If baseball were always fair this series would still be at 2-0. Two and 0 in favor of the Astros, that is.
And I think Tampa Bay knows it.
If you’ve watched the games you know it too. But here’s some statistical proof in case you doubt.
Although the Rays won Game One 2-1 and Game Two 4-2, here’s the slash line for both teams in the series so far.
Tampa Bay: .169/258/.356 OPS, .614
Houston:.....275/.359/.377 OPS, .736
Astros pitchers have struck out Rays hitters 26 times. The Astros batters have only whiffed 13. The Astros have 19 hits and seven walks, the Rays only 10 hits and five walks.
But that’s only half the story. The Astros have been hitting the ball even harder than their batting average and OPS indicate. Statcast says that in game one, when the Astros had nine hits but only one run, the expected batting average was .319. For game two, when the Astros scored only two runs on 10 hits, the xBA was .357. For the Rays it was only .167, yet they had four runs.
Against Charlie Morton in Game Two the the xBA was .473, the third worst for any pitcher with three or more innings pitched all year. The other two’s teams notched losses, of course. Morton got a shutout win. His average velocity on batted balls was just microscopically below the definition of a hard hit ball, 94.4 mph.
In Game Two, the Astros pitchers allowed nine hard hit balls. The Rays allowed 16. Alex Bregman had five hard hit balls but was 0-5. The xBA on his five AB’s were: .670, .330, .380, .330. .430.
The Astros weren’t only hitting the ball harder than the Rays, but more often. The Astros in both games put 28 balls in play, 56 total, whereas the Rays only put 33 balls in play for both games.
If the Astros continue hitting the way they have in this series and in the prior two, they’ll start piling up runs. This bad luck could continue for two more games perhaps, but it’s weird that they’ve had even one such no-luck game so far.
Of course, to win tonight they’ll probably need Jose Urquidy to repeat the amazing pitching performances we’ve seen the last two nights from Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers.
But besides the likelihood of a turn in luck, there’s another reason for optimism, at least for the next two games. It comes from an unexpected corner.
The Astros supposedly are at a big disadvantage in the bullpen compared to the Rays. But the Rays came into the series with an already severely overtaxed pen and only one day rest before facing the Astros. In their two wins against the Stros they have used six different relievers to eat eight innings, almost a whole game themselves.
The Astros came into the series with two days off and have only used four relievers, only one yesterday, totalling only three innings. The weak underbelly of the Astros bullpen has not been exposed and may not be exposed for a while at least, whereas the otherwise stronger Rays pen is not getting much of a chance to catch its breath.
Tonight Jose Urquidy faces the Rays’ Ryan Yarbrough, who last pitched five innings on October 8th, allowing two runs and six hits against the Yankees. He’s been good this year, leading the Rays staff in bWAR, 1.2, with a 3.56 ERA.
The Astros have been underdogs before and fought back. I expect them to come out aggressively tonight, still confident of a series win. The odds of winning four of the next five games may seem very long, but I share that optimism.
Do not despair on the Astros just yet.