The American League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays has been a baseball fan’s dream come true. It might not look like the fireworks series we thought it would be. Instead, this series has been a chess match between two very good teams, with each team taking advantage of mistakes made by the other.
Framber Valdez got the start in Game 1 for Houston, and pitched a terrific game. Although he took home the loss, Valdez’s 6 innings were solid, racking up eight strikeouts and surrendering two runs on four hits. The problem for Valdez came from his four walks. While three of the four didn’t directly impact the game in major ways, as Valdez managed to get out of those jams, a fourth inning walk to Willy Adames helped the Rays take the lead when Mike Zunino drove him in later in the inning.
That’s the second run the Rays got off Valdez. The first came off Randy “I’m Hotter Than The Sun” Arozarena. Aside from that, the Astros pitchers were on-point in Game 1. But those two runs were good enough for Tampa Bay to take the first game of the series, as the Astros offense failed to get started after a José Altuve home run.
Lance McCullers in Game 2 was more of the same, but this time it was his defense that failed to help him out.
After getting the first two outs, and putting a runner on first, Altuve failed to complete a routine, inning-ending throw to first base, putting two men on for Manuel Margot. Margot’s three-run home run would give the Rays the lead they needed to win.
That home run might not have been McCuller’s fault, as we saw in the 7th when Mike Zunino took him to deep center. McCuller’s reaction to the solo-shot was that of surprise, shocked that Zunino’s ball carried that far. It’s 100% possible that Margot’s moonshot was similarly aided.
Without those two blemishes, McCullers was also incredible in his start, much like Valdez. McCullers went seven innings, allowed four runs (only one earned) on four hits, and struckout ELEVEN TAMPA BAY HITTERS.
To have two back-to-back starts like that to find yourself in a 2-0 series hole, is nuts, as one broadcaster pointed out.
Ron Darling, who normally belongs to the best booth in baseball during the regular-season, pointed this out. Darling remarked that it was interesting how Valdez was the better pitcher in Game 1, and took the loss. Here in Game 2, McCullers is the better pitcher than Morton in this game and he’s on the losing side.
The Astros are getting the pitching they need to advance to the World Series, but everything else just hasn’t shown up in San Diego. Houston pitchers have held the Rays offense to a .169 average in this series, and they’re still down 2-0. That’s a tough pill to swallow.
Over the last two rounds, we got to see this Astros team at their best, and over these last two ALCS games, we’ve seen their worst.
Rays of Sunshine
If this series is a poker game, then the Rays are that one guy who wears sunglasses indoors, sitting slumped over the table, waits for you to make a mistake, and then pushes all-in.
The Rays pitching has been… fine. Charlie Morton and Blake Snell have both had better starts this year, and will more than likely look to be better the next time they get the ball. Their bullpen has been good, as they have been in 2020. The Tampa relievers have only surrendered two runs on eight hits over their ten innings so far in the ALCS.
If it’s making your brain melt as to why those numbers aren’t getting an ecstatic reaction from this writer, it’s because the Astros are still hitting .275 against them. The Rays bats have been bailing out their pitchers. It’s not a complete 2008 Financial Crisis bailout, but they’re still doing a lot for their team’s cause.
Aside from that, things couldn’t be going both better and worse for the Rays. The offense hasn’t totally clicked in, despite their three home runs giving them an edge. Their starters haven’t had the best outings, but still came out victorious. The Rays have a 2-0 lead, now’s the time to get serious and push forward. Don’t get complacent.
The Astros still have Zack Greinke and Jose Urquidy starts in their future. So it’s 100% possible for Houston to get back into this thing. However, the Rays will no doubt be countering with Tyler Glasnow, who has been extraordinary in 2020.
If the Astros offense can’t wake up, this series is over and everyone outside of Houston will rejoice. The Astros weren’t supposed to get this far, but they have thanks to their big, loud, terrifying bats. Don’t believe me? Talk to the Atheltics.
But Tampa Bay has also proven that they are a sneaky, sneaky team. The Rays strike when you least expect it. They take advantage of mistakes. They make you pay for leaving fastballs over the plate. This Rays team plays Chess for nine innings.