Bad-boy Astros, fun-loving Rays set to face off in ALCS

SAN DIEGO (AP) - The Houston Astros are run by the universally recognized good guy Dusty Baker and remain bad guys in the eyes of many for their sign theft scandal three years ago.
The Tampa Bay Rays are a fun-loving bunch who make the most of their small payroll, including the best record in the American League in the pandemic-shortened season.
The Astros, who made it to the playoffs with a record losing, and Rays meet for the second consecutive time in the postseason, starting Sunday night, this time in the AL Championship Series at Petco Park.
The Astros are in the ALCS for the fourth time in a row and are looking for a third trip to the World Series in that time span. The Rays are looking to make their second World Series after losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
It's a left-handed matchup in Game 1, where Houston's Framber Valdez takes on Blake Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner.
The Astros are in the playoffs 5-1 after playing 29:31 in the regular season. They eliminated AL West champions Oakland in four games in the ALDS at Dodger Stadium.
“Our team understands that you start over in the playoffs. You start over and go from there, ”said George Springer, MVP of the 2017 World Series.
The Rays kept their distance against the New York Yankees in the ALDS and scored a 2-1 win in Mike Brosseau's dramatic home game against Aroldis Chapman on Friday night.
The Rays lost five games to Houston in the ALDS last year. The Astros then lost Gerrit Cole to the Yankees through a vacant agency, and Justin Verlander is out after being operated on by Tommy John.
"We respect how talented they are, but they are the team we took to Game 5 and we didn't make it," said Rays manager Kevin Cash. "That experience probably helped us get to where we are right now and the irony is that we're now playing it again in seven games."
Here are some things to look for:
The 71-year-old Baker is the first manager to lead five different franchises into the postseason but is still pursuing his first World Series title at the top. He was accepted by the Astros in January to succeed A.J. Hinch, who was fired after the team's fraud scandal. Former Astros thrower Mike Fiers announced last year that Houston had used a camera in midfield to steal signs and steal batsman signals where the pitches were expected by hitting a garbage can.
Baker's San Francisco Giants lost to the Angels in seven games in the 2002 World Series. As a player, he helped the Los Angeles Dodgers win the Fall Classic in 1981.
Tampa-born Cash manages the Rays in its sixth season. The former big league catcher played parts of eight seasons with five teams, including 20 games with the Astros in 2010.
Houston shortstop Carlos Correa has made it clear that the Astros have no regrets about the scandal that led them to the 2017 World Series title against the Los Angeles Dodgers. So far he has been able to secure it in the field.
“It starts with your shortstop. Seems like he's always in the right position, ”said Oakland manager Bob Melvin after the Astros eliminated the A's. "Can't get anything from him. He's got a great throwing arm and has really been a detonator for the whole series, both offensively and defensively. He showed up offensively at the right time. He's a great player. When it comes to a lot of shortstops in the League is about a lot of good defensive stops, he's at the top. "
Tampa Bay outfielder Kevin Kiermaier is happy Houston doesn't have Cole and Verlander and hopes fans will move to the Rays after the Astros scandal.
"Nobody has forgotten what they have done or decided in the past few years," said Kiermaier. “They have to live with that, but we want to end their season this year, do everything our own way, and beat them at our game, and that's awesome, we get runs in a lot of different ways by getting our boys off the top down to our lineup and see if we can do it. "
The Tampa Bay run contains several exciting stories, including the path to the playoffs for Randy Arozarena and Brosseau.
Arozarena left Cuba in 2015 and missed the first five weeks of the season after testing positive for COVID-19. Nicknamed "The Cuban Rocket", he was successful in each of the first three ALDS games against New York.
After their exciting victory on Friday evening, the Rays celebrated in front of their shelter. Arozarena and his colleague Brett Phillips had a dance-off. Phillips did a backflip and Aronzarena responded with a break dance move that got his teammates going wild.
Brosseau was not drafted in 2016 and then signed with the Rays for $ 1,000. His Friday night home run, which completed a 10-pitch stroke, drove the Rays dugout into a frenzy.
"That was hands down the greatest moment I've competed in baseball," said Cash.
Springer called it “a bat for the ages. That was a great professional. ... That's what the playoffs are about. Such an at-bat, such a grind, it was a crazy at-bat to watch. "
The Astros beat 12 home races against athletics in four games at Dodger Stadium. The rays reached 11 in five games at Petco Park.
AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham and Janie McCauley contributed to this.
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