After slugging their way to a 5-1 win over the Oakland Athletics in the American League Wildcard game on Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Rays made their way to Houston, where they will begin the best of five AL Division Series against the Astros on Friday. The Astros took three of four from the Angels this past weekend.
On paper, Tampa Bay might be the AL team that best matches up against Houston. The Rays pitching staff is very good, while the platoon-heavy lineup is deep and ready to take the field — or step into the batter’s box — at any given moment.
What became evident leading up to the postseason (and into the Wildcard game) the Rays will likely have an all hands on deck approach out of the ‘pen against Houston. Tampa Bay used just three relievers Wednesday, so the bullpen should be well rested to start the series.
The Rays have gotten healthy at the right time, and they got another reinforcement Friday, as Eric Sogard (bone bruise), was added to the ALDS 25-man roster. Sogard has been on the shelf since September 15, and he took a significant step forward over the past few days. In a series that will feature a lot of right-handed pitching, Sogard could augment Tampa Bay’s lineup.
Still, Houston has one of the best lineups in baseball, so that paired with their dominant starting rotation gives the Astros an edge over pretty much every team in the league. However, the Rays are playing with a chip on their shoulders and will be a handful in this series.
Tampa Bay took four of seven from Houston in the season series, however, the Astros outscored the Rays 40-27 (-13 run differential).
Over the first three games, Kevin Cash will throw Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 1.78 ERA), Blake Snell (6-8, 4.29 ERA), and Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA). A.J. Hinch will counter with Justin Verlander (21-6, 2.58 ERA), Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA), and Zack Greinke (8-1, 3.02 ERA). Cash and Hinch are likely to lean on the same hurlers should series go past the first three games.
Tyler Glasnow surrendered two walks and fanned four across 4-1/3 scoreless frames on Friday against Toronto. Glasnow exited the game with a three-run lead, as the Rays went on to clinch a postseason berth with a 6-2 win. The 26-year-old right-hander has been excellent on the hill of late, as he’s now tossed 10-1/3 scoreless innings over his last three turns. Glasnow enters postseason play with a 1.78 ERA, an 0.89 WHIP, and a 5.43 K/BB over 60-2/3 innings this season. He is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in one career start against Houston.
Justin Verlander allowed three runs on four hits while fanning 12 over six innings against the Angels on Saturday. He did not give up a walk. With his fourth-inning strikeout of Kole Calhoun, Verlander became just the 18th pitcher in big-league history to record 3,000 strikeouts. He also reached 300 strikeouts in a single season for the first time in his illustrious career. Verlander is 10-4 with a 3.17 ERA in 20 career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Travis d’Arnaud (1-2), Yandy Diaz (2-4, 2B, BB), Matt Duffy (4-8), Tommy Pham (3-6, 2 2B), Joey Wendle (3-8, 2B, RBI)
Blake Snell allowed two runs on three hits and two walks while striking out four over 2-1/3 innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday. Snell allowed both runs in the first inning but recovered to deliver 1-1/3 scoreless frames before his exit after 62 pitches (37 strikes, 60% strike rate). Snell continued to be on a limited pitch count, although he threw his longest outing since his return from the IL. The southpaw finished the regular season with a 4.29 ERA and 147 strikeouts through 107 innings. Snell is 2-2 with a 4.73 ERA in six career starts against Houston.
Gerrit Cole allowed one run on four hits and two walks while striking out 10 over five innings against the Angels on Sunday. Cole registered 20 swinging strikes and 14 called strikes on only 92 pitches in the win. It has been a great run for Cole, as he ended the season as the first pitcher in big-league history to record nine consecutive double-digit strikeout games. The 29-year-old finished the regular season with a 2.50 ERA and 326 strikeouts across 212-1/3 innings. Cole is 0-2 with a 3.51 ERA in four career starts against the Rays, and 0-1 with a 3.55 ERA in two starts against this season. Key Matchups: Jesus Aguilar (3-8, 2 RBI, BB), Ji-Man Choi (2B, HR, 4 RBI, BB), Travis d’Arnaud (4-4, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, BB), Yandy Diaz (2-3, HR, RBI), Tommy Pham (9-18, 2 2B, HR, 4 RBI), Daniel Robertson (2-6), Joey Wendle (3-7, 3B, 3 RBI)
Charlie Morton gave up one run (unearned) on five hits and three walks while striking out four across innings to earn the win over the Athletics on Wednesday. Morton threw 94 pitches (56 strikes, 60% strike rate). Morton battled the Athletics but made the important big pitch when necessary, consequently coaxing a pair of inning-ending double plays to shut down the powerful Oakland lineup. Morton is 4-6 with a 6.28 ERA in 11 career starts against his former team, and 3-2 with a 3.96 ERA in seven career postseason starts.
Zack Greinke gave up two hits and one walk while striking out nine through 8-1/3 scoreless innings against the Mariners on Wednesday. Greinke took a no-hit bid into the ninth inning before he allowed two singles to end his night. Greinke was dominant, registering 20 swinging strikes without allowing a three-ball count until the fifth inning. Greinke finished the regular season with a 2.93 ERA and 187 strikeouts over 208-2/3 innings. The right-hander is 4-6 with a 3.36 ERA in 14 career starts against Tampa Bay, and 0-0 with a 7.94 ERA in one outing against this season. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (1-2, BB), Travis d’Arnaud (3-7, HR, 3 RBI), Yandy Diaz (1-3)
— The Rays set the ALDS 25-man roster (below) boasting 12 pitchers and the return of Sogard.
— On Friday, the Rays announced their official team watch parties. You can watch this weekend’s ballgames at a few different locations on both sides of the bay. On Friday at 2:00, Parks and Rec and the Avenue, situated next to one another in downtown St. Pete, will get the ball rolling. Then on Saturday, head to either Al Lang Stadium (in St. Pete), and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park (in Tampa); first pitch is set for 9:10. Personally, I’ll be getting Rowdy at Al Lang, but I hope to see evidence of packed houses across the Bay Area!