The American League Championship Series starts Sunday night at the neutral site, as the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays meet each other at Petco Park in San Diego.
While the Rays justified their No. 1 seed after going 40-20 in the regular season, the Astros pulled off a couple of upsets on the way to their fourth straight Championship Series appearance.
Houston went 29-31 last regular season and rarely who expect them to battle for another AL pennant. The Astros promise another exciting series this postseason, so here’s my betting pick for Game 1 of the ALCS.
According to DraftKings, the Rays are -185 favorites to reach the World Series. The Astros are +165 underdogs to win the retain the AL pennant.
Houston misses Justin Verlander and Roberto Osuna due to elbow injuries, but the Astros cope well without their top ace and closer. They also miss outfielder Yordan Alvarez due to a knee injury.
On the other side, the Rays are without six relievers including Jose Alvarado, Yonny Chirinos, and Andrew Kittredge. Still, their bullpen has been doing a great job all season long.
What’s at Stake?
The Astros are searching for their third World Series appearance in four years. The Rays played at the biggest stage only once and lost to the Phillies in five games back in 2008.
It’s always nice to win the opener, but in the best-of-seven series, it doesn’t mean a thing.
The Rays eliminated the Yankees in the division series and needed all five games to beat their AL East rivals. That’s a huge boost for the Rays’ confidence after losing the 2019 ALCS to the Astros in five games.
On the other side, Houston swept the Twins in the wild-card round. The Astros went off in the division series and eliminated the Athletics in four games, proving that a poor regular-season record means nothing if you’re already in the playoffs.
This Astros team obviously knows how to win big games. It’s no wonder they are in the championship series for the fourth straight year, and the 2017 World Series champions will look for another upset.
After scoring just 4.65 runs per game in the regular season (14th in the majors), the Astros averaged a whopping 6.67 runs per contest this postseason. They scored in double digits twice in the previous round while smacking 12 home runs, batting .322, and slugging .594.
On the other side, the Rays averaged 4.82 runs per game through the regular season (12th in the majors). Against the Yankees in the division series, the Rays were tallying only 4.20 runs per contest. They hit 11 homers while batting .202 and slugging .423.
The Astros’ bullpen hasn’t impressed, so I expect the Rays to hit much better than they did against the Yankees. On the other side, Tampa’s pitching staff is one of the best in baseball despite all the injury woes, and the Rays will meet another red-hot team after beating the Yankees’ mighty offense.
Blake Snell will take the mound for Tampa in Game 1, and the lefty has already opened the previous two series for the Rays. He pitched 5.2 shutout innings against the Blue Jays to earn a win, but Snell was beaten hard by the Yankees, allowing four earned runs (three homers) on six hits and a couple walks through five innings.
Snell was 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA and 1.20 WHIP this past regular season. He’s 2-2 with a 4.73 ERA in six career starts against the Astros. Last year, Blake tossed 5.1 innings through three playoff games against Houston, yielding one earned run on five hits in the process.
On the other side, Framber Valdez will toe the slab for the Astros. The lefty went 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA and 1.12 WHIP last regular season and was undoubtedly the Astros’ best starting pitcher.
Framber was victorious in both his postseason starts against the Twins and A’s. He pitched five scoreless innings in Minnesota while tossing seven in a two-run ball against Oakland. Valdez will meet the Rays for the first time in his career.
I’m looking for a tight battle in this series, and the opening contest will tell me a lot about my expectations. The Astros went bonkers this postseason, but I think the Rays’ pitching staff should slow them down a bit.
I don’t trust Blake Snell, but the Rays’ bullpen has been a dominant force all season long. Even if Snell struggles, Tampa will have enough firepower off its bullpen, so I expect to see a low-scoring affair Sunday at Petco Park.
The Astros went 12-10 against the left-handed starters in the regular season, while the Rays were only 9-8 against southpaws. And I say only because they went 31-12 against the right-handed starters. Framber Valdez is enjoying a breakthrough season, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he dominates the Rays in the opener.
Houston and Tampa didn’t meet each other this term. The Rays are 11-9 in their last 20 matchups with the Astros, and the under is 12-6-2 in that span.