Houston vs. Tampa Bay (Tropicana Field)
Mar. 28 – Astros 5, Rays 1 (Favorite -128, Under 6 ½)
Mar. 29 – Rays 4, Astros 2 (Underdog +128, Under 7)
Mar. 30 – Rays 3, Astros 1 (Underdog +108, Under 8)
Mar. 31 – Rays 3, Astros 1 (Underdog +103, Under 9 ½)
Tampa Bay vs. Houston (Minute Maid Park)
Aug. 27 – Astros 15, Rays 1 (Favorite -200, Over 7 ½)
Aug. 28 – Astros 8, Rays 6 (Favorite -230, Over 8)
Aug. 29 – Rays 9, Astros 8 (Underdog +200, Over 9)
The Astros (107-55) won a combined 106 games in 2012 and 2013, but Houston set a franchise record with 107 victories this season, while coming off a third consecutive American League West title. Houston captured its first World Series title in 2017 by defeating Los Angeles in seven games, but the Astros fell to the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series in five games in 2018.
Houston actually lost five of its first seven games this season, including dropping three of four at Tropicana Field to Tampa Bay to open 2019. The Astros bounced back to win 10 consecutive games, which included home sweeps of the Athletics and Yankees, while putting together another 10-game hot streak in May to open up at 31-15.
After finishing the first half at 57-33, the Astros went on an 18-3 run from mid-July through mid-August to own an incredible 77-40 mark, capped off by a 23-2 rout of the Orioles on August 10. Houston closed the season on a 12-2 spurt to set the franchise mark for wins in a season, but the bigger story is its three-headed monster in the starting rotation.
There are solid arguments to make for both Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to take home the American League Cy Young award. Verlander (21-6, 2.58 ERA) will start the series opener, as he finished with 300 strikeouts, including 14 in a no-hitter at Toronto on September 1. The Astros won 12 of his 17 starts at Minute Maid Park, although three of those losses came as a favorite of -230 or higher. Verlander defeated the Rays twice this season, including in a 15-1 home rout on August 27 as a -190 favorite.
Cole (20-5, 2.50 ERA) put together a career season as the right-hander is 35-10 in two years with the Astros since getting dealt by the Pirates. The Astros won Cole’s final 13 starts of the season, while the ace last lost a decision on May 22 against the White Sox. Houston owns a 12-0 record in Cole’s past 12 home outings, as nine of those wins came by two runs or more. Cole wasn’t sharp against the Rays in two starts this season by allowing four runs each time, including in an 8-6 home win on August 28 in which he struck out 14 batters in 6.2 innings.
The third ace in this rotation has a Cy Young in his career and joined the team in late July as Zack Greinke (18-5, 3.06 ERA) is seeking his first career championship. The Astros won eight of Greinke’s 10 starts following his trade from Arizona on July 31, as seven of the eight victories came by two runs or more. Greinke struggled in his lone outing against Tampa Bay this season by yielding five runs in 5.2 innings of a 9-8 home defeat on August 29 as a hefty -220 favorite.
The Rays (97-66) are the near bottom of the league in payroll, but Tampa Bay posted the second-most wins in franchise history this season with 96 victories. The 97th win came in Wednesday’s impressive 5-1 triumph over Oakland in the American League Wild Card game to advance to the ALDS for the first time since 2013.
Tampa Bay started strong this season with a 14-4 mark, while dipping below the .500 mark only once after losing the opener as the Rays finished the first half at 52-39 following a pair of one-run home wins over the Yankees. The Rays’ longest losing streak was five games, which came in July, but a 14-3 run in late July through mid-August vaulted Tampa Bay to 71-50.
Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 1.78 ERA) joins Cole as another former Pirates’ pitcher that was traded and excelled in his next stop. Glasnow began 2019 on fire by winning six of his first seven decisions before sustaining a right forearm strain that landed him on the 60-day injured list. The right-hander didn’t pitch past the fifth inning in any of his four starts off the IL, as Glasnow receives the call for Game 1. Glasnow saw success against the Astros back in March 30 by yielding one earned run in five innings of work of a 3-1 victory at Tropicana Field.
Blake Snell (6-8, 4.29 ERA) is the third Cy Young winner to take the mound in this series, as the Rays’ left-hander tries to avoid the “one-hit wonder” moniker. Snell put together a 21-5 record along with a miniscule 1.89 ERA in 2018, but injuries derailed the southpaw, including missing two months due to an elbow injury. Snell began the season by allowing five earned runs and three home runs in a 5-1 defeat to the Astros, while the Rays went 4-8 in his 12 road starts.
Tampa Bay owned identical 48-33 records at both home and on the road this season, but went 7-15 away from Tropicana Field against playoff teams. That number improved to 8-15 after winning at Oakland, but the Rays lost two of three games at Houston in late August, including a 15-1 drubbing in the opener.
Houston put together the best home record in baseball at 60-21, as the Astros posted a 27-6 mark at Minute Maid Park after the All-Star break. The Astros have won five of their last six playoff series openers since 2015, including a perfect 3-0 mark at home. Houston and Tampa Bay have never met in the postseason, while the Rays are seeking their first trip to the ALCS since winning the pennant back in 2008.