A capsule look at the best-of-seven playoff series between the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays in San Diego beginning Sunday:
Season Series: Did not meet.
Playoff Entry: second place, AL West.
Playoff Seed: No. 6.
Manager: Dusty Baker (first season).
Projected Rotation: LHP Framber Valdez (5-3, 3.57 ERA, 76 Ks), RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 3.93, 56 Ks), RHP Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.73, 17 Ks), RHP Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03, 67 Ks), RHP Cristian Javier (5-2, 3.48, 54 Ks).
Top Hitters: DH Michael Brantley (.300, 5 HRs, 22 RBIs, 15 doubles), CF George Springer (.265, 14, 32), LF Kyle Tucker (.268, 9, 42).
Top Relievers: RHP Ryan Pressly (1-3, 3.43 ERA, 12 saves), RHP Enoli Paredes (3-3, 3.05), LHP Blake Taylor (2-1, 2.18, 1 save), LHP Brooks Raley (0-1, 3.94, 1 save).
Series Summary: Last year’s American League champions limped into the playoffs as the only AL team to make it with a losing record after dropping three straight and four of their final five regular-season games. But then the Astros quickly rediscovered their post-season prowess. They went 5-1 against two division champions, the Twins and rival Athletics, to reach their fourth straight ALCS. Scorned by opposing teams and fans, Houston is seeking a second World Series title after its 2017 championship was tarnished last off-season by the revelation of an illegal sign-stealing scheme. ... Following a subpar regular season, star shortstop Carlos Correa is having a huge post-season , batting .500 with four homers, 12 RBIs and a 1.715 OPS. All-Star sluggers José Altuve and Alex Bregman have also started hitting after down years during the coronavirus-shortened schedule. Houston batted .322 with 12 home runs in the ALDS against Oakland. ... With ace Justin Verlander out following Tommy John surgery and an aging Greinke labouring through arm soreness, a young and unproven pitching staff has delivered in the playoffs behind Valdez, Javier and Paredes. ... Houston was 9-23 on the road during the regular season, the third-worst record in the majors. ... The 71-year-old Baker became the first skipper to lead five different franchises to the playoffs, but is still chasing his first World Series title as a manager. ... Houston topped the wild-card Rays 3-2 in their best-of-five ALDS last year. Gerrit Cole, now on the Yankees, won two games for the Astros, and Verlander won one.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Playoff Entry: AL East champions.
Playoff Seed: No. 1.
Manager: Kevin Cash (sixth season).
Projected Rotation: LHP Blake Snell (4-2, 3.24 ERA, 63 Ks in 50 IP), RHP Charlie Morton (2-2, 4.74, 42 Ks in 38 IP), RHP Tyler Glasnow (5-1, 4.08, 91 Ks in 57 1/3 IP).
Top Hitters: 2B Brandon Lowe (.269, 14 HRs, 37 RBIs, 36 runs, .916 OPS), SS Willy Adames (.259, 8, 23, .813 OPS).
Top Relievers: RHP Nick Anderson (2-1, 0.55 ERA, 6 saves), RHP Diego Castillo (3-0, 1.66, 4 saves), RHP Pete Fairbanks (6-3, 2.70).
Series Summary: The Rays are AL East champions for the first time since 2010, third time overall. They won nine of their final 11 regular-season games, finishing 20 games over .500 and completing the best 60-game start to a season in franchise history. It also matched the best 60-game stretch the club has had at any point in a season. ... Tampa Bay then swept two games from wild-card Toronto in the first round of the playoffs and edged the rival Yankees 2-1 in the deciding Game 5 of their Division Series on Mike Brosseau's revenge-tinged homer off hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning. The only other time the Rays reached the AL Championship Series was 2008, when they beat Boston in seven games before losing to Philadelphia in the World Series. ... The thrifty and innovative Rays had a $29 million payroll during this virus-shortened season, 28th out of the 30 big league teams. They led the AL with 20 comeback wins. ... All-Star OF Austin Meadows returned against the Yankees from a left oblique strain and homered in Game 5. ... Tampa Bay thrived this season despite injuries that forced Cash to juggle his rotation and tinker with bullpen roles. The team had 12 pitchers earn at least one save, matching the major league record set by the 1973 Rangers. Fairbanks became the 13th in the playoffs when he saved the opener against the Blue Jays. Next, the hard-throwing staff will be challenged with holding down a dangerous and powerful Houston lineup that went on a tear against Oakland. ... Snell had a loss and a save in last year's ALDS vs. Houston. Glasnow went 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in two starts, lasting only 2 2/3 innings in the decisive Game 5 at Houston and saying afterward he was tipping pitches as the Astros scored four runs in the first. ... Morton spent 2017-18 with the Astros and won Game 7 of the 2017 World Series for them on the road against the Dodgers. With the Rays, he beat Greinke in Game 3 of last year's ALDS.
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The Associated Press