For the second time in franchise history, Tampa Bay advanced to the World Series, overcoming a major scare from Houston to win the ALCS in seven games after winning 4-2 on Saturday.
After the Rays claimed the first three games of the series, Houston came right back with three straight wins, including two one-run wins. However, former Astros starter Charlie Morton and the hot-hitting Randy Arozarena and Mike Zunino proved too much for Houston. Arozarena launched his fourth homer of the series in the first inning, while Zunino hit his second home run of the series and fourth of the playoffs.
Morton had his best stuff, dominating his former team for the second time in the series. He threw five scoreless innings in Game 2 and was even better on Saturday, with 5.2 scoreless innings, allowing only two hits, one walk, and striking out six. Houston was able to chip away at the Rays four-run lead in the eighth inning with two runs off Nick Anderson, but it wasn’t nearly enough with the hard-throwing Peter Fairbanks shutting the door in the ninth inning.
The Rays will face the winner of the NLCS, which is scheduled to conclude tonight in Game 7 between the Dodgers and Braves. That means Tampa Bay will get an extra day to rest their heavily worked bullpen with the World Series beginning Tuesday at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
Tampa Bay has continued to win in the playoffs with the recipe that led them to a 40-20 record during the regular season, with a deep lineup of well-rounded contributors, a strong top three in their starting rotation, brilliant defense, and an excellent bullpen. They also now have the apparent star power of Arozarena, who had a 1.022 OPS in 23 games during the regular season and has been even better in the postseason. At least on paper, the Rays look like a tough out for the winner of the NLCS.
No one will have sympathy for the Astros, but it was remarkable that they were able to extend the series to seven games after trailing 3-0. Houston entered spring training as a villain after the sign-stealing scandal, and manager Dusty Baker was hired late in the offseason. They faced more scrutiny with the early-season injuries to Justin Verlander and Roberto Osuna, yet the team was able to win two playoff series and nearly become the second team ever to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best of seven.
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Dodgers Survive, Force Game 7 vs. Braves
The Dodgers-Braves series has featured some unique storylines for LA. From the Dodgers record-breaking 11-run barrage in the first inning of Game 3, to Walker Buehler’s pants, to the struggling Dodgers bullpen. In some small way, all three of those factors were in the picture as the Dodgers won 3-1 on Saturday and extended the series to a decisive seventh game.
The Dodgers broke out of the gate again with another great first inning, scoring three runs with the help of home runs from the red hot Corey Seager, as well as Justin Turner. For Seager, it was his fifth home run in the series following a terrific regular season in which he launched 15 home runs in 52 games.
As has often been the case during his brief career, Buehler had a great playoff start for the Dodgers. He threw six scoreless innings, allowing seven hits and fanning six Braves. Buehler touched triple-digits on the radar gun multiple times, and was able to work out of trouble in a bases loaded, no out situation in the second inning. Buehler had his fourth consecutive strong start of this year’s playoffs and arguably his best playoff outing since his brilliant showing in the 2018 World Series vs. Boston.
Then came the Dodgers bullpen. It’s been a struggle for LA’s pen during the series, with huge slip-ups in Game 1 (four runs allowed in the ninth inning), Game 2 (three runs allowed), and Game 4 (six runs allowed). After Blake Treinen allowed a run in the seventh inning, there had to be instant fear from Dodgers faithful that the pen would fail again. However, Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen cruised through the final two innings unscathed.
The teams enter Game 7 on Sunday night in what has been a wild series, with the winner getting a World Series invite against the Rays. The likely starters in the rubber match will be Braves rookie Ian Anderson, who threw four scoreless innings in Game 2, and Tony Gonsolin for the Dodgers. Gonsolin is hoping to rebound from a poor outing in Game 2 when he allowed five runs in 4.1 innings.
Quick Hits: Dave Roberts said that Clayton Kershaw could be available out of the bullpen for Game 7… Chris Taylor was on the bench in Game 6 for the Dodgers due to a right ankle injury… Tigers VP of Player Development Dave Littlefield told the Detroit Free Press that he’s still confident in former top pitching prospect Franklin Perez. The right-hander missed significant time in the last two years with injuries, but was able to stay healthy this season and could contribute in 2021… Reliever Jesse Biddle became a free agent after he was outrighted by the Reds.