The Houston Astros are headed back to the World Series for the third time in five years as the club defeated the Boston Red Sox 5-0 Friday night to finish out the American League Championship Series four games to two.
How They Got Here
The Astros have been Major League Baseball"s most hated villain since the scandal broke after the 2019 World Series. Since then, the team has embraced the role. Coming into the 2021 postseason, the Astros had just one thing on their mind, winning.
When the Astros lost game seven of last season"s ALCS to the Tampa Bay Rays, the club knew what they had to do in the offseason to get better. Knowing that fans would be back in the stands in 2021, the Astros players knew that they would not have it easy on the road. Still, with their leader Carlos Correa guiding them, they were able to embrace the noise. With that acceptance, the Astros were able to win the American League West with relative ease, securing their spot in the postseason for the fifth straight season.
Up first to face the Astros were the Chicago White Sox. A young team with postseason aspirations, the White Sox made a critical mistake after game three of the American League Division Series. White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera commented that something might be going on after the Astros won the first two games convincingly; all he did was “Poke the bear." The Astros would go on to win game four and the series.
With the ALDS secured, the Astros were set to face the Boston Red Sox in a rematch of the 2018 ALCS. The Astros were determined not to lose again. With two teams that knew how to score runs, this was set up to be a high-scoring matchup. What we did not realize is how critical starting pitching would be for the Astros.
The Astros were already down a starting pitcher with Lance McCullers Jr out for the foreseeable future with arm soreness. How Dusty Baker managed his bullpen and his rotation would be essential to give Houston any chance of winning this series. With each of the Astros starters barely lasting two or more innings through the first three games of the series, the bullpen was almost certainly going to be taxed. And with the Red Sox taking a two to one lead in the series, the momentum shifted towards the Red Sox entering game four.
Game four is when the series shifted for the Astros in their favor. With starter Zack Greinke unable to make it out of the second inning, Baker turned to Cristian Javier to give him some quality innings, and Javier delivered. Managing to throw three scoreless innings, Javier was able to keep the Red Sox at bay, which allowed the Astros offense to find its rhythm. With some late inning heroics from Jason Castro, the Astros were to tie the series at 2-2, and any momentum the Red Sox had was gone.
After a disappointing outing from game one and two starters Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia, the rotation reset with Valdez and Garcia going in games five and six. Both starting pitchers took no-hitters into the middle innings, which kept the Astros in the ball games. Valdez would go deep into game five, pitching into the eighth inning, which gave the bullpen a much-needed rest. In-game six, Garcia was back on track and was dialed in in-game six after leaving game two in the second inning with an apparent knee injury. Going 5.2 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts. Whatever adjustments were made, they worked because both starters pitched gems that would help the Astros secure their third World Series appearance in five years.
The Astros may not be the team that fans want in the World Series, but whether they like it or not, the Astros are one of the best teams in baseball. They are a veteran group of guys that have been in the position before. They know how to win and seem to turn it on at the right time, just like we saw against the Red Sox. Made no mistake, whether they play the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Atlanta Braves, it will be a fun series to watch.
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