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Astros To ALCS, Braves In NLCS

Jose Altuve

Jose Altuve

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

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Wrapping up a whirlwind day of postseason baseball in the order it all happened …

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Astros are returning to the American League Championship Series after earning an ALDS-clinching 10-1 road win over the White Sox in Game 4 on Tuesday afternoon on the South Side of Chicago. It followed a rainout at Guaranteed Rate Field on Monday.

Jose Altuve led the way offensively with three hits, three RBI, and four runs scored. He stroked a leadoff double in the top of the first inning, drew a hit-by-pitch and came around to score in the top of the third inning, singled and scored in the top of the fourth, reached on a throwing error and again crossed the plate in the top of the eighth before then providing the exclamation point in the lopsided victory with a three-run blast to left off Liam Hendriks in the top of the ninth.

That three-run shot was the 19th career postseason home run for Altuve, tying him with George Springer for the most postseason homers in Astros franchise history. The star second baseman also now ranks tied with Springer and Albert Pujols for fourth place on the all-time major league postseason home run leaderboard. The only three players above Altuve, Springer, and Pujols at 19 playoff dingers: Manny Ramirez (29), Bernie Williams (22), and Derek Jeter (20).

Lance McCullers got the start for Houston and worked four innings of one-run ball on 73 pitches before getting lifted due to right forearm discomfort. Word is that he could be sent for imaging tests on Wednesday, the results of which would obviously have a significant bearing on how the Astros sort out their roster for the ALCS. Also of concern is the apparent injury to Jake Meyers, who banged his left shoulder hard against the center field wall in the second inning Tuesday while trying to rob a solo home run off the bat of Gavin Sheets. That was the only real big hit for the Pale Hose.[[ad:athena]]

For now, though, it’s time to celebrate. It’s all -- or mostly -- good vibes. Oft-booed, oft-criticized, oft-suspected-of-ongoing-cheating-operations, the Astros are the first team to compete for five straight American League pennants since the Oakland Athletics in 1971-1975.

Up next is a best-of-seven ALCS matchup with the Red Sox, who topped the Yankees in the American League Wild Card Game before taking down the AL East-champion Rays in the ALDS. It’s the third postseason meeting in the last five years between Houston and Boston.

Game 1 is scheduled for Friday night -- first pitch: 8:07 p.m. ET -- at Minute Maid Park.

Braves Bounce Brewers, On To NLCS

On the National League side of MLB’s playoff bracket, the Braves finished off their best-of-five NLDS against the Brewers with a 5-4 victory in Game 4 on Tuesday evening in Atlanta.

Freddie Freeman played the role of hero with a go-ahead solo home run off Josh Hader in the bottom of the eighth inning. He got a poorly-placed first-pitch slider that hung up too high over the plate and deposited it a projected 428 feet over the center field wall to put another jolt in the electric crowd at Truist Park. Hader hadn’t given up a homer since July 28 in Pittsburgh, and Freeman is only the second left-handed batter to ever go deep off his slider in a major league game.

An impending free agent this winter, Freeman is only adding to his case for a massive long-term contract. There would be quite an uproar across the Southeast if the Braves let the 32-year-old first baseman get away. The price, though, has likely gone up.

Milwaukee’s season ended with Christian Yelich taking a called third strike from Will Smith in the top of the ninth inning. It was a fitting conclusion for this relatively disappointing Brewers offense, and Yelich’s part in that disappointment. Over the last two postseasons, in which his team has gone 1-5, the $215 million outfielder is 5-for-24 (.208) with only one-extra base hit, a .250 slugging percentage, 12 strikeouts, and two walks.

But the focus here should be the Braves, who lost Ronald Acuna to a torn ACL in July and got zero innings from Mike Soroka due to ongoing Achilles issues. Marcell Ozuna has been missing since May due to domestic violence charges. Oh, and Jorge Soler had to be placed on the COVID-19 injured list a few hours before first pitch on Tuesday following a positive test for the virus.

They sat under the .500 mark for much of the regular season, but the Braves reshaped their outfield in the leadup to the July 30 trade deadline, made a late run to snatch the up-for-grabs NL East crown, and are now headed to the National League Championship Series for the second year in a row. This will be the Braves’ first back-to-back NLCS showings since they went to eight straight between 1991-1999.

They’ll await the winner of NLDS Game 5 between the Dodgers and Giants on Thursday.

Dodgers Even Series Versus Rival Giants

That’s right, it’s on to Game 5 in the Division Round series between the rival Dodgers and Giants.

There are no games on Wednesday -- that would have been the AL’s day -- but thanks to a fine outing from Walker Buehler, a couple of two-run homers from Mookie Betts and Will Smith, and Gavin Lux reaching four times in his first start of the 2021 postseason … there will be baseball on Thursday night.

Los Angeles jumped out to an early lead in NLDS Game 4 on Tuesday in Chavez Ravine and never relinquished it, winning 7-2 over the visiting Giants to force the series back to San Francisco.

Buehler, pitching on three days of rest for the first time in his career, was efficient and at times dominant through his first four innings before running into a bit of trouble that led to him getting pulled in the Giants’ one-run top of the fifth. The 27-year-old NL Cy Young Award candidte had barely even pitched on four days of days rest this season but gave length to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. Which will allow Julio Urias to be fully fresh for the series-deciding tilt to come.

Buehler now owns a career has a 1.25 ERA in four potential elimination games -- 21 2/3 innings.

Length is something that Giants manager Gabe Kapler would have probably loved from Anthony DeSclafani, but the right-hander did not make it through the bottom of the second. Kapler wound up using eight total pitchers, tied for the most in a postseason game in franchise history.

DeSclafani’s updated numbers against the Dodgers this year, regular season and playoffs: seven starts, 7.53 ERA, .319/.393/.504 opponents’ batting line. Versus every other team: 25 starts, a 2.37 ERA, and .209/.251/.329 slash line against.

The defending World Series-hampion Dodgers haven’t lost back-to-back games since September 8-9 at St. Louis. And they haven’t drooped consecutive games at Dodger Stadium since a three-game home losing streak back between July 21-23. But, again, this NLDS Game 5 will be played at Oracle Park.

Julio Urias vs. Logan Webb.

For all the garlic fries.

Quick Hits: The qualifying offer for impending free agents in the 2021-2022 offseason will be set at $18.4 million … Tommy La Stella was removed from NLDS Game 4 on Tuesday night against the Dodgers after aggravating his left Achilles … Buster Olney of ESPN reports that Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner is leaning toward keeping Aaron Boone as manager … Also from Olney, the Mets have had internal discussions about Dodgers executive Josh Byrnes to head up their baseball operations department … Tony La Russa said Tuesday that he’s hoping to return as White Sox manager in 2022. … Tony Watson (shoulder) threw a successful bullpen session on Tuesday and could return to the Giants’ bullpen for the NLCS if they advance … Stephen Vogt required surgery recently for a sports hernia.