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Rays, Astros face off in a winner-take-all Game 5

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The final game of the Division Series is on tap for tonight and it shapes up to be a doozy. Let’s break it down.

The Game: Tampa Bay Rays @ Houston Astros
The Place: Minute Made Park, Houston, Texas
The Time: 7:07 PM Eastern
The Channel: FS1
The Starters: Tyler Glasnow vs. Gerrit Cole

As this series has progressed — and as the Rays have pulled even and stand poised to pull off the upset — its been increasingly cast as an historical upset in the making. And, sure, the Astros have been considered the favorites by just about everyone coming into the postseason.

But theres a difference between a team being a favorite and a matchup being a mismatch. The Astros may have been the best team in the game this season and the Rays may have been a Wild Card team, but there’s probably less of a difference between these two teams than one typically sees between a best team and a Wild Card qualifier. The Rays are good — they won 96 games — and they’ve shown in this series that they are not at all intimidated by this Astros club. If they win, sure, it’ll be an upset, but it won’t be a 1969 Mets situation.

Not that their task is an easy one. Indeed, it’s about as hard as it gets tonight given that they’ll be facing Gerrit Cole. The same Gerrit Cole who has only been the best pitcher in baseball for the past several months, having elevated his already great game to a whole new level since, oh, May. The Astros haven’t lost a Cole start since July 12, which was 14 starts ago. They haven’t lost a Cole start at home since May 22. He kicked it up a notch in Game 2 of the ALDS last weekend, tossing shutout ball into the eighth, allowing only four hits and one walk, and becoming the first pitcher to strike out 15 batters in a postseason game in nearly 20 years. Heck, he’s struck out nearly 14 batters per nine all season long. He is absolutely on top of his game and the Rays have their work cut out for them.

The Astros don’t have a simple task themselves. Tyler Glasnow didn’t have the best start in Game 1 of this series, running out of gas in the fifth inning as the Astros beat the Rays 6-2. But, as he showed earlier this season, he’s capable of dominating even the best offenses. If he falters the Rays have wave after wave of effective relief pitchers they can run out there. So far in this series they’ve been pretty effective. During the regular season, the Astros led the Majors with an .848 OPS and were third in runs scored, averaging 5.68 runs per game. In the ALDS, the Astros have a .685 OPS and have scored just over three runs a a game.

A betting man would have a hard time going against Cole given how well he’s pitched of late. But then again, a betting man probably had the Dodgers and Braves advancing in the NLDS too. None of us, apparently, knows anything. All we know is that tonight one of these two teams will advance and one of them will see its season end.

Astros claim AL pennant with walk-off win against the Yankees

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Following a rollercoaster performance on Saturday, the Astros clinched the American League Championship Series with a decisive 6-4 walk-off win against the Yankees, claiming their second AL pennant and earning a well-deserved entrance to the World Series.

Both clubs decided to preserve possible Game 7 starters Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole, electing to have a “bullpen day” for a pivotal Game 6. Chad Green took the mound for the Yankees, tossing one inning before handing the ball off to a long line of relievers, while Brad Peacock‘s rare playoff start was capped at 1 2/3 innings. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that made it the first postseason game since 1999 in which neither starting pitcher lasted two innings or longer.

All told, the two clubs utilized a total of 13 pitchers to make it through nine innings. The Astros lost Ryan Pressly to a worrisome knee injury in the third, but were able to lean on José Urquidy for 2 2/3 innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball. Although Yankees’ bullpen fought back in every inning, they had considerable difficulty recovering from Yuli Gurriel‘s three-run homer off of Green in the bottom of the first:

Still, New York managed to get in a couple of knocks as well: first, with Gary Sanchez‘s RBI single in the second inning, then with Gio Urshela‘s 395-foot blast in the fourth inning — the second of his postseason career to date. That wasn’t enough to close the gap, however, and Alex Bregman‘s productive groundout in the sixth helped cushion the Astros’ lead as they headed toward the final few innings of the series.

That lead started to look a little shaky in the ninth. Only three outs away from a ticket to the World Series, Houston closer Roberto Osuna gave up a leadoff single to Urshela, which was quickly followed by a jaw-dropping, full-count, game-tying two-run shot from DJ LeMahieu that barely cleared the right field fence.

With the threat of extra innings and a potential loss looming, the Astros engineered a last-minute rally to regain the lead and stake their claim for the pennant. With two outs and no runners on, George Springer took a five-pitch walk from Aroldis Chapman. In the next at-bat, Houston pinned their hopes on José Altuve — and he didn’t disappoint, lifting a 2-1 slider out to left field for a 406-foot, two-RBI homer that confirmed the Astros’ series win.

The 2019 World Series will mark the third Fall Classic appearance for the Astros and the first for the Nationals. It all begins on Tuesday night.