BRING ON THE WHITE SOX

Here's how the Astros clinched their fourth division title in five years

The Astros were led by a powerhouse offense this year. Composite image by Jack Brame.

For the 4th time in five years, the Astros have clinched the American League West division title and are set to play the Chicago White Sox in the A.L. Division Series.

Houston went 5-2 against the White Sox this year, and will play them in the playoffs for the first time since the two teams met in the 2005 World Series.

The Astros look to have home-field advantage for the ALDS and need to win one more game to make this a reality.

As many of us start to look ahead to the postseason, let's revisit how the Astros got to this point.

This season has been an adventure to say the least. Over the offseason, the Astros lost their long-time leadoff hitter George Springer to the Toronto Blue Jays, and saw their ace pitcher Justin Verlander get Tommy John surgery in 2020. Replacing these two would be no easy task, but the Astros were able to become one of the best teams in the American League.

The club did not have any outright replacements for the aforementioned duo, but they were able to stay competitive with some players having career years, and others stepping up their game.

As usual, the Astros were led by a powerhouse offense this year. When healthy, the "Magnificent Seven" consisted of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel, Kyle Tucker and Carlos Correa.

Gurriel and Tucker both had career years at the plate, and the former may receive the American League batting title on Sunday.

Other players such as Atluve, Correa and Brantley had consistent seasons at the plate, and Alvarez has been one of the best designated hitters in baseball.

Alex Bregman missed nearly half of the year with a quad injury, but since his return to the lineup, he is hitting .282 at the plate and is providing great offense at the top of the batting order.

This season, the Astros are second in baseball in runs scored per game, while also having the game's lowest team strikeout rate.

This offense could compete with anyone in the playoffs.

Houston also has a top-five pitching staff by runs allowed per game and team ERA.

Lance McCullers Jr. had his best season on the mound and could receive some last minute Cy-Young votes after his tremendous August and September. Barring something unforeseen, McCullers will be the Astros Game 1 starter on Thursday against the White Sox.

The Game 2 starter would most likely be Framber Valdez. He has an 11-5 record with a 2.98 ERA. The remaining two spots could be up in the air between the remaining four Astros' pitchers.

Luis Garcia is firmly in the Rookie of the Year mix after starting the season as a spot starter. The 24-year-old earned his way into the starting rotation and never left. He will be a great addition to the Astros' playoff rotation and would be a great pitcher to start Game 3.

The final spot could go to Zack Greinke, Jose Urquidy or Jake Odorizzi. Greinke has struggled as of late, but could be a back to his old self in time for the postseason. Urquidy and Odorizzi could come out of the bullpen for the postseason as insurance. It's never a bad thing to have too much pitching in the postseason.

This Astros team is one of the best in baseball and looks to make another deep run in the 2021 postseason.

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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