Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Astros fall to Tampa Bay in (mostly meaningless) ALCS

The Astros made it to the American League Championship Series for the fourth year in a row, but could not punch their ticket to another World Series:

The Rays bullpen got a big strikeout of Alex Bregman to strand the potential tying run on base in the eighth inning as Tampa Bay held on to beat the Astros 4-2 in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday at San Diego’s Petco Park.

The Rays advance to their second World Series in franchise history, while the Astros will spend the offseason thinking how close they were to becoming just the second Major League Baseball team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit. The 2004 Red Sox, who won the World Series, are the only team to do it.

I can't say I'm too crushed about this. The COVID-shortened 2020 MLB season, with its lack of fans and its gimmicky expanded playoff (that allowed the Astros to participate even with a losing record), is going to have such a huge asterisk next to it that few baseball fans are going to recognize its champion as truly legitimate.

That being said, the team's performance gave Astros faithful much to be happy and hopeful about, especially coming off the devastating fallout of the sign-stealing scandal that cost the squad its manager and GM (who still maintains his innocence) and made them the pariahs of the baseball world. The Astros were plagued by injuries to key players throughout the 60-game regular season - starting pitcher Justin Verlander, closing pitcher Roberto Osuna, and AL Rookie of the Year Yordan Álvarez were among the casualties - and limped into the playoffs with a losing record. 

From there, however, the Astros reverted to their dominant form, knocking off the second- and third-seeded teams in the AL to get to the ALCS, and pushed the top-seeded Rays to a game 7 after falling behind 0-3 (which happened for only the second time in history). You could all but hear the millions of Astros-haters around the country grind their teeth in fury as they watched them almost pull it off.

This was a rare instance of a Houston sports team overachieving, and it bodes well for a 2021 season which will hopefully be more normal for players and fans alike. 

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