The 2020 American League Championship Series pits two franchises from very different circumstances against each other. To put it in simple terms, the Tampa Bay Rays had the best record in American League while the Astros had the worst record of any American League playoff team.
When looking at recent history, the Astros have reached two of the last three World Series, while the Rays had not reached the ALCS since 2008, which was previously their only time reaching this level of the postseason. What is most interesting however is the social aspects of each team, and how the series pits the team everyone hates vs. the team that very few truly love.
The Houston Astros were baseball’s darling in 2017. They surged towards the championship and were fueled by the goal of helping their city and state recover from Hurricane Harvey. They had several feel-good stories on their roster, namely undersized and underappreciated second baseman Jose Altuve and center fielder George Springer, who has dealt with a stutter for much of his life and has been a role model for people living with a stutter.
After winning that World Series, the Astros stayed dominant, and almost won their second title in 2019. However, everything changed after this, as news broke of the Astros using electronic devices to steal signs from their opponents during the 2017 run.
Fans of the MLB did not take this lightly, and the Astros were also panned by the rest of the league. All of this turmoil led to a tumultuous 2020 season that they were only able to qualify for the playoffs as a result of the expanded postseason. Altuve experienced a noticeable dip in production and it truly looked like the Astros were dead as they entered the postseason.
Much to the dismay of the rest of the league, the Astros took down both the Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics in the postseason. While many were looking for them to falter, they excelled and are seeming to get the last laugh.
The Tampa Bay Rays are one of the league’s newest franchises and have seen very little success in their time. After reaching the World Series in 2008, the Rays have struggled in the competitive AL East, while also failing to garner support by the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg market.
The Rays have seen their fair share of talent take the diamond at Tropicana Field. Third baseman Evan Longoria was the face of the franchise for many years, while pitcher David Price was perhaps the best in the game when he was with the team.
Currently, pitcher Blake Snell is a former Cy Young winner who possesses the same star power as the previous two players. While the talent has been there, the funding has lacked. The Rays possess one of the smallest payrolls in the game and have struggled to have the success of other small-market teams like the Athletics.
In addition to these struggles, the team is also constantly in danger of moving. The lack of support at games combined with the financial status of the team’s owners have led to constant relocation rumors, including a bizarre scenario where the team would split time between Tampa Bay and Montreal. Much of this is a result of Tropicana Field, which may be the worst venue in all of the North American Professional Sports League.
The Astros and the Rays are teams that have seen struggles in their histories and are now facing off for a chance at the World Series. In the Astros case, they are a team that wants to anger the rest of the league. For the Rays, they want to prove to a city that they are worth keeping. Currently, the Rays lead the series 3–0, which seems to indicate that they will be the ones moving on. Whether they do or not, this series sure had some narratives that are unprecedented.