Four more wins and Houston is in the World Series again

ALCS Game 1 Preview: Astros vs. Rays

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Houston Astros continue to be one of the underdog stories of the 2020 postseason. First, they went to Minnesota with the Twins favored to give them an early exit. Instead, Houston did enough to win and move on in straight games. Then, they went to Dodger Stadium, with arguably even less of a chance to win three-of-five against the A's who dominated them in the regular season.

Yet, the Astros' bats roared to their typical postseason form, outslugging Oakland to win in four games. That earns them a spot in MLB's final four, the championship series, with Houston and the Tampa Bay Rays going into a best-of-seven to see who will represent the American League in the 2020 World Series against the winner of the NLCS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. Here are some quick facts about ALCS Game 1 that will take place Sunday night:

Game Facts

When: Sunday, October 11th, 6:37 PM Central.

Where: Petco Park - San Diego, California.

TV: TBS.

Streaming: Watch TBS App.

Pitching Matchup: Framber Valdez vs. Blake Snell.

Series: tied 0-0.

Series Schedule

Date & Time (Central)Pitching MatchupHome Team
Game 1Sun 10/11, 6:37 PMFramber Valdez vs. Blake SnellRays
Game 2Mon 10/12, 3:07 PMLance McCullers Jr. vs. TBDRays
Game 3Tue 10/13, TBDTBD vs. TBDAstros
Game 4Wed 10/14, TBDTBD vs. TBDAstros
Game 5*Thu 10/15, TBDTBD vs. TBDAstros
Game 6*Fri 10/16, TBDTBD vs. TBDRays
Game 7*Sat 10/17, TBDTBD vs. TBDRays

All games played at Petco Park.

* If necessary

Game Storylines

A mental role reversal

As mentioned before, the Astros entered the ALDS having to overcome the mental challenge of facing the team that succeeded so well against them in the regular season. In the ALCS, they have the opportunity to switch roles. It was just last year in the ALDS that Houston eliminated the Rays from the playoffs, taking the series 3-2 in a Game 5 win. They faced Tampa Bay's starter for Game 1, Blake Snell, in Game 2 of that series from Minute Maid Park. That went down as a low-scoring game, with Snell ultimately earning the loss by allowing the first run of the game, an Alex Bregman home run, giving the Astros the lead they'd ride to the end.

The 2020 MLB season is an entirely different animal. Still, coming off the ALDS's impressive offensive performance, paired with the results from 2019, Houston could ride into the series with some confidence. On the flip side, the Rays have had the chance to play in Petco Park, where all these ALCS games will take place, over their last five games, while we will wait and see of Houston's success at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles will travel down California's coast to San Diego.

Another war of attrition

As we saw across the divisional series, having such high-leverage games on consecutive days is a tricky path to navigate for a manager trying to have the best, rested arms to turn to in given situations. That benefited Houston in their series against the A's, who used their bats to put stress on the strong Oakland bullpen throughout the series. They faced the same issue themselves, though, especially at the start with their Game 1 starter, Lance McCullers Jr., going just four innings.

The ALCS will be even harder to deal with, as it could be a potential seven-day, seven-game slog of games with no days off like in a typical playoff schedule. Houston has a leg up in this area, having finished their ALDS in four games, a day earlier than Tampa Bay. That extra day of rest for their pitching could prove pivotal in this series, as will an extra arm on the roster, which Dusty Baker has stated is likely to happen at the expense of a position player this round. Another positive for the Astros, they will lead the series off with Framber Valdez, who has been their best pitcher this season and was able to throw seven innings in his ALDS start, a godsend for a bullpen that will likely be called upon frequently in the next week.

Be sure to check SportsMap after the final out for an in-depth recap of the game, and follow me on Twitter for updates and reactions throughout each playoff game: @ChrisCampise

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The Texans didn't have an answer for Derrick Henry. Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Romeo Crennel made a valorous call that might have costed the Houston Texans from winning their second consecutive game on Sunday. Up by seven with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter, Crennel decided to call a two-point conversion following Deshaun Watson's one-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks.

During the two-point conversion, Watson had a look at an open Randall Cobb, but Titans' defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons got a hand on the ball to deflect the pass. The failed conversion allowed the Titans to take a 42-36 victory over the Texans inside Nissan Stadium. Tennessee scored 13 unanswered points, which included a seven-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to A.J. Brown to send the game into overtime.

"I think I would do it again," Crennel said during his media availability on Monday. "You are on the road against a divisional opponent who is undefeated, and if you could get that two-point conversion — you shut the door on them. We had a guy open, but unfortunately, the ball got tipped and we did not make it. I would do it again because it was a good choice."

The decision to not kick the field goal caused somewhat of an uproar, but it is understandable why Crennel made the call. Crennel had faith in Watson to put the Texans in a position to close the game, similar to his 4th-and-4 call during last week's victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In the end, Crennel's risky decisions could stem from the lack of faith he has in the Texans' depleted defense.

Houston's defense hit an all-time low against the Titans. They gave up a franchise-worst 601 total yards — with Derrick Henry accounting for 212 yards on 22 carries. But despite their struggles against the run, the Texans' secondary were just as faulty. They gave up a total of 338 yards through the air and allowed Tannehill to go 8-for-9 down the field during the Titans' final drive of regulation.

Had Houston's defense made a stop during the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, the Texans could have ended the game 2-0 under their interim head coach.

"I wanted to go ahead and get the two points — I felt like that would have put the game out of reach for them," Crennel said. "If we had gotten it, we would have been in much better shape. But we did not get it. We did not perform well in overtime, and they [Titans] won the game."

Following Sunday's heartbreaking loss, Texans safety Justin Reid said it best, "Had we converted on the two-point conversion, this would be a totally different conversation. So it is what it is."

Up next, the 1-5 Texans will look to bounce back from defeat against the 4-1 Green Bay Packers, inside NRG Stadium on Sunday. Kick-off is at 12:00 PM CT.

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