We are down to just four teams left in the 2020 Major League Baseball season, as the league championship series kick off tonight when the Houston Astros play the Tampa Bay Rays in game one of the American League Championship Series. The Rays are coming off one of the biggest moments in franchise history in their last game, when they made a dramatic late-inning comeback against the New York Yankees to win and advance.
For Houston, the Astros completed their unlikely run to their fourth consecutive ALCS by knocking off the Oakland Athletics in four games. Houston finished the regular season with a losing record, but the Astros have figured things out here in the postseason, as they are 5-1 in the playoffs. All the media wants to talk about is the Astros cheating scandal. All Astros fans want to talk about, is vindication and winning another world title.
The race for the pennant is on. pic.twitter.com/rGKKjN0D2m
— MLB (@MLB) October 11, 2020
Over in the National League, we get a blockbuster matchup in the NLCS, as the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves play a best of seven series. The Dodgers finished the regular season as the best team in all of baseball, and their winning percentage of .717 has them as one of the winningest teams in regular-season MLB history. LA has yet to lose a game in the playoffs, having swept their first two series back to back.
The Braves can also add undefeated in the postseason to their current resume, as they too have swept their first two series. The Braves pitching has been outrageously good, as they have had four shutouts in five games. This is a classic spot where somebody’s O has got to go, with the NL pennant on the line. For our free daily betting pick, we will head to sunny San Diego for game one of the American League Championship Series between the Astros and the Rays.
Houston Astros (0-0) at Tampa Bay Rays (0-0)
The Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays play game one of the best of seven American League Championship Series tonight. It might be a little bit dramatic, but at the outset, this series looks like a battle between good and evil, the darkness and the light.
The Astros are everyone’s least favorite team, after getting wrapped up in one of the biggest cheating scandals in MLB history, and just about nobody outside of Texas is rooting for them to make it back to their third World Series in the last four years. If the Astros are easy to hate, the Rays are easy to love, as they have played the plucky underdog role to a T this season, and seeing the Rays advance to the World Series would be a feel-good story we can all get behind.
— MLB (@MLB) October 10, 2020
Starting tonight for the Astros is Framber Valdez (2-0 1.50 ERA), and for the Rays, it is Blake Snell (1-1 3.38 ERA). The game total over/under is set at eight runs. The Rays are -150 betting favorites. First pitch is scheduled for 4:37 PM PST from PETCO Park in San Diego.
Even the thought of the Houston Astros winning the world title this season makes my stomach churn. The Astros handled their sign-stealing scandal about as poorly as you ever could, with a lot of fake apologies and indifference. It looked like karma was going to come into play for Houston in the regular season, though, as they really struggled and finished the season with a losing record at 29-31. But in a sick twist of fate, that was good enough to get Houston into the playoffs, and now that they are here, they are proving to be tough to beat.
If this team wasn’t chalked full of cheaters, I might actually want to root for them, after what they have been through in 2020. They lost both of their best pitchers from last year’s AL Pennant winning squad, as Gerrit Cole bolted in free agency, and Justin Verlander was shut down early in the season with an injury.
They also lost last year’s AL Rookie of the Year Award winner, Yordan Alverez, early on, and have seen guys like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Michael Brantley spend time on the IL. Throw in the fact that they have a brand-new manager and GM, as both guys from last year’s team were fired amid the cheating scandal, and this team has survived through an admirable amount of adversity in 2020. I still hate them, but I am starting to soften on them, as these guys are showing a lot of heart here late in the season, while under an unprecedented amount of pressure and scrutiny.
Framber Valdez (2-0 1.50 ERA)
With guys like Cole and Verlander missing, and replacement pitchers like Josh James and Brad Peacock not working out, the Houston Astros needed a big year out of Framber Valdez. And that is just what they have gotten, as Valdez has been better in just about every way in 2020. Valdez has increased his K/9 rate, dropped his walks dramatically, from a career level of 5.7 to just 2.0 W/9 this season, and has dropped his ERA two full runs over last season.
