In a scene toward the end of The Wedding Singer (1998), Adam Sandler’s character Robbie is leaving a bar with a few friends. Robbie’s life has been one long cycle of promise and heartbreak. He’s been drinking heavily because he’s hopelessly in love with Julia, who’s engaged to a womanizing Wall Streeter named Glenn.
They bump into Glenn and his entourage outside the bar. Words are exchanged and Robbie picks a fight with Glenn. But just before the fight breaks out, a weary old man from the dive throws a putrid punch at Glenn. Caught off guard by this, Robbie asks the old-timer: “O.K., what are you doing?” Out of Place Old Guy responds: “I’m sorry. I used to be much stronger.” Glenn then knocks the distracted Robbie to the ground.
This is what I thought of as I watched the Astros kick the crap out of the White Sox, 10–1, in Game 4 of the ALDS. In the movie, it’s hilarious; in the postseason, it’s just embarrassing.
The low-hanging fruit in this analogy is that Tony La Russa is the Out of Place Old Guy who thinks he can still hang in a street fight with baseball’s villains. The difference here is that The Wedding Singer’s Out of Place Old Guy realizes his feebleness immediately. La Russa still thinks he belongs, and he’s willing to yell at the clouds and disparage anyone who doubts him.
We covered La Russa’s faults for this team’s woes in Sunday’s newsletter, and they were on display again in Game 4. Once again, he inexplicably stuck with his starting pitcher too long. This time it was Carlos Rodón, whose status earlier in the series was uncertain due to a nagging shoulder injury that limited him over the final months of the season. He’d dazzled through the first two innings while pumped up on adrenaline, but by the third inning, he’d lost command of the zone and his velocity had gone down. So when the Astros loaded the bases (on a hit-by-pitch and two walks) with two outs and Carlos Correa due up, the obvious move was to bring in righthander Michael Kopech to face the righty-hitting Correa. Instead, La Russa stuck with Rodón. However you feel about the defiant Correa, he is one of the smartest hitters in baseball, adept at making mid-AB adjustments. Rodón fired two fastballs for strikes before Correa laced the third one into left for a two-run double. Kopech then came in and retired Yuli Gurriel to end the inning.
That said, the Chicago’s failings are about more than just TLR. It didn’t get an extra-base hit until Game 3. Its AL-best rotation got shelled throughout the series. Craig Kimbrel was awful in his 24 regular-season games with the White Sox after they acquired him from the Cubs at the trade deadline, and he pitched poorly in Game 2, as well.
They also were incapable of controlling Houston’s running game. The Astros stole four bases in Game 4, with the first three coming without a throw from catcher Yasmani Grandal. This isn’t on Grandal but the Chicago pitchers. The first came when Altuve ran on first movement and took second off Rodón in the third inning. In the fourth, Kyle Tucker saw that Kopech wasn’t paying attention to him, got a big lead and swiped second easily; Tucker then took third on the next pitch. It wasn’t that Kopech didn’t look at Tucker, but that he didn’t do anything to prevent him from running. His delivery was a simple progression: come set, glance at the runner, look home, lift leg, pitch. The Astros knew Kopech wasn’t throwing over as soon as he turned his head back toward the plate, so it was safe for Tucker to run. These stolen bases were demoralizing. The Astros were asserting their dominance: We’re going to take this base, and you aren’t going to stop us. We dare you to try. It was then that the White Sox folded; that is, if they hadn’t already.
The other embarrassment was Ryan Tepera, who baselessly accused the Astros of cheating in the first two games of the series following Game 3 in Chicago. His illogical explanation went something like this: Houston’s hitters must’ve been illegally stealing signs again at Minute Maid Park in the first two games because White Sox’ hitters held the Astros to only (?) six runs in Game 3, which Chicago won 12–6. Not only does this explanation make little sense, but it also provided the Astros with additional motivation in Game 4 and unnecessarily diminished how well the White Sox bullpen pitched in Game 3.
It also opened Tepera up to a scathing insult from an unexpected source: Astros manager Dusty Baker, who after learning of Tepera’s comments said, “I never heard his name before we played the White Sox.” Before that Baker Burn, Tepera’s previous most notable moment came last year when Rick Hummel, a longtime beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, accidentally included Tepera’s name on an MVP ballot.
So with that, the White Sox’ promising season comes to an end. Maybe we should’ve expected this all along. Like the formulaic story arc of any rom-com, there were plenty of signs foreshadowing what was to come. Except, the postseason isn’t a movie. After following the lead of their Out of Place Old Guy who’s stuck in his ways, the White Sox got knocked down—and they won’t be getting back up before the playoffs fade to black.
1. THE OPENER
“The Astros play offensive baseball the way the martial artist Bruce Lee moved through space: with agility and awareness of the environment and the moment.”
That’s how Tom Verducci describes the Astros as they advance to their fifth consecutive American League Championship Series. In his column, he breaks down all the adjustments the Houston hitters made against the White Sox and looks ahead to the upcoming ALCS between the Astros and Red Sox.
