Ladies and gentleman we have ourselves an ALCS finale Saturday night at 8 pm EST at Petco Park in San Diego, California, as the 6th-seeded Houston Astros seek to make it four games in a row when they face the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays for the American League pennant.
After falling down 3-0 in the set, the Astros have gotten an offensive push since in getting big performances from the usual suspects in George Springer, Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, and Carlos Correa. The Astros combined for a total of 11 hits in an all-important game-six with Altuve and Brantley going 4-7 at the plate with two RBI's while Correa went 3-4 with an RBI in the win. Furthermore, Springer finished 1-4 in the contest, yet bought in two big runs for an Astros team that has been resilient for the entire postseason after entering the playoffs with a record of less than .500 and essentially an enemy to just about every club in the MLB and fans alike.
Nonetheless, Houston finds itself of the cusp of the World Series. The club turns to Lance McCullers, Jr. in the finale who, despite giving up two home runs in game-two of this series, went seven innings while recording a total of 11 strikeouts in a 4-2 defeat.
The Rays will certainly bring the focus for this contest. And despite their offense continuing to push strategic runs across the plate throughout the series versus the Braves, the fact is that the true strength of this team (pitching), has slipped a bit in giving up a total of 15 runs in the last three games of the set after surrendering just five runs in games one through three. Blake Snell was the latest pitcher for the Rays that had a less than stellar performance as he allowed two earned runs in four innings while the bullpen went on two give up another four earned thanks to subpar pitching nights from Diego Castillo along with Shane McClanahan.
Now, the Rays turn to former Houston Astros pitcher Charlie Morton to get them over the hump in what will be an exciting game-seven. Morton has picked up winning decisions in three of his last four starts, including winning the battle versus McCullers, Jr. in game two in giving up just five hits while recording five k's in five innings of pitching.
McCullers, Jr. desperately seeking a victoryLance McCullers, Jr. (3-3, 3.93 ERA) has picked up losses in two of his last four starts while also racking up a total of four no-decisions four of his last six appearances on the mound, overall. In fact, the right-hander has not picked up a win since August 29th when he pitched six innings while allowing just one earned run while recording seven strikeouts in a home win over the Oakland Athletics. Now, McCullers, Jr. seeks to not only get a much-needed victory that can send his team to the World Series, but to atone for a solid outing in game-two that was essentially ruined due to two costly errors by the infield for the Astros. Important to note that the Astros are 2-6 in McCullers, Jr.'s last eight starts.
McCullers, Jr. has dominated Mike Zinino as he, despite having two RBI's in his career, is batting just 2-12 versus the right-hander while striking out in four of those at bats. In fact, McCullers, Jr. is averaging eight strikeouts in his last five starts. Furthermore, Ji-Man Choi along with Hunter Renfroe and Kevin Kiermaier going a combined 0-11 liftime. On the other hand, Joey Wendle and Manuel Margot are each 1-3 versus McCullers, Jr. in their respective careers.
Morton seeks 3rd-straight victoryCharlie Morton (2-2, 4.74 ERA) gave up a total of 10 earned runs during a four-game stretch to end the regular season. However, in his last two starts, the right-hander has gotten back on track in surrendering just one earned run on nine hits while recording 11 strikeouts during this time. In fact, he held the offense for the Astros scoreless in game-two in five innings of work, his fourth-straight start where he pitched at least five innings. Morton seeks to have yet another solid performance Saturday night to put his team in the World Series. However, despite his gem in game-two, Morton has not had much success versus the lineup for the Astros in his career.
We're in— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) September 18, 2020
But there's more damage to do pic.twitter.com/XF3tPzQQc9
Martin Maldonado (.538 on 13 AB, double, RBI), Michael Brantley (.200 BA on 15 AB, two doubles, 4 RBI's), and Jose Altuve (200 BA on 10 AB, HR, two RBI's) have face Morton the most within Houston's lineup. George Springer (2-5), Josh Reddick (3-4, double, triple, RBI), along with Yuli Gurriel (1-3, double, 2 RBI's) have had a bit of experience and success versus the right-hander in their respective careers. However, Alex Bregman along with Aledmys Diaz are a combined 1-8 versus Morton lifetime.
Stats & Trends
- Astros are 2-11 in their last 13 after scoring 5 runs or more in their previous game.
- Astros are 2-6 in McCullers, Jr. last four starts
- Rays are 4-0 in Morton's last 4 starts after allowing 5 runs or more in their previous game.
- Rays are 4-0 in Morton's last 4 starts when their opponent scores 5 runs or more in their previous game.
- Rays are 4-0 in Morton's last 4 Saturday starts.
With so much on the line, expect this to be another low-scoring finale between the Rays and the Astros as both teams will be bringing two of their best back to the rubber for a encore of an exciting game-two matchup. And while both have excelled on the mound in the postseason, I happen to side with Morton and the Rays in this contest as the right-hander really dominated the lineup for the Astros the first time around. Yes, the Astros possess much of the momentum entering this contest, however, the pitching rotation for the Rays will have a huge opportunity to prove that they are indeed the heart and soul of this team.
Again, Tampa Bay has picked up wins in four-straight Morton starts (7-3 in last 10) while the Astros continues to struggle with McCullers, Jr. on the hill in dropping six of their last eight, overall. In all, while I have tons of respect for Houston and what the team has done in the 2020 postseason, I also like the Rays to grind out a huge win in game-seven to return to the World Series.