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2019 ALDS Preview: Houston Astros vs Tampa Bay Rays

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The Astros begin their 2019 postseason campaign by facing off against the wild card winning Rays

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

The Narrative

These two teams meet after a couple of excellent regular seasons, though obviously the Astros’ was a cut above the wild card Rays. Still, the Rays will be a tough opponent for the Astros to draw, as one would expect any 96-win team to be. The two teams met for seven games in the regular season with the rays winning the season series at 4-3. 3 of those wins came in the opening series of the regular season where the Astros looked a little sluggish right out of the gate, but the second was a Houston series win in August. That is something of a microcosm for the Astros, who struggle when they play in Tampa Bay at the Trop for some reason, and makes home field advantage that much more important this year.

Astros

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

The Astros start October as the top seed in all of baseball, winning a franchise-record 107 games in 2019. They’ve done it with a mix of slugging and pitching thanks to a roster featuring two AL Cy Young candidates, the probable AL Rookie of the Year, and the maybe-but-probably-not-but-Mike-Trout-got-injured-so-we’ll-see AL MVP Alex Bregman. They also bolstered their already dangerous rotation with a trade for Zack Greinke at the deadline, a blockbuster last-second deal that put the baseball world on notice that Houston was going for it this year after an early exit in the 2018 ALCS.

This year’s postseason team definitely looks more complete than last year’s iteration even with a rotation that’s got a few more holes in it. It’s also a far cry healthier, though Carlos Correa’s back has been a nagging issue in the final month of the season. He has been cleared to play in the division series though, and appears to be a go for tonight’s lineup. While he did miss a significant portion of the season, when he was healthy Correa contributed greatly. A good showing in October could go a long way in silencing his detractors.

But even if Correa is a non-factor, the Astros have a lot to rely on in the lineup. Bregman is in the top ten in all of baseball for OBP, SLG, and OPS. George Springer joins him in there for OPS as well. Unsurprisingly, Springer and Bregman have been two of the hotter Astros coming into September. A little more surprising is that Reddick is probably the next best player in the month of September, and AJ has confirmed that he will start on Friday as well.

As a team the Astros lead the league in almost every traditional stat for batters, with a league best slash line of .274/.352/.495. The team also leads the league in walks (645), has the least amount of strikeouts of any team (1,166), and is also third in both home runs (288) and RBI’s (891).

The Astros’ bullpen should be a strength for the team during this series, and has turned in a solid performance during regular season. It is also a much more rested group of arms than most other teams, pitching the 6th fewest amount of innings this year. The Dodgers and Nationals are the only other teams in October to toss less during the regular season. In 555 innings, Houston’s pen has turned in a 3.75 ERA, good for third in MLB, and successfully converted 46 of 66 save opportunities, good for 5th in the league with a 70% save rate. The pen is also third in the league with a .226 BAA, which is the best mark in the AL.

Rays

MLB: AL Wild Card-Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays began the season on the right foot and looking like they were going to be the team to beat in the AL East. They took 3 of 4 from the Astros in the opening series of the season and would vault to the top of the standings in their division. While they looked to be in a strong position after the Yankees suffered a slew of injuries early in the year, they would only hold on to 1st until around mid-May. Though there were a couple of surges here and there, the Rays fell mostly to competing for the Wild Card by the middle of the season. They eventually claimed the final postseason spot during the final week of the regular season.

They did that mostly by staying hot through September and winning 17 of their final 26 games to keep pace with the surging A’s and just ahead of the Cleveland Indians. Even though they did lose the final two games of 2019, they were still able to carry that momentum into the Wild Card. They went on to overpower A’s starter Sean Manea in that one while also fending off an Oakland offense that simply could not find the situational hitting to get the job done. They now sport the only MLB pitcher to win three postseason elimination games in the form of old friend Charlie Morton, but we’ll cover him a little more later.

Tampa’s lineup was hitting the ball pretty well as they closed out the regular season, with Austin Meadows cementing his role as one of the best hitters on the team. He now leads the team on the year with a .291/.364/.558 slash line. He’s platooned with Tommy Pham in the outfield, who has also had an excellent year after getting picked up from the Cardinals in a trade for the Rays. Ji-Man Choi has also been one of the Rays’ power threats this season as well and looks to get some playing time as a lefty facing a gaggle of righties from the Astros. However, that move would come at the expense of wild card hero and alternate 1B Yandy Diaz, who mashed two homers in three hits against the A’s on Wednesday.

The Rays’ bullpen is a good one, one of the best in the league no doubt. The team has also earned its reputation as pioneers, first introducing the opener last season and continuing to do so this one. This can make it a little hard to parse just how excellent of a record the pen has versus their constant use of the opener. We may see something along those lines this series as both Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow are only recently returned from the IL, and may leave their games early due to not being completely stretched out.

