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2019 Series Preview #43: Tampa Bay Rays @ Houston Astros

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The Astros (85-47, 1st in AL West) close out the homestand with three games against the Rays (76-56, 2nd in AL East)

Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Recency Bias

Rays

The Rays come into town desperately trying to hang on to the second wild card spot and fend off the Oakland A’s, who they are now tied with them thanks to Oakland’s victory over KC last night. Unfortunately, they’ve really only managed to tread water recently even as they’ve played some of the worst teams in the league. In the last three series they’ve won a series against Detroit, lost one against the Mariners, and split one against the Orioles, going exactly .500. The pitching has alternated from dominating opposing teams to blowing leads while the offense has been mostly there. Though even with that there were a few matches against both the Orioles and the Tigers where they really couldn’t get much going.

Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

This week has belonged to Austin Meadows for the Rays, who has also been their most dangerous hitter for the entire season. He slashed a beefy .345/.367/.793 in the the last 7 games to go with 3 homers and 4 doubles. He’s also leading the rays in average (.280), home runs (23), and RBI (67).

Though he hasn’t had as much power as Meadows, Tommy Pham has turned in a solid performance this week with an .849 OPS. That’s mostly driven by his OBP though, which went up thanks to 5 walks in 7 games. Michael Brosseau has had a similar week, but his sample size is maller than Pham’s. They have both been above average on the year though, so these numbers are hardly surprising.

Though the bats seem to have cooled off for Tampa in the past week, the year as a whole has been pretty good for a large chunk of the Rays’ offense. Trade acquisition Eric Sogard in particular has done quite well for Tampa since coming over from the Blue Jays. In just 22 games he’s slashed .318/.392/.545 and brings a solid pair of specs to the lineup.

The team as a whole has offensive stats that track more towards mid- to lower-tier when compared to the rest of the league. They’re at 14th or lower when it comes to AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS. They do hit a good number of triples and doubles though as they are currently tied for 8th and at 10th for those stats, respectively.

Injury Notes: Unfortunately for Tampa, some of the better hitters for the Rays are currently sitting on the IL. Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe are both currently there and will definitely not be available for this series. That especially hurts for Brandon Lowe, who was in discussion for Rookie of the Year before a left quad strain put him out of commission for the rest of the season. Kevin Kiermaier, who currently leads the team for stolen bases, is day-to-day right now with a rib contusion, but expected to return shortly.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Rays’ bullpen is always a bit of a moving target thanks to their pioneering of the opener in MLB. They have been using some combination of Emilio Pagan, Jose Alvarado, or Nick Anderson to close out games, but Alvarado was recently placed on the IL with elbow issues.

Pagan definitely sees the most save situations, having converted 14 of 21 for the Rays so far in 2019. He is definitely the best reliever out of the pen with a .179 BAA and a 0.86 WHIP to go with a sparkling 2.30 ERA. He’s seen 54.2 innings of work so far this year. Nick Anderson was a recent acquisition from Miami and has done well on his new team. He has yet to surrender a run in 9.2 innings for the Rays and has pitched to a 3.21 ERA for the year.

Honestly, without watching them regularly it’s somewhat difficult to get a handle on who is and is not an opener for the Rays. The team seems to have a number of guys who can go several innings as either a starter or a bulk innings guy. Jalen Beeks seems to be one of those relievers. He spent most of the early season coming out of the pen, usually for at least 3 innings, but has been seeing more starts recently. His 4.55 ERA and 1.48 WHIP aren’t exactly that scary though.

One reliever/opener who is at least a little scary is Diego Castillo, who’s having a decent season with a 3.48 ERA in his 51.2 innings this year. Chaz Roe is not too far off from his numbers either, but he’s more of a pure reliever, so expect to see him out of the pen in later innings as opposed to starting games.

Astros

Houston has been on an upward trajectory this week as they took 6 of the last seven games from the Tigers and the Angels. this included a three-game sweep of the Angels, which marks yet another series win against the AL West. Houston has only lost two games to AL West opponents at home all season, and has only lost a single series at MMP altogether. This sort of record seems to put an emphasis on winning home field advantage for Houston in the playoffs, which the team has declared as a priority. They’ll have a chance to gain ground on that against the Rays and get a little revenge after losing 3 of 4 against them to open the season.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Powered by an absolute explosion against Angels pitching in Sunday’s finale, the Astros’ offense has been churning along at a solid pace recently. The team has 5 players with an OPS north of 1.000 in the last week alone, though two of those guys are Chirinos and Maldonado, who share catching duties. It’s especially good to see Chirinos finding some magic in his bat after he went through a prolonged slump earlier this month.

Altuve has been an absolute beast in the last week though, mashing a .417/.500/.833 slasher to go with two doubles, a triple, and a homer. Brantley has also continued his hot season and is challenging for the batting title, which would be the Astros 4th in the last 5 years thanks to three claimed by Altuve.

Gurriel rounds out the players with an OPS over 1.000 as he looks like he might be able to make 2019 his first year with an average over .300. Alex Bregman also had a hot week, slashing .296/.367/.593 over the last 7 games. He also slammed two homers to set a new career mark for long balls in a single season, which I’m sure he’ll be adding to as the season closes out.

Springer continues to be steady in the leadoff spot while Yordan Alvarez has been cooling off a little in recent games. He’s still doing his job as the cleanup man though, rocking 7 RBIs in 6 games, so even with the hits not coming quite so fast they’re still just as timely.

