The White Sox 93 wins is the most by the franchise since their victorious World Series-winning team of 2005. A World Series sweep is a disappointing outcome for neutral fans, but that is exactly what Mark Buehrle and his buddies did against the… Houston Astros (then in the NL).
Much-maligned manager, Tony La Russa (you should see the Bat Flips and Nerds WhatsApp chat), has overcome losing two of the most dynamic hitters – Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez – for most of the season. He has employed his “old school” principles to great effect, memorably encouraging the opponents to seek retribution against his own team.
Without doubt, their AL Central rivals gifted Chicago the division title, but don’t take anything away from the White Sox; they took their chances and will send out a dynamic lineup to face the Astros in this fascinating series.
The Astros owe a debt of gratitude to the New York Mets, the resurgent Yankees & Red Sox, and Mr Trevor Bauer, all of whom have distracted the media away from Houston to allow the Astros to compile a below-the-radar 95-win season and clinch the division for the fourth time in five years.
Soon-to-be free agent, Carlos Correa, has been the star player, scoring over 100 runs for the first time in his career while launching a career-high 26 homers. I was sceptical that Kyle Tucker would be found out, and Yordan Alvarez was too much of an injury risk, but both guys have appeared in over 140 games and gone deep at least 30 times.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Lynn gets the ball in the opening game of the series. He has a 2.69 ERA, significantly below his 3.32 FIP, over 157 innings with a strikeout rate of 10.1 K/9. In his only start against the Astros this season, Lynn was chased out of the game after four innings having given up six runs.
Bullpen & closer
It is arguable whether the White Sox or Rays have had the best bullpen this season, but there is no argument that the White Sox meant business when they traded for elite closer Craig Kimbrel and almost-elite middle reliever Ryan Tepera from their cross-town rivals at the deadline. Liam Hendriks, with league-leading 38 saves, was MLB’s most valuable reliever in 2021, and is admirably supported by Aaron Bummer, Garrett Crochet and Michael Kopech.
Who is hot?
In September, Luis Robert hit .343 with .990 OPS, including seven home runs. Robert missed 81 games with a torn flexor, but is in indomitable form with the bat. We all know his power and speed, but hitting 10 points above batting champion, Trea Turner‘s .328 average, was unexpected.
One to watch
With 300 RBI over the last three seasons, no one else comes close to driving in the number of runs that come off the bat of José Abreu. His .943 OPS with runners in scoring position suggests we will see the White Sox on the board if men are on-base when Abreu gets to the plate.
Unlike the White Sox, the Astros have not been able to rely on any 30-start pitchers. In fact, without Zack Greinke on top form, the Astros rotation lacks true quality. Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. sneak into the Top-40 starters for the season. Framber Valdez (3.14 ERA), José Urquidy (3.62 ERA) and Jake Odorizzi (4.21 ERA) round out a solid, if not exciting, rotation.
McCullers Jr. gets the nod for tonight’s encounter. He was must-watch viewing in last year’s postseason, striking out 18 while giving up five home runs over the course of 10⅔ innings. The left-hander has a 2.08 ERA in his two starts against the White Sox this season.
Bullpen & closer
Ryan Pressly, with 26 saves, is the clear choice for the ninth inning. No one else in the bullpen has more than two saves. The Astros knew that Kendall Graveman’s 0.82 ERA wasn’t sustainable, but they would have hoped for something better than 3.13 ERA since the move from Seattle. In fact, none of the deadline relievers has produced the goods, with Phil Maton posting 4.97 ERA and Yimi García 5.48 ERA.
Who is hot?
Kyle Tucker slashed .346/.438/.692 over his last 30 games with eight home runs, and more walks than strikeouts. Power and patience is a proven combination for postseason success.
One to watch
In his last postseason appearance, the seven-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020, Jose Altuve produced 1.441 OPS, which saw him get on-base 18 times in 32 plate appearances and go deep on three occasions. Sometimes 1-metre-68 is a big man for the big occasion.
Too close to call. There is not much to choose between the rotations over a five-game series. The White Sox elite bullpen could be the difference, but the Astros have a 5-2 record over Chicago this season, proving they know how to beat the White Sox.
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Photos by Ron Vesely/Jason Miller/Bob Levey/Getty Images
While we have you, make sure you listen to the postseason preview podcast. The guys correctly predicted ONE out of the six division winners in their preseason show, proving they have a talent for his prediction lark. Click on Built for October photo below