Astros: ALCS preview, predictions, keys to the series

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The Houston Astros are set to take on the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS.

For the fourth season in a row, the Houston Astros are playing in the ALCS. This time they’ll take on the Tampa Bay Rays, who they defeated in five games in the ALDS in 2019. But last year’s result matters very little this time, especially with there being some key differences between this year’s team and last year’s.

The Astros are missing several key players — Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Roberto Osuna, Will Harris, Joe Smith and Yordan Alvarez will not be participating this time around. Yet in spite of those losses, this team has returned to the ALCS once again and is looking to return to the World Series for the third time in four seasons.

The Rays enjoyed a fine season, posting an American League-best 40-20 record and winning the AL East division by a comfortable seven games over the Yankees. If that wasn’t enough, Kevin Cash’s team knocked the Yankees out of the playoffs in the division series despite most league and media types wanting the favored Bronx Bombers to advance.

After the Astros turned Dodger Stadium into a launchpad, they’ll move down south to San Diego for this series. The home runs may not fly quite as frequently, both due to the venue change and to the Rays’ stellar pitching staff. It’s going to be a very different series than we saw against Oakland.

Today’s ALCS opener will begin at 6:37 p.m. CT and will feature a pair of lefties as Framber Valdez takes on Blake Snell. The Astros will send Lance McCullers to the mound on Monday as Game Two begins at 3:07 p.m. CT. All games in this series will be broadcast on TBS, and there will be no off days in this best-of-seven matchup.

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