Despite many COVID-19 concerns throughout the season and having to play series at neutral locations, we have made it to the LCS round. Only four teams are left in contention to lift the Commissioner’s Trophy. The ALCS consists of a playoff rematch from last season as the Houston Astros square off against the Tampa Bay Rays in San Diego.
The Astros came into this season fresh off an offseason where their sign-stealing scheme was exposed, and their reputation was dragged through the mud as a result. The legitimacy of their 2017 World Series championship was all but shattered. They headed into 2020 with everything to prove. Under new manager Dusty Baker, the Astros struggled in the regular season, finishing 29-31 and only two games above the Seattle Mariners for second place in the American League West.
The batting averages of the 2017 core, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and more dropped significantly this season and they lost starting pitcher Justin Verlander to Tommy John surgery. They had to rely on Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. to anchor the starting rotation.
However, the Astros turned it up a notch in the postseason, eliminating two division champions in the Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics. Against Minnesota, they relied on pitching, holding the powerful Twins’ lineup to two runs in two games, winning both, and swept the Twins out of the playoffs.
Their next series, against the Athletics, was expected to be a closely contested series between two division rivals. Instead, it was the series that saw the awakening of the Houston offense, scoring 33 runs in four games, including 12 home runs. Michael Brantley and Altuve have stepped up with seven and six RBI respectively. However, the star of this postseason for the Astros has been Correa, the player who has been the most vocal about the backlash the Astros have received over the sign-stealing scandal. He has 10 hits in 20 at-bats, 12 RBI, and an On-base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) of 1.715 to go with six home runs.
They are playing in their fourth straight ALCS, the first team to do this since the 1998-2001 New York Yankees. Their opponent in this year’s ALCS — the team who is making their second-ever trip to the ALCS (2008) and the team who Houston beat in last year’s ALDS, the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays enjoyed the best regular season record in the American League in 2020. Led by their strong pitching staff of Charlie Morton, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, the Rays bolstered one of the best pitching staffs in baseball this season. Their hitting did just enough to vault the Rays to the AL East division title.
In the playoffs, the Rays handled the Toronto Blue Jays in two games and battled their hated rivals, the Yankees in the ALDS. The teams traded blows and it went all the way to a Game 5. In the bottom of the eighth inning with the score tied at one, utility hitter Mike Brosseau hit a solo shot off Yankees’ closer Aroldis Chapman to give the Rays the lead and the win. It was especially satisfying for Brosseau considering Chapman nailed him with a 101-mph pitch on Sep. 1.
The Rays are gritty and resilient, holding off the Bronx Bombers in five games. If they are to make it to their first World Series since 2008 where they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games, they need to overcome another powerful lineup in the Astros.
Last season in the ALDS, the top-seeded Astros won the first two games before dropping the next two in Tampa. The Astros won 6-1 in Game 5, advancing to the ALCS. The Astros are looking to not only overcome their harsh critics but also redeem themselves for last year’s disappointment as they lost in seven games to the Washington Nationals in the World Series. This series will go the distance once again and it will come down to how the Rays handle the Astros’ lineup. I believe their starting rotation and bullpen will do just enough to squeak by the Astros in seven games.
Prediction: Rays in 7