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2021 Series Preview: Houston Astros @ Tampa Bay Rays

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The Astros (13-12, 4th in AL West) start their road trip with a 2020 ALCS rematch against the Rays (13-13, 2nd in AL East)

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rays Notes

The defending AL Champs have gotten off to a less than ideal start in a division that appears to be a little topsy turvy so far in 2021. They currently sit three games back of surprise powerhouse Boston Red Sox, who jumped out to an early lead in the division while the rest of the teams have set a slow pace.

The offense hasn’t exactly been world beaters for the Rays lately, and sort of floundered through their most recent series against the A’s. Across the four games the Rays only managed 9 runs, which was rather poor timing considering the A’s were only able to post 8 and still managed a series split. There has been some bright spots, naturally, but overall the stats have been average for Rays hitters.

Of course, the Rays did take a step back in the offseason by doing what the Rays do and trading off one of their top stars before he became too expensive. So while the loss of Blake Snell wasn’t a death knell or anything, it’ll be hard to replace his production in the rotation. A return trip to the World Series isn’t out of the question for Tampa, but it won’t be as easy to stamp their ticket this season as it was last.

That’s not to say the rotation hasn’t been good this season, far from it. Tyler Glasnow has looked like he’s ready to be the sole ace in Tampa’s rotation and it’s fortunate for the Astros that they won’t be seeing him this weekend. They have also continued their penchant for openers in 2021, with 10 different pitchers already getting a start this season.

It’s still early though and I don’t expect the Rays to end the season as a .500 team, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on them repeating last season’s success. They should be good enough to compete, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were deep in the mix come September.

Best Offensive Player: 3B Joey Wendle (.316/.345/.532) has easily been the Rays’ most productive offensive player so far in 2021. He’s second on the team in hits (25), first in doubles (8), and has driven in more runs (16) than anyone else. About the only thing he doesn’t do is take walks, as evidenced by having just 2 so far.

Kyle Tucker Award: Willy Adames (.173/.215/.320) has been hitting into some hard luck this season. While his luck hasn’t been quite as bad as Tucker’s, his expected average and slugging percentage is .225 and .508 compared to the actual numbers of .173 and .320.

Backstop Power: The Rays’ catcher platoon of Mike Zunino (.229/.302/.583) and Francisco Mejia (.306/.327.490) has been one of the bright spots on the team this season. Except for third base, this has easily been the most productive position for the Rays.

Waiting for Randy: Randy Arozarena (.287/.343/.426) has started the season with perfectly average stats to go along with some questionable defensive plays. While he’s been serviceable as a major leaguer, he’s not exactly delivering on the promise of his breakout performance in last season’s playoffs.

Closer: According to the depth chart the Rays don’t have a designated closer, but Diego Castillo (0-2, 12.1 IP, 3.65 ERA,1.14 WHIP) seems to be it. Castillo has 6 saves so far this year and has been about the only stable thing about the back end of the Rays’ bullpen A majority of his appearances have come in the 9th though, but there’s no guarantees he won’t appear sooner than that.

Bullpen Chaos: The Rays’ pen has a tendency to shift depending on the need. Relievers will appear in any given inning, including the first, depending on the matchups. Ryan Thompson (2-1, 12.1 IP, 2.92 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) and Andrew Kittredge (3-0, 11 IP, 1.64 ERA, 0.82 WHIP) have probably been the best relievers this season so far as stats go, but it’s hard to say where they are in the bullpen hierarchy thanks to Tampa’s eschewing of defined roles for relievers.

Starters

Ryan Yarbrough (LHP, 1-2, 4.28 ERA, 21 K) is the only announced start for this series. Yarbrough has been used mostly as a “bulk pitcher” this season, following up openers. He’ll get the ball to start here though, and has been on a bit of a roll lately, only surrendering 1 run in his last 10.2 IP. He will also be the 500th left handed starter the Astros have faced this season (that number is approximate).

As an aside, I’m gonna be honest here that I hate doing previews for Tampa Bay because they’re so sneaky about their pitching. They haven’t announced the starter for the last two games most likely because they will be openers followed by a bulk pitcher. But that can always change. Please keep that in mind as I preview Rich Hill and Michael Wacha, who got the starts in these spots the last time through the rotation.

Rich Hill (LHP, 1-1, 7.25 ERA, 24 K) has been a bit of a flop to start 2021 after coming over from the Twins in the offseason. Hill has given up 4 runs in 4 of the 5 games he’s played in this season, including a 2 inning disaster in KC last week. He has worked as a traditional starter by having actually started all 5 of his games, so I expect to see him in the 1st.

Michael Wacha (RHP, 1-1, 3.86 ERA, 23 K) has ranged from good to serviceable in his games so far this season. He is coming off of a good start against the A’s his last time out, having fired off 5 innings of 1-run ball. Wacha has started the majority of the games he’s been in but has come in as a bulk innings pitcher once so far this year so I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened here.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Friday, April 30th @ 6:10 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, KLAT 1010 / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, WMGG/WTMP
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rays - Bally Sports Sun

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Game 2: Saturday, May 1st @ 3:10 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, KLAT 1010 / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, WMGG/WTMP
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rays - Bally Sports Sun

Game 3: Sunday, May 2nd @ 12:10 pm CDT
Listen: Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, KLAT 1010 / Rays - WDAE 620 AM/95.3 FM, WMGG/WTMP
Watch: Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW / Rays - Bally Sports Sun

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Astros Sweep 3-0
    (11 votes)
  • 56%
    Astros Win 2-1
    (37 votes)
  • 23%
    Rays Win 2-1
    (15 votes)
  • 3%
    Rays Sweep 3-0
    (2 votes)
65 votes total Vote Now