The Houston Astros play the Tampa Bay Rays for the first time this season in a possible preview of the American League Division Series
The Wild Card teams seem to be pretty much set barring a late Baltimore Orioles run knocking out either Seattle, Tampa Bay or Toronto.
The seeding remains in flux as those three aforementioned teams keep flip-flopping between the four, five and six seeds. Oddly the six seed is may be the ideal spot considering you’d get the winner of the AL Central, which is the weakest division in baseball. You’d then get a matchup with the two seed New York Yankees, who have, to put it mildly, skidded in the second half.
The Astros won the season series against Seattle 12-7 including winning seven of the last eight games they played head to head. The Toronto Blue Jays hold a 4-2 advantage over the Astros though all six games were competitive and close.
The Rays are the only other possible first round playoff opponent the Astros have yet to play.
This series will give Astros fans a clearer view of who they should be rooting for to be their ALDS opponent.
As of now it seems Seattle is the clear choice as the Astros have destroyed Robbie Ray, who would be the game two starter in an ALDS matchup. The issue is the Astros have not faced the Mariners since they acquired Luis Castillo, who has not missed a beat since his trade from Cincinnati which would make them a scary opponent alongside their strong bullpen.
That said their offense is ranked 21st in the major leagues and given the Astros absurdly strong pitching staff, facing the weaker offense would mean you only need to score two to three runs to win a game. The Astros have the speed to make small ball work with stolen bases and sacrifice flies so a weak offense would be the ideal matchup.
The Rays fit that category with the 18th overall offense, but their pitching staff is stronger than Seattle’s both in rotation and bullpen. The Astros have playoff history with the Rays winning the 2019 ALDS in five games while losing the 2020 ALCS in seven games.
The upcoming series will be important to see how the Astros’ offense, once the calling card of this Golden Era, will do against the elite pitching and different arm angles the Rays toss at them.
It’ll also be interesting to see how the Astros dominant pitching will handle the Rays offense and if the Rays can muster anything off them. The pitching matchups for this series are as follows:
Game 1: Luis Garcia (12-8, 4.04 ERA, 25 starts, 1.17 WHIP) vs. Drew Rasmussen (10-5, 2.77 ERA, 25 starts, 1.07 WHIP.)
The advantage goes to the Rays in this game as Garcia is not really in the conversation for the fourth playoff rotation spot. At best he is the third option behind Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier. Rasmussen is the number two starter on the Rays so the Astros will get to see a potential playoff foe which even if they lose this game gives them an advantage come October.
Game 2: Cristian Javier (9-9, 2,87 ERA, 22 starts, 0.99 WHIP) vs. Shane McClanahan (12-5, 2.13 ERA, 25 starts, 0.86 WHIP.)
Again the advantage goes to the Rays in the short term as one of the Cy Young candidates in Shane McClanahan goes against an Astros pitcher who will be in the bullpen come playoff time but most likely not the rotation. The Rays may win these first two games but the Astros will get to see their best two pitchers and get a feel for them which again could pay dividends in the postseason.
Game 3: Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.34 ERA, six starts, 1.27 WHIP) vs Corey Kluber (10-9, 4.44 ERA, 28 starts, 1.19 WHIP)
This would most likely be the Game 3 matchup should these two teams meet in the ALDS, making it the only game that will give a real vibe for what it would be like to see these teams at full strength. It’s even more fitting that it’s in Tampa Bay where a potential game three would take place.
The Astros had success against Kluber in their lone postseason game against him back in the 2018 ALDS, scoring four runs on six hits including three home runs in 4-2/3 innings pitched. Kluber is not the same pitcher he once was when he was constantly either winning or in the conversation for the Cy Young award as injuries have derailed his career.
This year is the most innings he’s pitched since that 2018 season but his 4.44 ERA is a far cry from the 2.89 ERA he carried in 2018.
Suffice to say this series most likely won’t go the Astros way in terms of wins and losses but it will serve them in terms of seeing the Rays top three pitchers who they’ll most likely see in October. Meanwhile the Rays will only get a look at our number three pitcher and maybe a couple guys they’ll see coming out of the bullpen.
While it’s not certain these two teams will meet, it will give the Astros an idea of who they’d like to face most coming out of those wild card series. If they win two out of three in Tampa without Justin Verlander or Framber Valdez against the top three pitchers in Tampa Bay’s rotation, it will go a long way in terms of their confidence should they end up meeting in the Divisional Series.