SAN DIEGO (AP) – His manager is Dusty Baker, almost universally hailed as a good guy. But in the eyes of many people, these Astros are still the villains for the signal theft scandal that erupted before this season.
Meanwhile, the Rays are a fun-loving team making the most of a low-key roster that posted the best record in the American League during the shortened coronavirus campaign.
Houston, which slipped into the playoffs with a negative record, meets Tampa Bay in the postseason for the second year in a row starting Sunday night, now in the American League Championship Series and on neutral ground at the Petco Park.
The Astros have arrived at these instances for the fourth consecutive year, and are looking for their third trip to the World Series in that period. The Rays are trying to contest what would be just their second Fall Classic, after losing in 2008 to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The first match will be a left-handed duel. Framber Valdez of Houston will face Blake Snell, winner of the American League Cy Young Award in 2018.
The Astros have a 5-1 record in these playoffs, which contrasts with 29-31 in the regular season. In the divisional series, they eliminated Oakland, the AL West champion, in four games.
“Our team understands that the playoffs are a new beginning,” said George Springer, the MVP of the 2017 World Series.
The Rays had to play a maximum of five games in the Division Series against the New York Yankees. They advanced by winning 2-1 on Friday with a Mike Brosseau home run off Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning.
Tampa Bay lost to the Astros in five games in the previous year’s division series.
Then Houston lost Gerritt Cole, who went to the Yankees as a free agent, and Justin Verlander, who underwent surgery on Tommy John.
“We respect how talented they are, but this is the team that we took to a fifth game and we fell a little short,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “That experience probably helped us get to where we are now, and the irony is that we will face them again, now at a maximum of seven games.”