The Houston Astros (29-31) redemption tour continues its unlikely path in the American League Championship Series, but they’ve been there before. 2020 marks the fourth straight ALCS for the ‘Stros.
Their next opponent, the Tampa Bay Rays, despite having the AL’s best record (40- 20) feel more like the interlopers. But that’s what makes this series fascinating.
Houston mashed their way into the ALCS, hitting 12 home runs in four games against the Athletics. The Astros put up 33 runs and were led by a resurgent Carlos Correa, who hit four of those homers and knocked in 12 runs.
The Rays, meanwhile, leaned on their dominant pitching and timely hitting en route to the ALCS. A two-game sweep of the Blue Jays was followed by a 3-2 series win over the Yankees.
With three aces in the fold, the question becomes: Will the Rays pitching be able to slow down Houston’s powerful offense?
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Rays Looking for First World Series Title
Tampa embraces an underdog mentality, despite being tops in the AL this season. A small-market team with a budget-conscious payroll, the Rays used the us-against-the-world approach against the heralded Yankees. And they saw perhaps the most unheralded member of their lineup, Mike Brosseau, come up with the biggest hit.
The Rays lack a traditional superstar, but they’re in the ALCS, in part, because of their team-wide focus. Tampa sports perhaps the deepest roster in the league, and that could be key entering a seven-game series with no days off.
They have five quality starting pitchers, including rookie Josh Fleming who went 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA in 2020. The have a deep bullpen and a budding superstar in Randy Arozarena. With an unconventional approach to traditional baseball concepts, like using an Opener or deploying four outfielders. They can win in several different ways – with dominant pitching, with the long ball, with speed, and with timely hitting.
Astro's Redemption Tour
With the cheating scandal calling into question their recent successes, Houston embarked on a redemption tour in 2020. Slowed by injuries and uneven offensive output, the Astros made the playoffs despite a sub-.500 record. They finished 14 th in runs scored (279) and 13 th in team ERA (4.31). But they’ve surged at the right time, sweeping the Twins then defeating the A’s.
The Astros have gotten hot at the right time. A middle-of-the-pack offense in 2020 rocketed to the top against Oakland. Houston slashed .332/.388/.594 with 12 home runs in a four-game series against a particularly good A’s pitching staff.
Their offensive success has been coupled with the emergence of a potential ace in lefty Framber Valdez. Houston needs to sort out their starting rotation and bullpen for this seven-game series and will likely move rookie Cristian Javier back into the rotation. They have plenty of high-leverage relievers who they’ll need to rely on against the Rays.
Odds and Pick
The Rays are currently at -180 to win the ALCS over the Astros and seem like the safe bet in this one, despite Houston’s pedigree. If the Tampa pitching staff can slow down this suddenly resurgent Astros lineup, it could be a short series.
These two clubs met in the ALDS last season and Houston needed a dynamite performance from Gerrit Cole at home in Game 5 in order to advance. They don't have that luxury this season. The betting value rests with Tampa Bay.
-- by D.L. Ferno