HOUSTON -- It took longer than they would have hoped, but the Astros finally clinched the American League West title by beating the Rays on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park. The Astros and White Sox are set to clash in the AL Division Series beginning Thursday, with Houston having the home-field advantage.
With the playoffs approaching, let’s answer some frequently asked questions:
What could the ALDS roster look like?
C: Martín Maldonado, Jason Castro
1B: Yuli Gurriel
2B: Jose Altuve
3B: Alex Bregman
SS: Carlos Correa
IF: Aledmys Díaz, Marwin Gonzalez
DH: Yordan Alvarez
LF: Michael Brantley
CF: Jake Meyers
RF: Kyle Tucker
OF: Chas McCormick, Jose Siri
SP: Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, José Urquidy
RP: Ryan Pressly, Kendall Graveman, Ryne Stanek, Phil Maton, Zack Greinke, Yimi García, Brooks Raley, Jake Odorizzi
How have the Astros fared against the White Sox this year?
The teams met seven times, with the Astros winning the first five meetings -- including a four-game sweep in Houston on June 17-20 -- and losing the last two. The Astros outscored the White Sox by 12 (35-23), in seven games in the regular season, batting .230 with seven homers. Houston pitchers posted a 3.25 ERA in 61 innings against Chicago, with quality starts in five games.
Individually, Brantley swung the bat well against the White Sox in the regular season, slashing .320/.370/.720 with two homers and two doubles in 25 at-bats. Yuli Gurriel (.286), Kyle Tucker (.273) and Jose Altuve (.250) were the only other regular players to bat .250 or better against Chicago. On the flip side, Yordan Alvarez hit .231 with 11 strikeouts in 26 at-bats, and Carlos Correa (.190) and Chas McCormick (.158) also struggled. Alex Bregman and Jake Meyers haven’t faced the White Sox this year.
Both McCullers and Valdez made two starts against the White Sox this year. McCullers was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in 13 innings, while Valdez was 1-1 with a 4.05 ERA in 13 1/3 innings. Garcia held them to one run in seven innings and Urquidy allowed two runs in seven innings.
How many years in a row have the Astros been in the playoffs?
This will be the Astros’ fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs, beginning with their 2017 run to a World Series championship. Houston has played in four consecutive AL Championship Series, winning the pennant in ’17 and ’19, losing to the Red Sox in five games in ’18 and to the Rays in seven games in ’20.
When will the playoffs begin?
Game 1 of the ALDS is Thursday in Houston, with Game 2 set for Friday, also at Minute Maid Park. The series will shift to Chicago and pick up with Game 3 on Sunday and Game 4 (if necessary) on Oct. 11. A possible Game 5 would be Oct. 13 in Houston.
Is the rotation set?
No, but Dusty Baker said Sunday that McCullers will probably be his Game 1 starter. Left-hander Valdez will be in the rotation, but will Baker choose to start him in Game 3 so that rookie right-hander Garcia starts at home in Game 2? Garcia has pitched better at home (2.39 ERA) than on the road (4.24 ERA). Right-hander Urquidy appears likely to start as well, with veteran Greinke headed to the bullpen in the postseason. Then there’s Odorizzi, who’s pitched well of late but hasn’t worked deep into games. He might not be on the ALDS roster.
Are there any other postseason roster decisions remaining?
The final bench spot and the final spots in the bullpen are the looming decisions. As far as position players go, it’s likely three players for two spots -- Garrett Stubbs, Gonzalez and Siri, though the outfielder suffered a fractured pinkie Friday diving headfirst into third base. Baker may prefer a third catcher, which will allow him to pinch-hit for a backstop late in the game more easily. Gonzalez has a strong playoff pedigree and can play five positions, but he has struggled mightily against right-handed pitching, so he’d likely be a right-handed-hitting option only off the bench.
If Houston decides to carry two left-handers -- Raley and Taylor -- that probably pushes Odorizzi out of the picture. The White Sox have a right-handed-heavy lineup, which could prompt the Astros to carry only one lefty, opening up a spot for Odorizzi to join Greinke in a long-relief/piggyback starter role. Cristian Javier has great stuff and is in the mix, but his control problems might make him too risky for high-pressure postseason games.
Are there any injury concerns?
The Astros are as healthy as they’ve been all season. Siri’s fractured pinkie will likely sideline him for the ALDS, but the team has yet to say how long he’ll be out.