Tampa Bay leads the series 1-0

Astros drop ALCS Game 1 to Rays after wasted chances at the plate

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

With four teams left in the MLB postseason, Sunday night began the best-of-seven ALCS between the Astros and Rays who would battle for the right to represent the American League in the 2020 World Series. It set up to be an intriguing pitching battle, with Houston's best arm, Framber Valdez, going against 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell.

Blake Snell, despite having his pitch count elevated early, would edge out Valdez by going five innings during which his team provided him a 2-1 lead, which they would hold on to through the end. The loss puts Houston down 1-0 in the ALCS with Game 2 tomorrow afternoon. Here is a rundown of Game 1:

Final Score: Rays 2, Astros 1.

Series: TB leads 1-0.

Winning Pitcher: Blake Snell.

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez.

Teams trade early runs

As the visiting team in the first two games, the Astros at the plate first to start Game 1. Jose Altuve took advantage, grabbing the early momentum for Houston with a one-out solo home run to take a 1-0 lead. They continued to put pressure on Blake Snell, including loading the bases with two outs in the top of the fourth but would strand all three runners.

Framber Valdez looked like his usual, sharp self in the game's early goings, allowing just one hit and one walk through the first three innings. Tampa Bay would get on the board in the bottom of the fourth, though, with Randy Arozarena banging a hanging fastball to center-field on a solo homer to tie the game 1-1.

Valdez goes six, but leaves down a run

While Snell would finish the fifth at 105 pitches and go no further, Valdez was having an efficient start to his night despite the earlier homer. A leadoff walk in the bottom of the fifth would bite him, though, as back-to-back groundouts would move the runner to third to set up a two-out RBI-single by Mike Zunino to give Tampa Bay their first lead at 2-1. Valdez would make it through the sixth before Dusty Baker would move to the bullpen in the one-run game. His final line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 8K, 1 HR, 95 P.

Tampa Bay takes Game 1

Blake Taylor was the first reliever for Houston, taking over for Valdez in the bottom of the seventh. He would only get one out, a strikeout between a leadoff double and hit-by-pitch to put two runners on with one out, prompting another pitching change to bring in Enoli Paredes. Paredes would strand the runners, keeping it a one-run game heading to the eighth.

Houston would load the bases in the top of the eighth after a hit-by-pitch for Michael Brantley, walk by Carlos Correa, and a single by Kyle Tucker. That brought Yuli Gurriel to the plate, who would ground the first pitch he saw into a double play as the Astros would once again leave runs on the bases. Brooks Raley pitched the bottom of the eighth, working around a leadoff infield-single to get through the frame scoreless. Houston would come up empty in the top of the ninth, falling 2-1 in Game 1 to put the Rays a leg up heading into Monday's Game 2.

Up Next: ALCS Game 2 between the Astros and Rays will be Monday with a 3:07 PM Central start time to accommodate NLCS Game 1 on Monday evening. Lance McCullers Jr. will take the mound for Houston, who will stay as the visiting team, going opposite of former-Astro Charlie Morton for the Tampa Bay, who remains the home team.

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Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Even though the Astros have been in the last five postseasons and made it to the World Series in three of those, they still have some new faces on the roster this year that will be participating in their first playoff games. Three of them, in particular, could have impactful enough parts to play that they shape the entire fortune of the team in these playoffs.

Trey Mancini

Although Baltimore was in the hunt until the last weeks of the season in 2022, it took getting traded to the Astros for Trey Mancini to finally get his first taste of playoff baseball. Mancini debuted in 2016, and while his numbers have been frustrating since joining his new team, he is still a powerful slugger whom the Astros should use at times in the ALDS and beyond.

Whether they need to spell Yuli Gurriel at first or use him in the outfield, Mancini will be a good weapon for the Astros, especially if he can break out of his recent funk and string together some good at-bats. Before the trade, he was batting .268, a number much more in line with his career numbers than the low .176 he had with the Astros. With the time off between the final regular season game and his first plate appearance in the playoffs, I'd expect he'll have found a way to put the slump behind him and come through with some key hits.

Hunter Brown

One of the most pleasant surprises the Astros had this year was seeing the quality they could get out of Hunter Brown from day one in the majors. After being touted as the next Justin Verlander after his six-inning shutout start in his debut, Brown made another quality start before transitioning to the bullpen.

Now, the big caveat here is that Brown actually makes the ALDS roster, which, with Houston's depth, puts a good but challenging task in front of them to assemble the proper ratio of position players to pitchers, and within the pitchers, starters to relievers. Assuming Brown makes the cut, he could be a big difference-maker.

Brown has only allowed two hits and three walks in his last three appearances, most recently logging 2.1 innings of scoreless work to lower his ERA to 0.89. He has electric stuff and would be a great asset to have in a game where maybe one of Houston's starters can't make it past a few innings, and the Astros need someone to gap between them and the other relievers.

Jeremy Peña

One first-timer that we don't have to speculate about making the roster or getting plenty of playing time is Jeremy Peña. He'll be at shortstop and probably batting second behind Jose Altuve in the lineup. Entering the year with high expectations to take over for Carlos Correa, Peña put together an outstanding rookie campaign, including launching 22 home runs, matching Correa's rookie number, and coming in first amongst AL shortstops in defensive runs saved.

One area it may take him and others combined to replace Correa is going to the plate with the game on the line and coming through in the clutch. If Peña can come up with one of those "it's my time" moments in the 2022 postseason, he'll have completed the total takeover. In any case, it will be fun to see how the rookie does his first time on the biggest stage.

One of the most well-rounded teams in the league this year, and now in the playoffs, Houston has plenty of veteran experience that will make them a tough out in any series. Add in these three players, and it shows why the Astros are coming out ahead in most people's predictions.

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