ALCS PREVIEW

Here's how the Astros stack up with the Rays

Photo by Getty Images.

PROBABLE STARTERS

Sun, Oct. 11 - HOU: Framber Valdez vs. TB: Blake Snell

Mon, Ott. 12 - HOU: Lance McCullers Jr. vs. TB: TBD

REST OF SERIES TBD

STORYLINES

  • Rays Rematch - The Astros defeated the Rays in five games in the ALDS last year. It was a close series, as the home team won each game. Home field advantage is a moot point this year due to the neutral site, but the Astros no longer have Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Yordan Alvarez, Roberto Osuna, and more available to them as they did last year. Conversely, the Rays have seemingly only gotten better on paper.
  • Contrasting Styles - The Rays and Astros operate in two totally different ways offensively. The Astros were dead last in MLB in strikeouts, while the Rays struck out the most. It's Houston's greatest advantage heading into the series. If the power stroke the Astros have had in the postseason travels with them to San Diego, the offense should be able to put pressure on Tampa Bay. The Astros may have the edge offensively, but the Rays certainly have the edge on the mound. The Rays outperformed the Astros in nearly every pitching metric, and the lack of off days highlights the importance of depth, which the Rays have and the Astros don't.
  • Battle of the Scouting Reports - The Houston Astros new General Manager was hired away from the Tampa Bay Rays, where he spent the last 14 years of his life. James Click knows the ins-and-outs of the Rays, and it's certainly an advantage. It'll be important for the Astros front office and Dusty Baker to be on the same page and optimize scouting reports. A bungled decision to use Deivi Garcia as an opener in game two with J.A. Happ as a follower was the difference between the Yankees winning and losing that series. The Rays front office is always prepared, and they'll undoubtedly have some interesting wrinkles to throw Houston's way.


PREDICTION

The Astros will defeat the Rays in six games. No team that strikes out as often as the Rays do will be a legitimate World Series contender. While the Rays pitching staff is better, the Astros staff isn't as far behind as it seems on the surface. The Astros offense will be able to put pressure on the Rays, while the Rays will be hoping for big swings.

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The Astros play Game 1 of the ALDS Tuesday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

With a nod to Charles Dickens, October is the best of times (Astros) and the worst of times (Texans and Rockets) for Houston sports fans. At least this October.

October is the one month when all three of Houston’s major sports teams are guaranteed to be in full swing at the same time. It’s possible, if the Astros make the World Series that November will have all three teams in action, too. But let’s not jinx things.

The Astros start their playoff run Tuesday on TBS. Since the Yankees also play that day, also on TBS, we can assume the Astros will get the daytime slot, the Yankees in prime time. Now before Astros fans start screaming east coast bias, it really only applies to TV. Fun fact: no New York Met has ever won an MVP Award, and only one Yankee has won it in the past 37 years – Alex Rodriguez in 2005 and 2007. How’d that work out for him? Most important, a New York team has won the World Series only once in the past two decades – the Yankees in 2009.

The Astros could play as many as 15 more games in October, five in the Division Series, seven in the League Championship Series and three in the World Series before the calendar flips to November.

Meanwhile, the Texans plod on with three more games in October, and the Rockets have 11.

The winless Texans are at home against the Titans at NRG Stadium, on the road against the Jaguars and Raiders.

The Rockets, coming off the worst record in the NBA last season, have three games at home at Toyota Center and eight on the road.

This presents a problem of abundance, an embarrassment of riches, for Houston sports junkies. Who are you going to watch on TV? Which team will you pay to watch in person? Who are you rooting for the most? Whose jersey will you buy?

David Puddy is right, you “gotta support the team,” but who will own Houston this month?

What to do? If it’s true that nothing succeeds like success, and everybody loves a winner – it’s an obvious choice.

The Astros.

The Astros just completed their regular season with 106 wins, second most in franchise history, another American League West title, the best record in the American League and will have home field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. Even though fans had high hopes for the Astros entering 2022, the team smashed everybody’s expectations. Vegas put the Astros over/under wins at 92 games. The Astros seemingly flew by that number during spring training.

They are the first team in American League history to win 100 games in four of their last five full seasons. Not even Babe Ruth’s Yankees of the 1920s and 1930s did that. This core of Astros has won five of the last six American League West titles. They’ve played in three of the last five World Series. This is a dynasty right before our eyes. We’re witness to greatness. How ‘bout them Astros?

What a season it was. Who could have figured that 39-year-old Justin Verlander, out of action for two seasons after Tommy John surgery, would have a career year, a ridiculously skinny earned run average and the overwhelming pick for the Cy Young Award? Jose Altuve would return to a .300 batting average, Cristian Javier would lead the team in strikeouts, Yordan Alvarez would finish No. 2 between Aaron Judge and Mike Trout in OPS, and rookie Jeremy Pena would slug 22 home runs, the same number as Carlos Correa? Remember last offseason and cries of “pay the man!” Some of a team’s best deals are the ones they don’t make.

Strap yourself in for an October to remember. The storylines are endless. There’s bad blood between the Astros and the Yankees, between the Astros and Dodgers, between the Astros and boo birds in every stadium not named Minute Maid Park.

It’s going to be fun.

As for the Texans, Deshaun Watson returns to action Nov. 4 against the Texans here at NRG Stadium. And we’ll catch up with the Rockets when the NBA season starts for real on Christmas Day. But until then … play ball!

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