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Rays vs Astros Preview: No Errors for Blake, Please

And let’s get back over .500

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays will look to bounce back from a 6-3 series-opening defeat to the Houston Astros when the two square off in a rare 6:10 p.m. start Saturday evening. The Rays sit at .500 on the season, battling to stay in the picture in what is one of their toughest stretches of the season schedule-wise. The Astros meanwhile have been as good as advertised to start 2017, leading the AL West with a 12-5 record that trails only the Baltimore Orioles in all of baseball.

The Rays will send young Blake Snell to toe the rubber, while the Astros counter with Charlie Morton.

Starting Pitchers

Blake Snell

Snell’s 2017 profile is living proof of just how strange early-season statistics can be. The 24-year-old is 0-2, but he has a solid 2.76 ERA. However, he has a 4.18 FIP and 5.13 xFIP, and he is walking (5.51 BB/9) nearly as many as he is striking out (6.06 K/9). On the flip side of that, ask most Rays fans what they think of Snell so far this season and you’ll get mostly strong reviews.

This will be another nice test early in the campaign for Snell, as the Astros sport the second-best offense in baseball per wRC+ (120), and they don’t have an inherent weakness against lefties (all nine hitters in Saturday’s starting lineup are either right-handed or switch-hitters). They have fared slightly worse against lefties in 2017 (wRC+ of 98), but it is still so early in the season that there is a lot of noise there.

Charlie Morton

Over at The Crawfish Boxes, the SBNation writers for Houston are likely saying similar things about the Rays right now. The Rays have the third-best offense in baseball per wRC+ (119) this season, and while they have been slightly better against lefties, they have been more than capable against righties (114 wRC+). The Rays will send an impressive five lefties against Morton to start Saturday’s game, but the platoon advantage has actually been reverse for Morton in 2017, with righties getting the better of him this season.

Morton is a three-and-a-half pitch pitcher, relying heavily on a sinker (51 percent in 2017, per Brooks Baseball), while mixing in 25 percent curveballs, 14 percent cutters, and nine percent splitters. Morton is one of the stranger stories of the last 14 months, as he added nearly four mph to his sinker since the 2015 season. Morton is averaging over 96 mph on his sinker in 2017, faster than he has ever thrown any pitch in his entire career.

Morton relies heavily on either the sinker or cutter to get ahead in the count and relies more on the curve to put hitters away. With the aforementioned five lefties in the starting lineup for Tampa, expect to see a lot more of the curve in today’s game.

Starting Lineups

Today’s Lineups

Houston Astros Tampa Bay Rays
Houston Astros Tampa Bay Rays
George Springer - CF Corey Dickerson - DH
Carlos Beltran - DH Kevin Kiermaier - CF
Jose Altuve - 2B Evan Logoria - 3B
Carlos Correa - SS Brad Miller - 2B
Evan Gattis - C Steven Souza - RF
Alex Bregman - 3B Logan Morrison - 1B
Yuli Gurriel - 1B Derek Norris - C
Marwin Gonzalez - LF Shane Peterson - LF
Jake Marisnick - RF Tim Beckham - SS
Charlie Morton - LHP Blake Snell - LHP