Starting Thursday, the Astros meet the White Sox in a best out of five ALDS
with the first two games in Minute Maid Park. So, what do you need to know…
Playoff History. The only previous postseason meeting of
the two teams was historical and painful for the Astros. They met in 2005 in
the first World Series appearance for the Astros since their inception in 1962.
This was the first appearance for the Sox since 1959, and they had not won a
World Series since 1917. The dear Commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, did not
allow the Astros to close their roof for the series which took away a
psychological advantage from the team. The series was a tortuous four-game
sweep for the White Sox included two one-run losses (including a
walk-off and a 1-0 loss) and two – two-run losses (including a 14 inning heart
Recent History. In June, the Astros swept four games
from the White Sox at Minute Maid – outscoring the Pale Hose 27-8. That series
brought the Astros from second place to a first-place tie in the division. They
took over the first place the next day and never trailed the rest of the season. In
mid-July, the Astros visited Chicago, took the first game behind Lance
McCullers and then booted the next two.
General View. Even though the White Sox ended up at 93-69,
two games behind the Astros, they pretty much coasted to their division title.
They ended up 13 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central where
Chicago was the only team that ended up above .500. The Astros had to sweat out
a late-season charge by the Seattle Mariners but hung on with a final 5 game
lead in the West.
Health. The Astros, as far as their active roster goes, are
as healthy as they’ve been all season. Folks like Pedro Baez and Rafael Montero
won’t be around for the playoffs (nor Justin Verlander). Jose Siri‘s last-minute pinkie injury and his ongoing on-field problems probably have moved him
out of any consideration for the early playoffs. The other part to this is the
walking wounded. Zack Greinke came off of the IL and was not good before or
after the IL. Alex Bregman looks like a 2020 repeat when he was trying to
play through an injury and failed. Michael Brantley has not hit
like Michael Brantley in two months, and one has to wonder how damaged he is.
The White Sox may be in even better shape as they have Eloy Jimenez, Luis
Robert, Yasmani Grandal and Tim Anderson all back who missed time over the year, including some of the matchups with the Astros. Their biggest concern is the
health of Carlos Rodon, who has pitched but not a lot of very deep down the
stretch. Slugger Jose Abreu missed the last game of the season with a non-COVID
injury but is not expected to miss time. The Sox are a very good and very
healthy team heading into the postseason.
Managers. Tony LaRussa, who turned 77 on Monday, is on his
second shift with the White Sox in his 36th season as a manager as he was a
surprising hire for the dugout after nin years away from the field. He has led
his teams to six World Series, winning three of them, two with the Cardinals
and one with the A’s. That spry 72-year-old youngster, Dusty Baker, has led five
different teams to division titles in his 24 seasons as a major league manager,
the Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nats and Astros. However, only one of his teams reached
the World Series, the 2002 Giants, and they lost. This may be the oldest
managerial matchup in playoff history.
Perhaps it is right to have the septuagenarians duke it out in someday games…..
Hitting. The Astros, with such hitters as Kyle Tucker,
Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and
Michael Brantley are the top offense in the majors. They lead in runs/game
(5.33), BA (.267), OBP (.339) and are second in OPS (.783), right behind the
Blue Jays. The White Sox are a step behind with a top 5 offense in the AL with
4.91 runs/game, .256 BA, .336 OBP and .758 OPS. Having Robert, Grandal, Jimenez
and Anderson back and healthy along with Abreu gives the White Sox a very good
lineup, but on paper, not as good as the Astros. Of course, this may come down
to pitching as much as offense.
Starting Pitching. The White Sox and Astros are nose to
nose on starting pitching, with the Sox having a very slight advantage. A White
Sox 4 man playoff rotation would likely be Rodon, Lance Lynn, Dylan Cease and
Lucas Giolito with former Astro Dallas Keuchel and his 5+ ERA missing out. The
Astros rotation is a little tougher to figure, but a good guess is that it
would be Lance McCullers, Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, and JoseZackJake
Urgreinkizzi. Expect the Astros to fall back on their habit of tandeming
pitchers in some games in the playoffs.
Relief Pitching. The White Sox bullpen also has a slight
advantage over the Astros in ERA and a more considerable advantage in saves. The Astros
lean on closer Ryan Pressly and setup man Kendall Graveman, neither of whom
come into the postseason on an upward arc. Ryan Stanek and, surprisingly, the two
lefties Blake Taylor and Brooks Raley, go into the postseason on a roll. The
unknown here is who will drop down from the starting rotation for the Astros and
how they will warm up to that role. The Sox bullpen is led by a familiar face
in former A’s closer Liam Hendriks backed up by former Red Sox closer Craig
Kimbrel, who has not pitched well this season. Behind them is a quartet of
solid arms in Garrett Crochet, Aaron Bummer, Jose Ruiz and Michael Kopech. Will
Dallas Keuchel be an X-factor down there?
Prediction. Astros in 5. Two things – never get involved
in a land war in Asia. Second, don’t bet against this modern version of the
Astros in a first-round playoff series.