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Series Preview: Rays vs. Astros

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Tampa Bay comes to Minute Maid Park for the Battle of the OJs

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays avoided the four game sweep against the Yankees with a win on getaway day. The Houston Astros are far and away the best team in the American League, although they did just lose a series to the Detroit Tigers.

The Rays are facing the Astros at an opportune time. First, they are scheduled to face three right handed pitchers, which plays to their strengths. Dallas Keuchel was underwhelming in his first start since returning from the disabled list after missing almost two months. Carlos Correa is on the disabled list and will miss two months. George Springer joined Correa on the disabled list.

The Astros are 68-36 and they still have plenty of talent on the field. This is probably the best chance you could reasonably hope for.

The Astros could make any number of moves before the trade deadline. It’s been reported they have already agreed to add Francisco Liriano to be their lefty in the bullpen.

The Matchups:

Monday 8:10 PM: Alex Cobb vs Charlie Morton
Tuesday 8:10 PM: Chris Archer vs Mike Fiers
Wednesday 8:10 PM: Austin Pruitt vs Dallas Keuchel
Thursday 8:10 PM: Blake Snell vs Collin McHugh

Rays have an opportunity to put runs on the board versus the Astros starters.

Charlie Morton is the first right handed pitcher to take his shot at the Rays offense. Morton has a 3.83 ERA and 3.95 FIP in 82.1 innings. Morton’s 26.1% strikeout rate is impressive. He walks a few more than average, but they are manageable. Morton has been lit up by right handed batters to the tune of .285/.346/.512 and .363. In his last outing Morton held the Philadelphia Phillies scoreless through seven innings. The Rays roughed him up for five runs in five innings earlier this season.

Mike Fiers has been fortunate posting a 3.71 ERA despite a 4.98 FIP. Fiers has a 24.0% strikeout rate and 8.6% walk rate. His 19.6% HR/FB rate has been the problem. He’s run higher than average HR/FB rates in previous years, but this is high even for him. He allowed three runs in four innings his last time out against the Phillies. Earlier this year he allowed three runs in five years to the Rays.

Dallas Keuchel had a brilliant start to the season and looked to be back in form that saw him claim the 2015 Cy Young Award. Then he went to the disabled list after his June 2nd start. Keuchel has a 1.94 ERA and 3.31 FIP. He allowed three runs in three innings in his first start back from the disabled list against the Detroit Tigers.

Collin McHugh has a 4.22 ERA and 4.65 FIP. Like all the other starters he gets a bunch of strikeouts with a 25.6% strikeout rate. Of course this year we are looking at an awfully small sample. He has only pitched 10.2 innings in two starts this year. His career ERA and FIP are both slightly better. In his last start he allowed one run in 4.2 innings to the Tigers.

The Astros add Francisco Liriano to a bullpen that has struggled recently.

Overall the peripherals for the Astros bullpen are fantastic. They have struck out 29.7% of batters and a 3.61 FIP that is fifth lowest in MLB. However their 4.45 ERA is the ninth highest in the majors.

However since the all-star break the Astros bullpen has gotten hit around. In 52.1 IP they’ve allowed a 6.54 ERA and 4.71 FIP. The strikeouts are down and the walks are up.

Ken Giles is their closer. He has a 3.11 ERA and 2.64 FIP. He has a 29.8% strikeout rate and converted 22 saves.

Chris Devenski is their multi-inning relief ace. He’s thrown 59.2 innings and has a 2.87 ERA and 3.08 FIP. Devenski hasn’t been bulletproof recently. He has allowed runs in four of his last eight outings including four runs to the Blue Jays.

The Astros bullpen is well rested. None of their relievers have thrown more than once in the last four days.

The Astros lineup leads the way.

The Astros lineup has been incredible. As a team they are hitting .294/.354/.500 and have a 129 wRC+. They are averaging 5.86 runs per game.

The Rays will be fortunate to not have to face Carlos Correa (158 wRC+) and George Springer (160 wRC+), who are injured. But there are still a lot of good hitters who can do damage.

Jose Altuve hits like a man that’s much larger than his listed 5’6”. He’s hitting .367/.430/.578 and has a 173 wRC+. For the month of July he is hitting an absurd .484/.524/.737 and has a 245 wRC+ in 103 plate appearances.

Marwin Gonzalez has had an incredible season as a super utility player. He’s hitting .314/.393/.579 and has a 161 wRC+.

Josh Reddick (123 wRC+), Evan Gattis (125 wRC+), Alex Bregman (113 wRC+), Yulieski Gurriel (106 wRC+), and Brian McCann (101 wRC+) have added quality bats.

The Rays have an opportunity against the best team in the league.

Even without Correa and Springer the team is still very good. It won’t be easy, but you have to beat good teams to make the playoffs.