Pitching will lift Tampa Bay Rays to victory over Houston Astros in ALCS

The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their 2-1 victory against the New York Yankees in Game Five of the American League Division Series at PETCO Park. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Rays celebrate their 2-1 victory against the New York Yankees in Game Five of the American League Division Series at PETCO Park. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

0-0. . 7:30 p.m.. 0-0. 135. TBS. Sunday, Oct. 11. 21

The Tampa Bay Rays should be considered the favorites in the ALCS vs. the Houston Astros. Pitching is the reason.

The Houston Astros might be used to playoff pressure after reaching the ALCS for the fourth consecutive year, but experience isn’t everything. The Tampa Bay Rays are clearly the class of the American League this year and should be their representative in the World Series.

It all comes down to pithing.

Blake Snell will take the mound to start the game for the Rays, with Framber Valdez starting for the Astros.

The Tampa Bay Rays have the superior rotation in the ALCS

With Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Charlie Morton starting and a far stronger bullpen than the Astros, the Rays have to be considered the favorite to advance to the World Series.

If they were healthy, the Astros would certainly be able to make a claim of their own. But they’re not healthy, with Justin Verlander undergoing Tommy John surgery and Zack Greinke‘s health a big question mark right now.

Greinke has suffered from some arm soreness, but pitched in Game 4 of Houston’s ALDS victory over the Athletics, though he certainly wasn’t the reason for it. He gave up four runs in 4-2/3 innings in the game, allowing five hits (two home runs) and a walk. His team bailed him out with a five-run fourth inning in the game, but he otherwise didn’t figure into the decision.

Jose Urquidy pitched in Game 3 of that series for Houston. He gave up four runs on five hits in 4-1/3 innings himself.

Snell went 4-2 this season with a 3.24 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 50 innings. He walked 18. In the playoffs, he’s gone 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA and 13 strikeouts in about 11 innings.

Morton has struggled a bit in 2020, but writing him off would be a mistake. He made back-to-back All-Star rosters and finished third in Cy Young voting in 2019. He allowed just one run in five innings in his only postseason start this season.

Glasnow has struck out 20 in 13 innings this postseason. Staring Friday against the Yankees on two days rest, he went 2-1/3 innings without allowing any runs or hits before ceding to the Rays bullpen.

The Tampa Bay Rays have the best bullpen in the ALCS, too

And that bullpen! Nick Anderson has given up just two runs in more than seven postseason innings. Diego Castillo hasn’t allowed a run in 4-2/3 innings, and Pete Fairbanks has allowed just one in four innings. The trio combined for 20 strikeouts.

In the regular season, the bullpen was phenomenal, allowing just 18 percent of inherited runners to score to lead the AL and blowing just eight saves for a 74 percent success rate, third-best in the AL.

Per FanGraphs, the Rays’ pen led baseball with a 3.6 WAR and had MLB’s third-best ERA at 3.37.

The Astros rated 15th in ERA (4.39) and 16th in WAR.

In seven-game playoff series with no days off in the middle, bullpens are going to play a huge role. Ultimately, that’s going to be the difference-maker in the series and send the Rays to the World Series.

Next. Mike Brosseau laughs last in ALDS win. dark

Game 1 of the ALCS opens at 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday night. The game can be viewed on TBS or streamed using the Watch TBS (with subscription).