A look at the best-of-five American League Division Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros:
Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Friday, at Houston, 2:05 p.m. (FS1); Game 2, Saturday, at Houston, 9:07 p.m. (FS1); Game 3, Monday, Oct. 7, at Tampa Bay, TBA (MLB); x-Game 4, Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Tampa Bay, TBA (FS1); x-Game 5, Thursday, Oct. 10, at Houston, TBA (FS1).
Season Series: Rays won 4-3.
Rays: 2B Joey Wendle (.231, 3 HRs, 19 RBIs in 75 games), LF Tommy Pham (.273, 21, 68, 33 2Bs), RF Austin Meadows (.291, 33, 89 in 138 games), C Travis d'Arnaud (.263, 16, 67 in 92 games with Rays; .087, 0, 2 in 10 games with Mets, and 1 at-bat in only game with Dodgers), 1B Ji-Man Choi (.261, 19, 63) or Yandy Díaz (.267, 14, 38, .816 OPS in 79 games), DH Brandon Lowe (.270, 17, 51 in 82 games) or Avisail Garcia (.282, 20, 72, 25 2Bs in 125 games), 3B Matt Duffy (.252, 1, 12 in 46 games), CF Kevin Kiermaier (.228, 14, 55, 19 SBs in 129 games), SS Willy Adames (.254, 20, 52).
Astros: CF George Springer (.292, 39, 96), 2B Jose Altuve (.298, 31, 74), LF Michael Brantley (.311, 22, 90, 40 2Bs), 3B Alex Bregman (.296, 41, 112, 37 2Bs, 119 BBs, 122 runs), DH Yordan Alvarez (.313, 27, 78 in 87 games), SS Carlos Correa (.279, 21, 59 in 75 games), 1B Yuli Gurriel (.298, 31, 104, 40 2Bs), C Robinson Chirinos (.238, 17, 58), RF Josh Reddick (.275, 14, 56).
Rays: RH Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 1.78 ERA, 70 Ks, 60 2/3 IP in 12 starts), LH Blake Snell (6-8, 4.29, 147 Ks, 107 IP in 23 starts), RH Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA, 240 Ks, 194 2/3 IP, 33 starts).
Astros: RH Justin Verlander (21-6, 2.58, career-high 300 Ks, led majors with 223 IP), RH Gerrit Cole (20-5, AL-best 2.50, MLB-leading 326 Ks), RH Zack Greinke (18-5, 2.93 with Arizona and Houston), RH Jose Urquidy (2-1, 3.95) or LH Wade Miley (14-6, 3.98).
Rays: RH Emilio Pagan (4-2, 2.31 ERA, 20/28 saves), RH Yonny Chirinos (9-5, 3.85 in 26 games, 18 starts), LH Ryan Yarbrough (11-6, 4.13 in 28 games, 14 starts), RH Nick Anderson (3-0, 2.11 in 23 appearances with Rays; 2-4, 3.92, 1 save in 45 appearances with Marlins), RH Diego Castillo (5-8, 3.41), RH Chaz Roe (1-3, 4.06 in 71 appearances), RH Oliver Drake (5-2, 3.21), LH Colin Poche (5-5, 4.70), LH Brendan McKay (2-4, 5.14 in 13 games, 11 starts), RH Andrew Kittredge (1-0, 4.17 in 37 appearances, 7 as opener).
Astros: RH Roberto Osuna (4-3, 2.63, 38/44 saves), RH Ryan Pressly (2-3, 2.32), RH Will Harris (4-1, 1.50), RH Chris Devenski (2-3, 4.83), RH Josh James (5-1, 4.70), RH Hector Rondon (3-2, 3.71), RH Brad Peacock (7-6, 4.12), RH Joe Smith (1-0, 1.80).
First postseason meeting between these clubs features Rays, with baseball’s lowest payroll, facing team that led majors in wins. ... Teams opened season against each other at Tropicana Field, with Verlander beating Snell 5-1 on opening day. But the Rays won the next three games to take three of four in series. Morton beat Cole 4-2, and Glasnow also earned a win in well-pitched series. ... Astros fared better against Tampa Bay in August when they won two of three in Houston. ... While the Astros roll out three established aces in Verlander, Cole and Greinke, the innovative and unorthodox Rays pioneered the use of openers and often rely on a parade of effective relievers. They do have three traditional starters lined up for this series, though, with Glasnow, Snell and Morton. ... Rays manager Kevin Cash played in 20 games for Astros in 2010 during last season of his career. He was traded to Boston in July that season. ... Morton pitched for Astros from 2017-18 and played a big role in their 2017 World Series title. He won Game 7 of AL Championship Series against Yankees and Game 7 of World Series at Dodger Stadium to give Houston its first championship. Morton had a tough time in his last start against Houston when he gave up a season-high six runs in four innings, which tied his shortest start of season, in a 15-1 win by Astros on Aug. 27. But he burnished his impressive October resume with five gritty innings to beat Oakland 5-1 in wild-card game. Rays got two homers from Díaz, including leadoff shot, in only his second game since July 23 because of a foot injury. Garcia had a two-run drive and Pham also went deep. ... Cash and Astros manager AJ Hinch have been friends for years. ... Houston’s 311 wins over the past three years are most in a three-season span since Baltimore’s 318 from 1969-71.
