Astros need big mound efforts to beat Rays

Just call them the Giant Killers because that’s exactly what the Tampa Bay Rays are in the midst of doing.

Yes, even as the American League’s No. 1 seed, the Rays have found themselves looking up, at least at higher-profile opponents. There were the mighty New York Yankees in the last round, who Tampa dispatched in the maximum five games to advance into the ALCS.

And now they’re taking on another big-name contender, the Houston Astros, even leading the series 2-0 going into Tuesday’s Game 3, mostly thanks to some fabulous pitching and terrific defense. Houston scored only three runs total in those first two games.

It was the Astros, of course, who had by far the biggest target on their back entering the campaign thanks to the revelation of years-long extensive cheating by the organization that managed to deliver a world title.

Well, the Rays are suddenly transforming before our very eyes into America’s Team, looking to fulfill the wishes of any sane baseball fan around the world by knocking out H-Town. More good starting pitching awaits in effort of holding down the Astros’ bats, but Houston also boasts its own fair share of quality arms waiting in line. Let’s try to figure out the matchups ahead.

Wednesday

Tyler Glasnow vs. Zack Greinke: In this Tampa Bay tale of bringing down behemoth contenders, Glasnow would undoubtedly be remembered as one of the main heroes after the 27-year-old started on just two days’ rest in the deciding ALDS Game 5 to provide two-plus shutout innings against the Yankees and begin things just right.

It was the third outing this postseason for Glasnow, who has responded with a fine 4.12 ERA, and most impressively, a whopping 20 strikeouts across 13.1 innings. That’s how good the overpowering Glasnow can be, but he wasn’t so hot opposite these Astros in the playoffs a year ago, ending up with a 7.71 ERA from two meetings last October.

Greinke, meanwhile, has plenty of postseason experience to derive an outlook from. He’s 3-6 with a 4.29 ERA in 100.2 career playoff innings, so he’s generally been pretty steady. However, when matching up with the Rays lately, things haven’t gone his way. The 17-year veteran faced them twice last year, including once in the postseason, and was walloped for 11 runs in a 9.1 total innings. OVER

Thursday

Cristian Javier vs. Josh Fleming: The probables for a possible Game 5 haven’t officially been announced yet. But with the series potentially lasting seven consecutive days, look for both clubs to turn to rookie back-end starters that both marveled in their first taste of MLB action.

Javier was excellent in 12 games (10 starts), as not only did he notch a 3.48 ERA, the freshman right-hander also recorded an impressive 0.99 WHIP while holding opposing hitters to a minuscule .188. That’s not easy to do in your first season, yet Javier has also followed that up with a few more scoreless innings in the playoffs.

The same type of impact was made by Tampa Bay’s Fleming, who went 5-0 in seven outings (five starts) with a real smooth 2.78 ERA. He also operated in a “primary pitcher” role in which he would proceed an opener, so it’s possible the Rays go that route for this particular assignment as well. No matter what is asked of the southpaw, Fleming looks like he can come through. UNDER

Last Week: 0-2

Season: 6-5