Now that the Astros know that they'll be facing the Rays in the American League Championship Series, they will be playing a team they eliminated from the postseason a year ago. Houston ousted Tampa Bay in five games in the 2019 AL Division Series.
When does the ALCS start?
Game 1 is set for Sunday at Petco Park in San Diego, meaning the Astros can make the relatively short drive down from Los Angeles in the coming days. And relax, Houston fans. It’s the only game on the schedule for Sunday, so it will be a night game (the Astros’ first six playoff games this year were day games).
Who will be the home team?
Because the Astros are the lowest-seeded remaining team, they will be the visiting team against the Rays for Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 and home team for Games 3, 4 and 5. That means they will bat first when they’re the visiting team and last when they’re the home team.
What are the pro/cons of facing the Rays?
Tampa Bay is the top-seeded team in the AL playoffs, so this will be a more difficult matchup than the Yankees. The Rays won the rugged AL East and are no longer content with simply getting to the playoffs. Tampa Bay took the Astros to Game 5 in the ALDS last season before the Astros put them away in Houston. This year, the Astros didn’t play the Rays in the regular season.
Like the Astros, the Rays’ bullpen was hit hard by injuries this year, but Tampa Bay tapped into its depth to cover innings. The Rays seem to have an endless stream of power arms that could match up against the Astros’ predominantly right-handed-hitting lineup. And they have ace starters in Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, one of Houston’s heroes during its 2017 title run.
An interesting subplot? Astros general manager James Click was hired in February after 14 years in the Rays' organization. Click joined the Rays in 2006 as coordinator of baseball operations and was promoted to director of baseball research and development and later director of baseball operations.
What might the Astros’ rotation look like?
A lot of that will depend on the status of Zack Greinke, who dealt with right arm trouble this week before pitching 4 2/3 innings in Game 4 of the ALDS and reporting no issues. If Greinke is good to go, he wouldn’t be able to start before Game 3 at the earliest.
That means the Astros will probably go with some combination of Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr. in Games 1 and 2. Jose Urquidy could start Game 3 if Greinke needs another day of rest. The Astros will likely have to pluck Cristian Javier, who was terrific in relief in the ALDS, away from the bullpen and put him back in the rotation for a possible Game 5 start.
If the series goes to Games 6 and 7, the Astros could conceivably have Valdez and McCullers on regular rest.
Will the Astros make any changes to the ALCS roster?
The Astros added a pitcher -- Luis Garcia -- for the ALDS and subtracted a position player, giving them 13 pitchers. They might be tempted to add another arm with a possible seven games in seven days. Houston had three position players who didn’t see the field for the Astros in the ALDS -- Garrett Stubbs, Abraham Toro and Chas McCormick.
What about Petco Park? Have the Astros played there recently?
Houston was swept during a three-game series against the Padres at Petco Park on Aug. 21-23. But the Astros have won eight of their past nine playoff games away from Houston. That includes all three games in last year’s World Series, both games of the Wild Card Series at Minnesota and three of four games of the ALDS in Los Angeles.