Previewing the Astros
As Houston rolls into town for a three-game set they will be welcomed by a bi-polar maniac that is currently riding as high as it gets. The Rays have alternated winning and losing streaks to start the year, but they will be in their home digs for this series. That’s a good thing as the Astros are one of the best teams in baseball on paper, as well as, where it counts as evidenced by their 11-5 record. Let’s dig a little deeper into how these teams match up starting with the batters:
Starting at the team level you might note that the Rays are no longer in dead last place where they have resided for a good stretch. They’re amongst the league leaders in walks (good), but also lead the league in strikeouts (bad). They rank eleventh when it comes to looking at just the expected results on balls in play, while the Astros, despite all the name players, are third from the bottom. Perhaps their switch from high strikeout/power guys to those that are more contact-oriented is not going as well as they had hoped. Perhaps that is a lesson in foresight for those that hate seeing the Rays eschew contact so often. Perhaps these are the vagaries that come from basically two weeks of baseball, and things will change dramatically going forward. Let’s dig into the individuals starting with just balls in play:
Jake Marisnick has made the best contact for them, so far, though his results have vastly outstripped his very good expectations. Carlos Correa goes the other way. He has been a well-above average hitter by expectations, but has not seen that translate into his results yet. I’m sure getting hit on the hand a few days ago isn’t going to help his immediate regression, but know that it should be coming. Josh Reddick might not hit lefties, but it might not matter. George Springer and Brian McCann round out the above average hitter portion of the program with both actualizing as they should. While Carlos Beltran might be long in the tooth he has still been around average at ball-striking, and we haven’t even gotten to perhaps their best hitter, yet. Jose Altuve has out-performed, but that’s kind of his thing. The rest of the hitters can hurt you, but they also have big enough holes that they can be exploited.
The Rays, on the other hand, have their own septet of above average hitters, though three of them haven’t had many balls in play. Longo leads the way of those that have, and he has hit the ball better than his line would indicate. Tim Beckham comes into this series on a heater as he has turned his season around, of late, and it’s nice to see Daniel Robertson join him. Corey Dickerson has been going the wrong way for a little while, and is still seeing better results than you should probably expect. Logan Morrison walks the line, and then we get to Steven Souza Jr. Probably the best story on the Rays young season I hate to mention that it looks like he has been exceedingly fortunate on his balls in play. That gap should close as the season goes along. Brad Miller hasn’t been much worse by expectations, but he has similarly fared well when looking at his actual results.
Including non-balls in play gives us a more complete picture of how these seasons are going. We saw in the team sheet that league average twOBA* is around .351, and both teams have four guys that would profile as above average. For the Rays, you’ve got Longo adding some walks to go with his high strikeout rate, and then Logan Morrison, as far as regulars go. Dickerson and Souza have both been around average on the year, and Kiermaier isn’t far behind them. Going to the bottom of the table you can see Derek Norris could benefit from not being so swing-happy, which would make his line look better. Miller’s prodigious strikeout rate is drowning an otherwise fine line, but at least he’s adding some walks, I guess. Then we see Beckham. As mentioned, he’s hitting the ball hard, but it comes with one of the worst K/BB ratios that you will find in the game. Now that he is making better contact he will need to be prepared to tighten up his zone.
The Astros are led by superstar shortstop Carlos Correa and offseason addition Brian McCann. Then Reddick and Marisnick follow with both being more part time than regular. Springer leads the team in strikeouts, and hasn’t had a raft of walks come with that high rate. I have a strong suspicion that this is the series where Altuve and Bregman get it going, but I’d be happy if they wait a few more days. Both are good hitters, but they have not made strong contact to go with their reasonable strikeout and walk figures. Beltran goes the other way. Let’s shift over to the pitchers.
Despite not being known as a team with a stacked rotation, it is the pitching that has shined so far for the Astros. Having a 3:1 K/BB is great for a player, but only the very best entire teams can approach that figure. Add in that they limit damage on balls in play and you can see why they have such a fantastic record. The Rays have basically the same walk rate, but just have not garnered the strikeouts the way that they need to if they’re really going to shine. They have done well to limit the damage on contact, and if it weren’t for one guy the entire team might look a lot better. Perhaps every team can say that I don’t know:
The Rays have gotten very good results from both Colome and Diaz, though the former has been quite fortunate. We just saw what that catchup can look like when Jumbo got taken for a ride his last time out, but I’d expect him to continue to put up good expectations going forward. The two worst pitchers for the Rays so far will not likely be used in this series, and it would seem that Mr. Cash is getting better at recognizing the limitations of his third worst pitcher, as well. Cobb, on the other hand, will be going tonight, and you can read some more in depth stuff on him here.
The Astros have put up some great numbers so far, and a lot of that has to do with what is perhaps the best bullpen in baseball. Tony Sipp is their lefty killer or killer lefty, whichever you prefer, and Ken Giles is their closer. Giles has seen some misfortune on his balls in play so far, and I’d be fine with that continuing a bit longer. The Rays will dodge Keuchel, probably not le Peacock who has been very good in limited viewings. Then we get to Chris “The Dragon” Devenski. The Rays may have retrograded the stud reliever that could give you multiple innings at a high rate of efficiency, but Devenski has taken it to another level. His balls in play have been a little better than the norm, but you’ll see in a second what really sets him apart. Luke Gregerson has been pounded thus far, but much worse than should be expected. You can say the same about tonight’s starter, Mike Fiers, as well.
The reason that The Dragon has been so obscene is due to that 25:1 K:BB. Yeah, he’s limiting contact, but that should catch up at some point. Not much you can do about a guy with that many punchouts, though. Keuchel and McCullers come next, but luckily the Rays should see neither in this series. Then you get to all those pen arms. Musgrove has been the best of the bunch that the team will face, though he has been a little worse than average. Fiers and Charlie Morton have been a good bit worse than even that modest line.
Arch should get a start in this series, and with plenty of rest the Fifth Horseman Colome should also see plenty of usage. Tommy Hunter has started to establish himself as a useful reliever even if he needs to be managed against lefties, but that’s ok because he pairs nicely with a nice bottle of Farquhar, who can get the lefties. As mentioned, the worst pitchers should be able to stay hidden this series, though that could portend issues in the next one. A problem that can be dealt with in time, with whiskey, if necessary.
The Astros are one heck of a ball club, but the Rays have a couple of timing issues in their favor for this one. Another could be the eventual return of Colby Rasmus, though we might have to wait a series or two until then. I bet he is chomping at the beard to face his old teammates, though. I say the Rays take two out of three and keep the mojo rising.