Rays: A year after finishing with more wins (90) than any other team that didn't make postseason, Rays (96-66) are in playoffs for fifth time in franchise history _ first since 2013, when they won Game 163 tiebreaker to claim second AL wild card. ... Cash managed his first postseason game in wild-card win at Oakland. ... Rays made playoffs four times in six-season span from 2008-13 under Joe Maddon, including run to 2008 World Series. ... Since start of 2008, when the Devil Rays changed team colors and rebranded themselves as the Rays, Tampa Bay has won 90 or more games seven times. The Dodgers (8), Yankees (7) and Red Sox (7) are the only other teams to do it that often. ... Despite $66.4 million payroll, Rays believe they have good shot to make noise in October because pitching staff has been bolstered lately by return of Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner, along with Glasnow and Chirinos. ... Meadows was one of hottest hitters in the majors during September. ... Lowe is back from stint on 60-day injured list, and Choi seems to have knack for producing in key situations. ... Rays have 10 players on active roster with previous postseason experience. ... Tampa Bay put 24 players on injured list this year. Morton, Adames and Pham are only ones who spent entire season on active roster. ... Rays won franchise-record 48 road games this season, plus wild-card game in Oakland.
Astros: AL West champions led majors with franchise-record 107 wins and became sixth team in MLB history to win 100 in three straight years, first since Yankees from 2002-04. ... Astros won AL West for third straight time and captured ninth division title. Houston is making 13th playoff appearance and is in postseason for fourth time in five years. ... Astros had two no-hitters this season with Verlander throwing third of his career against Toronto after Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini, Harris and Devenski combined for one against Seattle. Houston nearly pitched a third no-hitter when Greinke had one broken up with one out in the ninth against the Mariners in his last start of season. ... Cy Young Award contender Verlander won 20 games for second time in career and first since winning a career-high 24 in 2011 with Detroit when he won Cy Young and MVP. He struck out a career-high 300 batters to become 18th pitcher to reach 3,000, and his 223 innings pitched led the majors. Fellow ace and Cy Young contender Cole set a team record by winning his last 16 decisions and topped the AL with a career-best 2.50 ERA. His career-high 326 strikeouts were most in majors and set a franchise record that had stood since 1979 when J.R. Richard fanned 313. They were the most in majors since Randy Johnson had 334 in 2002 for Arizona and most in AL since Nolan Ryan fanned 341 for Angels in 1977. Cole struck out at least 10 batters in 21 starts, which led majors and set a franchise record. He's fourth pitcher in MLB history to have at least 20 games with 10 or more strikeouts in a season, joining Sandy Koufax, Ryan (twice) and Johnson (four times.) Cole became first pitcher to strike out 10 or more in nine straight games and was also first to reach 300 Ks without throwing a complete game. ... MVP candidate Bregman set career highs for homers and RBIs and was first Astros player to hit 40 homers since Lance Berkman had 45 in 2006. ... Rookie of the Year contender Alvarez set team rookie home run record.
_ Fresh Faces. Tampa Bay's opening day roster included 17 players with two or fewer years of major league experience, including eight of nine relievers. Meadows and Lowe became first-time All-Stars. Others such as Glasnow, Chirinos, Díaz, Adames, Yarbrough and Poche are eager to make names for themselves, too, on the postseason stage.
_ Leading Off. Springer led majors with 12 leadoff homers, tied for second-most in MLB history and one shy of record set by Alfonso Soriano in 2003 with Yankees. Springer is second leadoff batter to hit 39 homers, joining Soriano who did it in 2006.
_ Bargain Catch. One of the best moves the cost-conscious Rays made all year was purchasing d'Arnaud from the Dodgers for $100,000 on May 10. After beginning the season in a 2-for-24 slump with the Mets and Dodgers, he's been one of Tampa Bay's most consistent players. In addition to having the second-most RBIs on the team since late May, he's been solid defensively at catcher and also done a nice job at first base.
_ Strikeout Stats. Houston pitchers led majors with 1,671 strikeouts and Astros hitters had fewest with 1,166. It was first time in MLB history a team ended the season leading in both categories.