It is pennant chasing season and this year’s American League Championship Series promises to be a good one as the Houston Astros, returning for the fourth year in a row, take on the AL’s top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays, making their first ALCS appearance since the 2008 season. Game one of the best-of-seven game series begins today (7.37pm ET Sunday on TBS).
Read on for USAbetting’s full ALCS preview with picks and Houston Astros vs Tampa Bay Rays predictions.
Road to the LCS – Houston
When the 2020 season began, the Houston Astros did so with a target on their backs. It has been mentioned in these previews before but it bears repeating given just how pivotal “trash can-gate” was for the Astros. Prior to the start of the season, MLB revealed their findings that the Astros cheated in at least two playoffs, using the banging of a trash can to steal signs and signal such signs to their batters. The Astros won the World Series in part thanks to trash can-gate and reached the World Series in back-to-back years as well.
Yet, when the edict was passed down, it was Carlos Beltran, the new New York Mets manager, and Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, as well as some Astros personnel, who paid the brunt of the punishment. No active players on the Astros roster faced any sort of sanctions nor did the team lose draft picks or forfeiture of their championship in 2017 and pennant in 2018. To many, this was the mark of the MLB failing to do its job so it was largely felt around the league that the remaining 29 teams would do that job for them.
The Astros entered the year as the most hated team in baseball and found their batters being thrown at on multiple occasions. There were questions surrounding how good the team actually might be without the cheating as batting average for Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and others dropped significantly. Through it all, the Astros maintained their composure and relied on their pitching to help them reach the playoffs as the second best team in the AL West.
In round one of the postseason, the Astros swept the Minnesota Twins, scoring seven runs across the two games and allowing just two to their opponents. This led to a matchup against their divisional rival, Oakland Athletics, who had won the season series against Houston, 8-2. Records reset in the playoffs and thanks to an offensive outburst by the Astros and some level of choking by the A’s, the Astros won this best-of-five series, 3-1.
No trash cans. No cheating and no Justin Verlander, who was injured prior to the start of the postseason. The Astros are once again headed back to the ALCS. When Barry Bonds famously took steroids in his career, many wondered why as Bonds was good without the steroids. Turns out Houston is still a good team without the cheating and perhaps even, with their bats heating up (two of their last four games saw the Astros hit double digits in runs), they may be headed to their fourth World Series in a row.
Road to the LCS – Tampa Bay Rays
Done playing second and in some cases even third fiddle in the AL East, the Rays entered the 2020 season on a mission. With just a fraction of the payroll of their divisional rivals, Tampa Bay looked to their farm system, long since one of the best in baseball, to help them in their quest to return to the playoffs. Return they did, but more than that, the Rays actually finished the COVID-shortened campaign as the best team in the AL and second best in baseball. They beat the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. They won their division. Come the postseason, Tampa Bay came in ready to fight.
Behind top arms, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, the Rays opened their playoff journey against a familiar foe, the Toronto Blue Jays. Much like in the regular season, Tampa Bay made quick work of their AL East opponents, scoring 11 runs and allowing just three over the two-game sweep. This led to a meeting with another AL East rival, the Yankees, who came into the series as favorites despite the Rays’ higher seeding. New York had been heating up and their bats seemed unstoppable especially as Snell struggled in a game one loss. As the series went on and things got chippy between the two teams who showed their hatred for each other during the regular season, both New York and Tampa showed true grit. The Rays fought back to win a close game two and took game three as well as the Yankees stayed alive in game four. That left a do-or-die game five that saw New York’s best pitcher opposed by Tampa’s best pitcher, both on short rest. The game was tied at just one apiece heading into the eighth inning before Mike Brosseau had his playoff moment, hitting the go-ahead home run off Yankees’ flamethrower, Aroldis Chapman. With both Snell and Charlie Morton, the game one and three starters, warming up in the pen, Tampa closed out the series to reach the ALCS for just the second time in the last 12 years.
Keys to Series & Astros vs Rays Game One Prediction
For Houston, the formula is simple. Can the Astros, as they close in on yet another AL pennant, remain poised in the face of their critics? Truth be told, a fan-less playoffs has been the best thing to happen to Houston and is providing a rare advantage to a team who entered this season expected to be booed out of every arena save for their own stadium. Having to go on the road to play Minnesota, Oakland and now Tampa, wouldn’t have done them any favors.
Fortune has favored the Astros and right now, their play has been elite. Houston’s bats are heating up at the right time. This is the first time they’ll see Tampa’s pitching this year which could have them see some trouble, but they’ve been one of the playoffs’ top scoring teams thus far and that figures to continue.
For Tampa, they’ll look to a combination of pitching and clutch hitting as they did against the Yankees and Blue Jays. The Rays aren’t going to blow you away with power but they are a strong contact hitting team that makes the most of their at bats. Not likely to score a ton of runs, the Rays offense is balanced by a great starting staff, something that has been one of Tampa’s biggest strengths of late. Snell struggled in his only outing against the Yankees, but he’s a pitcher who rarely has back-to-back subpar starts. He will face Framber Valdez, who has given up just two runs this season, in game one. Snell is Tampa’s ace and after he watched Glasnow and not himself get the pivotal win-or-go-home start against New York, the competitor in him will be fired up. Look for Snell to start the tone right and get the Rays off to a winning start this series.
Our ALCS Preview’s Houston Astros vs Tampa Bay Rays Predictions & Betting Picks Verdict
With an outright pick on the Rays to win game one behind a long outing from their ace, our series pick is also sticking with Tampa, who we correctly predicted would win against the Yankees in the full five. Take the Rays over the Astros in six as Tampa gets one step closer to their dream of winning the first World Series in franchise history.
As for that advised betting pick on game one, here is the best option having studied the odds at all the relevant top sportsbooks for Americans:
- Bet on Tampa Bay Rays to win game one @ -134 on the moneyline with Intertops or BetOnline. It is -135 with Bovada.
- The best odds for the Rays to win the series are -160 with BetOnline.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.