The Rays won more one-run games than any MLB team during the 2020 regular season and they kept it going in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Astros on Sunday with a thrilling 2-1 victory.
The resurgent Jose Altuve took Blake Snell deep in the first inning to give the Astros the early edge, but they failed to scratch across another run on the night. That’s not to say that the Astros didn’t have chances. They did. However, they hit into a pair of crucial double plays and ended up leaving 10 runners on base.
Snell threw 105 pitches over five innings of work while allowing six hits and two walks with two strikeouts. Framber Valdez was very good despite taking the loss, as he allowed two runs over six innings with eight strikeouts and four walks. Randy Arozarena homered off Valdez in the fourth inning — his fourth home run of the postseason — to tie things up before Mike Zunino poked a go-ahead single in the fifth inning. It turns out that’s all the Rays would need.
Kevin Cash’s "stable" of relievers took over in the sixth and delivered four consecutive scoreless frames to end it. The Astros’ best chance to take the lead came in the top of the eighth inning, as they loaded the bases against Aaron Loup with one out. Cash then turned to Diego Castillo, who was able to get Yuli Gurriel to ground into a double play to escape the jam. Castillo worked around a one-out single from Josh Reddick in the ninth to lock down the Game 1 victory for Tampa Bay.
Back to Arozarena, who continues to play out of his mind right now. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he trails only Evan Longoria (six - 2008) and Kyle Schwarber (five - 2015) for most home runs by a rookie in the postseason. He’s also at the top of the board in regard to hard-hit balls during the postseason. The MLB world is getting to know him in a hurry.
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Braves #2 seed (35-25 in regular season) vs. Dodgers #1 seed (43-17 in regular season) - Globe Life Field (Arlington, Texas)
The two best teams in the National League, both undefeated so far this postseason. As the higher seed, the Dodgers will serve as the home team for the first two games of the series. The series will follow a typical 2-3-2 structure, even at the neutral location. The thing everyone will notice about this series right away is that these will be the first games this season with fans in attendance. 11,500 tickets will be sold for the games at Globe Life Field, which checks in at about 28 percent of the new stadium’s capacity. Fans will also be in attendance at the World Series, which will also take place at the Rangers’ ballpark.
Both teams have their aces lined up after sweeping their opponents during the NLDS. Fried was actually shaky in his Game 1 outing against the Marlins last Tuesday, allowing four runs on six hits (including a homer) over four innings. He threw seven scoreless frames against the Reds in the Wild Card Series. Buehler had his own issues in his Game 1 start against the Padres last Tuesday, allowing one run on two hits and four walks over four innings with eight strikeouts. He hasn’t exceeded four innings in a start since way back on September 2. Of course, he has dealt with a lingering blister issue.
Lineup Edge: Push
Good luck making a convincing argument one way or the other. Simply put, these were the two best offenses in the game during the regular season. The Dodgers scored one more run than the Braves during the regular season and hit 15 more homers. However, the Braves had the edge in OPS at .832 compared to .821 for the Dodgers. These teams are very evenly matched offensively. The one tricky variable here is that Globe Life Field has proven to be death to fly balls this postseason. If these teams can’t put up some big numbers here, well, maybe nobody can.
Braves postseason stud: Travis d’Arnaud (8-for-19 with two HR, two 2B, seven RBI)
Dodgers postseason stud: Mookie Betts (7-for-19 with five 2B, four RBI, six runs, three BB)
Pitching Edge: Dodgers
This almost feels disrespectful seeing that the Braves have a 0.92 ERA through five games this postseason, but the Dodgers are a very different animal than the Reds and Marlins. They are also much more proven in the starting pitching department with Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw at the top. Max Fried emerged as one of the NL’s best pitchers this season, but Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright don’t have that long track record of success. The Dodgers haven’t announced anything beyond Game 2, but Tony Gonsolin, Trevor May, and Julio Urias are all in the mix. Upside-wise, the Dodgers have the edge. However, the Braves are more stable in the bullpen, especially with Kenley Jansen no longer the clear-cut closer for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers are the favorites (-223 according to PointsBet) in the series, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. While keeping the categories above in mind, the Dodgers have the more versatile roster and were the better defensive team during the regular season. Don't count the Braves out, though, especially if runs are hard to come by at Globe Life Field and these games come down to the bullpens.
Quick Hits: Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes that Padres right-hander Mike Clevinger “is likely headed for nothing more invasive than arthroscopic surgery” on his right elbow … Rays right-hander Charlie Morton told reporters Sunday that he’ll likely consider retirement if his $15 million option for 2021 isn’t picked up … Edwin Rios (groin) was set to do some more running and take some live at-bats Sunday to prove his readiness for the NLCS, though he’ll likely be limited to pinch-hitting duties if he ends up making the Dodgers' roster.