The Astros get started with the Rays

Cy Young hopefuls, question on Correa highlight opening series

Justin Verlander pitches Game 1. Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros finished their exhibition season Tuesday at Minute Maid Park and now turn their sights to Tampa Bay and the Rays for baseball's opening day on Thursday.

Probable Pitching Matchup

Thursday, March 28

Justin Verlander vs Blake Snell

The top two finishers for last year's Cy Young oppose each other for the season's first game. Snell allowed seven hits and two runs in two different outings against the Astros last year. Verlander faced the Rays twice with one start being one of his rare poor outings. He allowed five runs on nine hits in five innings of work. The other was just a one run outing.

Friday, March 29

Gerrit Cole vs Charlie Morton

The contract year begins for Gerrit Cole who is set to be a free agent at the end of the season. Cole finished fifth in Cy Young voting last year. Morton begins a two-year deal with the Rays after finishing up his two years with the Astros where he was 29-10 with a 3.36 ERA.

Saturday, March 30

Collin McHugh vs Tyler Glasnow

The Astros have shifted McHugh back to the rotation after a season in the bullpen. He has started 102 games for the Astros in his career producing a 48-28 record with a 3.70 ERA as a starter. Last year as a relief pitcher he had a career low ERA of 1.99.

Sunday, March 31

Wade Miley vs TBA (The Opener)

The Rays will utilize The Opener instead of a traditional starter in this spot. Tampa posted the league's best ERA last season when they added The Opener to their rotation. Wade Miley is the lone left-handed pitcher in the starting rotation taking over the role filled by Dallas Keuchel. Miley was 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA last year in 16 starts for the Brewers.

Offensive Opponent to Watch: CF Tommy Pham

The former Cardinals outfielder disappointed for the Redbirds but for the Rays he's been awesome. His average and on-base percentage went up almost 100 points each when he moved to the American League. His slugging went up almost 200 points. He's the best hitter for the Rays by a wide margin. He has a lifetime .583 batting average against Gerrit Cole.

Notes from Tuesday's Exhibition

Alex Bregman played shortstop as Carlos Correa was a late scratch with neck stiffness. Manager A.J. Hinch was non-committal on Correa's status for Thursday's season opener. Hinch said he didn't think Correa's injury was a long-term issue but is not thrilled he hasn't played the few days leading up to the season starting. If Correa misses time it will be interesting to see how Hinch manages third base and shortstop. His best offensive lineup would likely be Tyler White at third with Bregman sliding over to short.

J.B. Bukauskas was the Astros first round selection in 2017 and he took the mound for the start in the exhibition finale. He had a much better Minute Maid Park debut than Forrest Whitley did. He scattered three hits over his four innings of work allowing two runs on a fourth-inning home run. He struck out three Pirates two with a fastball and one with his breaking pitch. One gripe with the outing would be he wasn't exactly economical with his pitched throwing 63 but just 30 for strikes.

Corbin Martin was a second round selection for the Astros in 2017. He relieved Bukauskas and tossed four innings of scoreless relief. His fastball sat in the high 90's for a good portion of his outing producing two strikeouts while his slider added two more strikeouts. He would add a fifth punch out with a change-up. The former Texas A&M pitcher was the most impressive of the highly touted Astros prospect arms.

George Springer annihilated a baseball into left-center field for the Astros lone run of the day.

Aledmys Díaz is thought to be the new Marwin Gonzalez with his versatility but he struggled to hit this spring. He had the most at-bats on the team in the springs and slashed (AVG/OBP/SLG) .154/.241/.212.

Tony Kemp posted the highest on-base percentage of regularly playing Astros players this spring with a .490 on-base percentage. Alex Bregman was close with .488 himself.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Willson Contreras could give the Astros some extra pop in the lineup. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

“The Hot Stove League” is the nickname given to Major League Baseball's offseason. In particular, the free agent signing period in late November/early December. Trades are also made during this period. Now that Astros' owner Jim Crane has ousted all opposition to his idea of how things should be run, he's free to do things the way he sees fit.

He opened it by not hiring a general manager to replace James Click. Instead, he opted for a committee of assistant GMs. Those guys are assisted by some special advisors, like former Astros great Jeff Bagwell. Crane likes and wants to take a big swing at things. He'd probably hit about .250 with 30-plus home runs every season. Can't leave out his guaranteed 80-100 strikeouts. Typical power hitter. It's all or nothing, except Crane has been making great contact and knocking some things out of the park.

Signing Jose Abreu was an example. Yuli Gurriel looked as if he was losing the battle with “Father Time” during the regular season. This was an insurance policy at first, and designated hitter. Another prime example is their reported interest in C/DH/LF Willson Contreras. His bat would be a major upgrade over past Astro catchers. Although Martin Maldonado may not be going anywhere, having a quality bat to relieve him is key. Add the fact that he plays some outfield, and he's almost a “two birds with one stone” type of signing.

Abreu may be 35 years old, but he's coming off a year hitting .304 with 15 home runs. Contreras may be the younger of the two at 30, but his .243 average hurts the fact that he hit 22 home runs. Both sport an OPS above .800 for their careers. Bagwell said he wants Yordan Alvarez to play left field 45% of the time. The other 55% can be Contreras, Chas McCormick (assuming Jake Meyers is still in the mix for center field), and whoever else they sign or bring up from Sugar Land. When Contreras isn't in left, he needs to be behind the plate or hitting DH. I'd really love the idea of him sitting under Maldonado's learning tree for a year and taking over catcher long-term. Not many can be the catcher "Machete" is, but hitting 50 points better than him has its advantages.

Then there's the reported interest other teams have in Justin Verlander. Supposedly, the Mets have met with him via Zoom. The Dodgers are interested and are seemingly the leaders in the clubhouse to sign him. However, I wouldn't count Crane and crew out. He may come to JV last minute and offer him something comparable in order to keep him around. He strikes me as the type of guy who'll keep his plays close to the vest, then make a Godfather type of offer. He negotiated Verlander's last deal with the team himself. Coming off a World Series win, Cy Young win, and opting out of said deal, Verlander is most likely looking to get one final payday that'll also land him on a contender.

Having a winner is one thing. Having a winner committed to winning long-term is another. Crane wants to strike while the iron is hot. Sure, he wants his franchise to be sustainable. But he also wants to keep the World Series window open as long as possible. Kyle Tucker's next deal will be one to watch. Having an embarrassment of riches on the pitching staff means you have trade bait. Keep an eye on old Jimmy Crane. I think he might be the best thing to hit Houston sports in quite some time.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome