Second MLB season begins tomorrow when Astros host White Sox
Last updated 10/5/2021 at 6:26pm
It's always great going into the playoffs on a roll. And that's how the Houston Astros will be tomorrow at Minute Maid Park when they play Game One in the best-of-five American League Divisional Series playoffs against the Chicago White Sox.
Home-field advantage was quite a tussle as both teams went into the final week of the regular season battling for that honor, which gives the team with the best won-loss record the privilege of starting the first two playoff games at their home park and the crucial fifth game if it becomes necessary.
Houston finished the season 95-57 by winning the final two games of the season against the Oakland A's while the Chi-Sox ended at 93-59, rallying to beat Detroit 5-4 Saturday after trailing 4-1, but then losing to the Tigers (and former Astros' manager A.J. Hinch) 5-2 to clinch the home field for the Astros.
After being considered the "best hitting team in the major leagues," the Astros sort of swooned during the final month as timely base hits and runs were hard to come by. And their high-dollar bullpen sort of faltered in that final month, too.
Manager Dusty Baker purposely held Yuli Gurriel out of Sunday's starting lineup for fear he might have a bad day at the plate and lose the American league batting title that he had barely held during most of September.
But with the score tied 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth inning with Astros' runners on second and third and the batting title officially Gurriel's. Baker had the 37-year-old first baseman pinch-hit and he nubbed a soft fly ball that fell in left field, driving in the winning run.
The single raised Gurriel's average to .319 as he became only the second hitter in Astro's franchise history to win it along with Jose Altuve and only the second Cuban-born major leaguer to win one, joining Tony Oliva, who won three batting titles with the Minnesota Twins. Gurriel's teammate Michael Brantley was runner-up as his .3113 and barely beat Vladimir Guerrero's .3112.
The White Sox got the best of the Astros in the regular season, posting an impressive 5-2 mark, with four of those wins coming at Minute Maid Park. Chicago also won both games in Houston during the 2005 World Series when the White Sox swept the Astros 4 games to 0.
Houston's ace Justin Verlander wasn't even a factor in the team winning the 2021 AL West Division championship. And the ace-in-his-place Zack Greinke was no factor in the September home stretch. Baker will probably relegate him to bullpen duty for the playoffs. He plans on starting Lance McCullers, Jr. but will not announce his playoff roster until tomorrow.
For a team that dropped into last place in the AL West standings during April, the Astros rebounded nicely and worked their way to the top of the standings, battling the Oakland A's all the way until September, when they faltered. Seattle became the main opponent for the division's top spot then, but never quite reached that pinnacle.
The Astros have made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. They also lead MLB in postseason games played (57) since 2017 and are riding a four-game streak in the American League Championship Series.
Both Baker and White Sox skipper Tony LaRussa are no strangers to the playoff scene. And they will set a record for being the oldest managers to face each other with Baker 73 years old and LaRussa at 76.
The ALDS will be played tomorrow at 3:07 pm and Friday at Minute Maid Park and then moves to the Windy City on Sunday and Monday if necessary and will conclude back in Houston next Wednesday if needed. The playoffs can be viewed on FS1 (400 on Spectrum Cable) or MLB.
Playoff action began last night at Boston where the Red Sox and New York Yankees played a winner-take-all wild card game with the winner playing at Tampa Bay tomorrow in a best-of-five series with the Rays.
The St. Louis Cardinals travel to Los Angeles to meet the Dodgers today in the National League wild card playoff game with the winner going to San Francisco Friday to play their best-of-five series against the Giants, the major league's winningest team with a 107-55 record. The Milwaukee Brewers and the Atlanta Braves start their NLDS series tomorrow at Milwaukee.
KWICKIES...It's too bad Houston Astros catcher Martin Maldonado doesn't handle the bat as well as he handles the team's pitching staff. He finished the 2021 season with a .172 batting average but led the American league by throwing out 19 of 48 runners trying to steal on him this season.
The Texas Longhorns new head coach Steve Sarkisian's 4-1 record so far this season is the best start for a first-year coach at the Austin school since Fred Akers did it. His great start can be attributed his discovering talented sophomore Bijon Robinson, who became the first 'Horn rusher to go over 200 yards rushing in a single game since D'Onta Foreman did it five years ago.
The Little Cypress-Mauriceville Battlin' Bears will find out if they're for real when they travel to Huffman to take on the 5-0 Falcons, who are one of the top teams in the Houston Area high school polls. But the Bears did a yeoman's job shutting out the Jasper Bulldogs 13-0 Friday night on a mushy field. The Bears converted two Jasper turnovers into touchdowns on their first two possessions and then let the grueling defense take over for the rest of the game. It was their first shutout in three years and their first victory over Jasper since 1979.
It looks like the Dallas Cowboys are once again America's Team with their 36-28 victory over undefeated Carolina, which had the best rushing defense in the NFL, while the Houston Texans took a giant leap toward securing the 2022 No. 1 draft choice with their horrendous showing in Buffalo Sunday when they were annihilated 40-0 by the Bills.
The 4-0 Arizona Cardinals have scored more than 31 points in each of the first four games for the second time over the last 40 seasons. Perhaps former Texan great J.J. Watt will get the Super Bowl ring that he left Houston for.
What does 3 hours, 10 minutes and 7 seconds represent??? It's the average time of a 2021 major league baseball game which is an MLB record, despite them trying every trick in the books to shorten the games.
JUST BETWEEN US...Sunday night's nationally televised game between the world champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots in Foxborough, MA. really was a mind battle between Tom Brady and Pats head coach Bill Belichick, which I believe the veteran coach won handily. Tampa Bay was a seven-point favorite but only won 19-17 after a New England field goal attempt clunked off the left pole and kicked to the left. Brady only completed 51 per cent of his passes and was off-target 33 per cent of the time. Belichick's defense had Brady confused many times. Brady was trying to avenge his sudden dismissal by Belichick after 20 years of each making the other look great. The inclement weather made the game a lot less exciting than it should have been.