Last night’s contests delivered high drama — one at the very outset, the other at the end. That left three of the four championship series spots claimed, with the Nationals joining the Cardinals in the NLCS and the Yankees already ticketed for the ALCS. But who’ll square off against New York’s savages? That’ll be decided tonight.
The pressure is on the Astros, who have already squandered two opportunities to clinch the series. Two of Houston’s three exceptional starters failed to close it out, so they’ll hand the ball to the final member of the trio. Gerrit Cole doesn’t have the Hall of Fame resume that his teammates do — yet, at least — but he’s at top form and is arguably the best of the group right now. The Rays have only scored runs in bunches once in this series, but their pesky and balanced group of hitters will try to scratch out some runs against the dominant Cole. If he had a soft spot this year, it was — like so many others — in the long ball department. Cole allowed 1.23 per nine on a 16.9% HR/FB rate during the regular season. Houston skipper A.J. Hinch may ultimately face some nervy decisions late in this game, but he’ll surely ride Cole as long as possible.
Tampa Bay counters with pure power of its own in the form of Tyler Glasnow. While he hasn’t come close to Cole, his former Pirates teammate, in overall output over the past two seasons, Glasnow has the ability to dominate as well. He’ll also have a chance to further extend his pitch count after throwing 76 pitches and lasting 4 1/3 frames in the first game of this series. That’s just the first step of the Rays’ strategy, which is sure to involve a parade of relievers once Glasnow exits. The club pushed several of its best arms hard in game four, but an intervening rest day should leave plenty of options at the disposal of manager Kevin Cash. He and the staff will be trying to navigate an almost laughably talented Houston run-production machine.
It’s hard not to like the battle-tested, star-studded Astros at home with Cole on the mound, but the Rays have already proven they won’t back down. Who do you think will take it tonight and book a date with the Yanks?
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