Biggest question for each ALDS team ahead of Game 3

October 10th, 2023

The last time the new Globe Life Field in Arlington hosted a postseason game, it was 2020, there were barely any fans in the stands, and the Rangers weren’t even playing. (At least Corey Seager was on the field.) The Rangers finally get to christen their home stadium themselves in the postseason, and, it turns out, they’ve got a trip to their first ALCS since 2011 on the line. But if you think those fans are excited, you should see what’s going to be happening at Target Field. One week ago, the Twins were finally ending their 18-game postseason losing streak, and now here they are, tied 1-1 against the defending champions with one of the best pitchers in baseball on the mound. Just prepare your speakers for the noise that’s going to be coming out of these ballparks on Tuesday, is all we’re saying.

If the Orioles can stave off elimination and force a Game 4 in their series, we will actually have four games on Wednesday, for the last time all season. Either way, though: These two games Tuesday will feel like more than enough.

Here’s a look at the big storylines for each team in the two ALDS games on Tuesday.

Astros at Twins
Series tied, 1-1

4:07 p.m. ET on FOX

Astros: Is this more uncharted territory for the Astros than we even realize?

Much has been written about how the Astros are going for their seventh consecutive ALCS. But here’s a fun fact about the six ALDS they’ve won during that stretch: They were up 2-0 after two games in every single one of them. Last year vs. the Mariners, 2021 vs. the White Sox, 2020 vs. the A’s, 2019 vs. the Rays, 2018 vs. Cleveland, 2017 vs. the Red Sox … 2-0 leads in every single one of them. Well … that’s over. The Astros have lost home-field advantage in this series and are now facing Sonny Gray, one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Here’s another fun fact: A loss in this game, and they’ll be facing elimination in a non-World Series game in non-Covid season for the first time since 2019. (Then-Astros ace Gerrit Cole outdueled Tyler Glasnow in that game!) The Astros have been so good in the postseason for so long that you almost forget they’re just as vulnerable as everybody else in the ALDS, and now they’re going to be in an extremely charged-up Target Field maelstrom. But then again: They’ve got Cristian Javier and his 2.20 career postseason ERA. He, like the rest of his team, has so much experience to lean on. They may need it.

Twins: Can Sonny Gray do what Pablo López just did?

The path for the Twins to win this series -- and really any series this postseason, including the Wild Card Series they just won -- is to win the games their two aces, Pablo López and Sonny Gray, pitch and then try to scrape together one or two wins elsewhere. It’s fair to say López did his part in Game 2. His masterful performance -- seven shutout innings! In a playoff game! In 2023! -- evaporated the vaunted Astros offense, silencing them and letting Carlos Correa take care of the rest.

Now it’s Gray’s turn. Gray was actually the better pitcher of the two during the regular season and was magnificent against the Blue Jays in the Wild Card Series, throwing five shutout innings himself. The Twins have a ton stacked against them in this series, from their own postseason history to the Astros lineup to Justin Verlander to, yeah, those six straight ALCS the Astros have been to. But the Twins have the best pitcher in this game -- maybe the best pitcher in this series and perhaps even the American League. If he does his part, the Twins will be one win away from ending this whole thing.

Orioles at Rangers
Rangers lead 2-0

8:03 p.m. ET, FOX

Orioles: It can’t all end like this … can it?

The postseason is cruel … so, so cruel. The Orioles just completed one of the greatest regular seasons in their history, not just winning 101 games but ending a seven-year postseason drought that had been particularly painful for their dedicated, fiercely loyal fans. (They lost 108 games or more three times in that seven-year span.) Camden Yards was packed to the brim with fans who deserved a joyous experience as much as any in the sport. And then … well, you probably saw it. Game 1 was an exercise in frustration, the offense missing out on one big hit after another; Game 2 felt like it was almost over before it got started. And now they’re facing elimination, a postseason potentially over, seemingly instantly.

The Orioles find themselves at a starting pitching disadvantage, in a stadium with fans who have waited just as long for a playoff game as Baltimore fans had, after two days of rather consistent pain. This season has been a breakthrough, and in many ways is just the start for this franchise and these players. But if they get swept out of this series in three games, it will be incredibly difficult for Orioles fans to remember that.

Rangers: Is the offense really “back”?

In the first half of the season, the Rangers’ offense was a juggernaut, leading the Majors in runs scored. In the second half, it dipped to the middle of the pack, and the bats went completely silent in the final series of the season, when they lost three of four to Seattle, scoring just two total runs in the three losses. That series is what cost them the AL West title and forced them to play the Rays in the Wild Card round rather than grab the No. 2 seed and the bye … but it might just have gotten this offense to find itself again.

The emergence of wunderkind Evan Carter, not to mention the hot streak of Leody Taveras, has sent this offense into the stratosphere: Grayson Rodriguez and a parade of Orioles relievers never knew what hit them in Game 2. This is what these Rangers can do: They can hit for power and work at-bats and put the ball in play, all way from the top of the order to the bottom.

The Orioles might still be shaken from what they went through in Game 2, just as the Rangers are rounding into form. And they’ll get to do it front of a crowd that has been waiting seven years -- and through the construction of a new ballpark -- to see their team in the postseason again. That’s right: The first Rangers postseason game in the their new stadium could be the one that gets them to the ALCS. That’s to say: It’s, uh, gonna be pretty loud.