A Houston – Tampa Bay series is less enticing than a Houston – New York duel would have been. But the Rays fully deserve their presence in the American League Championship final.
The Tampa Bay – New York series was shaping up to be the tightest of the four quarter-finals, and that's what happened. It is the only one to have reached the limit of five meetings, decided at the end of the eighth round of the ultimate match.
New York camp starter Gerrit Cole was one of the best pitchers in the last 25 years in the playoffs. He continued that dominance on Friday night, allowing just one point - a solo homer to Austin Meadows - but it wasn't enough. The Rays' pitching quartet - none of the four pitched for more than two and two-thirds innings - limited the Yankees to a solo homerun from Aaron Judge in the fourth. Then Mike Brosseau also came out against ace Aroldis Chapman, leading the Rays to their first American championship series in 12 years. Three points on three solo circuits, therefore.
The American championship series will pit the Rays (40-20) and the Astros (29-31) against each other since the signal theft scandal unveiled at the end of the 2019 season. the, won the World Series in 2017 and lost in the final to the Washington Nationals last year.
So, what to expect from this series?
The Astros, their record shows, have had a difficult season. But they are now 5-1 in the postseason.
PHOTO ASHLEY LANDIS, ARCHIVES ASSOCIATED PRESS
Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros in a duel against the Oakland Athletics on October 8
They benefit among other things from the extraordinary series of the shortstop Carlos Correa, who continued his momentum against Oakland. Correa is the best hitter in the majors right now. Nothing less. In six games, he struck for .500 with 4 homers and 12 RBIs. He also netted 6 walks. Result of the races: a staggering attendance rate on the trails of .615.
Michael Brantley, Jose Altuve, George Springer and Kyle Tucker for their part produced 22 points to four. The Rays' excellent pitching staff will have their hands full.
After a difficult season, therefore, Houston reached its cruising speed at a key moment.
But the Rays have enough to muzzle Texas hitters. They signed the American's second earned-run average of the season. In the playoffs, they occupy the third place in this chapter - behind two teams eliminated in the first round - and this, although they had to undergo the formidable roster of the Yankees for five games. That says it all.
PHOTO GARY A. VASQUEZ, USA TODAY SPORTS ARCHIVES
Brandon Lowe of the Tampa Bay Rays
A priori, the attack of the Rays is much less destabilizing than that of the Astros. Second baseman Brandon Lowe had had a great campaign, but he's running out of power in the playoffs. On the other hand, Randy Arozarena and Manuel Margot are productive.
Either way, let's not forget that the Rays put on the American's best record during the regular season.
But, at the risk of repeating itself, the Astros have the wind in their sails. And they feel like they're playing against the entire Earth, which, if channeled properly, can prove to be an additional motivator.
The two clubs have not met in the regular season. They met in the divisional series last year, with Houston winning in five games.
The best-of-seven series will be held at Petco Park in San Diego. It starts this Sunday, at 7:37 p.m.
Note that there will be no spectators in the stands in San Diego, unlike the National Championship, which is held in Arlington, Texas. Major League Baseball has not obtained permission to sell tickets from the California authorities.
These series are being played in neutral territory for the first time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
40 days without COVID-19
In this regard, the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball also announced Friday that the league was at its 40 th consecutive day without a positive test for Covid-19, its 48 th in the last 49 days.
During the week, none of the 8,096 samples returned from the lab with a positive result.