In the playoffs, Valdez has been elite as he has made two starts for Houston and has pitched a combined twelve innings and has allowed just two earned runs. More importantly, for the Astros, they managed to win both of those games. This run of recent success extends back to the end of the regular season well, as Valdez was hitting his stride in September. In his last four starts, Valdez has worked 25.1 innings, giving up only four total earned runs, while striking out 27 batters. Houston has won his last five outings.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays had a magical moment last week, when they managed to defeat the New York Yankees in game five of the ALDS on Friday night. The Yankees have always found a way to punish the Rays, and seeing Tampa Bay beat the Evil Empire, with their ace pitcher in Gerrit Cole on the mound no less, had to be a satisfying feeling for the Rays faithful.
But this Tampa Bay team isn’t done yet, as they are the current odds-on betting favorite to win this series, take home the AL Pennant, and advance to just their second World Series in franchise history. The Rays had to get really creative on the mound in the late games of that series with New York, as they got just an inning and two thirds out of their game four starter, Ryan Thompson, and two and a third innings from game five starter, Tyler Glasnow. How they handle their pitching staff in this series will be a major factor in how this series plays out.
Blake Snell (1-1 3.38 ERA)
Just about everybody, myself included, thought we were going to see Blake Snell in game five against New York. We all knew that Tyler Glasnow wasn’t going to be able to get us much, as he was on only two days rest, so Tampa Bay was going to need somebody to eat up innings, and Snell seemed like the most likely candidate.
But instead of using Snell on short rest, the Rays decided to bring in their late-inning team in the third inning and managed to gut the game out with Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, and Diego Castillo, all working at least two innings in relief.
That leaves Snell to start tonight in game one for Tampa Bay. Snell is undeniably talented, but he has struggled with inconsistencies. His Cy Young Award winning season of 2018, is really starting to stand out as a fluke, as the rest of his five career has him rated out at as a quality pitcher, but not an ace like he was in 2018. In his last start, against the Yankees, he got roughed up for four earned runs in five innings of work, gave up three home runs, and the Rays got blown out.
Who Do I Like?
I like the Houston Astros as an upset special tonight in game one. I am not going to lie though, I puked in my mouth just a little bit having to type that, but at the end of the day, I can’t let my heart dictate my action.
I have to follow my brain and go where the numbers take me. In this game, it is hard not to see Framber Valdez as the better side of the starting pitching matchup. While Valdez doesn’t have the pedigree and resume that Snell has, he has been pitching really well in the last month and will be on normal rest.
Snell scares me in this game. It was shocking to see Tampa Bay go with Glasnow on two day’s rest, rather than Snell, in game five against New York. That tells me that Snell scares Rays manager Kevin Cash just a little bit as well. He just hasn’t been sharp lately. We already talked about how he got rocked by the Yankees in his last start, and two starts ago, the New York Mets lit him up as well.
In those two games, he has given up a whopping five home runs. Walks have been an issue for Snell recently as well, as he has seven walks in his last three starts, and on the year, he has multiple walks in a start nine times in his thirteen appearances. Valdez doesn’t have the brand name that Snell does, but I think he is going to be the better guy on the mound tonight in game one.
I am going with the upset. As much as it pains me to say it, the Astros are the side to back tonight. They have been hitting the ball hard in the postseason, as they scored 33 runs against the Oakland A’s in four games, twice going for double-digits.
After bad regular seasons, Astros stars like Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman are hitting the ball well right now. With six postseason games on the books, Houston has six guys hitting .368 or higher right now, with Correa (.500), Altuve (.400), and Bregman (.400) reminding people why the Astros have been one of the best hitting teams in the game the last several years.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that this year is all about maximum pain. The Astros winning tonight would be bad for baseball and will sting bad. So, I will ride that wave of disappointment tonight, as 2020 will once again kick us while we are down. Give me the Houston Astros as road underdogs tonight in game one at +135!