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Series Preview: Rays vs. Astros

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The Rays have little left to prove, but the Astros still want to lock down the AL West

Pittsburgh Pirates v Houston Astros Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays spent the weekend partying in front of the hometown crowd and swept the Miami Marlins in the process. The Rays locked up the American League East for the second year in a row and now the only thing left remaining is the number one seed in the American League. The Rays hold a 6.0 game lead over the Houston Astros with six games remaining so the Rays need one win or one loss by the Astros to get home field until the World Series. The Rays travel to Houston to take on the Astros for that right.

The American League Wild Card is where there could be a lot of chaos down the stretch. The New York Yankees hold a one-game lead over the Boston Red Sox for the two wild cards. The Toronto Blue Jays sit 1.0 game back and the Seattle Mariners are 1.5 games behind. The Oakland Athletics are on life support but are still alive trailing by 3.5 games with five games to play. The Yankees and Blue Jays face off in Toronto starting tonight for what will be one of the biggest series of the regular season. The Rays get to watch as the chaos unfolds as they have lapped the field and will avoid any catastrophic meltdown.

Matchups:

Tuesday 8:10 PM: Michael Wacha vs Jose Urquidy
Wednesday 8:10 PM: Drew Rasmussen vs Luis Garcia
Thursday 7:10 PM: Ryan Yarbrough (could be behind opener) vs Lance McCullers Jr.

All matchups are subject to change. The Astros have a magic number of two against the Mariners. Once the division is locked in neither team will have anything meaningful to play for. The teams will likely want to limit exposure by their primary pitching options that could be seen in a future playoff matchup.

Jose Urquidy has rebounded from an injury-riddled 2020 campaign. In 96.0 innings he’s put up a 3.56 ERA/3.93 FIP/4.29 xFIP. He gets his fair share of strikeouts with a 21.4% strikeout rate but where he excels is limiting walks with a 4.5% walk rate. Urquidy primarily uses three pitches. He’ll throw a 92.5 mph four-seam fastball around 55% of the time while mixing in a 79.3 mph slider and 84.3 mph changeup roughly 20% of the time for each pitch. He will mix in the occasional 77.1 mph curveball that he rarely throws to right-handed batters.

Luis Garcia is one of the favorites to win AL Rookie of the Year along with the Rays Randy Arozarena. He’s thrown 150.1 innings while putting up a 3.23 ERA/3.51 FIP/3.92 xFIP. He’s posted a 26.4% strikeout rate and 7.9% walk rate. He’s a flyball pitcher that has done a great job at keeping ball in the yard. Garcia works off a 93.2 mph four-seam fastball and uses an 86.2 mph cutter as his primary off-speed pitch. He adds a 79.9 mph slider against right-handed batters and an 83.4 mph changeup and 75.9 mph curveball against left-handed batters.

Lance McCullers Jr. from Tampa Jesuit High School faces off against his hometown team. He’s been great in his second season back from Tommy John surgery in 2019. He’s put up a 3.17 ERA/3.48 FIP/3.69 xFIP over 156.1 innings. McCullers has expanded his arsenal from his pre-surgery mix. He used to be primarily a curveball/fastball two-pitch pitcher. However now he’s lowered the use of his 84.2 mph curveball from near 50% to 25%. He’s kept his 93.9 mph sinker roughly the same at 35% He’s added an 86.5 mph slider nearly 25% and an 85.8 mph changeup nearly 15% of the time.

Two highest-scoring offenses face off

The Astros lead the league at 5.34 runs scored per game while the Rays hold second place at 5.31 runs per game. That comes down to four runs over the season.

The Astros have hit .268/.340/.442 and put up a 116 wRC+ this season. They have the lowest strikeout rate in the league 19.4% and are the only team below 20%. Despite their low strikeout they still hit for reasonable power with a .175 ISO that ranks ninth-best.

Plant High School graduate Kyle Tucker has enjoyed a breakout season after a couple of disappointing seasons transitioning to the majors. He’s hitting .291/.356/.551 and leads the team with a 145 wRC+.

Yordan Alvarez has shown no signs of slowing down after missing the entire 2020 season due to a knee injury. He’s hitting .278/.350/.533 and putting up a 140 wRC+. He leads the team with 32 homers.

Carlos Correa (133 wRC+) is enjoying a productive season as he heads into free agency.

Yuli Gurriel (133 wRC+), Jose Altuve (129 wRC+), Michael Brantley (126 wRC+), and Alex Bregman (126 wRC+) have all hit very well.

The lineup is stacked, so pitchers will have to pick their spots to attack.

The Astros are a very good defensive team ranking in the top five with a +69 DRS and +19.6 UZR.

There is not much left for either team to play for

The Astros do have to finish locking up their division, so I do expect they will go a little harder after wins than the Rays until that happens.

There’s not much left for Rays fans to do except to wait for the playoff to begin next Thursday at Tropicana Field. Over this final week Rays fans will want the players to avoid any injuries. If they can do that it will be a successful week.