Posted on October 8, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Tampa Bay Rays are alive! Facing elimination on Monday’s Game 3 against the Houston Astros, the Rays woke up. Tampa’s lineup knocked around Zack Greinke, scoring eight runs in the first four innings and cruising to a 10-3 win. Of course, the Rays will have to turn around and do it all over again on Tuesday, as they face elimination again in Tuesday’s Game 4.
After being victimized by Houston’s potent lineup during the first two games of the series, it was Tampa’s lineup that looked like a juggernaut in Game 3. At home, the Rays looked far more comfortable at the plate. Rather than relying on Austin Meadows and Tommy Pham to be the catalysts in their lineup, the Rays got contributions from nearly everyone up and down their batting order. Kevin Kiermaier, Ji-Man Choi, and Willy Adames all hit home runs for Tampa. With Kiermaier and Adames hitting at the bottom of the lineup, the Rays showed the kind of depth that the Astros are supposed to have. But that will have to continue to be the case if they’re going to come back to win the series.
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After dominating Game 1, Justin Verlander will come back on short rest in Game 4. Verlander allowed just one hit and walked three over seven shutout innings while striking out eight against the Rays in Game 1, adding to an already impressive postseason resume. Despite 25 previous playoff starts, Verlander has never pitched on short rest in the postseason. However, a limited number of his 100 pitches in Game 1 were thrown under stress, so it’s not unreasonable to think that he’ll be up for the challenge.
Meanwhile, the Rays look set for a bullpen game. Diego Castillo has been named the Game 4 starter, although he figures to only be used as the opener. Castillo has started for the Rays during the past two years, but most of his major league appearances have come as a reliever. Castillo got five outs against the Astros in Game 2 and also tossed two shutout innings in last week’s Wild Card Game. However, the best-case scenario is getting two scoreless innings from Castillo, meaning the Rays will still have to get at least seven innings out of the rest of their bullpen.
How the Rays will lineup their bullpen will be vital to how Game 4 turns out. However, it’s also important that they find a way to score runs against Verlander. With that in mind, Yandy Diaz could be Tampa’s biggest X-factor in Game 4. Diaz left Game 3 with soreness in his left foot, which he fractured earlier in the season. It’s unclear if Diaz will play in Game 4, but he’d be a good candidate to serve as Tampa’s DH, which he did in Game 1 against Verlander. Before going 0 for 4 in that game, Diaz was 2 for 4 in his career against Verlander. He also hit two home runs in the Wild Card Game, so he can change games in a hurry with his power.
The Rays have some much-needed confidence offensively after scoring 10 runs in Game 3. But facing Verlander can quickly change that. Even on short rest, it’s hard to bet against Verlander being able to shut down the Rays and let his offense do the rest. Houston wins 6-3.
Note: This prediction is the opinion of the author and not necessarily the prediction of Jon Price or Sports Information Traders.