Bad-boy Astros, fun-loving Rays set to face off in ALCS

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Tampa Bay Rays' Michael Brosseau (43) celebrates after hitting a solo home run during the eighth inning in Game 5 of the baseball team's AL Division Series against the New York Yankees, Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SAN DIEGO – Managed by universally acclaimed good guy Dusty Baker, the Houston Astros remain villains in many people’s eyes for their sign-stealing scandal three years ago.

The Tampa Bay Rays, meanwhile, are a fun-loving bunch that makes the most of their small payroll, including the best record in the American League in the pandemic-shortened season.

The Astros, who got into the playoffs with a losing record, and Rays meet in the postseason for the second straight year beginning on Sunday night, this time in the AL Championship Series at Petco Park.

The Astros are in the ALCS for the fourth straight year, looking for a third trip to the World Series in that span. The Rays are trying to get to their second World Series after losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.

It's a matchup of left-handers in Game 1, with Houston's Framber Valdez opposing Blake Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner.

The Astros are 5-1 in the playoffs after going 29-31 in the regular season. They eliminated AL West champion Oakland in four games in the ALDS at Dodger Stadium.

“Our team understands that in the playoffs, you start over. You start fresh and go from there,” said George Springer, MVP of the 2017 World Series.

The Rays went the distance in the ALDS against the New York Yankees, advancing with a 2-1 victory Friday night on Mike Brosseau’s dramatic eighth-inning home run off Aroldis Chapman.