After sweeping the Minnesota Twins in a best-of-three Wild Card series and taking down division rival Oakland Athletics in four games of a best-of-five American League Division Series, the Houston Astros advanced to their fourth consecutive American League Championship Series against the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays.
Houston became just the third AL team – and fifth MLB team – to clinch four straight league championship-series appearances, joining the St. Louis Cardinals (2011-14), New York Yankees (1998-2001), Atlanta Braves (1991-99) and A’s (1971-75).
Both of this year’s championship series between the AL’s Rays and Astros and the National League’s Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves marks the first time there’s been an LCS between teams that did not square off in the regular season.
Tampa Bay and Houston had regular seasons on opposite ends of the spectrum which presented the largest difference in winning percentages between teams battling for the American League pennant. The Rays finished an AL-best 40-20 (.667) while the Astros finished with No. 6 seed and the AL’s eighth-best record at 29-31 (.483).
However, because of the expanded playoff bracket in the coronavirus-shortened season, Houston clinched a fourth consecutive playoff berth. Entering play in the ALCS, the Astros had played more postseason games (50) and had more postseason victories (30) than any other MLB team since 2017.
Despite that stretch – and playing in just its second ALCS in franchise history – Tampa Bay raced out to a 2-0 lead in the series by winning Game 1, 2-1, and Game 2, 4-2, to spoil impressive starts from Houston pitchers Framber Valdez (6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 8 K) and Lance McCullers Jr. (7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 11 K).
The Rays’ Game 2 starter opposite McCullers was former Astro Charlie Morton, who teamed up with his counterpart to clinch a win in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series over the Dodgers. McCullers started that game and went 2.1 innings while Morton pitched the final four innings to secure the Commissioner’s Trophy.
Morton got the better of his former teammates in Monday’s Game 2 thanks in part to one of his outfielders, Randy Arozarena, who lifted a three-run home run in the first inning to help Tampa Bay capitalize on the first of two Jose Altuve errors. The round-tripper was Arozarena’s fourth of the postseason to go along with a .429 batting average and five RBI in 35 at-bats. The 25-year-old Cuban played only 19 games with St. Louis last year before being traded to the Rays where he played 23 regular-season games.
Houston shortstop Carlos Correa carried a hot bat into the ALCS, owning a .500 batting average and leading the club with four home runs and 12 RBI to extend his franchise record of postseason RBI to 45. He recorded his fifth homer in Game 2 with a solo shot in the sixth inning but the Astros were unable to convert many opportunities with runners in scoring position and fell behind two games to none.