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Pick: Astros to Win
With the stretch run almost upon us, each game is growing more important. This is particularly true for the Tampa Bay Rays and the Houston Astros, who meet Friday night in the first game of a three-game series. Both teams are second in their division, giving them a lot of work to do to avoid having to settle for a Wild Card spot. Nevertheless, both teams would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, making Friday’s Rays-Astros game a potential playoff preview, as well as a rematch of the 2020 ALCS.
The Rays, in particular, are in desperate need of a win on Friday. After dominating baseball during the early part of the season, the wheels have come off for Tampa, allowing the Orioles to overtake the Rays atop the AL East. In fact, the Rays head to Houston losers of eight of their last 10 games, as their season is spiraling dangerously out of control, meaning Tampa needs to start stringing wins together.
Meanwhile, the Astros just took two of three games from the Rangers this week, pulling Houston within two games of Texas in the AL West standings. Since the all-star break, the Astros are 8-4, so things are trending in the right direction despite looking up at the Rangers for most of the season. Nevertheless, with the Astros winning the AL West five times in the last six years, they are in an unfamiliar position heading down the stretch.
With both of these teams poised to reach the postseason, the odds for Friday’s game are understandably close. DraftKings list the Rays as slight road favorites at -115 while Houston’s moneyline is set at -105. There is also an over/under of 8.5 runs.
Facing a somewhat desperate situation, the Rays will be glad to send Shane McClanahan to the mound on Friday. The lefty is among the top contenders for the Cy Young in the American League this season. He’s 11-1 with a 2.89 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. The Rays are also 15-5 this season in games he’s started. However, McClanahan recently spent time on the IL with back tightness. He didn’t look like himself before going on the IL and still hasn’t gotten back on track. In his last start, McClanahan was chased from the game after four innings, conceding five runs on five hits against the Orioles. Tampa lost that game and is now 1-3 in his last four starts.
Unfortunately, McClanahan may not be able to count on much run support from the Tampa lineup. During the team’s 2-8 stretch, the Rays have averaged just 2.9 runs per game, being held to three runs or less in seven of those 10 games. It’s become a rather serious team-wide slump for the Rays despite having plenty of firepower in their lineup. Over the team’s last 12 games, key figures like Randy Arozarena, Isaac Parades, and Wander Franco are all batting under .200, creating some serious concerns for Tampa’s offense.
The Astros will call on Cristian Javier to start on Friday against the Rays. He has a good track record against most of Tampa’s hitters, as the Rays are a combined 3 for 19 against him. However, Javier has had an up-and-down season, going 7-2 with a 4.32 ERA. But it’s worth noting that Javier’s ERA has risen from 2.90 to 4.32 over the course of his last five starts. He’s failed to finish five innings in three of his last five starts and owns a 7.80 ERA over his three starts in July. On the bright side, Javier was a little better in his last outing. Despite walking six, Javier struck out five and allowed just two runs on one hit over 5.2 innings. But it might be worth taking that start with a grain of salt because it came against the A’s.
Despite some hiccups along the way, the Astros are 14-5 when Javier starts, in part because the Houston lineup has aided him with plenty of run support. Things are certainly looking up for the Astros in that area with Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve recently activated from the IL. The Astros also scored 19 total runs over their three-game series with the Rangers this week. Since the all-star break, Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, and Chas McCormick have all been on fire. All three are hitting well over .300 during that span while combining for 15 home runs in 12 games. With Alvarez and Altuve back, the top half of Houston’s lineup is looking as formidable as any in baseball and should score enough runs against McClanahan and Tampa’s bullpen to get a win on Friday.
Taking the over on 8.5 runs in this game is tempting. After all, Houston’s lineup is heating up while both McClanahan and Javier haven't been at their best lately. However, both starting pitchers are more than capable of finding their way and pitching a gem. With the Rays struggling to score runs lately, they may not contribute that much to the total runs in this game. That makes the under the better option in Friday’s game.
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Bryan Zarpentine is a 2008 graduate of Syracuse University and has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 2010. During that time, he has contributed to countless sites while covering baseball, soccer, the NFL, college football, and college basketball.More info on Bryan Zarpentine
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