The Pallilog

Rays are a solid team, but Astros should advance

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The Astros start their postseason 11 wins away from putting a glorious ribbon around what would rank as one of the greatest single seasons in Major League Baseball history. Last year the Red Sox finished off their claim, winning 108 regular season games then dethroning the Astros en route to winning the World Series. The 107 win Astros open their American League Division Series as big favorites against Tampa Bay, but the Rays are no million to one shot.

Any 96 win team should be taken seriously, even though the lone Ray who would crack the Astro lineup is outfielder Austin Meadows. For context, his September was as good as Alex Bregman's, his season better than Yuli Gurriel's. Overall though the Rays have a middling offense. Their four home run clubbing of Oakland in the Wild Card game was stout, but for the season the Rays finished ninth of 15 AL teams in runs scored. Their pitching is way better than middling. The Rays led the AL in earned run average (3.65 to the Astros' 3.66), and that's with pitching more than 20 percent of their innings against the Yankees and Red Sox. Manager Kevin Cash maneuvers a deep and versatile bullpen.

The Astros are of course extremely confident with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole starting games one and two. Rays' game one starter Tyler Glasnow has a better ERA than both. Big catch: Glasnow's 1.78 was compiled over only 12 starts. He was awesome the first month plus of the season before a forearm injury sidelined him for almost four months. Over the last three of his four comeback appearances Glasnow looked fantastic. He is capable of stifling the Astro attack, but probably for no more than five innings. Lord knows Verlander had numerous outings with puny run support this season. Cole draws last year's AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. Like Glasnow Snell missed a chunk of the season to injury. Unlike Glasnow, Snell did not look good in his most recent outings.

The Astros understandably wouldn't guarantee Charlie Morton one year 17.9 million dollars so he signed with the Rays for two years 30 mil. The Astros in July traded for Zack Greinke who costs them more than 20 mil per season (pro rata this year, and the next two if not traded). Game three matchup in St. Petersburg: Greinke vs. Morton.

It will be portrayed as a stunning upset if the Rays deny the Astros a third straight American League Championship Series appearance. It would not be a stunning upset. Well, the Astros getting swept would be stunning. "Baseball happens" is really the only reason to pick the Rays. That's no way to hazard a guess. Astros in three.

The Yankees-Twins series is more evenly matched on paper. The form chart makes it a home run derby. The Twins shattered the single season homer record the Yankees set last season (267) by hitting 307. The Yankees hit 306. The Astros were third with 288.

And then there is the Texans...

Off all the matchups on the week five NFL schedule, Texans-Falcons is certainly one of them. The Texans are 2-2 after their pitiful offensive home showing in the loss to Carolina, but that's good for a share of first (and a share of last) in the AFC South. The Falcons' season is in much worse shape at 1-3, playing in an NFC South with a Saints' squad likely to win at least 10 games.

Bill O'Brien is a mediocre head coach, who produces mediocre teams. O'Brien is not a godawful head coach, though on average it's probably about every other game that he commits game or clock management somewhere from questionable to absurd. If the Texans' goal is to avoid having a bottom of the barrel coach more so than seeking greatness, that's just sad. The former isn't really their goal but it may as well be given the status quo. Maybe some year while O'Brien is still on the job the Texans break out of the mediocrity muck and look like a bonafide contender. Anyone not on the Texans' payroll believe that likely? How many ON the Texans' payroll truly believe that likely?

As an alleged creative offensive mind, O'Brien is calling the shots for one of the five teams to already twice this season fail to score 14 points in a game. The Texans pulling it off in both their home games. The Jaguars and Panthers have good defenses but if you don't score 14 points, your offense stunk like rotten eggs. Add in that the Jaguars and Panthers each came to town down one of their best defensive linemen, and a starting cornerback.

The Falcons are another of the teams with two sub-14 point offensive outputs. The Texans better win Sunday since next week they face their most likely loss of the season. At Kansas City.

Last season the Texans padded their fool's gold 11-5 record by beating a bunch of bad and/or backup quarterbacks. They've already faced two backups this season, and sit 2-2. But you cynic you, another division championship banner could be in the Texans' future.

