The Astros and Rays are the last two American League teams standing. These three questions will determine which one wins the AL pennant.
It’s time for the American League Championship Series hardly anyone expected. The top-seeded Rays face the No. 7 Astros, the only losing team in MLB history to win a postseason series. But that doesn’t mean Tampa is going to trample all over Houston. Here are three crucial questions for the ALCS, the answers deciding which team goes to the World Series.
Will George Springer and Carlos Correa Stay Hot?
George Springer is one of the best postseason hitters of all time, and he’s proving this October that his success is not dependent on some trash-can banging. Over the first two rounds of the playoffs, he’s hitting .296 with a .556 slugging percentage, and his 17 career postseason homers are second most among active players.
Meanwhile, Carlos Correa has made it clear every single time he opens his mouth that he’s hellbent on proving his haters wrong. Like him or not, the 26-year-old shortstop is backing up his talk this postseason. He’s slashing .500/.615/1.100 with four home runs, and he has a hit in all but one of the Astros’ six playoff games this year.
For as good as these two have been in the postseason, though, the Rays are the rare team that has kept them in check. In last year’s ALDS, which Houston won in five games, Springer batted .143 with no extra-base hits, while Correa hit .158 with one double and no homers. For the Astros to win their third pennant in four years, they’ll need Springer and Correa to do some damage against baseball’s deepest pitching staff.
Can the Astros Silence Randy Arozarena?
For the first five games of the postseason, there wasn’t a better hitter on the planet than Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena—he batted .600 with three homers and 1.886 OPS—before the Yankees finally held him hitless in Game 4 and 5 of the ALDS.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before where a guy punishes every single mistake,” said Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka after Game 3, when Arozarena went 3-for-4 with a home run. “We can’t get away with anything against him right now.”
Those mistakes were thrown by the likes of veterans Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka, among others. What happens against Houston’s eight rookie relievers? Because it’s so difficult to score against the Rays’ pitching staff, any mistakes Astros pitchers make could have major consequences on the series, especially mistakes to Arozarena.
Can the Rays Score More Than Three Runs in a Game?
So how good is that Tampa pitching staff? The Rays are 35-7 in games when they score four or more runs, with three of those wins coming in the playoffs. That’s great, except they’ve been held to three or fewer runs in four of the seven postseason games they’ve played so far this year. The Astros have surrendered at least five runs in three of their six playoff games.
Whether the Rays can consistently score at least three runs in a game is uncertain. A much safer bet is that if they do, they most likely will win their second pennant in franchise history and first since 2008.