HOUSTON -- Two teams with two very different styles should make for an interesting American League Division Series between the Astros and the Rays. Houston features a rotation for the ages and a deep lineup, while the Rays have the best bullpen in the game and an offense that grinds
HOUSTON -- Two teams with two very different styles should make for an interesting American League Division Series between the Astros and the Rays. Houston features a rotation for the ages and a deep lineup, while the Rays have the best bullpen in the game and an offense that grinds out at-bats but is susceptible to the strikeout.
Here’s what the Astros will need to do to win:
Get their starters deep into games
It’s no secret the Astros will have the upper hand when it comes to starting pitching, but that advantage means little if Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke can’t work deep into games. Verlander (223 innings), Cole (212 1/3 innings) and Greinke (208 2/3 innings) were ranked in the top six in MLB in innings pitched this year. As a team, Houston ranked fourth in the Majors with 907 1/3 innings from its starters.
The Astros’ bullpen isn’t a weakness, but it certainly isn’t a smothering presence like the Rays’ ’pen can be late in games. Houston ranked third in MLB in bullpen ERA (3.75), behind the Rays (3.66) and Indians (3.67). Ideally, with deep starts, the Astros can limit the bullpen to a smaller, more effective group of core bullpen performers -- Will Harris, Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna.
Harris (1.50) led all AL relievers in ERA, setting a franchise record. Pressly (72 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings) finished strong after a knee injury sidelined him for a month, and Osuna was fifth among AL relievers in WHIP (0.88).
Swing at pitches in the zone
The Astros posted the highest team contact rate in MLB this year (79.1 percent), according to Statcast, but swung at 64.9 percent of pitches in the zone, which was the third-lowest in MLB. Of the pitches they swung at that were in the zone, they led the Majors with 16.3 percent of those going for base hits.
Third baseman Alex Bregman swung at just 15.9 percent of out-of-the-zone pitches, which was the lowest chase rate in MLB (minimum 1,000 pitches out of the zone). José Altuve and Yuli Gurriel tend to chase pitches out of the zone, though both made decent contact. Altuve recorded 25 hits on out-of-the-zone pitches after the All-Star break (second-most in the Majors), and Gurriel hit .251 on pitches outside the strike zone (third-highest in the Majors).
Rays Game 1 starter Tyler Glasnow had the highest called-strike rate (21.2 percent) among Major League starters this year (minimum 750 pitches), so he’ll be looking to attack the zone.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.