HOUSTON – If pitching does indeed win championships, the Houston Astros are well positioned to make a run at their second World Series title in three years. With a formidable rotation featuring two 20-game winners and a pair of former Cy Young Award recipients, the Astros are prohibitive favorites as they host the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday afternoon in the opener of the American League Division Series.
TV: 2:05 p.m. ET, FS1
Not only did Houston win a franchise-record 107 games behind three elite starters who posted a combined 39 victories, it could conceivably wind up with players capturing AL Cy Young, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year honors. "We have a tough road ahead of us, Houston's a great team, but we played them well this year," Tampa Bay's Tommy Pham said after his team advanced with a 5-1 victory at Oakland in the wild-card game. "It's going to be a dogfight." The Rays, who won 96 games despite the lowest payroll in baseball, can't match the top-of-the-rotation talent of the Astros but did finish with an AL-best 3.65 ERA -- a significant stat in a five-game series. "They have unbelievable pitching depth and a solid lineup as well," Houston third baseman Alex Bregman said. "They play team baseball and back up their pitching with great defense. It'll be a great series and a great test."
Rays RH Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 1.78 ERA) vs. Astros RH Justin Verlander (21-6, 2.58)
Glasnow opened his season in spectacular fashion, winning his first four starts and surrendering seven runs in capturing his first six decisions, including a victory over Houston on March 30 in which he permitted one run and six hits over five innings. The 26-year-old suffered his first loss on May 10 and was sidelined for nearly four months with a right forearm strain before returning on Sept. 8 and making four appearances, not allowing a run over 10 1/3 innings in his past three outings. Glasnow has posted a 4-0 mark and 0.55 ERA in six road starts.
Verlander led the majors in wins (one more than teammate Gerrit Cole) and was second in strikeouts with a career-high 300 (second to Cole) as he prepares to make his ninth postseason appearance and eighth start since joining the Astros. The 36-year-old is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA in the playoffs with Houston and has won all seven career decisions in the ALDS with the Astros and Detroit Tigers. He won both starts against the Rays this season, allowing one run and seven hits over 12 1/3 innings, but must be wary of Pham (3-for-6) and Matt Duffy (4-for-8).
1. Astros SS Carlos Correa, who missed the final six games of the regular season with tightness in his back, will play in the series opener.
2. Rays 1B Yandy Diaz homered twice among three hits Wednesday in only his second game since July 22.
3. Tampa Bay won four of seven meetings against Houston this season.
PREDICTION: Astros 4, Rays 2