MLB Postseason Preview: Houston Astros vs. Tampa Bay Raysby B.J. Martin October 10, 2020 0 comments
Many baseball fans did not expect that the Astros would be four victories away from the World Series in 2020. Particularly not back when the media was buzzing around them in West Palm Beach during Spring Training in February. And yet, they are now a series win away from their third World Series appearance in four years. The Tampa Bay Rays are seeking revenge for their five-game division series loss last season as the two clubs go toe-to-toe in San Diego beginning Sunday.
Three keys to victory for Houston Astros
Starting Pitching Keeps Tampa Bay off the Board Early
A staff without Gerrit Cole (signed by the Yankees) and Justin Verlander (Tommy John surgery) was expected by many to struggle this October. The remaining starting pitchers have done their part to keep Houston in games during the first two rounds of playoffs. Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdéz, José Urquidy, and Zack Greinke will need to keep the damage from the Rays’ hitters to a minimum for the first half of their starts. Valdez was the only one of the four successful in doing so in the division series against Oakland. All four starters are capable of great outings, and they will be counted on to keep the Astros in games into the fifth and sixth innings. Tip for Greinke: don’t tell Randy Arozarena or Yandy Diaz when his next curve is coming.
Bullpen Continues to Dominate
Coming into the 2020 postseason, the Astros’ bullpen featured very little playoff experience for a perennial October ballclub. Outside of closer Ryan Pressly, a cast of rookies led by Enoli Paredes, Blake Taylor, Cristian Javier, Andre Scrubb, and Luis Garcia have done very well against Minnesota and Oakland. Cy Sneed, minor league veteran Brooks Raley and swingman Josh James round out an Astros bullpen needing to provide meaningful innings in this series. Pressly is not the most experienced closer, so it would not be a surprise if that ninth-inning role changes hands based on matchups late in the game.
Keep Barreling the Ball
Houston’s lineup just simply was not looking like itself during the shortened regular season. The October version of the Astros has been clicking with George Springer, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Jose Altuve all providing in the clutch. That alone would make the Astros very dangerous; it’s even scarier when Kyle Tucker, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, or Martin Maldonado come up with a big hit with runners in scoring position. Tampa Bay’s pitchers will need to hold this lineup at bay in order to prevent another Houston World Series.
Three keys to victory for Tampa Bay Rays
Kevin Cash Makes Good Pitching Decisions
Rays manager Kevin Cash has developed team chemistry that won the AL East division by seven games over the Yankees. In the ALCS, Cash will need to manage his pitching staff better than he did in the division series. Cash let his starters get into the sixth inning in both wild card games they played but failed to allow a starter go more than five in the ALDS. He will require more innings from starters Tyler Glasnow, Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Ryan Yarbrough in order to prevent exhausting his bullpen. The pen will be much more effective in the seven-game ALCS series with less multi-inning outings from their relievers.
The Rays offense has been great, getting offensive production from a well-rounded lineup of role players. Arozarena is the undeniable impact bat in the lineup and they will need him to produce similar to how Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto did for last year for the eventual 2019 champions. Arozarena has picked up a Rays outfield that was let down by poor showings by Hunter Renfroe and Yoshi Tsutsugo. Along with Austin Meadows, Kevin Kiermaier, and Manuel Margot, Arozarena will be expected to track down Astros hitters’ balls in the outfield as well as providing solid offensive production.
The Houston Astros are going to keep things interesting for all nine innings. The Tampa Bay bullpen will need strong outings from Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, and John Curtiss to keep the Astros from scoring in the late innings. When it’s their turn to bat, the Rays offense will be counting on role players like Ji-Man Choi, Joey Wendle, and Mike Brosseau to continue to deliver in the clutch as opportunities present themselves when the game is on the line. Tampa Bay can win the World Series this season if the full cast of characters contributes for all nine innings.
Expect an epic American League Championship Series that will go the distance to seven games. The Astros hitters were firing on all cylinders in Los Angeles against the Oakland Athletics. The Tampa Bay bats will need to match their offensive production in order to get past Houston. The Rays have an edge in starting pitching. While both teams’ bullpens are very comparable, give the Rays the advantage in pitching. The Astros offense could ultimately be the difference-maker in the series, as several key starters are coming in red hot. History will repeat itself for Houston versus Tampa Bay again this October.
Prediction: Houston 4, Tampa Bay 3
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