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Series Preview: Rays take on Astros

MLB: Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles
This guy is having himself a year
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays head to Houston fresh off two victories against the Red Sox split their four-game series. The Rays have won eight of their last eleven.

The Astros have a really good core, but are having a disappointing season after making it to the post season last year. They currently sit at third in the American League West behind the Rangers and Mariners; they have been playing well recently, winning five of their last six.

Mathcups:

Friday: Drew Smyly vs Mike Fiers

Saturday: Blake Snell vs Dallas Keuchel

Sunday: Chris Archer vs Doug Fister

Keuchel isn’t having a successful follow up to his Cy Young winning season

Mike Fiers has put up a 4.41 ERA and 4.71 FIP. This season, his strikeout rate has fallen to 18.2% from the mid 20s. He’s lowered his fly ball rate from above 40% to 32.9%; however, his line drive rate has spiked up to 26.2% and his 16.5% HR/FB rate is much higher than it had been in recent seasons. Fiers is coming off a strong start in which he went seven innings and allowed one run while striking out seven and walking one against the Orioles.

Dallas Keuchel, last year’s AL Cy Young winner, has had a similar season to Chris Archer’s. Keuchel comes in with a 4.64 ERA and 3.85 FIP. He’s lost a few strikeouts with a 20.8% strikeout rate, but is above his career 19.2% rate. He’s walked a few more at 7.0%, but is right in line with his career 6.9% rate. He’s seen a modest increase in homers as his 16.5% rate is higher than his 13.6% rate in 2015. The big difference has been an abysmal 67.3% left on base rate which is tenth worst among qualified starters. In his last eleven starts he has produced better results with similar peripherals: a 3.56 ERA and 3.87 FIP. Two of his last four starts he’s been lit up for six plus runs.

Doug Fister is having a solid bounce back season, posting a 3.59 ERA and 4.41 FIP. He’s never been one to accumulate a lot of strikeouts (15.9% strikeout rate this season), but he’s walked a career high 7.9%. Fister is coming off a very good start against the Pirates where he pitched seven scoreless innings while striking out seven and walking one.

The Astros bullpen has been extremely good.

The Astros bullpen is fourth in ERA, first in FIP, second in strikeout rate, and have the lowest walk rate. They’ve been great in every thing you want to be good at except their 13.4% HR/FB rate.

Ken Giles has had a great rebound after a really bad stretch to start the season. His 35.8% strikeout rate is better than last year and his 6.9% walk rate is improved. He’s only allowed two runs over his last 21 innings.

Will Harris and Luke Gregerson have each picked up at least ten saves, but Giles has since earned back the closers job. Both have been very good relievers.

Chris Devenski has been what the Rays hoped they could find in a multiple inning reliever. He’s pitched 63 innings over 30 outings while putting up a 1.71 ERA and 2.61 FIP.

The Jose Altuve breakout has been incredible.

The Astros offense is very similar to the Rays, but they play in a hitter-friendlier ballpark. They come in with a .247/.321/.419 101 wRC+ line. They strike out a lot, 23.4% strikeout rate, and walk 9.2% of the time. They are carried by three big bats: Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa.

Jose Altuve’s season has been amazing. He’s hitting .361/.422/.571 and owns a 168 wRC+. He’s hit 20 homers and stolen 26 bases.

Carlos Correa has seen a small drop in offense over his great rookie season. He’s hitting .271/.361/.463 and 125 wRC+. He’s hit 18 homers and stolen 11 bases. Most of the drop in production is from .039 decline in ISO. UZR likes his defense much more this year as they have him at -2.2 UZR/150 compared to -13.7 UZR/150 last season.

George Springer is having another good season as he’s hitting .260/.358/.467 and 126 wRC+. The biggest gains Springer has made this season are in health. He’s already received 586 plate appearances after not receiving over 500 in his first two years in the majors (including minor league PA).

They’ve had some good complementary bats in Luis Valbuena (122 wRC+), Evan Gattis (105 wRC+), and Jason Castro (97 wRC+), but they have suffered from some disappointing seasons. Carlos Gomez (60 wRC+) was so bad they DFA’d him earlier this month and Colby Rasmus (74 wRC+) has been disappointing after accepting the qualifying offer.

Alex Bregman, the number two overall pick in the 2015 draft, struggled out of the gate, but has come on strong with a .306/.355/.553 and 144 wRC+ over his last 93 PA.

Rays look to continue their strong second half.

It would have been easy for the team to give up after trading away Matt Moore, Steve Pearce, and Brandon Guyer at the trade deadline. The team has continued to fight and to reward fans with some good baseball.