Chips on their shoulders.

Now it’s down to the final four. The American League pennant is up for grabs starting today. The National League starts tomorrow.

In the A.L., it’s a team that’s playing for redemption against a team that’s defying the narrative of small market budgets. 

This round will be best of seven with no off days. This will be the ultimate test of the team’s pitching staff.

That would seem to suggest the edge goes to Tampa Bay. They have as dominating of a bullpen as they do a rotation. They have no holes in their pitching.

The Rays rotation posted a 3.77 ERA, their bullpen 3.37. By contrast, the Astros rotation’s ERA was 4.26, their bullpen’s was 4.39.

But Houston might hold the secret weapon in this series. Making contact. There are no holes in the Astros lineup. Houston hitters, in fact, struck out the fewest times of any team in baseball in 2020. Just 440 times.

Which team struck out the most in 2020? Tampa Bay. They were punched out 608 times.

The ability to get a hit and sustain a rally is what separates the World Series winning teams from everyone else. Taking advantage of opportunities. Never relieving the pressure.

The Astros showed what their offense could do against Oakland. They are the only team to score double-digit runs in more than one game so far this post-season. They can hit.

And Houston has something to prove. Can they win without having to resort to cheating? Whether they were good enough to have won on their own in 2017 isn’t the issue. Most embezzling is committed by wealthy people who don’t need the money. They just wanted more. The Astros players did the same.

Barry Bonds was already one of the greatest hitters of all time before he decided to take steroids. It doesn’t matter if he could have. He felt he needed to cheat they system to make sure.

As much as the Astros have to prove so, too, do the Rays.

Tampa Bay wants to prove a team with the smallest payroll in baseball can win it all. That brains and baseball savvy can beat the almighty dollar.

Teams like Cleveland, Minnesota, Oakland, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee have proven they can ride their small payrolls into the playoffs. But the toll road runs out on the way to the World Series.

Kansas City was able to do it on a shoestring budget. Tampa Bay is trying to do the same.