HOUSTON -- The Astros and Rays are two of the most forward-thinking organizations in Major League Baseball, and it’ll be interesting to see how the two organizations match up against each other in the American League Division Series.
Both teams are going to rely on their pitching, while the Astros have the edge in the starting lineup. As the two teams get ready to square off for Game 1 on Friday afternoon, here’s “the skinny” on how the two teams will approach the series.
Lineup vs. RHP: The Astros will usually stick with the same nine positions players in the playoffs no matter if a lefty or right-hander is pitching on the other side (the starting catcher will depend on which Astros starter is on the mound). Michael Brantley (.323), Yuli Gurriel (.320) and Yordan Alvarez (.317) were especially tough on right-handers. So was George Springer, who hit .299 and walloped 31 homers off righties.
Lineup vs. LHP: The Astros hit lefties really well as a whole, which isn’t a surprise considering the dangerous right-handed bats in the lineup: Alex Bregman, José Altuve, Carlos Correa, Springer and Gurriel. But even their lefties handled southpaws well. Josh Reddick hit .309, Alvarez .307 and Brantley .282.
Rotation: The Astros will have the pitching edge in virtually every game with Cy Young favorites Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole starting the first two games and former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke getting the ball in Game 3. If they can pitch deep into games, the Astros could rely heavily on reliever matchups in a possible Game 4.
Bullpen: In an ideal world, the Astros’ will see Verlander, Cole and Greinke go deep into games and have steady Will Harris, setup man Ryan Pressly and closer Roberto Osuna to get the majority of the final outs. They have other weapons, too, in side-armer Joe Smith and veteran Brad Peacock, both of whom can be matchup nightmares.
Injury watch: Correa missed the final six games of the regular season with his recurring back injury, but it’s expected he’ll be able to play in Game 1.
Roster question: With Correa healthy, there’s likely two position players competing for the final spot (assuming the Astros carry 14 position players). Infielder Abraham Toro has some power and is a switch-hitter, but Myles Straw can play outfield and shortstop and is one of the fastest men in baseball. The last bullpen spot may come down to whether the Astros decide to carry Wade Miley, who struggled in the rotation in September and is now on the bubble as far as being on the roster.
Tampa Bay Rays
Lineup vs. RHP: The Rays are always going to go with what they believe is the best matchup and that would include a lot of left-handed hitters against righties. Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle, Ji-Man Choi and Nate Lowe will all play a role in this series. Austin Meadows and Kevin Kiermaier, who are regulars in the lineup will also get plenty of opportunities against Verlander, Cole, Greinke and the rest of the Astros’ pitching staff.
Lineup vs. LHP: We just got a good look at what the Rays would do against a left-handed pitcher but they may not see a lefty starter in this series with Miley struggling down the stretch. The Rays stacked up seven right-handed hitters against A’s starter Sean Manaea in the AL Wild Card game on Wednesday, and it all seemed to work. Yandy Díaz, Avisaíl García and Jesús Aguilar would play a role in this situation.
Rotation: While the Rays don’t have household names such as Verlander, Cole and Greinke, they feel really confident about the three starters they’ll trot out there over the first three games. Tyler Glasnow gets the nod in Game 1, Blake Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner starts Game 2, and Charlie Morton shows off his experience in Game 3. Ryan Yarbrough would seem like a possible option for the Rays if there’s a Game 4.
Bullpen: People got a chance to see a glimpse of how talented the Rays' bullpen is during Wednesday’s Wild Card game in Oakland. With Emilio Pagán, Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo leading the way, this is one area where the Rays have a clear advantage over the Astros. With an off-day on Thursday and then another one on Sunday before Game 3, the Rays will be aggressive with their bullpen.
Injury watch: Eric Sogard has not played since Sept. 15, but he has been recovering well from a deep bone bruise in his left foot and appears to be a realistic option for the ALDS 25-man roster.
Roster question: The Rays will have some decisions to make regarding the end of their bench and the final couple of spots in the bullpen. Guillermo Heredia wasn’t on the Wild Card roster, but appears to be an option given his defensive abilities in the outfield. Nate Lowe would serve as another big left-handed bat. Then there’s the pending decision on Sogard and if he’s healthy enough to return.