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Rays vs Astros Series Preview: A visit to the home of the World Series champs

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And the Astros are doing pretty darned well in 2018, too

Houston Astros v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays avoided the four game sweep at the hand of the New York Yankees with a 3-1 victory on Sunday. The Rays are 5-5 during their last ten games, but face the scorching hot Houston Astros, winners of 11 in a row. Well, they have to regress a bit at some point, why not now?

Matchups:

Monday 8:10 PM: Ryne Stanek vs Gerrit Cole
Tuesday 8:10 PM: Blake Snell vs Justin Verlander
Wednesday 8:10 PM: Nathan Eovaldi vs Charlie Morton

The Astros have the best rotation in the league and the Rays have the fortune of getting their two best in games one and two

Astros Starters Last 3 Years

Pitcher GS IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Pitcher GS IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Gerrit Cole 87 536.2 24.2% 6.4% 0.94 3.61 3.40
Justin Verlander 101 662.1 26.6% 6.8% 1.05 2.99 3.43
Charlie Morton 61 342.1 25.1% 8.5% 1.00 4.13 3.80

Gerrit Cole was on the trade block this winter and the Astros made the winning bid. Cole had an incredible year in 2015 where he threw 208.0 innings with a 2.60 ERA and 2.66 FIP. He suffered through an injury plagued 2016 and 2017 was his worst season as a professional with a 4.26 ERA and 4.08 FIP through 203.0 innings. This year Cole has gotten off to the best start of his career with a 2.40 ERA and 2.74 FIP over his first 93.2 innings. He’s turned the clock back to 2015 while putting up the similar ERA and FIP despite an increased scoring environment. His strikeout rate is up to 36.7% after never posting a season rate above 24.3%. In his last start the Oakland Athletics pushed across four runs in 6.0 innings in the first time he’s allowed more than three runs this year. In his last six starts he’s been somewhat hittable (at least compared to his early season results) posting a 3.89 ERA and 4.66 FIP allowing three or more runs in four starts.

Justin Verlander was one of the greatest pitchers of his generation, but it looked like father time was going to turn him into a shell of what he had been at 34. Then he was traded to the Astros last August. In 134.1 innings he has posted a 1.47 ERA and 2.53 FIP. He’s struck out 32.7% of batters and only walked 5.0%. The Athletics put up three runs in 7.0 innings in his last start. His season high for earned runs allowed in a start is three. He’s allowed three runs in a start three times this year including his last two outings.

Last winter the Astros made an odd choice to give Charlie Morton a 2/$14MM deal. The Astros apparently knew what they were doing as he’s been nothing but a bargain. In 82.2 innings this year he has a 2.94 ERA and 3.77 FIP. He’s put up a career best 30.6% strikeout rate, but will give you opportunities with a 9.6% walk rate. In his last start he allowed three runs to the Kansas City Royals in 6.0 innings.

The Astros bullpen has been one of the best in baseball

Astros Relievers Last 3 Years

Pitcher G IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Pitcher G IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Ken Giles 198 194.0 32.7% 7.4% 0.65 3.06 2.35
Chris Devenski 134 192.0 29.9% 6.3% 0.75 2.06 2.76
Hector Rondon 188 177.0 28.7% 5.9% 1.07 2.85 3.20
Will Harris 185 174.1 26.1% 6.1% 0.88 2.84 3.07
Tony Sipp 161 128.1 23.3% 9.5% 1.54 4.07 4.64
Brad Peacock 46 56.1 31.9% 9.2% 1.28 2.40 3.65
Collin McHugh 22 31.0 34.2% 5.8% 0.58 1.16 2.25
Reymin Guduan 23 18.0 21.1% 13.3% 1.00 7.50 4.48

When a team puts up a great record one of the first places to expect a great performance is in the bullpen. The Astros have put up the fourth lowest ERA at 2.78 and have the lowest FIP at 2.73. Their 29.9% strikeout rate is only behind the Yankees.

Ken Giles is the Astros closer. It’s one position they haven’t gotten great results with a 4.56 ERA, but his 1.87 FIP suggests he’s been quite unfortunate.

Chris Devenski has transitioned from a high leverage long man into a more typical bullpen role. He’s thrown 27.2 innings in 29 appearances with a fantastic 1.63 ERA and 2.55 FIP. He hasn’t been asked to get more than five outs this year.

Hector Rondon is having a bounce back campaign after posting an ERA and FIP above 4.00 last year with a 1.38 ERA and 1.90 FIP through 26.0 innings. He’s striking out batters at roughly the same rate, but his walk rate has fallen back in line with his career rate. Homers have also plummeted from almost 20% HR/FB to sub 5%.

The Astros bullpen is well rested and is likely not expected to cover many innings in the front two games of the series.

Once again the Astros have the best offense in the league

Astros Batters Last 3 Years

Batter PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Batter PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Jose Altuve 2117 63 93 7.6% 11.2% 0.339 0.395 0.520 0.389 151
George Springer 1878 83 22 10.4% 20.6% 0.274 0.361 0.482 0.362 132
Carlos Correa 1819 76 30 11.0% 20.2% 0.284 0.364 0.494 0.365 134
Marwin Gonzalez 1506 50 24 7.2% 21.2% 0.281 0.340 0.460 0.343 119
Josh Reddick 1498 39 23 8.7% 13.7% 0.281 0.341 0.431 0.332 111
Evan Gattis 1403 73 3 6.8% 20.5% 0.256 0.311 0.489 0.337 115
Brian McCann 1361 60 2 10.4% 17.9% 0.232 0.324 0.415 0.320 101
Alex Bregman 1159 37 25 9.7% 16.2% 0.276 0.351 0.473 0.352 125
Yullieski Gurriel 942 23 6 3.7% 10.7% 0.294 0.324 0.449 0.329 109
Jake Marisnick 878 30 34 5.6% 32.8% 0.217 0.271 0.385 0.283 78
Tyler White 345 11 1 7.8% 23.8% 0.231 0.296 0.410 0.303 90
Tony Kemp 264 2 6 9.1% 15.2% 0.249 0.322 0.348 0.296 88
Max Stassi 195 10 0 8.7% 27.7% 0.249 0.325 0.480 0.345 122

The Astros lead the league with a 117 wRC+ and lead the league in runs scored with 383. As a team they are hitting .267/.333/.440. They lead the league in batting average, and are second in the league in on base percentage.

Over the past two weeks they have picked up the pace with a .323/.383/.550 line and 159 wRC+. They have scored 81 runs over their current 11 game win streak.

The top four bats have carried the offense with Jose Altuve (141 wRC+), Alex Bregman (136 wRC+), George Springer (135 wRC+), and Carlos Correa (134 wRC+).

Marwin Gonzalez (106 wRC+), Josh Reddick (105 wRC+), Yullieski Gurriel (101 wRC+), and Evan Gattis (125 wRC+) have provided a complementary punch.

Max Stassi is putting up an under the radar season as their backup catcher with a 135 wRC+ in 134 plate appearances.

It’s not surprising the Astros are having a great season

The Astros have gotten great production out of their rotation, bullpen, and possess the league’s most productive offense. They have, to put it concisely, no real weaknesses.

There isn’t a game in this series in which the Rays will be favored or even only a slight underdog.

But it’s baseball, so anything can happen.