After a wacky wild card round format that saw eight best-of-three series, we return to a (mostly) normal postseason format as the NLDS and ALDS return for a best-of-five format. The biggest difference this time around is the neutral locations these games are taking place at. In the series between the American League West rivals between the Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics, it will take place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Considering their sign-stealing scandal, the Astros are playing in enemy territory after they cheated their way to a 2017 World Series victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning Game 7 at Dodger Stadium. Since the Astros no longer have their sign-stealing system to aid their hitting performance, the mighty lineup saw a drop in production. Their team On-base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) dropped from .848 in 2019 to .720 in 2020. Also, their batting average dropped from .274 to .240.
Despite a disappointing 29-31 regular season record, the Astros finished second place in the AL West and found themselves in the postseason once again, matching up against the Minnesota Twins in the wild card round. The Twins possessed a powerful lineup, hitting 91 home runs in the regular season, the sixth best in the MLB. The Astros swept the Twins in two games, only allowing a combined two runs in both games after fantastic performances from their bullpen.
Michael Brantley provided a two-run single to give the Astros a cushion at the top of the ninth inning while in Game 2, young outfielder Kyle Tucker provided two crucial RBI to give the Astros the 3-1 win. The Astros are looking to silence the haters and beating the Twins was a good starting point.
They will face the Oakland Athletics, their rival in the AL West. They will also face Athletics’ starting pitcher Mike Fiers, the man whom the Athletics acquired from the Astros and the one who exposed the Astros’ sign-stealing system.
One would expect the Athletics hitting to lead the team, but the lineup was average in most major statistical categories this season. Also, one of their best hitters, Matt Chapman, is out for the season as he will undergo hip surgery. The pitching was the strength of the team, accumulating a team earned run averaged (ERA) of 3.77. Fiers this season has a record of 6-3 but has struggled this season with an ERA of 4.58. The most dependable starter has been Chris Bassitt, who has a 5-2 record with a 2.29 ERA. Closer Liam Hendricks has been reliable as well, producing 14 saves with a 3-1 record and an ERA of 1.78.
Matt Olson is the most productive player on the lineup despite a poor .195 batting average as he drove in 42 runs this season. Mark Canha and Robbie Grossman with 14 extra-base hits and a combined 56 RBI.
The Athletics came back from a Game 1 loss to the Chicago White Sox in the wild card round to win Games 2 and 3, winning their first playoff series since 2006 when they swept the Twins. The Athletics dominated in Game 2 while in Game 3, they had to rally from a 3-0 deficit in the fourth inning. After tying the game, pinch hitter Chad Pinder hit a two-RBI single in the fifth inning, giving the Athletics the 6-4 lead, which they held to advance to the ALDS.
This, like every other series in the LDS round, is a battle between division foes. The Athletics went 7-3 against the Astros in the regular season. In the wild card series, both bullpens stepped up as they went long stretches without conceding runs. This series will go five games and when a situation becomes do-or-die, experience is huge. The advantage there lies with the Astros and despite a struggling regular season performance, they seemed to find a spark against the Twins. However, the Athletics’ starting rotation is deeper and their bullpen is more reliable. The Athletics take it in the most competitive LDS series.
Prediction: Athletics in 5