Powerful pitching has lifted the Atlanta Braves to their deepest Major League Baseball playoff run in 19 years while the big-hitting Houston Astros are one round from the World Series for the fourth year in a row.
Atlanta pitcher Kyle Wright struck out seven batters over six scoreless innings and the Braves blanked Miami 7-0 Thursday, while the Astros had two home runs from Michael Brantley plus homers from Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve in beating Oakland 11-6.
"The guys are swinging the bats really well -- 1-to-9 everybody is contributing," Brantley said. "It has been a fun ride this post-season. We're looking forward to keeping it going."
The Braves swept Miami 3-0 in the best-of-five second-round series and booked a berth in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series, which starts on Monday.
It's the first time since 2001 the Braves, who lost 95 games in 2015, have advanced to the NLCS.
"It means a lot," Braves star first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "Coming from where we were five years ago to where we are now is a complete 180. For us to be in this situation is completely incredible.
"This group of guys is special. Our confidence level is pretty high."
The Braves will face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Diego Padres, with the Dodgers hoping to complete a sweep later Thursday.
The Astros beat Oakland 3-1 in their best-of-five matchup to reach the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, which begins on Sunday.
Houston will face either the Tampa Bay Rays or New York Yankees. The Yankees forced a decisive game five with a 5-1 victory over the Rays.
Luke Voit and Gleyber Torres homered for the Yankees, and starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery and three relievers combined to limit the Rays to three hits as New York rebounded from two straight defeats against their American League East rivals.
Voit, who led the major leagues with 22 home runs in the pandemic-shortened season, led off the second inning with a homer off Rays starting pitcher Ryan Thompson.
Torres belted a towering two-run homer into the off of Ryan Yarbrough that put New York up 4-1 with one out in the sixth inning.
It was Torres' first home run of these playoffs and the fifth post-season homer of his career.
- 'Team effort' -
The Astros won the 2017 World Series over the Dodgers in seven games, lost to Boston in the 2018 ALCS and went back to the World Series last year, falling in seven games to Washington -- a failure that has inspired this year's success.
"Experience had a lot to do with it," Brantley said. "We came up short last year. To come back and play good post-season baseball was our goal. We've been putting quality at-bats together and getting wins."
The Astros feats in 2017 and 2018 have been tainted by a sign-stealing scandal, cameras and banging on trash cans used to alert batters to what pitches were coming, but new manager Dusty Baker has helped Houston recover.
"It's a team effort. We've got each other's backs," Brantley said. "To have a veteran team that comes to compete every day and knows how to play playoff baseball, it's special."