So, here we are; after 162 games and two rounds of the playoffs, we get to the battle for a ticket to the World Series. This marks the seventh time the Houston Astros have been here in a row. As for the Texas Rangers, they went six seasons without a playoff appearance. The Rangers won a playoff series this postseason for the first time since 2011. Now that we are two weeks removed from the end of the regular season let's look at what led these teams to this point.
Texas easily dismantled the Tampa Bay Rays, knocking them out in two games without breaking a sweat. They dispatched the number one seed Baltimore Orioles in three straight, outscoring them 21-11. Offensively, they stayed hot and got a few more of their guys involved. Adolis Garcia and Mitch Garver accounted for 11 of the 20 RBIs the Rangers drove in, punctuated by Garver's Game Two grand slam. Rookie Evan Carter also kept raking, going 3-for-10. Corey Seager, the best player in the AL this season not named Ohtani, was not allowed many pitches to hit. He came to bat 15 times, and the Orioles walked him nine of those plate appearances.
As for the pitching side, Texas gets a boost with Max Scherzer and Jon Gray on the ALCS roster. The Rangers have been just fine going with Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi. They have combined for a 2.19 ERA and a pristine 22/1 K/BB rate through the playoffs. Monty and Nate will take the hill in Games One and Two. Game Three will be interesting. Scherzer may start, but he will likely be on a pitch count as he hasn't had game action in over a month. Andrew Heaney, who started Game One against Baltimore, is also a fine choice to piggyback if Bruce Bochy goes that route. Aside from the erratic Aroldis Chapman, who had trouble finding the plate last round, the bullpen has been fine. Jose Leclerc looks like his old self and should be Bochy's go-to guy for this series.
By virtue of winning the tiebreaker against the Rangers, Houston got to rest for five days heading into their match with the Minnesota Twins. Fortunately for the Astros, they did not succumb to the rust that accompanied some teams in the Divisional Round. Houston took the series three games to one over the Twins, losing only thanks to a dominating pitching performance by Pablo Lopez. Cristian Javier was tasked with taking the crucial Game Three in Twinkie Town. He was up for it. Although he walked five, he also struck out nine and allowed just one hit. Jose Urquidy finished off Minnesota in Game Four, and the Astros had to get ready to fight for the State of Texas.
If there is one thing many of the pitchers for the Rangers should have learned, it is...DO NOT pitch to Yordan Alvarez. Of course, it isn't like the Astros don't have any other bats. Yordan's fellow Cuban, Jose Abreu, dipped into the fountain of youth and blasted three home runs of his own while driving in eight. Although AL RBI king Kyle Tucker struggled, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Michael Brantley combined for ten hits, each with a home run.
Not only do these two teams hail from the same state, but they also each have former San Francisco Giant managers. The Astros are used to this stage. The Rangers are not, but that is where Bochy's influence will come in. However, Houston beat the Twins, who finally won a playoff series for the first time in 21 years. Momentum is one thing, but the experience here, especially on the field, will play a big part in Houston winning this and returning to represent the American League in the World Series.
Houston wins in six games.
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