At long last the cold — relatively speaking — offseason is over, and it’s time for baseball! The Tampa Bay Rays welcome the Houston Astros into Tropicana Field on Thursday, for the first game of a four-game set.
The Rays finished the 2018 season on an impressive run, completing their first 90-win campaign since 2013, which was also the last time they reached the postseason. Their relatively healthy Spring Training has Manager Kevin Cash, and the players, excited for the start of the 2019 season.
We feel good as a group. We came out of the gate healthy here with the exception of Matt (Duffy). That’s a huge concern for most teams throughout Spring Training. I think we’ve got better.— Kevin Cash
Houston won the division title a season ago, yet came up one step short of a return trip to the World Series. Be that as it may, the Astros are incredibly talented and won the 2017 World Series. They look to start
Tampa Bay made some solid offseason additions, many of whom will impact the 2019 roster right off the bat. Right-hander Charlie Morton will slot in second in the rotation, Yandy Diaz will spend time both at first and third base, catcher Mike Zunino will be Tampa Bay’s primary backstop, while outfielders Avisail Garcia and Guillermo Heredia will give the team some pop.
The Astros Retooled the lineup and the rotation, most notably adding left-fielder Michael Brantley, who signed a two-year deal in free agency. The outfielder hit .309 with 17 homers last season and will bolster a batting order that already has pop. And while Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve were out for portions of the season, Houston still generated nearly 800 runs. Yet the Rays weren’t slackers, comparing well to Houston last season in every offensive metric with the exceptions of runs, RBI, ISO, and wRAA.
Correa, however, could be a scratch for Opening Day due to a stiff neck suffered last week while in a rundown. He did not play in the last two exhibition games. Aledmys Diaz would be the likely replacement if Correa is unable to go.
We don’t think it’s a longterm serious issue, but I don’t love the fact that we’ve had to scratch him a couple of days and he’s heading into the season having not played for a few days. But it’s the cards we are dealt. If somebody else has to play, then we’ll still be good.— A.J. Hinch
Over the next four days Kevin Cash will lean on Blake Snell (21-5, 1.89 ERA), Charlie Morton (15-3, 3.13 ERA), Tyler Glasnow (1-5, 4.20 ERA), and likely Yonny Chirinos (5-5, 3.51 ERA), who would follow an opener. A.J. Hinch will follow with Justin Verlander (16-9, 2.52 ERA), Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA), Collin McHugh (6-2, 1.99 ERA), and Wade Miley (5-2. 2.57 ERA).
Blake Snell‘s defense of the 2018 American League Cy Young Award begins in full on Thursday, when the southpaw will make the first Opening Day start of his career. Snell is coming off a 2018 season where he led the AL with 21 wins and a 1.89 ERA (2.95 FIP).
— Blake Snell
Firstgame of the season I’m always pumped. Nervous, but more just ready. It’s been a long time to think about it. I want to get it going, and then that’s when it really hits that the season is starting and we’re getting back into the stride of things.
The matchup is noteworthy because only twice have the reigning Cy Young Award winner and the runner-up for the award faced one another on Opening Day.
Justin Verlander is coming off his third second-place finish in the AL Cy Young voting and will make his 11th Opening Day start — the second in a row with Houston. The former AL Cy Young Award winner and league MVP owns a 3-1 record with a 4.03 ERA in his Opening Day career. Last season Verlander went 0-1 with a 4.63 ERA in two starts against the Rays, including a five-inning, five-run outing at Tropicana Field. In 2018 he relied primarily on his whiffy 96 mph four-seam fastball and an 87 mph hard slider, while also mixing in an 80 mph curveball with sharp downward bite. Key Matchups: Yandy Diaz (1-2), Avisail Garcia (8-32, 2 2B, 2 BB, RBI), Joey Wendle (3-5, 2B, RBI)
Charlie Morton will make his first regular season start with the Rays since coming over from the Astros, whom he helped win a World Series in 2017. Morton, who made his first All-Star appearance in 2018 — thanks to a 3.13 ERA and 201 punch outs — inked a two-year deal during the winter. Last season he relied primarily on a whiffy 80 mph knuckle curveball, a 96 mph two-seam worm burning sinker, and a swing-and-miss 97 mph four-seam fastball with obvious tail, while also mixing in an 88 mph splitter with arm side fade, and a whiffy 89 mph cutter.
Gerrit Cole finished fifth in the AL Cy Young race after going 15-5 with a 2.88 ERA and 276 K’s across 200-1/3 innings of his first season with Houston. Cole performed to a .198 opponents’ average and a 1.03 WHIP, leading the AL by averaging a 12.4 K/9 as a starter. Cole has faced the Rays just twice in his career, going 0-1 with a 3.46 ERA across 13 total innings of work. He, however, was great in his lone start at the Trop, throwing six innings of three-run ball (just one earned) while fanning five last season. In 2018, he relied primarily on his 97 mph swing-and-miss four-seam fastball, while also mixing in an 89 mph hard slider, and an 83 mph worm-killer curveball. Key Matchups: Tommy Pham (7-12, 2 2B, HR, 3 RBI), Daniel Robertson (2-3), Joey Wendle (2-5, 2 RBI)
Tyler Glasnow finished 2018 with the Rays, posting a 1-5 record and a 4.20 ERA/4.44 FIP across 11 starts, although he displayed his potential on the mound. He is projected to improve on his numbers in 2019, and the matchup against Houston will be the first chance for
Collin McHugh returns to the rotation after pitching out of the bullpen full-time last season. McHugh appeared in 58 games in 2018 and ranked fourth among AL relievers with a 1.99 ERA/2.72 FIP and 0.91 WHIP. He is 1-4 in his career against Tampa Bay, albeit with a 2.12 ERA in seven starts. Last season McHugh relied primarily on a whiffy 93 mph four-seam fastball and a sweeping 80 mph slider with plenty of depth, while also mixing in a 76 mph worm-killer curveball and an 88 mph cutter. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (1-2, HR, RBI)
The Rays haven’t said who will be the bulk innings guy on Sunday, however, since the Astros are a right-handed heavy lineup, it would seem that Yonny Chirinos would slot in on Sunday. It all depends on how the first three games of the series pan out. We will update this as the details emerge.
Wade Miley will make his Astros debut after going 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA in 16 regular-season starts for Milwaukee last season. Miley allowed two earned runs and 10 hits in 14-2/3 innings across four starts for the Brewers in the playoffs. In 12 career appearances against the Rays, Miley is 4-5 with a 3.36 ERA, and 2-3 with a 3.57 ERA in six starts at the Trop. In 2018, he relied primarily on his 88 mph cutter with strong cutting action, while also mixing in a 76 mph worm-killer curveball, an 83 mph circle changeup that generates an extreme number of ground balls, a whiffy 92 mph four-seam fastball, and a 91 mph swing-and-miss sinker. Key Matchups: Yandy Diaz (2-3, 2B), Avisail Garcia (2B, 3 RBI, 3 BB), Guillermo Heredia (2-3, 2B), Kevin Kiermaier (4-15, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, BB), Tommy Pham (1-3, 2B), Mike Zunino (1-4, BB)
— Kevin Cash set the Opening Day lineup on Wednesday, a day early:
- Meadows RF
- Pham LF
- Choi 1B
- Lowe DH
- Diaz 3B
- Wendle 2B
- Adames SS
- Kiermaier CF
- Zunino C
- Blake Snell LHP
— The Rays announced that Opening Day is sold out; the 14th consecutive Opening Day sellout.