The final game of the Division Series is on tap for tonight and it shapes up to be a doozy. Let’s break it down.
As this series has progressed — and as the Rays have pulled even and stand poised to pull off the upset — its been increasingly cast as an historical upset in the making. And, sure, the Astros have been considered the favorites by just about everyone coming into the postseason.
But theres a difference between a team being a favorite and a matchup being a mismatch. The Astros may have been the best team in the game this season and the Rays may have been a Wild Card team, but there’s probably less of a difference between these two teams than one typically sees between a best team and a Wild Card qualifier. The Rays are good — they won 96 games — and they’ve shown in this series that they are not at all intimidated by this Astros club. If they win, sure, it’ll be an upset, but it won’t be a 1969 Mets situation.
Not that their task is an easy one. Indeed, it’s about as hard as it gets tonight given that they’ll be facing Gerrit Cole. The same Gerrit Cole who has only been the best pitcher in baseball for the past several months, having elevated his already great game to a whole new level since, oh, May. The Astros haven’t lost a Cole start since July 12, which was 14 starts ago. They haven’t lost a Cole start at home since May 22. He kicked it up a notch in Game 2 of the ALDS last weekend, tossing shutout ball into the eighth, allowing only four hits and one walk, and becoming the first pitcher to strike out 15 batters in a postseason game in nearly 20 years. Heck, he’s struck out nearly 14 batters per nine all season long. He is absolutely on top of his game and the Rays have their work cut out for them.
The Astros don’t have a simple task themselves. Tyler Glasnow didn’t have the best start in Game 1 of this series, running out of gas in the fifth inning as the Astros beat the Rays 6-2. But, as he showed earlier this season, he’s capable of dominating even the best offenses. If he falters the Rays have wave after wave of effective relief pitchers they can run out there. So far in this series they’ve been pretty effective. During the regular season, the Astros led the Majors with an .848 OPS and were third in runs scored, averaging 5.68 runs per game. In the ALDS, the Astros have a .685 OPS and have scored just over three runs a a game.
A betting man would have a hard time going against Cole given how well he’s pitched of late. But then again, a betting man probably had the Dodgers and Braves advancing in the NLDS too. None of us, apparently, knows anything. All we know is that tonight one of these two teams will advance and one of them will see its season end.