kansas City that he will start ace right-hander Corey Kluber in Game One on Friday and Carlos Carrasco on Saturday at Minute Maid Park.

Astros skipper A.J. Hinch declined to reveal his plans but promised the baseball writers he would reveal this information Tuesday.

But it’s no secret that Verlander will oppose Kluber Friday and Gerrit Cole will start on Saturday. Hinch will likely start lefty Dallas Keuchel Tuesday in Cleveland but Francona did not reveal his starter Sunday.

Hinch also said he would wait until Friday morning to announce his 25-man playoff roster. But September call-ups Dean Deetz, Kyle Tucker and Reymin Guduan were scheduled to return home after Sunday’s regular-season finale at Baltimore.   Pitchers Framber Valdez and Cionel Perez flew to the Astros’ spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. to throw bullpens and remain active in case of an emergency.

KWICKIES…After managing the Los Angeles Angels for 19 years through Sunday, Mike Scioscia stepped down. He had the longest tenure in the major leagues. Scioscia guided the Angels to the franchise’s only World Series title in 2002, starting a stretch of six playoff appearances and five AL West titles in eight years. He finished with a 1,650-1428 record.

Despite having the poorest season since 2005, Kansas City announced Sunday that Ned Yost will return as the Royals’ manager. The team announced that Yost received a one-year contract extension. Yost became the Royals’ manager on May 13, 2010 and led the team to the 2015 World Series title, the team’s first since 1985 and second ever.

Europe won the Ryder Cup over the United States Sunday17 ½ – 12 ½ for the biggest rout in 12 years. Tiger Woods lost all three of his matches, while Francesco Molinari reeled off a 5-0 week, the first at the Ryder Cup for a European. Molinari won his match against Phil Mickelson, putting the veteran lefty in the record book for the most losses in Ryder Cup history.

The 2018 NFL season came to a screeching halt for Orange native Earl Thomas, who suffered a fractured leg in Sunday’s 20-17 victory by Seattle over Arizona. It was a costly injury for the six-time All-Pro free safety who was playing for a new contract from the Seahawks or as a free agent. But knowing Earl, he will rehab twice as hard and be ready to play next season for somebody.

There once again was little change in the top 10 of this week’s Associated Press College Football Poll with No. 3 Ohio State switching places with No. 4 Clemson. Alabama and Georgia remained in the top two spots along with No. 5 LSU while Notre Dame jumped up two spots to No. 6, No. 7 Oklahoma dropped one place, Auburn jumped two places to No. 8, West Virginia advanced three places to No. 9 and Washington came up one spot to No. 10. The bottom five teams joined the poll which includes Colorado, Florida, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State.

JUST BETWEEN US…The Lone Star State NFL championship will take place 7:30 p.m. Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston between the 1-3 Texans and the 2-2 Dallas Cowboys. There are many similarities between the two franchises as both teams showed Sunday they cannot protect a big lead in the fourth period but both were lucky enough to win with a field goal as time ran out. The Texans Ka’imi Fairbairn booted a 37-yard field goal as time ran out in the overtime period giving Houston a 37-34 against Indianapolis while Brett Maher kicked a 38-yard field goal as time expired to give the Cowboys a 26-24 win. The field goal was set up on a 34-yard pass play from quarterback Dak Prescott to star running back Ezekiel Elliott in the final minute of the game and Dallas trailing 24-23. Houston’s victory was set up by a bizarre decision by Colts’ head coach Frank Reich who refused to punt on a fourth-and-four at their own 40 in the overtime and settling for a 34-34 tie. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson completed a 24-yard pass to star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Fairbairn kicked the 37-yard field goal as time expired in the overtime.