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Series Preview #24: Tampa Bay Rays @ Houston Astros

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The Astros (48-25, 1st in AL West) continue their assault on the soft underbelly of the AL as they welcome the Rays (33-38, tied for 3rd in AL East) to Houston

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Recency Bias

The Astros return home after setting Arlington, Oakland, and Kansas City on fire as they would sweep the 10 game road trip and now own a season high 11 game win streak. The month of June has been especially good for Houston, who has a 12-3 record with the offense slashing .306/.369/.524 as a collective unit. Though most of the lineup has been contributing consistently, the three big hitters in June have been Marwin, Correa, and Gattis. Of those, Marwin has been white hot after a slow start, with a .459/.524/.811 slash line to go with 4 doubles, 3 triples, 1 homer, and 5 walks in 37 ABs with only 6 K’s. Gattis has continued turning things around as well, leading the team with 7 home runs and 23 RBIs in the last 17 days. In spite of missing the entire Rangers series, Correa would mash 4 homers in the month to go with 14 hits and 6 walks in 43 ABs. The bottom of the lineup deserves special mention in the last couple of series, with Kemp doing an excellent job of getting on base and Marisnick driving in runs. Beyond that, the only batters not quite holding their weight are Springer, who is ice cold recently, and McCann, who hasn’t done a lot at the plate beyond a homer in Oakland.

As for the bullpen, it continued with the recent run of dominant showings, only yielding 2 runs, 1 earned, in the last six games. They would strike out 14 Royals in 9 innings worth of work at Kaufman stadium. Though there have been some runs surrendered, the bullpen has been cruising during the winning streak, holding leads late and keeping opposing offenses from opening up games. Sipp and Rondon both continue to impress in more important roles as neither has given up a run since mid-May. Sipp in particular has made a complete 360, going from low leverage lefty specialist to someone who will get an inning where he’s like to see a tough or several lefties. Rondon seems to be solidifying himself in the closer role, gaining the save in the final game in KC. Giles was given the set up role in that game, pitching a perfect inning and looking like he might be ready to accept a new role in the pen. I’d also like to note that with a good turn through the rotation, Hinch has been able to implement regular rest for the pen again. It also helps that the relievers have been turning in quality innings lately, setting the team up for success down the road.

Houston will look to keep stepping on the little people and start getting some separation from the pesky Mariners, who have done well to start their gauntlet through the AL East.

The Rays come in to town in the midst of a season that can be described as streaky. They have 8 game, 6 game, and 5 game win streaks to go with two 8 game and a 5 game loss streak. On the season as a whole, they only have two regular players with an OPS hovering near .800 and one of those is Daniel Robertson, who is currently on the DL. Former Giant Matt Duffy is the other, who is probably the most consistent Rays player this season, slashing .318/.360/.439 on the year. They do have a recent call up, Jake Bauers, who has looked good in the last couple of series, but the jury is still mostly out on him. CJ Cron, who you may remember playing 1B for the Angels last season, is the Rays’ biggest power threat this season, with 15 long balls on the year, but has looked absolutely lost at the plate in his last 6 games, with 15 K’s and 3 walks in his last 18 ABs. Everyone’s favorite ex-Astro Carlos Gomez will slink back to town with a sub-200 average and, if he faces him, will probably stare down McHugh on any pitch that comes inside. Beyond that the Rays lineup hasn’t been very threatening in 2018.

The Rays’ bullpen is currently in the middle of either a game revolutionizing innovation in the bullpen, a blip in the history of the game, or something in between with “the opener.” For those unfamiliar, Tampa is starting games with relievers to face the big bats in the lineup before giving it over to a regular starter or a long man. So far it’s produced good enough results to keep the experiment going. The two main relievers placed in this role has been Sergio Romo and Ryne Stanek, though Wilmer Font, Matt Andriese, and Ryan Yarbrough have both seen starts as well. Romo has been seeing double duty recently, collecting both a save and a game started in his last 7 appearances since Colome was traded to Seattle. Austin Pruitt is the bullpen starter, who usually comes on to take over a game after the opener, but has only had a smattering of really good outings. Andriese is usually the long man out of the pen for the Rays, and has had a good year himself. Beyond that the Rays’ pen has been somewhat mediocre, though they have pitched very well as a unit over the last couple of series, except for Yarbrough.

