The Astros won the first two games of the ALDS against the Rays thanks to a pair of brilliant pitching outings from their dueling aces, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Cole, in particular, turned in one of the most dominant postgame performances in recent memory. The Astros also got timely hitting from their MVP Alex Bregman and a few breaks courtesy of errors by Tampa Bay. As one postgame announcer stated, you have to be perfect to the beat the Astros and the Rays weren't.
Still, it remains a rather competitive series as it shifts back to Florida and there are questions for both sides heading into game three and beyond.
Charlie Morton vs. Zack Greinke
All the talk you hear around game three is Charlie Morton, the former Astro, will be back on the mound, Tampa's staff ace who helped them get to the ALDS with a stellar performance in the wild card game against the A's. But, they seem to forget that the Astros' third starter is Zack Greinke. Two of the quietest and most unassuming guys on the mound and off will meet and it should be a good one.
Grienke hasn't been quite the pitcher Morton has this season, but he tends to eat innings, not shying away from throwing well over 100 pitches. Morton is unlikely to last that long and the Astros did get to their former teammate in his last start against Houston. If the 'Stros are going to wrap up the season on Tuesday, it will likely happen on the mound, one way or another.
Rays Bullpen Fatigue
Speaking of the pitching duel, the Rays have used a lot of their relievers in the first two games in Houston. The Astros have arms in the pen who haven't even warmed up. Given the Rays' reliance on their outstanding relief core, this is clearly advantage Astros even with the day off in between games.
The Rays are a resilient bunch, but with a pitcher like Grienke that tends to chew up innings, the Rays are far more likely to need to get deeper into their relievers than the Astros, which bodes well for this Astros lineup.
Astros Bats Due for Breakout
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Other than a five-run fifth in Game One, the vaunted Astros lineup has been relatively quiet in the first two games of the series. But one thing we've seen from them all season is they don't get held down for long. With now a likely second or even third pass through Rays relief pitchers, it seems like only a matter of time before there is a another big inning for the Astros.
If the Rays do manage to avoid the sweep in Game Three, the question becomes who will start game four. Up 2-1 with a potential game five in Houston, it seems highly unlikely that they would bring back Verlander on three days rest, but, given his recent struggles, we probably won't see Wade Miley on the hill either. Jose Urquidy would appear the likely candidate to make his first postseason start, but a "bullpen game" would also be in play.
If they do opt for a game shared by multiple relievers, it is all the more imperative for Grienke to go six or seven innings and minimize the usage of the bullpen...or just shut them down in game three and not worry about it until the ALCS.