HOUSTON — A furious run to the finish, capped by a postseason-tied D-back sweep over the weekend in Arizona, allowed the Astros to take a deep breath. Instead of boarding a postgame flight Sunday to Florida for the AL Wild Card Series, the Astros won the American League West and returned home to await their next opponent.
Houston is preparing for Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Saturday against the Blue Jays or Twins, who host the best-of-three Wild Card Series. The first game will be played Tuesday afternoon at Target Field in Minneapolis.
So, who should Astros fans be rooting for? Is it “Bring on the Jays!” Or “We want twins!” In Houston?
Let’s take a closer look:
89-73, third place in the East
Al Seed: 6th seed (3rd Wild Card team)
against. Astros: The Astros went 3-4 against the Blue Jays, won two of three in Houston in April and lost three of four in Toronto in June. Toronto outrebounded Houston 35-22, but the Blue Jays haven’t faced the Astros with Jose Altuve or Michael Brantley since they got ace Justin Verlander back.
the match: The Astros are what the Blue Jays are supposed to be, a star-studded team built for long postseason runs. Toronto has generally underperformed in the playoffs the last few years, but it will be a very dangerous ALDS game for the Astros. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Matt Chapman, and George Springer have not lived up to expectations this year, but they remain impact hitters the Astros will have to work through. Chapman, Bo Bichette and Dolton Varsho hit home runs against Houston this year.
Blue Jays starters Chris Bassett (two earned runs in 14 1/3 innings) and Jose Berrios (four earned runs in 13 innings) each had strong starts against the Astros in 2023, but Houston struck out Kevin Gausman — eight earned runs in 11 2/3 innings. tour, though, as he struck out 18 in two games.
Basic story: Springer is one of the most popular players in Astros history, having won MVP honors in the 2017 World Series for Houston. He has made 19 career playoff appearances — all with the Astros.
87-75 Central champion
Al Seed: 3rd seed (worst record among AL division winners)
against. Astros: The Astros went 2-4 against Minnesota, outscoring 29-25. Houston didn’t have Verlander when it played the Twins, and Altuve and Brantley were hurt when the teams met in early April.
the match: These are two teams with much different postseason resumes. The Twins entered the Wild Card Series having lost 18 straight playoff games, and the Astros have won 56 playoff games since 2015. However, the Twins have a great start and should be able to keep up with Verlander and Valdez, depending on how the Wild Card Series plays out .
The Astros haven’t faced Twins ace Pablo López this year, but Sonny Gray has faced them twice and allowed four earned runs and struck out 16 in 13 innings. The pitchers who will start the first three games of the series for Houston — Verlander, Valdez and Javier — have not faced the Twins this year, which clouds the crystal ball for some. Bregman (7-for-23) and Dupont (6-for-15) batted well against the Twins, but Chase McCormick was 4-for-20, Alvarez was 3-for-20, and Tucker was 2-for-21. Altuve was 1-for-7.
The Twins have power up and down the lineup, but they excel a lot. Astros pitchers rank fourth in the AL in strikeouts, so there are some matchups they can exploit. It’s a predominantly right-handed lineup, so having a right-handed pitching staff in Houston plays to its advantage. Also, will late-season injuries to Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton and Royce Lewis be an issue in October?
Basic story: Like Springer, Correa was a starter on the Astros’ championship team in 2017 and had more than his share of big moments in the postseason for Houston.
The Astros’ best hope is that the Toronto-Minnesota series goes to three games and each team gets deep into their bullpen, but on paper, the Twins would likely be Houston’s best matchup due to the swings and misses of their lineup and the Astros. Ability to match up with starting pitchers. Additionally, ongoing injuries to the Twins’ key players could be an issue. The Astros would be favored to beat either team in the ALDS, though probably not by much. The series against any team should be very competitive.
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