​Buzzer Beaters

1. In the 162 game schedule era (1961-) only eight teams won more than the Astros' 107 this year. Only four of those eight won the World Series. 2. Another lackluster college football schedule this week. Next week: Texas-Oklahoma, Alabama at Texas A&M. 3. Most likely winners of the other Division Series: Bronze-Yankees Silver-Dodgers Gold-Cardinals


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After a "qualifying round" of playoffs, the actual Stanley Cup playoffs are here. In a weird hockey world that saw two 12 seeds win in round one and the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference finish last in the round robin and get a four seed, things appear wide open. The lower seeds may actually have a bit of an advantage at the beginning of these series, as they have already gone through an actual elimination round, while the top four seeds played a less intense round robin. As teams still adjust to a long layoff, more upsets could be in order. It should be fun. Here is a look at the matchups:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Philadelphia Flyers (1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (8)

The Flyers were dominant in the round-robin phase and look very much like a team that can make a deep run. Montreal was the lowest seed in the qualifying tournament, but stunned Pittsburgh, and were the better team throughout the series. Philly, however, is playing much better hockey than their Pennsylvania counterparts. The Canadiens will need a big effort from goalie Carey Price, who is capable of stealing games. Young Flyers goalie Carter Hart was outstanding in the two round-robin games he played and is an emerging star. Philly has more talent, but a goalie like Price can win a series.

Prediction: Flyers in 5.

Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7)

Tampa is as talented a group as you will find in the NHL. They have depth on all lines, terrific defensemen and an elite goalie. Yet they have a checkered playoff past. Last season, they were dominant in the regular season and looked like a Cup lock. They were promptly swept out of the first round by the Jackets. Columbus outplayed a similarly talented team in Toronto in round one and are a tough matchup. Can the Lightning be struck down twice? Absolutely.

Prediction: Jackets in 7.

Washington Capitals (3) vs. New York Islanders (6)

The Caps still have Alex Ovechkin and a recent Stanley Cup, and have to be considered a contender against whoever they play. But the Isles play terrific defense, grind you down and get just enough scoring to win games. Plus they have the coach who won the Cup with the Caps, Barry Trotz, which gives them another edge. The Isles are a long shot Cup contender and could pull off the upset.

Prediction: Islanders in 7.

Boston Bruins (4) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (5)

The Bruins were the best team in the league in the regular season, but played flat in the round robin, winding up with a fourth seed. It seems a little unfair that they dominated all year but three games determined their fate, but that's life. By now they should have figured things out again and should be able to advance. They are a tricky team, because if they play as poorly as they did last week, Carolina could knock them out. But the Bruins should get better the deeper they get in the playoffs. The Hurricanes have a rising star in Andrei Svechnikov, who had a hat trick in the first round against the Rangers. The Bruins, however, are deeper, more talented and have the more tested and reliable goalie in Tukka Rask.

Prediction: Bruins in 5.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Las Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (8)

The Golden Knights were impressive in the round-robin, and looked like they did not miss a beat from the break. They were on a 8-2 run before the Rona interruption and swept the three seeding games since. But the Blackhawks are a scary matchup. They dominated Edmonton in the play-in round, winning 3-1 despite being the last team to qualify. They are young and shaky on defense, but still have proven Cup winners like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford. It would be foolish to count them out, but the Oilers were a much better matchup for the Hawks. If Crawford dominates in net, they have a fighting chance. But the Knights are on a different level right now.

Prediction: Las Vegas in 6.

Colorado Avalanche (2) vs. Arizona Coyotes (7)

This might be one of the more intriguing matchups of this round. The Avs look like a Cup contender, and Nathan MacKinnon is an MVP candidate and might be one of the most underappreciated superstars in the league. The Coyotes, however, are going to be a tough out. Goalie Darcy Kempner faced a ton of shots against the Predators and held up well. He will have to do the same here. Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel provide top end forward play, and Arizona matches up OK here. The Avs should win, but don't be shocked if they are pushed hard.

Prediction: Avs in 6.

Dallas Stars (3) vs. Calgary Flames (6)

Dallas is an interesting team. The Stars have Stanley Cup-level talent, but they struggle to score at times, which could be a problem in a seven-game series. They play strong D and have great goaltending, but have issues with quicker teams, which bodes well for Calgary. The Flames are also a bit of an enigma, but they seem built for the playoffs. They have two young American-born stars in Johnny Gaudreu and Matthew Tkachuk, solid depth up front and on the back end and can hold their own with most teams. Cam Talbot is the key, however. If he can consistently man the goal the way he did in the series win over Winnipeg, they have a big shot. He finished off the series with a 31-save shutout.

Prediction: Flames in 7.

St. Louis Blues (4) vs. Vancouver Canucks (5)

The defending champs were not very good in the round-robin, hence the four seed. But it will probably work out; the Canucks are an easier matchup than what they would have faced with Calgary as a 3 seed. Vancouver is an interesting young team. Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are two up and coming stars, but the rest of the lineup is bolstered by gritty vets. Defensemen Quinn Hughes is another young star in the making. Goalie Jacob Markstrom was solid against Minnesota, but he will need to be better in this round. The Canucks could have made a run against Dallas, but hard to see them beating the champs.

Prediction: Blues in 6.

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