Astros and Rays: A look ahead at the ALDS


The Division Series are always uncomfortable affairs for the favored teams. They are only best 3 out of 5 series and that means things like momentum, luck and even umpiring crews can have an effect on the final outcome. The Division Series for the top team in the league has all that, plus the fact that the team they are playing has some emotional momentum as they have just won a life or death play-in Wild Card game. It is true that the top team in the league like the Astros in 2019 has certain things to its advantage, such as playing at home, being fully rested and the big advantage of not having used up their best starter in the WC game.

In 2018, neither league’s wild card teams advanced beyond the Division Series, but as recently as 2017, the Yankees took out the Indians and came oh so close to taking out the Astros.   In 2016, the Blue Jays beat the Rangers in the ALDS.

Note: The Rangers in their last hurrah for the time being led the AL with 95 wins. This season, 95 wins would have meant staying home in the AL at playoff time. 

Back in 2015, the Cubbies took out the Cards and in the high point of the WC era in 2014, the 88 win Giants met and beat the 89 win Royals in a World Series matchup of Wild Card teams.

So, the Astros ready themselves for a Friday encounter with the Tampa Bay Rays, who went to Oakland and behind a struggling but successful Charlie Morton strangled the A’s and their drummer 5-1.

Here are some general facts about the Rays:

  • At Tropicana Field they were 15th out of 15 in home attendance in the AL with 1.1 million customers
  • Their regular season record was 96-6 and their 93-69 Pythagorean record meant they were a bit lucky to win that many
  • They came in 2nd in the AL East to the Yanks
  • They were a symmetrical 48-33 at home and 48-33 on the road
  • They were 23-16 in one-run games and 11-8 in extra inning affairs
  • They played very well down the stretch as they went 17-8 in September outscoring the opposition 127-98
  • They somehow turned in a 17-10 record in August despite being outscored 130-129
  • They were 4-3 against the Astros – going 3-1 at home in the first four games of the season and then 1-2 on the road in August at Minute Maid
  • If Rays Manager Kevin Cash seems familiar, he had a short stay with the Astros as a backup catcher in 2010

Some facts on the Astros:

  • They were 4th in the AL with attendance of 2.8 million
  • They were 107-55 in both their record and their Pythagorean record
  • They came in 1st in the AL West with the best record in baseball
  • They were much better at home (60-21) than they were on the road (47-34) though their road record was only 1 game behind the Rays
  • They were 24-19 in one run games and 10-4 in extra inning affairs
  • They were consistently good all year and flourished in August (19-9) and September (19-6)
  • Manager A.J. Hinch and Rays Manager Kevin Cash are good friends. Backup catchers stick together.

Comparing offenses

  • The Astros put up a baseball leading slash of .274 BA/ .352 OBP/ .848 OPS
  • The Rays were 6th in AL in each of those categories at .254 BA/ .325 OBP/ .757 OPS
  • The Astros lead the Rays in most of the traditional offensive categories (920 to 769 runs), (323 to 291 doubles), (288 to 217 HRs), (645 to 542 BBs) and only (1166 Ks to 1493 Ks). The Astros have grounded in to 146 double plays to only 114 for the Rays this season.
  • Young DH Austin Meadows leads the Rays in almost every category – .291/.364/.922 slash with 83 runs scored, 33 HRs and 89 RBIs. Star of the Wild Card game 3B Yandy Diaz (53 runs, 14 HRs, 38 RBIs in 79 games), 2B Brandon Lowe (42 runs, 17 HRs, 51 RBIs in 82 games) and C/1B Travis D’Arnaud (52 runs, 16 HRs, 69 RBIs in 92 games) all would have had more stellar numbers with a full season of games.
  • The depth of the Astros talent is unmatched in the majors with Alex Bregman, George Springer, Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa (when healthy) all playing All-Star quality ball.

On paper the Astros have a far superior offense to the Rays. But in the last 8 games they played at Tropicana Field they have averaged exactly 2 runs/game and have gone 2-6. That needs to change.

Comparing pitching

The Astros and Rays are very closely matched with their pitching even though they use their staffs in very different ways.

