The American League Division Series are set.
After the Tampa Bay Rays' convincing 5-1 win in the wild-card game over the Oakland Athletics, they will begin their clash with the Houston Astros on Friday.
The other teams battling it out for a place in the Championship Series will be the New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins, and we have previewed both match-ups.
How will the Rays' starting pitching perform?
On paper, the Rays match up with the Astros one through three. It sounds crazy but just look at the first series of the season. Houston beat Blake Snell but then lost to Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow in back-to-back games. Houston did not have Carlos Correa or Zack Greinke that time, so this series will be a touch different, but in terms of pitching talent, the Rays do match up with the Astros' staff. The big question is health, as Glasnow and Snell are recently back from injuries and not fully extended like Tampa Bay would like them to be. But if they can pitch enough to get to their stellar bullpen, then this series could be very, very tough for the Astros.
Will the Twins' home-run prowess continue?
This is a bit of a one-sided question just because the same thing could be asked of the Yankees, but New York have proved they can hit in the postseason. The Twins hit 307 homers this year, but we have no idea if that will continue in the postseason when everything gets harder. Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Mitch Garver all had career years at the plate. If they can do what they did during the regular season they can keep up with a more proven line-up in New York. They were not able to do it in the 2017 wild-card game. Will they do it in a five-game series?
Players to watch
Carlos Correa, SS, Astros
Correa missed 87 games this season with back and rib injuries and was out for the final seven matches of the year after his back stiffened up on a flight to Seattle. Correa was one of the Astros' most clutch players at the plate in the 2015 and 2017 postseasons, hitting seven home runs and driving in 18 runs in 24 games. While Houston can win without him, they are undoubtedly worse when he is not in the line-up and 100 per cent fit. He is supposed to play in Game 1 on Friday but there are doubts he will get on the field.
Luis Severino, SP, Yankees
Severino made just three starts this year and it is unclear what shape he will be in for the postseason. But if he can give the Yankees five good innings against the Twins, Minnesota's chance in this series will be dealt a blow. If Severino is healthy, he and James Paxton present an imposing top two in a rotation for a potential ALCS and World Series.
Astros over the Rays in five
While the Rays can match up with the Astros pitching-wise, the odds are Tampa Bay will not be able to beat Houston in three out of four games with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Greinke starting. Tampa Bay's line-up is unlikely to be able win three games against that rotation and will probably have to if the Rays are to progress to the ALCS.
Yankees over Twins in four
Severino, Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka. That should be enough to win the first three games for the Yankees, but Minnesota could get one at home. New York should have too much firepower and are as healthy as they have been all year.
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