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Series Preview: Rays host Houston in ALCS rematch

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Friday night’s matchup will be available on ESPN+

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays continue their homestand after a thrilling four game series against the red hot Oakland Athletics that ended in a split. Next they set their sights on a rematch of the 2020 American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros.

The Astros have dealt with their fair share of injuries early in the season. Currently Jake Odorizzi, Framber Valdez, and Yordan Alvarez are on the Injured List. Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman have returned from short trips to the Injured List. Justin Verlander remains on the 60-day Injured List as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Despite going through a 1-9 ten game stretch when they were missing a handful of their impact players the Astros sit at 13-2 thanks to a 6-2 run over their last eight games.

Matchups:

Friday 7:10 PM: Lance McCullers Jr. vs Ryan Yarbrough
Saturday 4:10 PM: Jose Urquidy vs TBD (Josh Fleming and/or Rich Hill)
Sunday 1:10 PM: Cristian Javier vs TBD (Rich Hill and/or Michael Wacha)

Lance McCullers Jr. returns home as a graduate of Jesuit High School in Tampa. McCullers signed an extension this winter that will keep him in Houston for the foreseeable future. This year has gotten off to a suboptimal start with a 4.58 ERA/3.90 FIP/4.56 xFIP. The biggest problem has been an elevated walk rate of 13.1%. McCullers primary pitch is a mid 80s curveball that averages 84.6 mph. He can get some horizontal movement when he wants to and generally with classify as a slider that comes in just a couple ticks harder at 86.5 mph. His sinker is his fastball of choice that averages 93.9 mph. He will rarely throw a changeup. His pitch mix is very similar to former Ray Charlie Morton.

Jose Urquidy has held his own with a 4.67 ERA/4.28 FIP/4.98 xFIP that all are in line with his career rates. He doesn’t get that many strikeouts with a 19.5% strikeout rate but he does avoid walks with a 6.2% walk rate. He will eat some innings and give his offense a chance to win the games most times out. Urquidy’s main weapon is a 91.8 mph four-seam fastball that he throws almost 60% of the time. He mixes a 78.3 mph slider and 82.8 mph changeup as his secondary pitches. Most of the time the slider is reserved to right handed batters and the changeup is reserved for left handed batters. However he is willing to throw them a small amount of time to the opposite handed batters.

Cristian Javier has been the Astros most effective starter. He has posted a 0.87 ERA/1.74 FIP/3.33 xFIP over 20.2 innings. His strikeout rate is up to 32.9% while issuing an average amount of walks. He’s an extreme flyball pitcher (29.0% groundball rate) but has yet to give up a homer this year. That will change at some point and let’s hope it starts against the Rays. Javier throws his 93.1 mph four-seam fastball almost 60% of the time while using his 81.2 mph slider around 25%. He will sprinkle in a 76.3 mph curveball and 86.2 mph changeup infrequently.

Ryan Pressley (0.82 ERA/1.27 FIP/1.90 xFIP) is the big weapon at the back of the bullpen. Brandon Bielak and Ryne Stanek have provided support.

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Houston has one of the league’s best offenses.

The Astros 4.88 runs per game is good for second in the American League behind only the Chicago White Sox. The Astros are hitting .252/.318/.404 and have put up a 112 wRC+.

Yuli Gurriel has been the Astros best hitter. He’s hitting .344/.443/.556 and putting up a 193 wRC+.

Michael Brantley (156 wRC+), Carlos Correa (130 wRC+), Alex Bregman (150 wRC+), and Jose Altuve (114 wRC+) have provided the expected support for one of the league’s best offenses.

Another local returns home in Kyle Tucker who went to Plant High School in Tampa. Tucker’s been one of the top prospects in the game for a while but hasn’t hit the ground running in the majors yet. This year he’s hitting .185/.220/.380 and putting up a 70 wRC+ but he is leading the team with five homers.

Tropicana Field won’t be as full as the last time the Astros came to visit.

The last time the Astros came to town was for game three and four of the 2019 American League Division Series. Tropicana Field was loud and rocking. There won’t be as many people, but it would be nice to see some energy coming from the stands and send the Astros home with a series defeat.