It was just last season when the Rays battled back from down 2-0 to force a game 5 winner-take-all match with the Astros in the ALDS. That game featured a showdown of Gerrit Cole versus Tyler Glasnow, one that would be replayed this year, but with Cole wearing pinstripes. Cole fared better last year, when the Astros took down the Rays by a score of 6-1. The Rays got their revenge on Cole Friday night, and now they’re ready to check the Astros off their list as well. Easier said than done, however, as these Astros have proven they won’t go quietly.
The home team won every game in their playoff showdown last year. Of course, this season there will be no home crowd to contend with, but the tables have turned in that the Rays are the AL East champs who will enjoy last bats for games 1, 2, 5, and 7. As a wild card entrant, the Astros are a rare much-disliked underdog. They’re also a much different team from last year, at least on the pitching side of things.
Of course, their front offices know each other well. After the Astros were forced to fire Jeff Luhnow, James Click was hired away from the Rays to take over as General Manager. Per MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart, Click said about facing his former team, “On a scale from zero to weird, it’s going to be weird.”
This series will be played over 7 consecutive days, should it go the distance. Both the Rays and Astros have gone to “playoff style” in their pitcher usage, but a 7-game, 7-day series will stretch those staffs even further. For the Astros, there’s concern about the health of Zack Greinke. The 36-year-old enigmatic ace has been dealing with arm soreness for the past month, though doctors did not find any structural damage. Still, it’s a concern for the Astros, as Greinke hasn’t been at his sharpest, surrendering 5 earned runs in 8 2/3 postseason innings thus far.
They’ve survived without him largely due to the breakout of 26-year-old Framber Valdez, who will start game one on Sunday night. Lance McCullers Jr. will go in game two. They’re planning to remove a position player in favor of having an extra arm for the ALCS, per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan (via Twitter). Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier are also options to start games, while Enoli Paredes stepped up in a multi-inning role for the Astros against the Athletics. As a staff, they’re breaking new ground with every new win. Even Ryan Pressly, one of their few veterans, is experiencing his first postseason as a closer.
Same as Houston, the Rays will add a 14th pitcher to the staff and drop a position player, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). That should help them cope with a drawn-out series, the but the Rays chart their own path in terms of managing their pitching staff, as evidenced by manager Kevin Cash bringing back Glasnow to serve as a glorified opener on 2-days rest for the clinching game of the ALDS. Blake Snell will get the game one start for the third round in a row, while Charlie Morton is expected – though not announced – as the game two starter.
Because they play in different divisions, these two teams haven’t faced off since last year’s ALDS. The series starts tomorrow night. MLBTR readers, who is going to win this series? (Link to poll for Trade Rumors mobile app users)