For the first time in history, the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays will take each other on in the American League Championship Series with the winner heading to the World Series. This is the Astros' fourth straight trip to the ALCS while the Rays haven't been there since 2008. That 2008 season marks the Rays only pennant in club history. The Astros have taken the AL flag two of the last three seasons and are looking to go three for four.
Given that the season was played in regions, we know these two teams haven't faced each other this season. The last time they played, the Astros eliminated the Rays, 6-1, in Game 5 of the 2019 ALDS.
This time around, the Rays are the big boy, at least on paper. They were 40-20 in the regular season with a +60 run differential. In their seven playoff games, they've gone 5-2 with a +5 differential.
The Astros were just 29-31 during the regular season, though they were above water with a +4 run differential. In the playoffs it's been a different story, as they've gone 5-1 while outscoring their opponents 40-24.
Here are our CBS Sports staff predictions.
Rays in six: The Astros run to this year's ALCS is a true flip of the switch. The club entered this year's postseason with the worst record out of all 16 teams. On the opposite side of things is their opponent, with the Rays having earned the top seed in the American League. Houston will be kicking off this series with more rest, but I'm going to side with the more talented team here in Tampa. Astros starters Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. have been questionable as of late, so I think the Rays lineup will take advantage early and their bullpen will be lights out.
Rays in six: The Astros have beaten two teams that were better than them during the regular season. I'm guessing that streak ends before they complete the hat trick. (Though an Astros-Dodgers World Series would threaten the standing record for the easiest possible copy.)
Rays in seven: The Astros look much more like the 2017-19 Astros than the 2020 regular season Astros right now, and Dusty Baker's bullpen management has been masterful. I still think the Rays are the better and deeper team. They never seem to have something less than an above-average pitcher on the mound or a guy at the plate who won't grind out an at-bat. This series will be a great chess matchup. I think Tampa wins a very, very close series.
Astros in seven: This is partly a gut feel pick here. I think the grueling ALDS against the Yankees takes something out of the Rays early in this series given the quick turnaround. I also think the Astros, despite that losing record in the regular season, have shown signs of finding their level lately, particularly in terms of sorting out their rotation. This is a bit of a coin-flip series to me, which means I don't feel strongly one way or the other.
Astros in six: Does the "fool me once," "fool me twice," framework apply here? I don't think so, technically speaking, but the overarching point is that I'm done looking at the 2020 Astros like they are the regular-season 2020 version instead of the 2017-19 Astros, at least the offense. Now, the pitching staff is definitely a different animal and that's how the Rays could break through here, but the Rays' staff is a bit compromised the start the series with just one day off between the ALDS and ALCS and zero days off within the ALCS. The Astros are winning their third pennant in four years.
Rays in six: The postseason is all about pitching depth, SO/9, and clutch hitting. Tampa Bay has "a stable of guys that throw 98" and Houston's rotation is too thin for a seven-game series. Carlos Correa and company are going to have to out-slug Tampa Bay if they want a chance. It would be great television if we got an Astros-Dodgers World Series rematch, but I think Houston's run ends here.