As thrilled as I am with this postseason run, the Twins were favored in the Wild Card round, and the A’s were favored in the ALDS. I don’t see any reason why the Astros aren’t still the underdogs.
A five game series began to tax and expose the Astros’ thin bullpen, which had been largely masked in a three game series. A seven game series (and in seven days!) will only tax and expose it further. The Astros do have some good starting pitching, but it doesn’t compare to the Rays’ formidable front trio of Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton. The Astros’ starting pitching is also weakened by having to bring them in relief in games to lock down wins. I don’t blame them for doing it; get the wins any way you can.
But the fact of the matter is that the Astros just don’t have enough carpeting to cover the square footage of the room and the rooms are only getting larger as the postseason progresses. So they’re going to have to get creative with furniture placement, or use some creative camera angles to draw your attention away from the bare areas.
It is encouraging that the offense appeared rejuvenated in the ALDS, but who knows if the conditions (and balls?) at PetCo Park will be the same as at
Springer Stadium Dodger Stadium, where every fly ball appeared graced with Peter Pan’s pixie dust.
Rays in 6.
But “think happy thoughts” and the balls may keep flying. Let’s Go, ‘Stros.
Of all the teams in the post-season, the Rays is the one I’d have the least regret losing to. A solid team all around, built not bought, and with lovable ex-Astros such as Charlie Effin’ Morton!
Interestingly, Fangraphs has the Astros with the slight advantage of winning the ALCS (51.5 to 48.5%), although 1.5% is definitely within the margin of error for a even match-up. (ESPN favors the Rays with a 63.3%) With the Rays coming off a dominant season and the Astros limping into the play-offs, this seems like an odd prediction.
Rays - .238/.328/.425 with 9.4 WAR
Astros - .240/.312/.408 with 5.7 WAR
Rays - 3.56 ERA / 3.94 xFIP
Astros - 4.31 ERA / 4.43 xFIP
Looking at the numbers, the Astros seem clearly overmatched on both sides of the ball. So why does Fangraphs give the slight edge to the Astros? Players regressing towards their career numbers. A 60 game sample is hardly enough to judge anyone by.
In my opinion, the ALCS will be decided by the effectiveness of the pitching staff, and batters being patient. The Rays have a clear path with a rotation consisting of some legitimate ace caliber pitchers vs the Astros who are going to be patching it together with a talented but inexperienced or injured staff. As Hatter mentioned above, the 7 game format, without a day off, is an added obstacle as even a deep staff will be challenged to cover 56+ straight innings without a day off. The only pitching aspect leaning in the Astros favor is the additional game that the Rays had to play, which required 4 pitchers to throw 2+ innings, and only 1 day of rest vs 2 to begin this series.
I do foresee Click’s knowledge as an advantage. The Rays, despite sporting a lefty heavy line-up have actually hit lefties better than righties this year. It’ll be interesting to see how this trend plays into the decision making as the Astros are rumored to be adding another pitcher and removing an additional position player going into this series.
With all of that said, there does seem to be a bit of that ‘magic’ this season. The players answering the call, and with some of the regulars including Correa and Altuve heating up, the once legendary offense has gained some credibility back. As much as the numbers tell me this is the Rays series to lose, I can’t help but dream that the Astros can pull this off. I mean, if we make it past this series, even if we lost, for the rest of time, the first ever World Series played in Mimic Maid Park will have an Astros logo painted on their field.
Astros in 6.
Exile in Saint Louis
Although the Rays have more established starters, they burned Glasnow in Game 5 of the ALDS. In a normal playoff, your top three starters get you 6 out of 7 starts. In this format, it’s 5 of 7. And it’s much harder to bullpen as a verb with no days off.
My prediction is that at least two of the non-Framber starters go deep into games. Once this happens, the Astros will have an easier time building a bridge to Paredes and Pressly.
This format calls for patience, and that is right up Dusty’s wheelhouse. As much as Dusty got killed for Game 3 of the ALDS, Javier was about four feet from committing the same crime as Josh James. Nobody’s going to be perfect this series. We need guys to be more good than bad, and for some greatness too.
I see the teams as evenly matched but the Astros top 6 is locked in and Yuli is traditionally great against high velocity pitching.
Astros in 6.
Many people will be focusing on the Astros’ talented lineup matching up against the Rays’ tremendous pitching staff. I think what will be the biggest decider in this series will be the reverse: the Astros’ pitching staff versus the Rays’ lineup. Judging by the numbers, the Rays’ lineup appears to be a three-true-outcomes offense, for the most part. They are 29th in K%, 4th in BB%, and despite being 14th in home runs, they’re 7th in barrel %.