  • The Astros starters have a fine 3.61 ERA with 907.1 IP
  • The Rays starters have a near equal 3.64 ERA with only 702.1 IPs pitched. This is because the Rays are one of the teams leading the charge with “openers”. They will start games with a reliever for an inning or two in some of their games and then will shift over to a different pitcher for a chunk of the middle game.
  • The Astro relievers have a good 3.75 ERA with 47 saves in 555 games.
  • The Rays bullpen picks up a bigger chunk of the games. They have a similar 3.71 ERA with 46 saves in 772 IPs.

There are a number of keys in looking at this series from a pitching point of view:

  • The Astros top 2 starters Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have both been Cy Young excellent this year. Verlander against the Rays has a 10-4 record with a 3.17 ERA in his career, but an even better 2-0 record with a 0.73 ERA in 2019. Cole has pitched well, but is 0-2 with a 3.51 ERA in his career and 0-1 and a 3.55 ERA in 2019.
  • The Rays will send out two very good pitchers, who are both barely back from injuries heading into this series. Tyler Glasnow missed 4 months of the season, but has only given up 2 runs in 12.1 runs since returning. However he has not pitched more than 4.1 innings since his return. Reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell missed two months and has not pitched more than 2.1 IP in his 3 starts since returning.
  • Third game starter Charlie Morton won at home against the Astros and was blown up at Minute Maid Park in August. Zack Greinke has career numbers of 4-6 and 3.36 ERA against the Rays, but arguably his worst start since coming to Houston was his 5 runs in 5 innings start in late August against Tampa Bay.
  • Who will start in a 4th game if necessary is a question for both teams. Will the Astros try to milk a good game out of veteran Wade Miley or go with young Jose Urquidy? Do the Rays roll out Yonny Chirinos, who mesmerized the Astros in one start (but who also has had limited innings since returning from an injury) or do they use a reliever, which has thrown the Astros off-stride previously.
  • Rays closer Emilio Pagan is probably a tad better than the Astros Roberto Osuna. The rest of each bullpen is a mixture of guys that can be normally trusted (Oliver Drake, Nick Anderson for the Rays/Ryan Pressly, Will Harris for the Astros) plus other relievers who may or may not perform in any particular game. Perhaps a jump out performance by a Bryan Abreu or Josh James might be the difference in a series like this.

The pitching is a bit of a coin flip though the Astros have the advantage of using Verlander in the first game and in the fifth game if required.

Managing

Kevin Cash has done a solid job with this team. Hinch has led his team all the way two seasons ago. Advantage Hinch.

Overall

The bottom line is that the Astros will be and should be favored in this series, but they need to come out and grab this series by the throat and not give a very good Rays team a chance to breathe. The Astros played under pressure down the stretch to pull ahead and earn the overall home field advantage through out the playoffs. However, the Rays have been playing for their playoff lives trying to hold off the Indians for the last Wild Card spot and in beating the A’s on the road in a win or go home face-off. The Astros have to take an advantage on paper and put it out there on the field.

Prediction: Astros in four very tough games.

104 comments on “Astros and Rays: A look ahead at the ALDS

  1. I was in tears and had to go outside. I couldn’t watch anymore. THANK GOD FOR WILL HARRIS!! I’m too old to put up with this much stress!! *8* more wins! I don’t care where he get’s the money but Crane had BETTER FIGURE OUT HOW TO KEEP COLE HERE!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Can’t sleep after that. Bottom line is that we’re up 2-0.
    I’d like to think George is mimicking his 2017 post season.
    I’ve got no supporting stats, but I think Osuna is best used as a 3 out save guy.
    I was surprised Tucker got a start tonight. I thought they’d stay with Reddick, but maybe he has not gotten much sleep lately.
    Cole was beyond remarkable. He keeps outdoing himself.

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  3. One thing I forgot to mention. We might not have won that game without Carlos. I’m not sure who else can make that first play of the game. Huge RBI too.

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  4. Unlike the real Achilles’ Heel in mythology, the Astros have two Achilles Heels. One is the bullpen and the other is hitting with runners in scoring position. Either it gets straightened out, and a better team will take advantage.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is crazy! For 162 games we’re all waiting and hoping for this and when it gets here most of us hide from the TV.
    Shades of being an Astros fan for so many years.

