Brandon Lowe went 1-3 on Friday with a walk and a run scored. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

After dropping their third consecutive game to the Houston Astros on Friday, the Tampa Bay Rays will play one last game in the 2020 ALCS tonight: a winner-take-all contest that will determine which American League ball club will advance to the World Series, in Arlington. It’s the second consecutive playoff series where Tampa Bay will play an elimination game, having edged the Yankees 2-1 in game five of the ALDS. As Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) writes, “In advancing to the franchise’s only World Series in 2008, Tampa Bay lost games five and six to Boston, losing a 7-0 lead in game five, but managed to win game 7, 3-1.” They have led for two total innings in the last three games against Houston.

The Astros are just the second team ever to force a game seven after being down three-games-to-none, with the Red Sox coming back to beat the Yankees in 2004 by winning four straight.

The pitching failed last night behind a sub-par start by Blake Snell, very hittable outings by Diego Castillo and Shane McClanahan, and an appearance by Jośe Alvarado that left a lot to be desired, yet the Rays bats again were ice-cold. Tampa Bay went 0-4 with runners and scoring position on Friday, and are 0-10 wRISP since Thursday.

And while Astros starter Framber Valdez threw 56% of his pitches for strikes, Rays hitters showed zero discipline against the curveball throwing southpaw, who coaxed a 30% SwStr% — all on his curveball. Mike Zunino leads the pack with a 40.2% SwStr% and a 31.5% chase rate, according to StatCast. Both Willy Adames and Brandon Lowe follow closely behind Zunino.

To their credit, Adames and Lowe each collected hits last night, combining to go 2-5 with an RBI, a run scored, and three walks. Lowe actually has hits in each of the last two games, including a homer.

Manuel Margot was a bright spot in Friday’s contest. Margot homered twice and now has three homers in this series (five in the postseason) to go along with 11 RBI. If Kevin Kiermaier does get the start tonight, expect Margot to play in either left or right field.

It would also appear that a few players are due a breakout (as it relates to xBA and xwOBA) assuming they can work good at-bats against Lance McCullers Jr., who will be making his second start of the ALCS for Houston.

Both teams are expected to take an “all hands on deck” approach. Both Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough could be used in relief for Tampa Bay, while the same could be said for Jośe Urquidy and Houston. Ryan Pressly, the Astros’ closer, has been used three days in a row, and might not be available tonight.

The New What Next

Charlie Morton (2-0, 0.90 ERA) will get the start tonight, pitching opposite of Lance McCullers Jr. (0-1, 4.09 ERA).

Charlie Morton got the start in game two of the ALCS and allowed five hits, a walk, and hit a batter while striking out five across five scoreless frames on 96 pitches (59 strikes, 61% strike rate, 14% SwStr%). Yet, even with all the traffic on the base paths, Morton limited the Astros scoring chances and held them to 0-5 with runners in scoring position — stranding runners in scoring position in the first four frames. Morton, who won a 4–2 contest in game two will start tonight. Morton has pitched in three previous winner take all games and is 3-0 with a 0.64 ERA.

Lance McCullers Jr. outpitched Morton outpitched his former teammate, striking out 11 across seven innings. McCullers was victimized by a two-out first-inning error that was followed by a Margot three-run homer. From that point on, the right-hander retired 14 in a row — nine via the strikeout. He did allow another home run, a solo shot off the bat of Zunino on a 96 mph fastball. He has now allowed five homers in his last two playoff outings, with four by right-handed batters. Key Matchups (including the postseason): Randy Arozarena (2-3), Manuel Margot (3-9, 2) HR)

Noteworthiness and the starting lineup are below.

Rays 10/17/20 Starting Lineup

  1. Margot RF
  2. Lowe 2B
  3. Arozarena LF
  4. Meadows DH
  5. Choi 1B
  6. Adames SS
  7. Wendle 3B
  8. Zunino C
  9. Kiermaier CF


— Per Dan Szymborski (FanGraphs), The ZiPS projections still have the Rays as the favorite by a 58%-42% margin, but that’s a far cry from the 3.8% chance the computer gave the Astros after Game 3.

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