THE PALLILOG

Here's how the Astros stack up to the Chicago White Sox

The teams are pretty evenly matched. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Hello October. And almost hello to a fifth consecutive season of Houston Astros' postseason baseball. They struggled most of the last week with the offense lapsing into limp noodle mode, but it's the full season picture that matters and it's a pretty picture as this Golden Age of Astros' baseball now has banked four division titles in five years. The 2021 Astros are clearly not as good as their 2017, 2018, and 2019 predecessors, but that doesn't mean they can't win the World Series that the 2018 and 2019 squads did not. The Astros remain a very good, balanced, and deep squad, which means getting to a third Fall Classic is a definite maybe.

When my column posts next Friday, the Astros will be either up or down a game in their best of five vs. the Chicago White Sox. Over their last 55 games the Astros are just 29-26. Over their last 46 games the White Sox have gone a mere 24-22. Doesn't matter, carrying momentum into the postseason is generally mythology. The Astros won the season series over the White Sox five games to two. That doesn't matter either. A bad team can beat a good one three out of five, so a good team against another good team? No one knows how it will go. Securing homefield advantage should help the Astros' cause. At home this season the Sox are 51-27. On the road, 40-41. All that's needed to get games one, two and (if necessary) five at Minute Maid Park is one Astros win over the A's this weekend, or one White Sox loss to the Tigers.

The teams are pretty evenly matched. The White Sox have given up the fewest runs in the American League this season. The Astros are second. The Astros have the better lineup though the White Sox are plenty potent. In fact the Sox have the top two OPS guys in the series in catcher Yasmani Grandal and center fielder Luis Robert. Both missed big chunks of the season to injury but are healthy now. Since his return August 9 Robert has hit .365 with 11 home runs in 40 games. The 24 year old Cuban has outperformed 24 year old Cuban Yordan Alvarez, no mean feat.

It's a managerial matchup to delight the elderly, with 72 year old Dusty Baker pushing the buttons for the Astros while Chisox skipper Tony La Russa turns 77 on Monday.

The defending champion Tampa Bay Rays are the team to beat in the American League. They really are amazing winning as much as they do, spending nickels and dimes against the dollars of many others. The Rays' full roster payroll is within a million or two of what the Astros are paying this season to just Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, and Michael Brantley. The Rays await the Wild Card game winner, the two participants for which remain up in the air. With three games left, the Yankees lead the Red Sox and Mariners (!) by two games, with the Blue Jays one game back of Boston and Seattle. A four way tie would be fabulous.

Texans head to Buffalo

The Texans play at Buffalo Sunday. That is all.

Just kidding! But around here this matchup doesn't exactly generate breathless anticipation. Or much anticipation whatsoever, with the Houston Lambs likely being led to the slaughter. It's almost hard to believe that just the season before last the Texans beat the Bills in a Wild Card round playoff game. Remember the Houdini-esque play Deshaun Watson made in overtime to set up the winning field goal? Hey, at least the Texans are unlikely to blow a 35-3 lead in Buffalo. Still too soon? I note from time to time that the only way to pull off a gigantic upset is to be a gigantic underdog. The Texans have that going for them Sunday with the Bills favored by 17 or 17 and a half points, a whoppingly large number for an NFL game.

Buffalo is a bonafide Super Bowl contender. The AFC runner-up last season after a 13-3 regular season, the Bills should win in the 13 neighborhood again. Quarterback Josh Allen made a massive leap in 2020, hiking his completion percentage a full 10 points from 59 to 69. An expansion team that could poach any QB in the league certainly would take Patrick Mahomes first. Allen might be the second choice.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Five unbeatens left in the NFL. The 3-0 Cardinals are at the 3-0 Rams Sunday. If wondering (or not), J.J. Watt in three games with the Cards: 0 sacks, 1 quarterback hit, in on six tackles.

2. Quite the story surfacing this week claiming that Bill O'Brien at one point was trying to get himself fired by the Texans so he could position himself as Bill Belichick's successor with the Patriots.

3. Among these three specific Carlos Correa options: Bronze-he retires from baseball to try quarterbacking the Texans Silver-Astros lose the ALCS but Correa resigns for seven years Gold-Astros win the World Series and Correa moves on.

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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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