The Houston Astros, owners of baseball’s best record in 2019 at 107-55, will play the winner of the American League Wild Card Game, the Tampa Bay Rays, in a best-of-five AL Division Series that begins Friday. Here’s how the two clubs stack up.
The Astros have baseball’s most feared duo on the mound, in Justin Verlander (21-6, 2.58 ERA) and Gerrit Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA). The pair registered 626 strikeouts this season and both sported WHIPs below 0.900. Having Zack Greinke, who went 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA since he was acquired at the trade deadline, behind them is almost unfair. Verlander and Cole’s combined strikeout/walk ratio in four starts against the Rays this year is 18.5.
Your 2019 American League pitching leaders
W: Justin Verlander (21)
Sv: Roberto Osuna (38)
ERA: Gerrit Cole (2.50)
IP: Justin Verlander (223)
SO: Gerrit Cole (300)
Opp. AVG: Justin Verlander (.172)
WHIP: Justin Verlander (0.80)
— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) September 30, 2019
Tampa’s ace, Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA), will likely start only once in the ALDS, because he pitched Wednesday in the Wild Card Game. Rays manager Kevin Cash will probably mix and match pitchers in an attempt to get 27 outs each game, as he did for most of the year. Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos ate the most innings for Tampa—aside from Morton—in 2019, but the pair had a combined ERA of 7.64 in September.
The Rays bullpen was measured as the best in baseball by ERA at 3.71, but accumulated the most innings pitched (772) because of its infamous “opener” strategy. Emilio Pagan (20 saves) is Tampa Bay’s default closer, but 10 of his teammates recorded a save at some point in 2019.
Emilio Pagan’s Game Winning Strikeout Wins It For Tampa pic.twitter.com/Dch4qyXVbv
— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) October 3, 2019
The Astros take a more traditional approach to relief pitching, and that works for them, as they recorded a 3.75 bullpen ERA in the regular season (second in the majors, just behind the Rays). Familiar names from recent postseason runs, like Chris Devenski and Will Harris, will pave the way for closer Roberto Osuna, who led the AL in saves at 38.
This category is a runaway in favor of the Astros, who led the AL in OPS (.841) and were third in home runs (288), behind only the Twins and Yankees. Third baseman Alex Bregman was the team leader in most offensive categories, including home runs (41) and RBIs (112). Most of the key cogs from the 2017 World Series-winning team are still in place, and rookie outfielder Yordan Alvarez (.999 OPS in September) is another dangerous bat that manager A.J. Hinch can insert into the order.
— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) September 28, 2019
The Rays were ninth in the AL in runs generated in 2019 (769) and 11th in home runs (217). Tampa typically employs the platoon strategy, depending on the handedness of that day’s starter, but outfielder Austin Meadows (.922 OPS) doesn’t figure to have any days off in the near future. If Houston can neutralize him, the Rays will struggle to keep up with the Astros’ explosive order.
X-Factor: Michael Brantley
Outfielder Michael Brantley proved to be a savvy offseason signing for the Astros, as he batted .311 with 22 home runs and 90 RBIs, all of which were his highest figures since 2014. However, he cooled off significantly in September, when he produced a feeble .552 OPS. Brantley’s stats against the Rays this year were fairly pedestrian. He batted .250 with a homer and three RBIs. It’s impossible to say if Brantley can return to his form from earlier this season, but if he can, he will become another tough out in the Astros’ stacked lineup.
#Astros 2019 fWAR leaders (hitters)
1. Alex Bregman – 8.4
2. George Springer – 6.5
3. Michael Brantley – 4.2
4. Yordan Alvarez – 3.8
5. Jose Altuve – 3.6
6. Yuli Gurriel – 3.3
7. Carlos Correa – 3.2
8. Robinson Chirinos – 2.3
9. Jake Marisnick – 1.2
10. Aledmys Diaz – 1.1
— Astros Stats (@astro_numbers) September 30, 2019
The Astros won nearly three-quarters of their home games this year (60-21) and were 105-50 as the betting favorite. The Rays won the season series with Houston, 4-3, and were 20-18 straight up as the betting underdog, which brought a 1.3-unit profit on the run line.