Like the A’s, this is a team that does not chase outside the zone much. However, no other lineup in the league makes less contact in the zone. This is particularly interesting because the Astros’ pitching staff is 24th in whiff rate in the zone. Something will have to give there.
One of the keys against the A’s was limiting the walks, and that will again be immensely important against the Rays. Astros pitching must make them string together hits (while obviously keeping the ball inside the park).
The Rays looked awfully impressive against a talented Yankees squad in the ALDS. The unflinching determination they displayed is something that the Astros have not yet had to face this postseason. Their pitching staff possesses high-quality high heat and a collection of vicious breaking balls. While coming into this series exhausted with only a single day off to rest, I think “The Stable” has the resilience and depth to endure seven more games in the next seven days. It should be quite a series.
Rays in 7.
I’m gonna be a little bit romantic here. I swear to you this isn’t just a desire, but I think the Astros will have a chance (bigger than you think) to win the ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays despite their unbelievable pitching depth. Why am I saying this?
Well, the Astros showed their best offensive shape is back. They’re just CRUSHING balls. Four of their hitters registered at least two home runs against the Yankees in the five-game ALDS, six of them collected at least six hits, three of them drove in at least five runs.
Regarding the Rays, except for some clutch hits and 11 four-baggers, their offense was off. They averaged .202 against Yankees pitching and scored 4.2 runs per game. Vital pieces such as Brandon Lowe (0-for-18), Yandy Díaz (1-for-9), Mike Zunino (1-for-12), Manuel Margot (1-for-9), Willy Adames (2-for-15), and Austin Meadows (2-for-13) didn’t find their groove.
The Astros will need to have Framber Valdez at the top on his game when the series begins tonight. It’ll be a key factor for them if he can go long in the game so that they keep their bullpen fresh for the following days. It’s good to know Houston has effective weapons in Enoli Paredes, Blake Taylor, and especially Cristian Javier, who combined for nine scoreless innings (10 strikeouts) out of the bullpen against the Athletics.
Also, I think the momentum and the experience will play in favor of the Astros. They have something inside, they want to prove everybody they’re real and the cheating scandal is behind. Besides, they’re the most experienced team of the two despite being a young squad (excepting for their bullpen, obviously). Certainly, no one would expect the Rays not to fight or to go home after four games, but I’m not dreaming, it’s just I believe the Astros can have a shot here.
Astros in 7.
I’ve been saying lately, “miracles happen,” but I come here today not to prophesize, but to analyze.
It will take Divine intervention for the Astros to beat the Rays. And a deity that would do that has a strange sense of humor indeed.
Let’s remember, this is the same Rays team that took the Astros the whole five games in last year’s ALDS. They only lost because Justin Verlander shut them down in Game 1, and Gerrit Cole shut them down in two other games. NO Verlander and Cole, no Astros advancing against the Rays into the 2019 ALCS.
Guess what? In 2020, no Verlander, no Cole. We’ve got Zack Greinke, pitching around a sore arm, inconsistent Lance McCullers, still finding his way back from elbow surgery, and rookies Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier. Framber Valdez is the only bright spot. Behind them, a bunch of AA graduates and a regressed “closer,” Ryan Pressly.
Objectively, the 2020 Rays are a better team than the 2019 version and the Astros are worse. The Astros had a nearly historically good batting lineup in 2019, hitting 125 wRC+ (the 1927 Yankees were at 126) This year that number is a below average 99. The 2019 Astros ERA was 3.66. This year it is 4.31.
On the other hand the Rays are better in both hitting and pitching, their wRC+ improving from 102 to 109, and their ERA improving from 3.67 to 3.57. Note that on both sides of the plate, the Rays have a significant statistical advantage over the Stros in 2020.
Granted, last year the Astros came into the series with the Rays with ice cold bats, and this year they are scorching. You have to wonder how much of that was the hot desert air that had enveloped LA during the ALDS. Were they playing with baseballs or super balls?
But what will make this so tough for the Astros is the seven game series with no breaks in between. The Rays are built on pitching depth. It is the guiding principle of their organization. Even if the rookies in the Astros staff that have seen action so far continue their improbable success, eventually we’re going to see Cy Sneed, or Luis Garcia, or whomever else from the minor league garbage heap the Astros bring in to add depth to the staff. They can’t hide in this series. Any of these guys can blow a game single-handedly, as Josh James showed us in Game 3 of the ALDS.
Maybe the Astros bats stay hot, although the Rays have some hot hitters too. (Randy Arozarena hit seven homers in 76 plate appearances this season and three in 35 during the postseason.)
Maybe God continues to bless his little children in the Astros bullpen.
Maybe another miracle occurs.
But absent miracles...
Rays in 6.