Honorable mention to Reddick here, who may not have had a great week overall but did notch his first multi-hit game since July in the finale against the Angels. He’s been hitting the ball well lately, and it looks like results may finally be coming in for him.

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

After seeming to have forgotten how to pitch in the 9th, Roberto Osuna has been pretty solid in recent games. He locked down 4 saves across the week, pitching 3.1 innings of scoreless ball during that time. Will Harris logged the only other save this week in a game where Osuna was unavailable due to all the extra work,

McHugh joined Harris and Osuna as the three pitchers currently in the pen who held opponents scoreless during appearances this week. McHugh in particular has looked good during the month of August after going through a spot of command trouble when he returned from the IL. Peacock also had two scoreless innings in relief, but did allow an inherited runner to score.

While he did allow a run to score, side-armer Joe Smith is looking more and more like a viable middle innings reliever since he returned from his Achilles injury. The same might be said for Hector Rondon as well, who has been sneaking into higher leverage situations more often lately, and has done a decent job this month in spite of surrendering two runs on the week.

Chris Devenski held on to his role as low-leverage pitcher for the Astros, but Joe Biagini gave him a run for his money in that regard after surrendering 3 runs in 0.2 innings. This came after his return from Round Rock, but hasn’t really been indicative of his year.

Pitching Match Ups

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Seven Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Game 1: Charlie “F’n” Morton, RHP (13-5, 2.85 ERA) vs Justin Verlander, RHP (15-5, 2.77 ERA)

World Series Game 7 Hero Charlie Morton will take the mound to open the series for the Rays in what will be a bittersweet moment for most Astros fans. Of course, Morton pitched for Houston for two years before departing for the Rays in the offseason when Houston failed to match their price to retain his services. He’s having a stellar season for Tampa and is in the conversation for some Cy Young hardware. He’s currently on his way to a career high in strikeouts and is just as filthy as ever. His first start of the year came against Houston, where he went 5 innings of 2-run ball and struck out 8.

Houston counters with its own ace Justin Verlander, who took a hard-luck loss in his last outing. He faced off against his former team in that one, pitching 9 innings of 2-run ball where he retired 27 of 29 batters faced. Unfortunately, the two batters not retired smacked a couple of homers, which has been a bugaboo for Verlander all season, and that was enough to sink the team. Still, Verlander is easily a front runner for the CY award as well, so expect a nice pitcher’s duel here. Like Morton, this game will be a repeat of his first start of the year, wherein he went 7 innings of 1-run ball while striking out 9.

Game 2: Ryan Yarbrough, LHP (11-3, 3.29 ERA) vs Gerrit Cole, RHP (15-5, 2.75 ERA)

Ryan Yarbrough continues to oscillate between starting for the Rays and coming in out of the pen. He has done quite well in both roles this season though, so seems unfazed by it. In 109.1 total innings pitched this season he has a 0.87 WHIP and .206 BAA. He’ll come in for at least three innings but usually goes around 6 when he’s actually starting a game. Yarbrough is having an excellent 2019, his second year in the majors, and has held opponents to one run or less in 15 of his 22 appearances this year. This will be just his second career appearance against the Astros, his last one being a 7 inning, 1-run affair back in June of 2018.

After missing a couple of turns in the rotation with a minor hamstring tweak, Cole made a triumphant return his last time out against Detroit. He tossed 7 shutout innings where he only gave up a 2 hits and struck out 12 batters. This marked Cole’s 14th double-digit strikeout game of the season. Like Verlander, Cole is definitely in the running for the AL Cy Young this season, which marks three such pitchers in the first two games of this series. Cole’s other start against Tampa went well at the beginning of the year even if he took the loss. He tossed 6 innings in that one, only giving up 1 earned run while striking out 10,

Game 3: TBD vs Zack Greinke, RHP (14-4, 2.83 ERA)

With the Rays’ propensity for openers I’m not sure who could possibly start this game for them. It will most likely come down to how they’ll need to stitch together the other games of the series, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Houston will send Greinke to the mound in what will be the first series to feature the Astros’ new 1-2-3 punch in all three games. He’s looked good so far in an Astros uniform except for his first game, where an ugly defensive performance added some unearned runs to his line. He still managed to grab a win in that one, which is something of a trend as Greinke has collected a W in each of his four starts so far with Houston. He held the Angels to just 2 runs across 6.2 innings in his most recent game, but only managed a single strikeout. This will be his first time facing the Rays since 2016, which was his first year as a Diamondback.

Fun Fact

Ha ha, oh ESPN.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Tuesday, August 27th @ 7:10 pm CDT
Listen: Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, WGES 680 / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Rays - Fox Sports Sun / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW

Game 2: Wednesday, August 28th @ 7:10 pm CDT
Listen: Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, WGES 680 / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Rays - Fox Sports Sun / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / MLB Network (out-of-market only)

Game 3: Thursday, August 29th @ 1:10 pm CDT
Listen: Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 850 AM
Watch: Rays - Fox Sports Sun / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / MLB Network (out-of-market only)

Poll

Who wins this series

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Astros Sweep 3-0
    (66 votes)
  • 60%
    Astros Win 2-1
    (122 votes)
  • 4%
    Rays Win 2-1
    (10 votes)
  • 2%
    Rays Sweep 3-0
    (5 votes)
203 votes total Vote Now