The Rays and Astros kick off a weekend series Friday night that could be a preview of the 2023 AL Championship Series. With ace Shane McLanahan on the mound, the Rays are slight betting favorites at -115 on the moneyline, while the Astros are also less than even money at -105. The over/under is set at 8.5 runs with -110 odds on both the over and on the under. The prediction here is that the Astros win and the under hits.
Rays vs. Astros Prediction
Starting pitchers: LHP Shane McLanahan (11-1, 2.89 ERA) vs. RHP Cristian Javier (7-2, 4.32 ERA)
This game should have all the makings of a pitcher’s duel.
The Rays are trotting out their ace, lefty Shane McLanahan, who enters the night with the 5th-best ERA in baseball (among qualified starters). He also sits in the top 10 in opponent batting average (.211, 10th) and BAbip (.265, 10th).
However, following the storyline of the Rays’ season, McLanahan has not been his usual dominant self for the last month or so. Over his last 4 starts, he has posted an ERA of 7.02, a 1.50 WHIP and a 1.88 K/BB ratio. In three of those four starts, he didn’t even make it to the 5th inning. He also missed roughly two weeks during that span on the IL with mid-back tightness, which could have contributed to some of his struggles.
McLanahan’s last outing against Baltimore was perhaps his most troubling. He allowed five runs in the 4th inning, the most he has ever allowed in a single inning in his career, and just the third time in his career he has allowed 5 runs in a start.
On the other side of this matchup, Astros righty Cristian Javier was expected to ascend to the ace role after the offseason departure of Justin Verlander. Through his first 14 starts, it looked like he was doing just that. On June 15 he held a 2.90 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. But things have unraveled over his last 5 starts since then.
In those starts, Javier has posted a 9.70 ERA, a 1.88 WHIP and a 1.29 K/BB ratio. He looked like he was turning things around in his last start against the lowly A’s, starting the game with five no-hit innings before surrendering 2 runs in the 6th. Javier struggled with his command in that game, walking six batters in just 5-2/3 innings.
So what can we expect from these two talented hurlers who have struggled recently? Will they continue to underperform or will (at least) one of them start to turn things around?
Houston has to get the edge here given Tampa’s extended slump at the plate. The Rays are still 4th in runs and 3rd in wRC+ this season thanks to their torrid start, but they are just 27th and 25th, respectively, over the last month.
The Astros are going in the other direction offensively. While they are 12th in runs and 14th in wRC+ on the year, they are 7th and 8th, respectively, over the last 30 days.
Houston also just recently got back two of the most dangerous bats in their lineup. Power slugger Yordan Alvarez and leadoff man Jose Altuve both suffered oblique strains and missed 6 weeks and 3 weeks, respectively. They both returned for the Astros’ last game on Wednesday.
While it’s hard to know what to expect from each of the starting pitchers, it’s also difficult to trust the Rays’ bats right now. The Astros are at home and getting slightly better odds despite the Rays’ recent struggles, so the Astros’ moneyline at +100 odds (only at FanDuel as of this writing) is the better side to bet in this matchup.
Picking a side on the total is a tougher call. The natural inclination given the pitching matchup is to bet the under, but each pitcher’s recent struggles complicate matters. Still, these pitchers are too talented not to expect them to keep the scoring down, and the slumping Rays offense makes the under that much more appealing.
Rays vs. Astros Prediction: Astros’ moneyline (+100), under 8.5 runs (-108)
Rays vs. Astros Odds
The Rays opened as slight favorites with -115 moneyline odds, but the Astros are also less than even money at -105. You can get the Astros at +100 at FanDuel.
Tampa is laying -1.5 runs on the spread at +150 odds, while Houston is getting +1.5 at -180.
The over/under in this game is 8.5 runs with -110 odds on the over and the -110 on the under.
Rays vs. Astros Key Matchups
Here are the key matchups that could decide Rays vs. Astros.
Shane McLanahan vs. Astros righty-heavy lineup
Barring an unforeseeable explosion by their offense, the Rays likely need McLanahan to look more like an ace in this game if they want to take the first game of the series. It’s unlikely they would win a high-scoring affair right now.
With a righty-heavy lineup, the Astros have been better against southpaws this season. They have a wRC+ of 110 against lefties compared to 98 against righties.
Counter to conventional baseball wisdom, McLanahan actually has better career numbers against righties, who are hitting just .210 against him with a .270 BAbip. Lefties average .255 against him with a .332 BAbip.
That could mean some big at-bats for Kyle Tucker and Alvarez, the Astros’ two best lefty bats.
If this game comes down to the bullpens, that could mean trouble for both the Astros’ moneyline pick and the under pick in my Rays vs. Astros prediction.
Houston’s bullpen has struggled of late, with just a 5.93 ERA (26th) and 6.09 FIP (29th) over the last two weeks. The Rays’ bullpen has remained strong, with marks of 3.30 (4th) and 3.76 (6th) over the same span.
Here’s hoping the Astros’ relievers don’t allow the Rays to spoil both of our picks tonight.
Rays vs. Astros Starting Lineups (Projected)
Rays Starting Lineup
1B Yandy Diaz (R)
SS Wander Franco (S)
RF Luke Raley (L)
LF Randy Arozarena (R)
3B Isaac Paredes (R)
2B Brandon Lowe (L)
DH Harold Ramirez (R)
CF Jose Siri (R)
C Christian Bethancourt (R)
Astros Starting Lineup
2B Jose Altuve (R)
SS Jeremy Pena (R)
RF Kyle Tucker (L)
3B Alex Bregman (R)
DH Yordan Alvarez (L)
1B Jose Abreu (R)
CF Chas McCormick (R)
LF Corey Julks (R)
C Martin Maldonado (R)