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Series Preview: Rays v Astros

Maybe they are resting their stars for the playoffs?

MLB: JUN 19 White Sox at Astros Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays took care of business winning the series against the Texas Rangers. Now their sights are focused on the Houston Astros. The Astros have nearly clinched the number one seed in the American League. The Rays and Astros alternated ending each others seasons in 2019 and 2020, and this could be a preview of a playoff series in 2022.

The Rays may not be serious contenders for the division, but the Wild Card looks very much in reach. FanGraphs puts the Rays playoff odds at 98.3%. The Rays, Seattle Mariners, and Toronto Blue Jays are all heavy favorites to win the three wild cards. Currently the Blue Jays are +0.5 game ahead of the Rays and 1.5 games ahead of the Mariners. The Baltimore Orioles are 4.0 games back (5.5 games behind the Rays) and the Chicago White Sox are 5.0 games back (6.5 games behind the Rays). They are in a virtual tie in relation to the Rays who hold the tie breaker against the Orioles and would fail to make the playoffs if tied with the White Sox. Both teams need to go on a run while having one of the three wild card holders to slip up over the last two and a half weeks.

Schedule

Monday 6:40 PM: Luis Garcia vs Drew Rasmussen
Tuesday 6:40 PM: Cristian Javier vs Shane McClanahan
Wednesday 6:40 PM: Lance McCullers Jr. vs Corey Kluber

Luis Garcia has had a solid season but he’s been the worst starter in the Astros rotation (which tells you everything you need to know about the strength of the Astros rotation). He’s put up a 4.04 ERA/4.03 FIP/3.81 xFIP over 140.1 innings. He’s posted a 24.7% strikeout rate and 7.3% walk rate. Garcia throws a 94.0 mph four-seam fastball and 85.3 mph cutter as his two primary pitches. Against right handed hitters he adds a 79.7 mph slider. Against left handed batters he will add a 84.8 mph changeup and 77.2 mph curveball. His cutter is his go to putaway pitch and all pitches except for the four-seam fastball are good at getting whiffs.

Cristian Javier is the one pitcher the Astros are willing to aggressively protecting against the third time through the order. He’s put up a 2.87 ERA/3.34 FIP/3.56 xFIP over 131.2 innings in a usage that looks similar to the Rays use of Drew Rasmussen or Jeffrey Springs. He’s posted a 32.8% strikeout rate and 8.7% walk rate. Javier throws a 93.8 mph four-seam slider and 79.8 mph slider as his two primary pitches. He will exchange some sliders for a 76.5 mph curveball against left handed batters. His slider is far and away his best swing and miss pitch.

Lance McCullers Jr. was drafted out of Jesuit High School in Tampa. McCullers Jr.’s 2022 season was delayed until the middle of August after straining his forearm in last year’s American League Division Series. His results have been good with a 2.34 ERA/3.37 FIP/3.95 xFIP over 34.2 innings. He’s posted a strong 25.7% strike out rate but the only real complaint has been a 13.2% walk rate. He works off a four pitch mix that includes a 82.9 mph curveball, 93.1 mph sinker, 85.5 mph slider, and 86.9 mph changeup. The sinker is very hittable and when he needs to put you away he’ll rely heavily on his curveball.

The Astros continue to have on of the best offenses in the game.

The Astros have hit .248/.321/.425 and put up a 113 wRC+ this season. They hit for power (197 homers) and are active on the bases (77 stolen bases).

Yordan Alvarez has had one of the quietest 189 wRC+ seasons I’ve seen. He’s hitting .304/.407/.630 and has hit 37 homers.

Alex Bregman (143 wRC+), Jose Altuve (154 wRC+), and Kyle Tucker (133 wRC+) have had very good season supporting Alvarez at the top of the lineup.

At the trade deadline they picked up Trey Mancini (107 wRC+) from the Orioles in the same trade that sent Jose Siri to the Rays.

Jeremy Pena (95 wRC+) has had a solid rookie campaign but has struggled after a scorching hot start.