Astros throttle White Sox, advance to 5th straight ALCS

The Houston Astros thumped the Chicago White Sox in ALDS Game 4 on Tuesday, clinching a spot in the ALCS with a 10-1 victory. The Astros offense once again ruled the day. Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman each laced two-run doubles and Jose Altuve smashed a late three-run homer through a haze of boos to snuff out Chicago’s hopes of a comeback.

All told, Houston scored at least six runs in every game against a White Sox pitching staff that boasted MLB’s 5th-best ERA and top strikeout rate in the regular season.

The White Sox sent Carlos Rodon to the mound for Tuesday's start. The 28-year-old lefty experienced a breakout season in 2021 — firing a no-hitter and posting a 2.37 ERA in 24 starts — but his status was up in the air late in the season due to shoulder issues. He made it through two innings unscathed, but then ran into trouble in the third, only getting two outs before Correa’s go-ahead double forced manager Tony La Russa to turn to the bullpen.

Michael Kopech, who was said to be unavailable prior to the game, didn’t fare any better. He allowed three runs in only two-thirds of an inning.

Lance McCullers Jr., who started for the Astros thanks to Monday’s rainout, held serve from there. He allowed only one run in four innings of work before giving way to the Houston bullpen.

La Russa’s first season at the helm ends much as his predecessor’s did: With an exciting and well-stocked White Sox team still looking like they’re on the cusp of contention more than actually in contention. Their 93-win season came with a 39-34 second half. But the key players will all return, including ace Lance Lynn after he signed an extension midseason.

By bowing out in the first round for the second straight year, Chicago perpetuates the AL Central’s October malaise. Teams from the division are now 2-15 in the playoffs since 2018.

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 12: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros reacts to Carlos Correa #1 in between innings during Game 4 of the ALDS between the Houston Astros and the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on Tuesday, October 12, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Astros stars Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman celebrate between innings during their Game 4 win over the White Sox. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

For the Astros, it’s a trend of the opposite sort. In what could be charitably described as a controversial and tumultuous run, they have reached the ALCS in every season since 2017. In the next round, they’ll go toe-to-toe with Alex Cora’s Boston Red Sox. Cora was formerly the bench coach in Houston, and a key figure in the sign-stealing scandal that roiled baseball and tarnished Houston’s 2017 title. He was suspended for the 2020 season over his role in the scheme, but was re-hired in Boston for 2021.

These two teams previously met in the 2018 ALCS, when Cora’s 108-win Red Sox juggernaut rolled over the Astros, four games to one, en route to a World Series title.

This Astros team has kept on winning — and hitting — despite inevitable changes to their core. George Springer left via free agency in the offseason, and Correa, the star shortstop whose arrival coincided with Houston’s ascent out of an extreme rebuild, will hit the open market at season’s end. Correa's postseason bonafides are sterling. Having just turned 27, he moved into a tie with Albert Pujols on Tuesday for the most playoff RBIs among all active players, with 54.

Their progress also represents another chance for manager Dusty Baker to secure an elusive World Series win.