ARLINGTON, Texas – The Houston Astros are going into the playoffs with a losing record, a year after having the most wins in the major leagues.
And with a different manager after the sign-stealing scandal last offseason that tarnished their 2017 World Series title.
Dusty Baker is the first manager to take five different teams to the postseason, after replacing the fired AJ Hinch just before spring training. Baker goes into these playoffs with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and other mainstays who were part of the Astros winning two American League championships the past three seasons.
“It can be a tremendous advantage, because guys have been there," Baker said. “They know not to panic, they know what to do in certain situations.”
Despite solo homers from Altuve, Correa and Aledmys Diaz, the Astros fell 8-4 Sunday in their regular-season finale, their third consecutive loss to the instate rival Texas Rangers.
“We hit the ball hard the last few (games),” Baker said. “Yuli (Gurriel) hit three rockets tonight, and for nothing. We had good signs. Carlos hit the ball out of the ballpark, Altuve hit the ball out of the ballpark, and Altuve’s been swinging better. ... These guys have certainly been there, and they know what to expect."
The Astros (29-31) went from 107 wins last season to being the last AL team to clinch a berth in an expanded playoff during this pandemic-shortened season. They got in as the second-place team in the AL West that was won by Oakland.
Houston and the Milwaukee Brewers — also 29-31 — are the first teams to ever qualify for the postseason with losing records.
Rougned Odor homered twice for the young Rangers (22-38), who with their series win avoided the worst losing percentage in team history. They finished at .367, better than only their 1972 and 1973 teams — their first two seasons in Texas.
“It’s a positive way to end a really tough year,” second-year Texas manager Chris Woodward said. “I don’t want to put too much icing on a sour cake because it’s obviously not where we wanted to be at the end of the year, but it was good that we finished strong."
Odor had a three-run homer before rookie center fielder Leody Taveras' two-run single in the fourth, the second game in a row Texas had a five-run inning. Odor went deep again with a solo shot in the fifth.
Shin-Soo Choo, the 38-year-old outfielder in the final game of his seven-year contract with the Rangers, and the 26-year-old Odor were the oldest players in their lineup that included three 22-year-old rookies.
The Astros last won 12-4 in the opener of their only series at the Rangers' new ballpark — where a National League Division Series, the NL Championship Series and the World Series will be played next month.
Baker has already managed the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals in the playoffs.
POWER NEAR THE BOTTOM
Odor finished the season with .167 batting average in 38 games, leading the Rangers with 30 RBIs and matching Joey Gallo with a team-best 10 home runs. Gallo's .181 average in 57 games ranked 141st out of 142 qualifying big league players, ahead of only Seattle's Evan White (.176).
FOR THE RECORD
Astros starter Chase De Jong (0-1) struck six in 3 2/3 innings, but also gave up six runs and six hits while walking two. Taylor Hearn (1-0), the third of seven Rangers pitchers, went one inning for the victory.
ONE LAST HIT
Choo hit leadoff as the DH and got a bunt single in likely his last at-bat for Texas — and possibly in a 16-season career. Choo was activated from the 10-day injured list (right hand sprain) after not playing since Sept. 7. Choo quickly exited with a sprained left ankle after awkwardly stepping on the base when lunging to get there. He played 799 games with Texas, after starting his big league career with Seattle, Cincinnati and Cleveland.
Choo said he got very emotional when he saw his wife and three children — who were allowed to be at the game — on the video board when he got in the batter's box.
Asked if he was retiring, Choo said he really wants to play again. “I still think I can play,” he said.
Astros: Right-hander Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA) is set to start Game 1 in the best-of-three wild-card round Tuesday at Minnesota.
Rangers: Their 2021 spring training opener is Feb. 27 against Kansas City in Surprise, Arizona, at the complex they share with the Royals.
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