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In what was supposed to be a clash of AL titans, the Astros outclassed the White Sox in every facet

Hitting, pitching, fielding, managing... it was a clean sweep.

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Chicago White Sox Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros have Terminator-walked into another American League Championship Series. As surely no other writer or outlet has noted, it’s the organization’s fifth straight ALCS appearance, a feat that’s been matched by only two other teams since the Divisional Era’s inception in 1969.

Ahead of Game 1 of the Astros’ series with the White Sox, FanGraphs gave both clubs roughly the same odds to win the World Series. It was to be a hotly-contested American League Division Series. And then it wasn’t.

Aside from the shenanigans that occurred in Game 3 — a game that was greatly impacted by factors the Astros had little to no control over — the series itself seemed to never be in jeopardy for the AL West champions. There was the occasional precarious moment in each of the first two games, but overall, the Astros were never at risk of losing home-field advantage.

The White Sox offense could only muster singles during their time in Houston, resulting in a meager tally of five runs combined in both games. The Astros pitching staff induced ground ball after ground ball and perhaps the game’s top defensive unit did what it had done for the entire season.

On the other side of the ball, baseball’s most potent lineup was to be faced by the pitching staff with the highest strikeout rate in the big leagues. Few teams boasted a more formidable collection of arms than the one assembled in Chicago’s South Side. It was to be a clash of titans. And then it wasn’t.

Chicago’s ace, Lance Lynn, could not make it out of the fourth inning in Game 1. Lucas Giolito was the lone White Sox starter to make it beyond four frames in his Game 2 start, and he managed to get just one out in the fifth before getting the hook. Later in the contest, reliever Craig Kimbrel, seen as one of the trade deadline’s most significant acquisitions, allowed two runs on his way to recording two outs.

A 13-to-5 run deficit was a rather notable one as the series shifted to Chicago.

With their backs against the wall in Game 3, White Sox hitters rose to the occasion, putting up a double-digit number on the scoreboard. But yet again, their starting pitcher, the young and talented Dylan Cease, was chased in the second inning after coughing up three runs. Flamethrowing reliever Michael Kopech pitched better but ultimately met the same fate, as he too surrendered three runs.

With their backs against the wall in Game 4, White Sox hitters folded, scoring just one run in what would be the series finale. Lefty Carlos Rodón had his usual velocity — even reaching 99 mph in the first frame — but the Astros got to him in the third inning, resulting in another early yank. Kopech was called upon again, and the Astros greeted him with another three-spot in the fourth.

For good measure, All-Star closer Liam Hendriks — who Sox skipper Tony La Russa inexplicably did not bring in until the ninth, when his team was trailing by six — got tagged for a trio of runs, courtesy of a José Altuve three-run blast.

The White Sox allowed the most stolen bases in the bigs in 2021 and the Astros took full advantage of it throughout the series. In yesterday’s game, Kyle Tucker appeared to effortlessly steal second and third base on back-to-back pitches, and then 34-year-old Michael Brantley later matched his regular-season stolen base output by nabbing a bag.

The 10-1 rout was an exclamation point on a decisive 3-1 series victory for the 2019 pennant winners. Additionally, it was a game that highlighted La Russa’s refusal to ditch decades-old managerial tactics. An already-overworked bullpen received no reinforcements, as neither Lynn nor Giolito appeared in the elimination game. It was as if it was merely an insignificant game in the middle of May for the 77-year-old La Russa, a three-time World Series champion and two-time DUI getter.

It’s unlikely the Astros will receive similar aid from the opposition when Alex Cora’s Red Sox come to town this Friday. They’ll have to outplay a club that defeated the 100-win Rays in four games in the other ALDS.

The White Sox were meant to challenge the AL-favorite Astros. It appeared they were in the process of making things interesting following Game 3. It was to be a five-game series, according to the South Side faithful. And then it wasn’t.