How is this for a little fun in the upcoming American League Division Series? Two teams from the same division who have had a little bad blood between them will meet one more time in California, with one team having dominated the other in the regular season.
Yes, we’re talking about the Rays and Yankees. And yes, we’re also talking about the Astros and A’s, who punched their ticket to the ALDS with a Game 3 win over the White Sox in the AL Wild Card Series at the Coliseum on Thursday. Game 1 of the best-of-five series between Houston and Oakland will be Monday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
The A’s unseated the Astros as the AL West champs this season after Houston had won the previous three titles, as the Astros went 35-22 against the A's from 2017-19. Oakland turned the tables this year, winning seven of 10 against Houston to take the division by seven games.
Now, it’s the Astros, who swept the Twins in the AL Wild Card Series after entering the playoffs with a 29-31 record, who will try to put their regular-season struggles behind them to advance to the AL Championship Series for the fourth straight year. The A’s are looking for their first trip to the ALCS since 2006, which was also the last time they had won a postseason series prior to Thursday.
“Obviously, as a vindictive kind of thing, we want to take out the Astros,” A’s closer Liam Hendriks said. “But I don’t care who we play, as long as we beat them.”
• Heated Astros-A's rivalry hits October
Who will be the 'home' team?
By virtue of having higher playoff seeding, the A’s will bat last in Games 1 and 2. The Astros will do so in Game 3 and, if necessary, a potential Game 4. Should the series advance to Game 5, Oakland would be considered the home team for that winner-take-all contest.
Astros: Michael Brantley was the designated hitter in the Astros' sweep of the Twins in the AL Wild Card Series, but in the opener against the A's, he's in the lineup as the left fielder, with Josh Reddick starting at DH. Carlos Correa moves up one spot in the lineup, ahead of first baseman Yuli Gurriel.
1) George Springer, CF
2) Jose Altuve, 2B
3) Michael Brantley, LF
4) Alex Bregman, 3B
5) Kyle Tucker, RF
6) Carlos Correa, SS
7) Yuli Gurriel, 1B
8) Josh Reddick, DH
9) Martín Maldonado, C
A’s: Even with the Astros naming right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. as their Game 1 starter, the A’s went with the same lineup from their Game 3 clincher against the White Sox.
1) Tommy La Stella, 2B
2) Marcus Semien, SS
3) Jake Lamb, 3B
4) Mark Canha, RF
5) Matt Olson, 1B
6) Khris Davis, DH
7) Robbie Grossman, LF
8) Ramón Laureano, CF
9) Sean Murphy, C
Who are the starting pitchers?
Astros: McCullers will make his third career start at Dodger Stadium on Monday, and the first two were quite memorable. He started Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, hitting four batters and allowing three hits in 2 1/3 scoreless innings, while also driving in a run. The Astros won, 5-1, to win the World Series.
The next season, McCullers threw four scoreless innings at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 4, 2018, and injured his right elbow, which eventually led to Tommy John surgery. Monday will mark his first playoff start since his Game 7 outing in the Fall Classic three years ago. McCullers pitched in relief in the 2018 postseason and missed all of last season.
In his final three starts of the 2020 regular season, McCullers didn't allow an earned run, walked four and gave up seven hits while striking out 24 in 17 2/3 innings. Alas, the Astros didn’t score a run while he was on the mound during that stretch. He hasn’t pitched since Sept. 26 against the Rangers.
A’s: Chris Bassitt has been Oakland’s top starter and will go in Game 1. Having pitched in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card Series on Wednesday -- a dominant performance of seven-plus innings with one run allowed -- Bassitt is on regular rest.
Bassitt was spectacular in the regular season, posting a 2.29 ERA that ranked third best among AL starters. In three starts against Houston this season, the right-hander went 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA and nine strikeouts over 17 innings.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Astros: With no breaks in between games in the ALDS, bullpen usage will be important, especially considering the Astros haven’t blown out many teams this year. Houston was 14-19 in games decided by two or fewer runs in the regular season and tied for the Major League lead in blown saves.
In sweeping the Twins in the Wild Card Series, Baker got huge efforts from starting pitchers in relief in both games -- Valdez threw five scoreless innings in Game 1 and Javier threw three scoreless frames in Game 2. Baker won’t have that luxury in the ALDS because Valdez and Javier will be needed to start games.
That means relief pitchers Enoli Paredes, Andre Scrubb, Brooks Raley, Blake Taylor, Cy Sneed and Josh James will be called upon to get some important outs, with Ryan Pressly at closer. Because there were so many injuries in the bullpen, no pitchers settled into roles beyond Pressly taking over for the injured Roberto Osuna at closer.
A’s: The A’s will rely heavily on a bullpen that led the Majors with a 2.72 ERA in the regular season. Ideally, Oakland gets five or six quality innings from Bassitt before setting the bridge to closer Hendriks. Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, J.B. Wendelken and Jake Diekman are all relievers who have performed well in high-leverage roles this season.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Astros: No. The Astros will have had four days off between series, so everyone will be rested. Houston used three relief pitchers in the two games against the Twins, two of whom were starters throwing in relief, so all but 1 2/3 innings in the series were covered by pitchers who are typically starters. The Astros' bullpen is in great shape.
A’s: No. The A’s will be grateful for the rest in between series after essentially going with a bullpen game in their Game 3 win over the White Sox. Hendriks combined to throw 68 pitches over two days, including a career-high 49 in Game 2.
Any injuries of note?
A’s: Aside from third baseman Matt Chapman, who was lost for the season due to hip surgery in September, the A's remain at full strength.
Who is hot and who is not?
Astros: Correa (3-for-6) had Houston’s only homer in the Wild Card Series. … Tucker (3-for-8) and Brantley (2-for-7) are the only other Astros who had more than one hit in the series vs. the Twins. … Altuve (0-for-7) is looking for his first hit of the 2020 postseason.
A’s: Murphy (3-for-8) flexed his muscles with a two-run homer in Game 3 of the Wild Card Series. ... Olson (0-for-9) is looking for his first hit of the playoffs.
Anything else fans want to know?
Astros: The Astros have won five consecutive playoff games away from Minute Maid Park and seven of their past eight. They won all three games at Washington in the 2019 World Series and swept two games at Target Field to open the '20 postseason. … The Astros played 19 games in California in the regular season, winning only four. That included a two-game split with the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. … Correa’s homer in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series was his 12th career postseason homer, trailing only Springer (15) and Altuve (13) for the most in franchise history. Correa’s 34 RBIs are the most.
A’s: The A’s are making their ninth appearance in the ALDS and their first since 2013 against the Tigers.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.
Martin Gallegos covers the A's for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MartinJGallegos.