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    • Sandra, the poor hitting with RISP has had me hiding all year from watching them. Almost every time I watch them I end up pausing the game and going and doing something else. If they win, I go back and watch the replay and if they lose I delete it.
      Last night my wife said that I get so angry that it makes her worry about me.
      All the talk about this being a historically good hitting team is like good syrup on bad food. Their numbers hide their little secret.
      2 for 12 with RISP last night.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Consider it a privilege to have seen what Cole did last night. The reason I got so undone with Mr. Hinch is that he was letting it go for naught. Clearly Osuna didn’t have it in the ninth, throwing ball away. Just couldn’t understand why AJ waited so long. Sandy, I know you think he’s a good post-season manager, and he is, but I can’t watch that happen again. I stayed with it last night but was miserable.

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    • I thought he was excellent in 17. Not so much this post season.
      Other teams shake up the lineup when a player(s) are slumping. What about Gurriel after bregman while Álvarez is struggling?
      And the handling of the pitchers last night was inexcusable.

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  7. RISP. Out of the ten post season teams, the Yankees are hitting .333 with guys in scoring position. That’s 8 hits and it’s fair to say the Twins don’t have a remarkable staff right now. Believe it or not, we’re hitting .238, which is second of all post season teams. Tiny sample, just we just beat an excellent pitching staff twice.

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  8. Dan, you mean our leader “couldn’t bear to watch it directly”? We’re in more trouble than I thought when the visionary here can’t watch and the resident fretter does.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I felt unlucky last night – I went in the other room and watched something with my wife while tracking on Gameday.
      Often when you take a guy like Osuna and bring him in to close an inning and then get him back up to pitch he fails. On top of it the bottom of the 8th was a long 1/2 inning. Too much time to cool off and think.

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      • It took me an hour to “wind down” so I could get to sleep. It seemed like every other pitch I was changing the channel, going to the bathroom, pacing like an expectant father, (you get the picture). A terrible case of the nervous nellies.
        We’ve got to get over this inability to score when we have RISP or we won’t make it. I agree that Osuna should not have been out there in the ninth. He’s just that kind of closer and Hinch waited way too long IMO. A little concerned about Springer, he appears to have just been out of it last night. We did have some well hit balls for outs last night but they were just that, outs. We need some line drive base hits. Tucker might have had a few butterflies but he had a “loud out” too. Bregman and Altuve are the engine of this team right now. Hopefully the will keep it up and the rest will catch up. Kudos to Maldonado, Alvarez, and Correa. They took what was given and performed well. Great defense by CC and the “Machete”. Will Harris (or Will Smith) which the announcers kept calling him last night comes in and saves the day! And last but not least, Gerrit Cole. The only thing he didn’t do last night was bat and hit a home run. You can’t ask for anything more.
        Now let’s go to TB and close out the series!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Luckily I don’t have amnesia, I feel so blessed to have the best team in baseball my team. I still remember quite well 2006-2015. Heck we have maybe one of the best sports franchises today. We are up 2-0 on team with great pitching also, I could care less how pretty it is , just win baby!

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    • THANK YOU, Kevin.

      It’s not like we’re playing scrubs either. Tampa is a tough team;we’re not going to beat them 21-0. Maybe that’s why I stay calm. I expect a nail biter each time. I also realize we’re the best team in baseball too.

      We got this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am so glad a couple of us are sane and normal. However I watch it on Mute.

        “Altuve up. Better no throw him a strike on the first pitch. He will swing at it.

        Takes strike one down the middle.

        Luckily Altuve seldom hits into a double play. (I think he has 19 for his shortened season).

        Steps on second, throw to first. Double play. “

        MUTE MUTE MUTE

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  10. This question goes back to DanP’s discussion on WAR.
    A. Pitcher. 453 Starts. 2982 innings. 3006 K’s. WHIP. 1.135 (Wins 225)
    B. Pitcher . 488 Starts. 2872 innings. 2622 K’s. WHIP. 1.159. (Wins 205)

    One WAR. 70.9. Other WAR. 71.7. According to Baseball Reference, who has the higher WAR.

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