For the Astros to advance, they’ll need the lineup to keep producing as it did against the A’s last week. Only the recently eliminated Yankees (.356) had a higher wOBA than the Astros (.353) so far in the postseason. If they can replicate even 75 percent of that offensive outburst at Dodger Stadium, I feel better about their chances in a seven-game series. This lineup, when clicking, keeps them in games. That said, I do question if that output is completely sustainable outside of Los Angeles in an afternoon game. I’d doubt that we’ll see the ball carry in the same manner at Petco Park, unless the actual baseball is once again livelier.
Also, don’t sleep on this Tampa lineup. On the road this season, the Rays posted a 107 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers and a 103 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers. They feature a potent mix of left- and right-handed bats. The challenge for the Astros remains bridging the starter to the backend of the bullpen. Watch if Tampa can get to the starter early in multiple games, it won’t look for optimal for the Astros considering the current state of the bullpen. If there ever was a series to truly miss the likes of Joe Smith, Brad Peacock, and Will Harris, it’s this one.
The Rays hold the distinct advantage when it’s come to pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen. Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow is a heck of a trio to have in any postseason series. A rotation of Framber Valdez, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., and Jose Urquidy are solid in their own right, but it doesn’t hold the same upside of Tampa’s staff. Throw in a bullpen that ranked third in ERA (3.37) and fourth in FIP (3.65) while allowing the second-lowest walk rate (7.8 percent) this season, you have the recipe for a formidable staff. It’ll be fun to see how the Astros lineup , who had the majors highest contact rate (79.9 percent) and lowest strikeout rate (19.7 percent), perform against a staff with a plethora of pitchers who can throw into high nineties with regularity.
Ultimately, I believe the Astros thin depth in the bullpen will be its undoing, especially in a best-of-seven series with zero off days. This lineup can keep pace for a while, but Tampa has enough pitching to stall Houston’s bats long enough to pull away.
Rays in 7.
This is a weird year, for a lot of obvious reasons, and that makes the already nearly-impossible task of predicting a short baseball postseason series even harder. The Rays have been the better team in the shortened 2020 season, but even in a normal year, the randomness of baseball means their win isn’t guaranteed. And of course, even though the Astros have a much worse record than the Rays, the disparity likely isn’t as big as it seems; a losing record through 60 games isn’t a death sentence. Seven eventual pennant winners since 2000 failed to get above .500 through their first 60 games, and that includes quarter of the pennant winners in the last decade (including the 2019 Nationals, who went two games worse than the 2020 Astros en route to their upset win). Coming off three 100-win seasons and facing multiple injuries in a short season, this version of the Astros is very likely closer to those seven pennant winners than the average sub-.500 team.
Still, it’s hard to overlook the areas where this year’s roster just isn’t as deep as years’ past, or to ignore the large holes on the roster left by injuries. And the Astros’ pitching has held together so far, but the Rays’ pitching staff is a step above the A’s and Twins, while the number of rookies makes for a bigger question mark on Houston’s depth chart. It’ll be close, say Rays in 7 games, but the thing about 7 game series is that it can turn on a bad bounce or two. Either way, I think it’ll be a long, back-and-forth affair.
Rays in 7.
Before this season started, I picked the Rays to win the World Series, and they’ve been everything I thought they would be so far- for the most part. The one factor that gives me some hope for the Astros against this club is that Blake Snell has looked rather vincible in the majority of his appearances, narrowing the (sizable) gap between the two pitching staffs a bit.
Simply put, I don’t think the Astros have enough arms to get through a long series with a team like the Rays, who have enough different, talented hitters to relentlessly attack matchups. The Astros offense now looks hot enough to potentially turn the series into a slugfest, and I think that if they are to win the series, they will have to keep scoring in bunches as they did against Oakland. The thin Houston bullpen will likely have trouble holding narrow leads night over night- when Dusty has a fresh Enoli Paredes or Cristian Javier ready for multiple innings, the Astros can hold a lead, but on nights where the club has to take a more patchwork approach to the later frames, they seldom feel safe. If, somehow, the Astros are able to get significant length out of their starter in one or more of the early games, it would be a boon for their chances, but getting seven from a starter feels like a pipe dream right now.
The Rays offense is capable of disappearing, and their aggressive approach to bullpen management does result in greater game-to-game performance risk (even as they prevailed over the Yankees, there were a few occasions where Rays pitchers looked to be on the brink of implosion), so penciling them into the World Series would be premature, but it’s hard for me to bet against their massive depth advantage in this series if I do my best to remove emotion from the calculus.
Rays in 6.
We have a split decision. Here’s how the TCB staff breaks down:
- Astros in 6: Hammer, Exile in St. Louis
- Astros in 7: Juan
- Rays in 7: Theo, Cody, Dan
- Rays in 6: Hatter, Bilbos, Spencer
Weigh in on the comments with your predictions.