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2019 Series Preview #1: Houston Astros @ Tampa Bay Rays

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The Astros start the 2019 campaign with a 4 game set against the Rays. Alternatively: BAAAAAASEBAAAAALL!!!!!

Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

I’d just like to take a minute to truly appreciate the return of meaningful baseball. The turning of the season as the smell of the grass and broken-in leather once again permeates fields across the country from major league stadiums to small dusty lots. Once again the crack of the bat will reverberate and teammates will shout aloud in both joy and despair. You know that winter is ending because another season of baseball is here to help us while away lazy summer afternoons. And once more, the Astros take the field in search of glory.

Let’s watch it together.

Spring Training Bias

Astros

The Astros loop back to northern Florida after spending most of Spring Training there and ending their exhibition games at a healthy 18-12 record. There weren’t a whole lot of surprises for the team this past month as a majority of the roster was set for the regular season. Even so, there were some question marks that were put to bed when Peacock was announced as the fifth starter and Framber Valdez was named his replacement in the pen.

Of the regular bats who were in the lineup for this Spring, Alex Bregman probably had the best performance at the plate to the surprise of absolutely no one, slashing .348/.488/.677. To the surprise of some Tony Kemp was not too far behind with a 1.040 OPS and a team high 10 walks. Newly-minted backstop Robinson Chirinos joined both of them as the only other Astro with an OPS over 1.000.

Gurriel, Marisnick, and Correa all came close to joining them at the millennium mark though. Yuli in particular had a robust batting average this past month, hitting at .372 while mashing 5 doubles and a homer. Meanwhile, Jake had himself a fine Spring as well, sending 3 homers out of the park to go with 6 walks while Correa got on base at a .381 clip.

The rest of the regulars mostly had a somewhat pedestrian ST with Springer turning in one of the better performances, but not by much in comparison to Reddick and Altuve. In comparison to the other players, Tyler White had a pretty down Spring while the newly acquired Aledmys Diaz did not impress, turning in a rather paltry .453 OPS.

Meanwhile, the bullpen turned in decent enough performance this past March, though Roberto Osuna was easily the best pitcher working in relief. Appearing almost exclusively in one inning spurts, Osuna held a 0.00 ERA and 6 K’s and only 2 hits across 6.1 innings of work. Pressly was the next best, only surrendering a single run across 5 IP to go with a fancy 8 strikeouts. After that, Josh James turned in the best performance of any of the relievers. even with his ST shortened due to injury, he still managed 4.1 innings and only surrendered a single run, but did give up 6 hits.

Things get a little ugly from there for the relievers, with no one sporting an ERA under 5.00. Devo managed to turn his Spring around after a pretty rocky star though, giving up all 4 of his earned runs in his first 0.1 innings of work before sharpening up. Indeed, it seems that most of the relievers would start off slow before finding themselves and have relatively good Springs. Except for Framber Valdez, who stumbled in his final appearance, giving up 5 ER in just 1.2 innings.

Now that Spring is out of the way, the Astros will try and continue the success, get off to a quick pace, and hopefully beat up on the somewhat-improved Rays in their home stadium.

Rays

The Rays return to Florida after a Spring that was something of a mirror image compared to the Astros. They only managed to turn in a 13-17 record, landing only three spots from the bottom of the pile in Grapefruit League play.

The Rays most dangerous hitters this March were topped by second baseman Brandon Lowe with a beefy .377/.411/.698 slash line for the exhibition matches. Ji-Man Choi, who was traded over from Milwaukee last season, will start the season at first after winning the position thanks to an impressive offensive performance of his own.

In spite of the poor record, a good number of the Ray’s players had pretty decent offensive Springs. As a team, the Rays pumped out a bunch of homers with catcher Mike Zunino leading the MLB players with 4 long balls even though he was on the lower end of the offensive spectrum. Tommy Pham, Austin Meadows, and Avisail Garcia all turned in an OPS north of .900, making for a potent trio of outfielders during March.

Though there was mostly good news for the Rays, shortstop Willy Adames turned in a pretty weak performance, only managing a .603 OPS while striking out 17 times in 45 AB’s.

Of course, the Rays strategy lies mostly in their bullpen, where they will once again look to employ the opener strategy. Only carrying three full-time starters, expect to see Ryne Stanek, Diego Castillo, and possibly Wilmer Font making some starts for the team this year. As a result, Tampa’s pen is a little heavy with 9 relievers ready to go.

Of the three Stanek has the most experience in the opener position, doing it for 29 games in 2018, but he also had a rather suspect Spring, surrendering 5 runs across 9.1 IP. Castillo was slightly better with just 4 runs surrendered in just 8.1 innings while Font’s performance is probably better left unmentioned.

Beyond that, Ryan Yarbrough probably had the best outings of all the relievers, turning in a 3.24 ERA in 8.1 IP and 12 strikeouts. No one else sported an ERA better than 5.00 out of the pen, but one thing that Tampa’s relievers did do well was go multiple innings, usually stretching for at least two in most performances.

The Rays are ready to compete for the East based off a late season surge in 2018, and will look to get off on the right foot while opening at home against a pretty big test.

Of course, I feel it necessary to mention that I only talk about Spring Training since it’s the most recent accumulation of stats. But as everyone knows, those numbers mean nothing once the games mean something.

