ST. PETERSBURG -- Coming into the 2019 season, both the Rays and the Astros have their sights set on making the postseason.
Behind a rotation that features Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and a lineup that includes Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and José Altuve, the Astros, who won the World Series title in 2017 and logged 103 wins in '18, appear to be the favorites to win the American League West for the third straight season.
As for the Rays, they will turn to their youth to get the club in the postseason for the first time since 2013. Tampa Bay signed Charlie Morton, who spent the previous two seasons with Houston, to complement reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow in the rotation. Tommy Pham, who hit .343 since coming over from St. Louis at the Trade Deadline, will look to lead a young, but talented lineup.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Thursday, 4 p.m. ET; MLB.TV; FOX Sports Sun and ATT SportsNet-SW.
The starting lineups
Astros: They have an incredibly deep lineup, which this year will feature lefty Michael Brantley, who will hit fourth or fifth depending on the pitching matchup. George Springer, who has homered in two consecutive Opening Days, sets the tone, with AL MVP Award contenders Bregman and Altuve making a formidable top three. Correa likely hits fourth against a lefty, with Brantley hitting fifth. The bottom half of the lineup has threats as well in Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick.
- CF George Springer
- 2B Jose Altuve
- 3B Alex Bregman
- LF Michael Brantley
- 1B Yuli Gurriel
- DH Tyler White
- C Robinson Chirinos
- SS Aledmys Diaz
- RF Jake Marisnick
Rays: Due to their overall depth and their versatility defensively, the Rays are going to use a plethora of lineups in 2019. Austin Meadows and Ji-Man Choi will get most of their playing time against right-handed pitching. Pham will continue to hit second in the lineup, where he’s a lifetime .304 hitter. Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe impressed this spring and will likely hit fourth and fifth in the lineup. At the bottom of the lineup, Tampa Bay has some speed with Joey Wendle, Kevin Kiermaier and Willy Adames, while Mike Zunino brings the power from the catcher spot.
- RF Austin Meadows
- LF Tommy Pham
- 1B Ji-Man Choi
- 3B Yandy Diaz
- DH Brandon Lowe
- 2B Joey Wendle
- CF Kevin Kiermaier
- C Mike Zunino
- SS Willy Adames
Who are the starting pitchers?
Astros: Verlander will make his 11th Opening Day start, including his second with the Astros, tying him with Felix Hernandez, Ferguson Jenkins, Dennis Martinez and CC Sabathia for the 10th most in MLB history. Verlander went 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA last year and he led the AL in strikeouts (290) and quality starts (26), finishing second in the AL Cy Young Award voting to Snell. The former AL Cy Young Award winner and AL MVP Award winner is 3-1 with a 4.03 ERA across his 10 Opening Day starts with Houston and Detroit.
Rays: After winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2018, Snell will make his first Opening Day start. Snell led the AL with a 1.89 ERA and 21 wins last season en route to his first All-Star appearance. He’s the 12th pitcher to earn an Opening Day start for Tampa Bay.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Astros: The club is carrying seven relievers to start the season. Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna will get the ball late in games if the Astros have the lead and Verlander is out of the game, but manager AJ Hinch has plenty of other matchup options with former All-Stars Chris Devenski and Will Harris, veteran Hector Rondon, flamethrower Josh James and lefty Framber Valdez, who provides length.
Rays: Tampa Bay will head into the season without naming a closer. It’s possible the Rays could go the entire season without designating a reliever as the closer as the team wants to have versatility with the bullpen. Ryne Stanek, Chaz Roe and Diego Castillo could be called upon to get outs in an important situation, with Jose Alvarado likely to get the save opportunity if it gets to that point. Adam Kolarek and Jalen Beeks also provide a couple of left-handed options out of the 'pen.
Any injuries of note?
Astros: Starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in November.
Rays: Third baseman Matt Duffy will be out for an extended period of time with a left hamstring injury. He will be evaluated in a couple of weeks.