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Series Preview #27: Houston Astros @ Tampa Bay Rays

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The Astros (54-28, 1st in AL West) visit the Sunshine State with a 4 game set against the Rays (39-40, 3rd in AL East)

MLB: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Recency Bias

Astros

The Astros stroll in to Tampa winners of 6 straight series, including a 2-1 series win over the Rays in Houston last week. The offense continues to roll as timely hitting is becoming a big factor with three walk offs in the 9 game home stand, two delivered by Alex Bregman. Bregman has been on a tear recently with 3 home runs, 5 doubles, 7 RBI, and 3 walks in the last two series and is slashing .370/.433/.889. Altuve also continued his hot streak in that time, getting on base at a .519 clip. Reddick has been on base at an absurd rate with 10 hits and 1 walk in 16 ABs. Beyond that Gurriel has continued to be clutch, Gattis is still an RBI machine though his average has dipped, and Kemp continues to fill out the role of pesky 9 spot guy. Special mention to Marisnick, who has been getting it done both defensively and offensively and seems to be finding himself at the plate recently. Springer, Stassi, Gonzalez, and McCann have all been a in a funk at the plate, with just 4 hits between them, but Gonzalez and Springer have been taking walks at least. Correa has also been cold, and was scratched from the last two games due to back stiffness.

The Astros’ bullpen has also continued a strong run since last they faced the Rays, with only a couple of blemishes in the last week. Devo has been absolutely nails in that time with 4 perfect innings and 5 K’s. Other than that, McHugh, Giles, Harris, and Peacock all saw the most work this past week, with Peacock being particularly effective with 7 K’s in 3.1 IP. Giles and McHugh have both given up a run, though McHugh’s was unearned, to go with Sipp’s first surrendered ER since mid May. Harris has been a little wobbly lately, giving up a couple of earned runs, 3 H, 1 BB and a home run in 3.1 IP since the Rays last faced him. Rondon has also been a little bit shaky recently, with 2 hits and 3 walks in 2 IP this past week, but was also able to stay out of trouble with 0 ER and 3 K’s. There hasn’t been a save opportunity in the last two series so Hinch seems to be spreading the work around fairly evenly, though Devo did appear in the most innings. Devenski is in the top three for IP with McHugh and Peacock, all three of which are in the conversation for Astros’ top reliever so far this season.

The plan continues in good order as the Astros continue to try and beat up on .500 or lower teams and shake the pesky Mariners who are lurking 3.5 games back.

Rays

The Rays welcome Houston as winners of the first five games on their own home stand after sweeping the Yankees (tee hee) and the Nationals. The last loss the Rays suffered was at the hands of the Astros in Houston last week. Since then the offense has been mostly producing except for a couple of low scoring one run games. Rookie Jake Bauers, who you may remember antagonizing Astros pitching in the last series, has been leading the charge with a .368/.478/.737 slash line, 2 doubles, a triple, and a homer. Wilson Ramos has also been turning in healthy production at the plate recently, popping a couple of homers in the last week to go with 6 hits. Trade speculation has begun to swirl around him as a possibly available catching option for a contender, so we may see him again after this series. Acknowledgement that Carlos Gomez has been hitting well this week goes here. Willy Adames and Kevin Kiermaier have also been turning in excellent at bats in the last two series, with Daniel Robertson and Matt Duffy also getting on base regularly. Beyond that Tampa’s lineup has been mostly quiet.

The Rays continue with the opener experiment, which has been turning in good early results for Tampa. The Rays have a couple of regular openers who might be options to start the third game of this series, which is still TBD. The first is Matt Andriese, who has been filling more of a long man role, usually by following an opening reliever and going 2 to 3 innings. Andriese has a tendency to give up runs, having surrendered 3 ER in each of his last 2 games. The second is Ryan Yarbrough, who is another middle innings reliever for Tampa, and has several starts under his belt. Yarbrough also has a tendency to give up a lot of runs, but has done well his last two times out. The difference is that he can easily go 4 innings and has had several games where he’s gone between 5 to 7 IP. Both Yarbrough and Andriese have not pitched recently, so whether they start the third game might be dictated by usage in the first two. Sergio Romo has been slotted in to the closer role, converting two opportunities in a row since leaving Houston to go with 4 decent to good outings in a row. Chaz Roe is a pretty decent option for the Rays out of the pen, as is recent call up Diego Castillo and traditional long man Vidal Nuno.

The Rays will look to keep on playing spoiler to teams with better records and keep their streak alive.

Pitching Match Ups

Game 1: Lance McCullers Jr., RHP (8-3. 3.82 ERA) vs. Ryne Stanek, RHP (1-1, 1.99 ERA)

Lance will start this game on a roll as he has pitched at least six innings in his last five games and hasn’t given up more than 3 ER in any of them. Overall Lance is having a fine season with only two truly disastrous outings this year. His walk numbers have been going up recently though, as he has not had a game without at least two walks since the end of April. His peripherals are starting to settle in near career averages though, except for his FIP, which is low but closer to league average.