Pitching Match Ups

Game 1: Justin Verlander, RHP (0-0, -.— ERA) vs. Blake Snell, LHP (0-0, -.— ERA)

Verlander will make his 11th Opening Day start, tying the MLB record, after everything seemed to be ramping up for him in his final start of ST. He would strike out 9 batters across five scoreless innings against the Marlins in that game while capping off what has been a pretty fantastic Spring for him. Proving himself the perennial workhorse ace, his 2.40 ERA in 17.1 innings were among the best showings in the Astros’ rotation, while his 25 strikeouts blew the closest of 15 away. (That was Miley and Cole, btw)

Opposing him will be Blake Snell, who will be making the first Opening Day start of his career. Snell would finish his ST with a 0.00 official ERA, but that comes after only three innings. The rest of his time prepping would be on minor league fields and in exhibition games against college players. He also started slow thanks to an illness that at the end of February. There is some question as to whether he’s ready to face MLB-level hitting, but the Astros would be foolish to discount the 2018 AL Cy Young winner.

In a battle like this I’ll have to take my favorite player player and say that Verlander edges Snell and Houston make a statement to open the 2019 season.

Game 2: Gerrit Cole, RHP (0-0, -.— ERA) vs. Charlie Morton*, RHP (0-0. -.— ERA)

While his ERA may be slightly higher than Verlander’s for ST, Cole arguable had the better Spring. Though his last time out he didn’t exactly shine while giving up 3 runs in 5.1 innings to the Nats, he would finish exhibition games with a minuscule .179 BA and an elite 0.81 WHIP in 16 innings of work. As he enters a contract year, expect Cole to light a fire under himself and look to perform at a high level this season.

Meanwhile, he’ll face off against literal and metaphorical Old Friend Charlie Morton, who signed with the Rays over the 2018 offseason. Morton has had an excellent Spring Training himself, serving up a 1.69 ERA across 10.2 innings while striking out 10 in that time. Though is is fair to point out that there were 4 unearned runs mixed in there. Still, a .184 average and 0.94 WHIP are nothing to sneeze at as he prepares to face off against his former team and possibly deliver a little revenge for letting him go.

As much as I love me some CFM, and will always root for him against other teams, I don’t see him being better than Cole here.

Game 3: Collin McHugh, RHP (0-0, -.— ERA) vs. Tyler Glasnow*, (0-0, -.— ERA)

Collin McHugh’s Spring has been... not great. Hampered by back stiffness he’s only started 3 games and would get lit up for 10 runs on 12 hits across just 5.2 IP. He would only manage 3 strikeouts in that time while allowing a .429 opponent’s batting average and a monster 2.47 WHIP. While you certainly can’t take Spring Training numbers to heart, something has seemed off about McHugh this past month that he can hopefully shake off as he heads into his first start of 2019.

Tyler Glasnow will come into this season after a better ST than McHugh, but not by much. He would give up 15 runs across 13 innings while walking 8. He did manage a shiny 16 K’s in that time frame though, but 8 walks and a 2.00 WHIP seems to suggest that he has trouble keeping that going consistently. The Rays will need him to step up and live up to his ceiling if they hope to contend in a top-heavy AL East.

Both pitchers here have had pretty awful Springs so I’m going to call this one a toss-up depending on who can best find their form in this game.

*The pitchers for the Rays in both Game 2 and Game 3 are still listed as TBD on the official site, but these are the most likely candidates if they go with an actual starter.

Game 4: Wade Miley, LHP (0-0, -.— ERA) vs. TBD

Miley makes this start after a Spring that he can feel pretty good about, going 15 innings across 4 starts with a rotation-best 2.40 ERA. He did give up a good number of hits, but managed to limit damage and get timely strikeouts when needed. He’ll look to continue the success he had with the Brewers to end 2018 and prove himself to his new team as the Astros seek another World Series berth.

Houston will most likely face one of the Rays’ openers, my money is on Stanek, who I covered up in the recency bias section.

I’m gonna have to go with Miley over the Rays’ bullpen, which didn’t exactly look like a well-oiled machine during ST.

Fun Fact

Today marks just the 3rd and 4th time that a Cy Young winner and runner up have matched up to start the season as Verlander and Snell will face each other while deGrom and Scherzer toe the slab in Washington. The 1st and 2nd time both happened was on the same day 40 years ago in 1979. AL winner Ron Guidry of the Yankees faced off against Mike Caldwell from the Brewers while NL winner Gaylord Perry of the Padres matched up against the Dodgers’ Burt Hooton.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Thursday, March 28th @ 3:00 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, WGES 680
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rays - Fox Sports Sun

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

Game 3: Saturday, March 30th @ 5:10 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, WGES 680, WLCC 760
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rays - Fox Sports Sun

Game 4: Sunday, March 31st @ 12:10 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, WLCC 760
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rays - Fox Sports Sun

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Astros Sweep 4-0
    (31 votes)
  • 61%
    Astros Win 3-1
    (155 votes)
  • 23%
    Series Split 2-2
    (58 votes)
  • 2%
    Rays Win 3-1
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Rays Sweep 4-0
    (2 votes)
252 votes total Vote Now