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Astros, Twins square off

‘We’ve just got to go out there and beat him even though we like him a lot.’

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Defending champion Houston will face two talented former teammates when the Astros meet Minnesota in one of four Major League Baseball second-round playoff series openers on Saturday.

Twins shortstop Carlos Correa spent seven seasons with the Astros, helping them win the 2017 World Series, before leaving last year.

“We’ve just got to go out there and beat him even though we like him a lot,” Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. “We’ve got to be careful.

“He was a great leader for our team when he was here. We know he likes to play in big games and come out clutch, but we’ve got to find a way to stop him.”

The Astros are trying to become the first team since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees to win consecutive MLB titles.

“I know it’s a lot of time since a team won back-to-back, but the fact that we’re here, we have a chance to do it, we’re going to play as a team, make every play possible and try to win it again,” Altuve said.

Correa has 60 playoff runs batted in, the most of any active player, and helped the Twins snap an 18-game playoff losing streak, the longest in American sport, to win round one.

“We’re going out there with the mentality that we can compete against anybody,” Correa said. “I feel confident going to Houston.”

His replacement was Jeremy Pena, who was last year’s World Series and American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player.

“It was a lot of pressure for him early last year trying to fill Carlos’ spot, but I think he did amazing,” Altuve said. “He’s very excited. He talks about it and he wants to win bad, too.”

Minnesota catcher Christian Vazquez helped Houston win last year’s MLB crown before departing and has already been in touch with his former teammates.

“Vasquez sent me a text message just saying, hey, I’ll see you soon,” Astros slugger Yordan Alvarez said. “It was more in a friendly way. It wasn’t really in a competitive way.

“Once we get between the lines, it’s going to be a lot more competitive. We have a really nice friendship and it’s going to be really fun.”

Saturday’s other best-of-five series openers find Texas at Baltimore in the American League with Arizona at the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia at Atlanta in the National League.

The Twins went 4-2 against Houston this season but they haven’t played since May.

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