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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Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies have plenty of work to do this offseason. Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images.

After an underwhelming win against one of the worst teams in the nation last Saturday against UMASS, the Aggies looked like they were poised to head into the final game of the year against LSU unmotivated and shorthanded. With rumors of star recruits rushing to the transfer portal, Jimbo Fisher was fighting an uphill battle to topple the fifth-ranked LSU Tigers. In his first year with the Tigers, head coach Brian Kelly has already gotten his squad to the SEC Championship game. That certainly has got to rub Coach Fisher the wrong way as his best finish in the SEC to this point has been second in 2020. But instead of laying down and dying, the Aggies capped off arguably the most disappointing season in program history on Saturday with a signature win for Jimbo Fisher and his program.

The win over LSU wasn't just some fluke win, that was caused by LSU shooting itself in the foot over and over again. The Aggies were just flat-out the better team on Saturday. They won the turnover battle, time of possession, had more passing and rushing yards and were more effective on third downs. The Ags took playing for the seniors like Demani Richardson, Connor Choate and Max Wright to heart and pulled out an impressive and gutsy win. Unfortunately, that performance left a question on the table, where was this all year? To answer that, I want to go back to the first article I wrote this year and dive into how the Maroon and White faired in what I thought would be the key areas.

The three main areas I was watching closely on this team were quarterback play, how many freshmen contributed and how DJ Durkin, the new defensive coordinator performed with his new schemes. First up, quarterback play. The Aggies saw three different starting quarterbacks in the 2022 season. First, Haynes King, who was benched due to performance and injuries. Then Max Johnson, who was knocked out for the season due to injury and finally, Connor Weigman. Weigman only missed one game due to illness but showed in every start that he is worth those five stars he got as a recruit. The position was overall a disappointment but the future is bright going forward with #15 taking the snaps.

Next up, freshman impact. Of the 30 total true freshman on A&M’s roster 16 of them saw significant playing time in 2022 and 23 of them got on the field at some point during the year. With a team so decimated with injuries, many of them got on the field maybe a little sooner than expected. However, they did not disappoint. Many of them had an instant impact, such as Connor Weigman, Donovan Green, Evan Stewart or Bryce Anderson. Not to mention that defensive line… if Jimbo can keep these guys on campus and keep them out of the transfer portal, this team will be dangerous in 2023.

Finally, the new defensive coordinator DJ Durkin had some big shoes to fill in 2022 with Mike Elko’s departure. His unit struggled at times during the year, mostly against the run. As of this writing, the Aggies rank 124th in the nation in run defense. That's not good. But against the pass, they are up in 1st. So for Durkin in his first year, it was the middle of the road. He was far from the biggest problem with the dismal 5-7 season.

With all that being said the 2022 season is in the books. A&M will not go bowling for the first time since 2008 and Jimbo Fisher will have a lot to work on this offseason to get the ship righted. He has already relieved offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey of his duties in what is expected to be the first of many staff changes. Recruiting will be interesting to follow as well, the Ags are not projected to have a recruiting class anywhere near as impressive as last year. All these factors aside, the Aggies will most likely be a preseason top-10 team in 2023 and believe me, I have already started counting down the days until the Aggies take to Kyle Field to face New Mexico on September 2nd.

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