Tampa doesn’t hold much hope to run down the Yankees or Boston, so will look to play for pride and maybe trip up Houston.

Pitching Match Ups

Game 1: Ryne Stanek, RHP (1-1, 2.55 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole, RHP (8-1, 2.40 ERA)

Stanek has become one of the trusted openers, starting 5 of the last 9 games he’s appeared in. He’s performed well in that time, only surrendering 2 runs in one game to Oakland. He will most like be followed by Matt Andriese, who is one of the more rested arms in Tampa’s pen. Andriese will usually go out there for 2 to 3 innings, but can get wobbly, and has given up runs in 5 of his last 8 games.

Houston will send out Gerrit Cole, who gave up 4 runs for the first time in his last start against Oakland. He would get burned by the home run ball that game, something that has been happening a little more frequently with Gerrit, though the damage has been limited. He also fanned six on the night while going at least 6.0 IP, something Cole has been able to do in all but 2 of his 14 starts.

I feel like here’s where the starters separate themselves from the openers, and the Astros are able to hit the Rays’ pen hard and give Cole the advantage.

Game 2: Blake Snell, LHP (8-4, 2.58 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander, RHP (9-2, 1.61 ERA)

Snell is one of Tampa’s bright spot this season and is closer to filling out the role that the Rays have envision for him. He has given up more than 2 runs in only three games this season. One of those three is his most recent start against the Yankees, where he would give up 4 ER across 5 IP. Those games were rough for Snell, but he’s been able to bounce back each time. However, a low BABIP and a FIP of 3.53 show that the Astros might be able to find a weakness in the armor.

Verlander will get the ball for the Astros after another excellent performance out in Oakland. He would give up 3 runs, but got through 7 IP to help take the load off the bullpen and still struck out 7. He would also show good command by not walking anyone. It was the second time in a row that JV has give up more three earned runs, and only the third time this season.

Snell is good, but Verlander has not shown any signs of slowing down in his role as staff ace, and I have to give him the edge here.

Game 3: Nathan Eovaldi, RHP (1-2, 4.63 ERA) vs. Charlie Morton, RHP (8-1, 2.94 ERA)

The veteran Eovaldi recently returned from elbow surgery and looked promising in his first start against Oakland, thrown six no hit innings and walking 1. That wouldn’t last though, as he would give up 4, 3, and 5 ER in his three next starts. He has managed to keep walks to a minimal, but has done the same with strikeouts while already giving up 4 home runs. He has a ridiculously low .182 BABIP even though his FIP is slightly below his ERA, suggesting that he could start giving up more hits.

Morton will start for Houston and is fresh off a bounce back outing his last time out in KC where things were still a little shaky, but Morton worked a win. He had a couple of innings where his command left him, costing him runs as walked batted would come around to score. He did strikeout 9 though, and seemed to find confidence and command as the game wore on.

Eovaldi has had his issues and Morton has had trouble with command recently, but was much improved in his last outing, so I’m going to say he has the better chance.

Fun Fact

The Astros have an average chance of 73% to win each game during the next two series according to fivethirtyeight.com.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Monday, June 18th @ 7:10 pm CDT
Listen: Rays - WDAE 620 AM / 95.3 FM, WGES 680 / Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Rays - Fox Sports Sun / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / MLB.TV

Game 2: Tuesday, June 19th @ 7:10 pm CDT
Listen: Rays - WDAE 620 AM / 95.3 FM, WGES 680 / Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Rays - Fox Sports Sun / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / MLB.TV

Game 3: Wednesday, June 20th @ 7:10 pm CDT
Listen: Rays - WDAE 620 AM / 95.3 FM, WGES 680 / Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Rays - Fox Sports Sun / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / MLB.TV

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Astros Sweep 3-0
    (98 votes)
  • 34%
    Astros Win 2-1
    (56 votes)
  • 2%
    Rays Win 2-1
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Rays Sweep 3-0
    (3 votes)
161 votes total Vote Now