Should that happen earlier in a game, the Rays may decide to deploy a “bulk innings” guy to try to bridge the gap to the back end of the pen with Yonny Chirinos and Brendan McKay possibilities for that role. Ryan Yarbrough could also come in, something he’s done at times this year. However, he’s also a candidate to start game 4 if needed and has spent most of the second half as a traditional starter.

Pitching Match Ups

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Game 1: Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 1.78 ERA) vs Justin Verlander (21-6, 2.58 ERA)

Tyler Glasnow will get the ball for Tampa in the opening game of this series after spending about four months on the IL. Before he went down with forearm strain he was posting some of the best numbers in the league with a 1.86 ERA and a 30% strikeout rate, including a 5-inning 1-run outing against the Astros. He pretty much picked up where he left off when he returned from the IL, having posted a 1.46 ERA in 12.1 IP across four starts, including 10.1 consecutive scoreless innings. He probably won’t go longer than 4 innings in this one since he’s still being stretched out, so expect to see a lot of the Rays’ bullpen right away.

Verlander gets the ball after a season for the ages and one that could very likely end with a Cy Young award for the 36-year-old. He ended up leading the league with a 0.80 WHIP, 21 wins, and 223 innings pitched. He also reached 300 strikeouts in a single season for the first time in his career and joined Gerrit Cole as just the second pair of teammates to do it in the same year. Verlander is also over 3,000 K’s total for his career, becoming just the 18th MLB pitcher to reach that milestone.

Game 2: Blake Snell (6-8, 4.29 ERA) vs Gerrit Cole (18-5, 2.50 ERA)

Like Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell is making his way back from an injury that sidelined him for a couple of months. Unlike Glasnow, Snell has not looked anywhere near his top form this season, and his games since his return reflect that. He’s only seen 6 innings of work in his three starts since coming back, giving up 3 runs and walking 5 in his final two. He was shelled by Houston on opening day for 5 runs in six innings, the only time he’s seen them this season. Expect an early exit from Snell in this one as he is also continuing to get stretched out.

Gerrit Cole gets the start in game 2, which does not make things any easier for the Rays. Like Verlander, Cole is a workhorse capable of going deep into games. He’s also a strikeout artist with 326 on the year and an eye-blistering 13.82 K/9 rate. Cole ended the season with 9 consecutive 10-strikeout games, a new MLB record, and looks to bring that momentum firmly into the ALDS. His 2.50 ERA is the best in the AL along with all his strikeout stats.

Game 3: Zack Greinke (18-5, 2.93 ERA) vs Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA)

Greinke makes this start after an excellent season from the crafty veteran where he continued to show that sometimes knowing how to pitch is better than knowing how to throw. In spite of another down-tick in velocity this year Greinke managed a sub-3.00 ERA and a decent, though certainly not dominant, strikeout rate. He’s also limited walks and managed less than one homer per nine innings this year. Greinke hasn’t pitched since September 25th, tossing a couple of bullpens in the off time to keep himself fresh.

Morton makes this start after knocking off the A’s in the wild card game, where he grinded through 5 innings, never looking comfortable but managing to keep the A’s off the board. This came after an excellent season where he certainly made Houston fans lament the team not doing more to keep him. While Morton has looked good against most of the rest of the league, he has had struggles against the Astros this year including a 6-run, 4-inning performance in his last start at Minute Maid Park. He went 5 innings and gave up just 2 during the opening series of the season as well.

Game 4 (if necessary): TBD

Game 5 (if necessary): TBD

The final 2 games have yet to be announced and will obviously depend on a number of factors as the series plays out, least of which is whether or not they are even necessary. Game 4 is especially up in the air as the Astros are still grappling with the Wade Miley situation and the Rays may want to use starter Ryan Yarbrough in another situation. Game 1 starters going on short rest could also be in the cards if either team is up against the wall, which would change the calculus for game 5 as well.

Fun Fact

I know this dude should have typed five, but the fact is still solid!

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Friday, October 4th @ 1:05 pm CDT
Listen: Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, ESPN Radio, WGES 680 / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio
Watch: FS1, SF1-INT

Game 2: Saturday, October 5th @ 8:07 pm CDT
Listen: Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, ESPN Radio, WGES 680 / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio
Watch: FS1, SF1-INT

Game 3: Monday, October 7th @ TBD
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, ESPN Radio, WGES 680
Watch: MLB Network, MLB Network-INT

Game 4 (if necessary): Tuesday, October 8th @ TBD
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, ESPN Radio, WGES 680
Watch: FS1, SF1-INT

Game 5 (if necessary): Thursday, October 10th @ TBD
Listen: Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, ESPN Radio, WGES 680 / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM, ESPN Radio
Watch: FS1, SF1-INT

Poll

Who wins this ALDS?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Astros Sweep 3-0
    (56 votes)
  • 54%
    Astros Win 3-1
    (113 votes)
  • 6%
    Astros Win 3-2
    (14 votes)
  • 9%
    Rays Win 3-2
    (19 votes)
  • 1%
    Rays Win 3-1
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Rays Sweep 3-0
    (1 vote)
206 votes total Vote Now