Stanek continues to impress in his role as #1 opener for Tampa. Though not just as an opener, as he has been very good for the Rays in 2018. He hasn’t given up a single run in June during 13 innings of work. When he last faced Houston he started the first game of the series with a perfect 1.2 IP and then followed it up with a clean 8th inning of relief the next night. Stanek has given up a lot of walks, including 1 in each of his last two appearances, but that was after 5 IP without one. He has not appeared in the last 4 days after pitching 5 innings in 6 days, so should be well rested.

The bullpenning method wasn’t able to hold the champs the last time around and I think that McCullers can continue his recent good streak of games.

Game 2: Gerrit Cole, RHP (9-1, 2.56 ERA) vs. Wilmer Font, RHP (1-3, 6.46 ERA)

Cole had one of his least efficient outings of the season his last time out where he was able to grind out a win with 5 innings of 1 run ball against KC. He would continue his torrid strikeout pace though, fanning 8 in that game. His start before that was against the Rays, where he would go 7 IP, but tie his season high with 4 ER. Those runs were surrendered early in the game before Cole was able to settle in to get through 7 and keep the bullpen well rested. Cole has looked a little more human recently. but is still having a very high-caliber season.

Font has been getting stretched out as a starter after beginning the season in Tampa’s bullpen. Before that he had worked mostly in middle relief, usually going a couple of innings. Since his time in the rotation he has a 1.69 ERA in 16 IP with 11 H, 3 ER, 1 HR, 6 BB, and 15 K’s. He’s only qualified for a decision once though, winning his most recent game against the Yankees with 5.2 innings of shutout ball. His numbers on the year are pretty horrific, but a lot of the damage comes from some absolutely terrible appearances around the start of the season.

Cole may have had some slight struggles recently, but I think he will have his way with the Rays again this time out.

Game 3: Justin Verlander, RHP (9-3, 1.82 ERA) vs. TBD

Verlander comes in to this start after one of his more forgettable games of the season. He was able to go 6.2 IP and almost got through the seventh, but gave up 4 ER for the first time all season off of 2 home runs. The start before that against the Rays he would also go 6.2 IP, but only gave up 1 ER during those frames and struck out 10 batters for the third time this season. Like Cole, Verlander has looked a little more down to earth lately, but not so much as to seem like anything other than normal regression.

The Rays have yet to name a starter for the third game, but it will likely be one of the undeclared openers, who I covered in Recency Bias.

I have more faith in Verlander bouncing back than I do in the remaining openers the Rays have in the pen.

Game 4: Charlie Morton, RHP (10-1, 2.54 ERA) vs. Blake Snell, LHP (10-4, 2.31 ERA)

Morton will take the mound after one of his most dominant outings of 2018 against the Blue Jays. He would twirl a gem with 7 shutout innings and 13 strikeouts, his fifth double digit strikeout game of the year. His curve ball was particularly filthy as he would seem to finally find the command that had been eluding him recently. Morton would only give up a single, unearned run across 6 IP in his previous start against the Rays, but would also walk 4 and only strikeout 4 as well. Morton is now the first Astros starter to get to double digit wins on the year.

Tampa counters with Snell, who had a pretty dominant outing of his own in his most recent start against the Nationals. The impressive lefty went 7 IP with only 1 H and 10 K’s, but would walk 4 on the night. This continued a trend from his last start against the Astros, where he would allow 7 free passes. Unfortunately, Houston was unable to cash in on that, only scoring a single run in 7 innings against him. Snell has been having a good year for the Rays, and is quickly developing into an anchor in that rotation, especially with Chris Archer on the shelf.

Fun Fact

Alex Bregman now leads the league in walk off hits with 3, which are the only 3 regular season walk off hits of his career. He has 1 post season walk off hit.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Thursday, June 28th @ 6:10 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, WGES 680
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rays - Fox Sports Sun / MLB.TV

Game 2: Friday, June 29th @ 6:10 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, WGES 680
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rays - Fox Sports Sun / MLB.TV

Game 3: Saturday, June 30th @ 3:10 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, 104.3 FM/760 AM WLCC
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rays - Fox Sports Sun / MLB.TV

Game 4: Sunday, July 1st @ 12:10 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790, La Ranchera 850 AM / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, 104.3 FM/760 AM WLCC
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rays - Fox Sports Sun / MLB.TV

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Astros Sweep 4-0
    (23 votes)
  • 63%
    Astros Win 3-1
    (100 votes)
  • 18%
    Series Split 2-2
    (29 votes)
  • 2%
    Rays Win 3-1
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Rays Sweep 4-0
    (2 votes)
158 votes total Vote Now