Read Tom’s entire story here.
Didn’t watch last night’s NLCS between the Dodgers and Giants? Let’s get you caught up before tomorrow’s Game 5:
Dodgers, Giants Set for the Ultimate Winner-Take-All Game by Stephanie Apstein
Never before in MLB history have two teams with as many combined wins as the Dodgers and Giants played one another. It will happen in Game 5.
Need a quick primer on the other side of the NL bracket? We’ve got you covered:
Freeman’s HR Slams Door on Brewers by Nick Selbe
Atlanta is returning to the NLCS following its comeback win over Milwaukee in Game 4.
Looking for a fun off-day read? Check this out!
Rays’ Way Remains in Playoffs Despite Their Elimination by Emma Baccellieri
After knocking out his old team and close friend Erik Neander, Boston’s Chaim Bloom now faces another friend from his time with Tampa: Astros GM James Click.
3. WORTH NOTING
Tom Verducci writes: That was a sad ending to the ALDS in Chicago: White Sox manager Tony La Russa going on an old-school rant about José Abreu getting hit by a pitch in the ninth inning of a 10–1 game. La Russa was allowed a much-too-long protest with umpire Tom Hallion and, worse, after the game he accused Houston pitcher Kendall Graveman of intentionally hitting Abreu and challenged the Astros to have “the guts” to admit it.
No, it was not intentional. Graveman throws a nasty sinker with arm-side run that is hard to control. He is known as one of the nicest, gentlest souls on the team. Abreu crowds the plate and gets hit often. Abreu knew it was not intentional, which was obvious when he patted catcher Martín Maldonado on the shoulder and jogged to first base without protest.
La Russa made a show of his anger, but it seemed like something out of a different time, when beanball wars were more common.
Stephanie Apstein writes: As soon as the Dodgers won Game 2 of the NLDS, Walker Buehler found his manager, Dave Roberts, and announced that he wanted to start Game 4 on short rest. The skipper agreed, on one condition: Buehler would report how he felt the morning of the game before they made it official.
Yesterday morning, he told Roberts he was ready to go. Last night, after Buehler helped his team force Game 5, he admitted he would have said that no matter what. “Realistically, there wouldn’t have been anything going on that I would have told them I didn’t want the ball,” he said, laughing. “As long as I could walk into the clubhouse, I was going to pitch.”
4. WHAT TO WATCH FOR from Will Laws
There are no games today! Boo. So, let’s talk about one of the teams that advanced yesterday.
This is the fifth consecutive year the Astros have reached the ALCS. Their veteran-laden lineup just lit up the White Sox’ pitching staff—which had MLB’s highest strikeout rate and the AL’s second-best ERA (3.73)—to the tune of 7.75 runs per game in the series. If the Red Sox’ staff manages to quiet Houston’s bats, it’ll be more surprising than your first static shock of the winter. On the other side of each frame, Houston’s pitching staff is set to oppose one of the few lineups that seemingly boasts the bats to keep up in nightly slugfests. Can the Astros silence Boston’s offense when it matters most?
Underrated ace Lance McCullers Jr. was the only starter up to the task against Chicago, while Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia were both knocked around. McCullers threw 73 pitches in four innings of work yesterday, so he probably won’t start either of the first two games of the ALCS on Friday and Saturday. José Urquidy, who was scratched from his Game 4 start in favor of McCullers after the clincher was pushed back a day, could get the nod for one of the first two starts at Minute Maid Park. Fortunately for Dusty Baker, the bullpen is firing on all cylinders. Of the 18 appearances made by Astros relievers against Chicago, 15 of them were scoreless. Two of the relievers who allowed the White Sox to score, Kendall Graveman and Yimi García, got through two other outings in the series unscathed. The other is Brooks Raley, the lone lefty reliever on Houston’s ALDS roster who ran into trouble against a string of Chicago’s right-handed boppers. After lefty hitters recorded a .483 OPS with zero homers and 35 strikeouts in 77 at bats against Raley during the regular season, he should do better against the likes of Rafael Devers, Kyle Schwarber and Alex Verdugo.
5. THE CLOSER from Emma Baccellieri
How lucky are we that the playoffs have unfolded this way? Yes, it would have been fun to see another Game 5. But to have the only one go to the Giants and Dodgers—to have the last series standing, with the spotlight to itself, be this incredible matchup between the two best teams in baseball—is a gift. S.F. and L.A. have been closely matched all year (the Giants won their regular-season series, 10–9), and now, we get to watch it all come down to a winner-take-all game in October. It’s the first one in this rivalry since Oct. 3, 1962. That game, of course, ended in a memorable ninth-inning comeback for the Giants, anchored by an RBI single from Willie Mays and a sac fly from Orlando Cepeda. Let’s hope tomorrow’s is just as good.
That’s all from us today. We’ll be back in your inbox tomorrow. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up at SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions for our team, send a note to email@example.com.