Tampa Bay Rays (96-66, won AL Wild Card Game) vs. Houston Astros (107-55, won AL West)

Game 1- Friday, October 4th @ 2:05 PM ET in Houston, FS1

Game 2- Saturday, October 5th @ 9:07 PM ET in Houston, FS1

Game 3- Monday, October 7th, Time TBD, in Tampa Bay, MLB Network

Game 4 (if necessary)- Tuesday, October 8th, Time TBD, in Tampa Bay, FS1

Game 5 (if necessary)- Thursday October 10th, Time TBD, in Houston, FS1 

 

Preview

Rays

Tampa Bay clubbed five home runs against Oakland in the Wild Card game to advance to the ALDS. Yandy Diaz hit two home runs, including a lead-off homer, and finished the game 3-4. The third baseman hit just 14 home runs in the regular season.

Charlie Morton was able to go five innings while allowing just one run on a sac fly and five hits. Morton was able to dance around trouble despite not having his best stuff. The Rays’ bullpen combined for four shutout innings and allowed just 3 hits the rest of the way. 

The Rays’ starting pitching may have met its match in this series. They will likely go Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 1.78 ERA in 12 starts), 2018 AL Cy Young Winner Blake Snell, and back to Morton. They will be countered by Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zach Grienke. 

Player to watch- Yandy Diaz

Will Diaz be able to build off of his two homer game? In just 7 career postseason at bats, Diaz has four hits, two home runs, and a double. 

Astros

The Astros have arguably the best starting rotation of any team remaining. They led the AL in ERA at 3.61 and were behind just the Nationals and Dodgers for the league best. They did lead the league in strikeout to walk percentage at 22.1%.

A huge part of those numbers is the Cy Young caliber campaign turned in by Gerrit Cole. The free-agent-to-be went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA and an absurd 326 strikeouts. And he isn’t even starting Game 1. That duty goes to future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander. Verlander may finish second to Cole in AL Cy Young Voting, as he too turned in a brilliant campaign with a 21-6 record and a 2.58 ERA. The 36-year-old Verlander also was the 2017 ALCS MVP and helped power the Astros to their first championship. In 25 postseason appearances (25 starts, one relief appearance), Verlander is 13-7 with a 3.19 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 152 1/3 innings. 

The Astros’ offense is not to be taken lightly either. They were the highest ranked offense in baseball as measured by WAR (40.8) and led the league in average (.274) and OPS (.848). They were third in home runs (188) and struck out at the lowest percentage in baseball, punching out in just over 18% of their at bats. Third baseman Alex Bregman led the way, finishing with a 1.015 OPS and 41 home runs with 112 RBIs.

Player to watch- George Springer

Springer hit 39 home runs in the regular season and had a .974 OPS. But more importantly, Springer owns a 1.026 OPS with 11 home runs and a .308 career postseason average in 130 at bats. He was the World Series MVP for the Astros in 2017.