The Houston Astros and Texas Rangers will make a quirky bit of history beginning tomorrow night when they become the first American League West teams ever to oppose one another in the AL Championship Series.
The Lone Star State matchup will also serve as a potluck supper for the storylines that have dominated the first two rounds of the Major League Baseball playoffs.
Does getting a bye hurt a team? (Not as far as the Astros, the lone remaining division winner, are concerned.) Do wild card round winners generate momentum for the next round? (Absolutely, say the Rangers, who have yet to lose a playoff game.)
Does playing meaningful games down the stretch help a team once the playoffs begin? (Sure do, just look at who’s left after a September in which the top three AL West teams — sorry, Seattle — were never separated by more than four games.)
The familiar foes with converging narratives also finished the season with the same record (90-72). The Astros won the AL West by virtue of a 9-4 season series win over the Rangers.
This is just the third LCS or World Series in the wild card era pitting two teams with an identical regular-season record. The 2007 ALCS between Boston and Cleveland went seven games and the 2013 World Series between Boston and St. Louis lasted six games, offering some hope the Astros and Rangers can provide the compelling and lengthy series this month has lacked thus far.
American League Championship Series Odds
All MLB betting odds used for these ALCS predictions are current as of Saturday, Oct. 14, and courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.
Houston Astros vs Texas Rangers
Astros (-140) | Rangers (+120)
(2) Houston Astros vs (5) Texas Rangers
One more divergent storyline to digest: Does a postseason-tested team have the advantage in the later rounds, or does the edge go to the team that’s never been there and is thus less likely to feel the pressure?
Few teams have ever been here before quite like the Astros, who are making their seventh straight LCS appearance — a stretch that includes one cheating scandal, two championships, two managers, three general managers, and the navigation of a global pandemic.
Given all those elements, the Astros’ run is arguably the second-most impressive of the expansion era behind the Yankees winning four championships from 1996 through 2000.
The Astros looked vulnerable during their least successful 162-game regular season of this run before once again performing like a remorseless and finely-tuned winning machine in a four-game ALDS against the Twins.
Holdover Yordan Alvarez and veteran import José Abreu combined for seven homers and 14 RBI, and Houston’s other home runs were hit by Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, and Alex Bregman, who have all won at least one ring with the team.
Justin Verlander and Cristian Javier combined for 11 scoreless innings in their victories, and the bullpen gave up six runs in 15 innings — including four runs in two-thirds of an inning by Hector Neris, the first reliever in Game 1.
- Check out our NLCS predictions.
With their seemingly ace-less rotation and a bullpen filled with flammable parts, the Rangers appeared to be a candidate for a short stint on the October stage. But Texas trailed at the end of just one inning during sweeps of the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles.
It helps to hit .282 with a well-distributed seven homers — Adolis García is the only player with two round-trippers — but Jordan Montgomery and Nathan Eovaldi, the likely Game 1 and 2 starters in the ALCS, were a combined 3-0 with a 2.19 ERA in their first four starts.
Max Scherzer, sidelined since Sept. 12 with a shoulder injury, is expected to make it back for a Game 4 start, though he’s a true wild card given his health issues and struggles in big spots the last two seasons.
The success of the Rangers’ starters has minimized the need for manager Bruce Bochy to rely on anyone in the bullpen not named closer José Leclerc or long reliever Dane Dunning. But a potentially lengthy series against the Astros will likely stretch a bullpen that’s issued eight walks in 16 2/3 innings.
This series has the makings of a classic, but it’s hard to bet against the team that’s been here over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Astros vs Rangers Pick: Astros in 7 Games
ALCS Best Bet
Alex Bregman: ALCS MVP (+1200)
He’s not Bryce Harper staring down people who have uttered innocuous trash talk about him, but Bregman has a long memory. He wears No. 2 because he was selected second, not first, in the 2015 draft, and toasted everyone who wondered how the Astros would react to not winning the AL West upon beginning the AL West-winning celebration Oct. 1.
Bregman has hit just .235 in the playoffs, including .192 with nine homers and 28 RBI in the LCS and beyond. He’s due for a big outing in a bigger series.
And for a lower-profile player on a Hall of Fame track, he provides value at this price that’s lacking for the better-known Yordan Alvarez (+600), Corey Seager (+700), and Jose Altuve (+850).
Sunday, Oct. 15
Game 1: Rangers @ Astros — 8:15 p.m. ET
Monday, Oct. 16
Game 2: Rangers @ Astros — 4:37 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Oct. 18
Game 3: Astros @ Rangers — 8:03 p.m. ET
Thursday, Oct. 19
Game 4: Astros @ Rangers — 8:03 p.m. ET
Friday, Oct. 20
Game 5: Astros @ Rangers —5:07 p.m. ET***
Sunday, Oct. 22
Game 6: Rangers @ Astros — 8:07 p.m. ET***
Monday, Oct. 23
Game 7: Rangers @ Astros — 8:07 p.m. ET***