Astros Close Out Rays to Move On to ALCS

Gerrit Cole was masterful again in game five helping the Astros get back to the ALCS.
Gerrit Cole was masterful again in game five helping the Astros get back to the ALCS. Photo by Jack Gorman
For the third straight year, the Astros will be playing in the American League Championship Series after closing out the Tampa Bay Rays 6-1 in the ALDS Thursday night. The 'Stros put up four runs in the first while pitcher Gerrit Cole was dominant once again going eight innings allowing just one run on two hits and striking out 10 for the win. His 25 strikeouts in the ALDS is the most strikeouts in a post series since Bob Gibson.

The Rays on the other hand threw nine pitchers, tying the major league record for most pitchers used in a division series at 30. As good as their bullpen has been, they couldn't overcome the Astros hitters getting to Tyler Glasnow early. Picking up back-to-back homers from Michael Brantley and Jose Altuve in the eighth sealed the deal.

This was never a series that felt like a gimme. Altuve, after the game, called the Rays one of the best teams he had ever played. The Astros were not good against them this season and have never been good in Tampa, so putting this in the rearview mirror was impressive.

Now, the Astros head to the ALCS in the match-up everyone in baseball wanted against the Yankees. The last time these two teams met in the 2017 ALCS, the home team won every game. The match-up will pit a pair of fairly similar teams with tons of star power and firepower.

Zack Greinke should get the start in game one Saturday at Minute Maid Park followed by Justin Verlander. As dominant as Cole has been, it would be great to have him early in the series, but if the ALCS goes the distance, he would be set up to pitch the third and seventh games.

Both lineups are potent and both teams can score in bunches. The Yankees would appear to have the edge in their bullpen where they are loaded, but the Astros have the better starting rotation. No doubt there could be some serious fireworks in this one.

For now, Astros players and fans will celebrate a win over a very tough opponent in the Rays and look forward to the Bronx Bombers on Saturday, in the most anticipated contest of the year between the teams with the two best records in baseball.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke