Rays-Astros Preview

The Twins-Yankees preview will go before first pitch of their Game 1 later today.

ALDS #1: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Houston Astros

The Astros are the World Series favorites heading into these playoffs, and there’s one big reason why.

Here’s a look at Houston’s Game 1,2 and 3 starters.

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. Gerrit Cole
  3. Zack Greinke

That is all.

With three aces going in the first three games of the series, an Astros sweep seems like an outcome that isn’t unlikely at all. So instead of looking at the series through an even lens, it’s probably best to preview it in terms of “How can the Rays not get swept, put up a fight or even win?”

Getting their rotation to match the inevitable performance that Houston’s aces will put up is a tough proposition, but it’s not totally impossible.  It’s been mostly control issues for Blake Snell this season; a year which has seen his numbers regress to a 4.29 ERA and 104 ERA+.  But his strikeout numbers have still been off the charts (12.4 strikeouts per nine innings) and his FIP is quite low at 3.32.

You can’t gift Houston baserunners though.  Like the Red Sox last year, they’re an offense that can hit for power and contact.  The Astros finished this season ranked third in home runs hit, second in doubles and had the highest batting average out of any team in baseball this season.

But, if the Wild Card games have been any indication, it’s the long ball thats going to be the trend of this postseason.  Snell was good at not allowing those, and the Rays will need him and Charlie Morton to hold their ground against this vaunted lineup with the inexperienced Tyler Glasgow and Ryan Yarborough likely rounding out Tampa Bay’s rotation.

Despite being the best in baseball, the Rays bullpen won’t be there to save them.  If Tampa Bay gets behind against any Astros starter, they likely won’t be coming back, as Houston’s bullpen ranked 9th in WAR accumulation this season.

Tampa Bay has to hope for scoreless innings deep into games.  It’s their only real chance.  Drive the pitch count up on Verlander, Cole and Greinke and force Houston’s bullpen to give up some runs.  Can that happen in even one game?  If Morton’s on the mound, then possibly.  His ground-ball tendency and the revenge factor could give the Rays a win.  But two wins for Tamap Bay seems like not respecting the dominance of the Astros enough.

Prediction: Astros in 4