Houston – Playoff baseball is back and Minute Maid Park will be rocking for likely the next several weeks as they make their push to get back to the World Series.
It all begins in the ALDS and a date with the Tampa Bay Rays starting Friday. The Rays, even with a tiny payroll, still won 96 regular season games and finished strong down the stretch and opened with the AL Wildcard win over the Oakland A's Wednesday night on the road.
This season the Rays won 4 of the 7 head to head meetings with the Astros with three of those wins coming in the season opening series . This ALDS marks the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs.
The Rays are riding high with confidence under manager Kevin Cash who isn't afraid to shake things up with his lineup or how he uses his pitching staff. It's unique but it have proven to get results and that's why the Rays are in the ALDS and a dangerous opponent for the Astros. Since 2017 the Rays are an impressive 11-6 against the Astros.
KEYS FOR THE ASTROS TO ADVANCE PAST THE RAYS
Let's face it, the Astros are deep and everyone knows it. They will throw out Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke in the first three games of the ALDS.. Verlander and Cole each made two starts against the Rays this season while Greinke made one while with the Astros. Verlander tossed 12 1/3 innings with 13 strikeouts against Tampa in his two starts , Cole tossed 12 2/3 innings, 5 runs and a whopping 24 strikeouts to go with only 1 walk. Greinke faced the Rays on August 30 and went 5 2/3 giving up 5 runs while striking out 8.
The Rays will go with Tyler Glasnow in the opener against Verlander. Followed by former Cy Young winner Blake Snell in game 2 against Gerrit Cole and in Game 3 in Tampa on Monday it will be Former Astros RHP Charlie Morton against Zack Greinke.
BATTLE OF THE SKIPPERS
A.J. Hinch has proven what he can do as a manager since arriving in 2015 while Kevin Cash has put his stamp on how to run things with the low budget approach the Rays have gone with. Hinch is a master of in game management and the results speak for themselves. Cash has tweaked his lineups quite a bit mainly going with a heavy right handed lineup with some left handed bats mixed in like Austin Meadows and Kevin Kiermaier.
Hinch has the big game, high pressure experience which could and should pay off for the Astros.
ASTROS STAR POWER IN THE LINEUP
Advantage Astros here and for obvious reasons. This lineup is potent and the most dangerous in all of baseball as they finished with 288 home runs. Leading the power party were Alex Bregman (41), George Springer (39) Gurriel (31), Altuve (31) and rookie phenom Alvarez with 27.. If Carlos Correa is back in the lineup as Hinch expects then that just adds to the powerful punch that the Astros bring to the table against this Tampa pitching staff. George Springer will lead off and we all know his track record leading off games. He'll be likely followed by Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Reddick (.389 BA vs Rays) or maybe Tucker, and Robinson Chirinos.
Edge here to the Rays who are among baseball's best out of the bullpen. The Astros need to get the bats going and get the early leads . Tampa showed again in the win over Oakland that their relievers can get the job done against any lineup , even the Astros. Look out for Tampa's Nick Anderson and Emilio Pagan. Houston's bullpen will also have to be on alert and ready with the likes of Abreau, Harris, Pressly and Osuna. There's also Wade Miley out there but his role will be limited after his huge struggles in September when he had a 16+ ERA.
Prediction: Astros in 4 to advance to the ALCS.