MLB Playoff Odds, Picks & Predictions: Rays vs. Astros Game 7 (Saturday, October 17)

Credit:

Harry How/Getty Images. Pictured: Manuel Margot and Brandon Lowe.

  • The Houston Astros have come back from a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS.
  • Lance McCullers and the 'Stros have one last shot to advance to the World Series against Charlie Morton and the Rays on Saturday.
  • Sean Zerillo breaks down the game and shares a betting pick below.

Astros vs. Rays Odds

Astros Odds +100 [Bet Now]
Rays Odds -120 [Bet Now]
Over/Under 8 (-115/-105) [Bet Now]
First Pitch 8:37 p.m. ET
TV TBS

Odds as of Saturday at 12 p.m. and via PointsBet, where you can get $250 FREE instantly after signing up AND your bets automatically sync to the Action app. Learn more about BetSync here.

Model Projection (full projections here)

  • Astros probability: 42.7% (Fair odds of +134)
  • Rays probability: 57.3% (-134)
  • Projected total: 7.8

No matter how Saturday’s Game 7 ends up for them, the 2020 Houston Astros have already made history. They’re just the second MLB to ever force a Game 7 from a 3-0 series deficit.

Now, they’ll look to finish the job and join the 2004 Red Sox as the only MLB teams — and sixth pro sports team — to ever fully erase that deficit and win the series.

Down 3-0, I gave the Astros just a 3% chance of winning four consecutive games, and their World Series chances — which stood at 10.6% prior to the ALCS — slowly declined to 3.5% (down 2-0), and 1.1% (down 3-0) but has rebounded to 2.3%, then 7%, and now 15% after each of their past three wins.

Conversely, the Rays had raised their World Series chances from 29.8% to as high as 51% with a 3-0 lead and standing one win away from clinching the AL pennant.

Those odds have dropped slowly to 46.1%, 43.5%, and 29.8% over the past three days, as they are now also one loss away from elimination.

The Astros likely have the mental edge headed into Game 7 — the pressure has been off of their shoulders for the past three nights, and they have been significantly looser at the plate now that their line drives are starting to fall.

But I still make the Rays the projected favorite — as I have for each game in this series — and I think there’s value on the No. 1 seed playing in their second consecutive series decider.

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Advanced Stats Glossary

FIP or Fielding Independent Pitching measures what a pitcher’s ERA would look like if the pitcher experienced league-average defense and luck. xFIP is a regressed version of FIP that adjusts or “normalizes’ the home run component based on park factors.

wRC+ or Weighted Runs Created Plus takes the statistic Runs Created and adjusts that number to account for critical external factors — like ballpark or era. It’s adjusted, so a wRC+ of 100 is league average, and 150 would be 50 percent above league average.

wOBA or Weighted On-Base Average is a catch-all hitting metric with more predictive value than on-base percentage. An average MLB hitter can be expected to post a .320 wOBA. xwOBA is a regressed version of wOBA that accounts for variables like park factors.


Projected Starters

Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 3.93 ERA) vs. Charlie Morton (2-2, 4.74 ERA)

There’s no sense in my recounting short-sample 2020 stats for both McCullers and Morton, who have navigated very different paths to get to these playoffs.

Morton has experienced a velocity dip this season (-1.1 vs. 2019) following a similar decline last season (-1.3 mph over 2018), meaning his fastball is now two full ticks below where it sat during his time with the Astros.

The righty spent some time on the IL this season with shoulder inflammation, but he has pitched extremely well in his two playoff starts against the Yankees and Astros (combined 10 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 11 K) following a relatively sharp September (21.1 IP, 6 BB, 25 K).

Uncle Charlie throws his fastball/curveball combination nearly 90% of the time. His hook has elite spin (89th percentile) and often makes hitters look silly:

The increased curveball usage has led to slightly reversed splits; since the start of the 2017 season, Morton has a 3.68 xFIP against right-handed-hitters, with a 3.21 xFIP against lefties.

Morton is also experienced in Game 7 situations, winning deciding games in both the 2017 ALCS and World Series for the Astros.

McCullers is no stranger to Game 7 situations, either. He shared that ALCS Game 7 stage against the Yankees with Morton in a 4-0 win:

  • Morton: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 5 K
  • McCullers: 4 IP, 1H, 1 BB, 6 K

McCullers isn’t quite as fastball/curveball dominant as Morton, but he still throws the combination more than 80% of the time and shows even more pronounced reverse splits: career .281 wOBA vs. LHH, .338 wOBA vs. RHH.

He ranks in the 81st percentile for curveball spin rate:

Ultimately, I don’t see much between those two starting pitchers, and I’m expecting a very close game in the early innings — making the Rays just a coin-flip favorite in the first half of the game.

The Bullpens

In 2020, the Astros’ bullpen ranked 11th in FIP (4.33), 14th in xFIP (4.43), and 14th in K-BB% (13.8%). By the same metrics, the Rays ranked seventh (3.94), third (3.94), and fifth (17.4%).

Bullpen availability is the big story for Game 7.

The Astros’ bullpen has been forced to work overtime to get their team back into this series, as Dusty Baker has followed Tampa’s gameplan and refused to allow Rays hitters to get more than one look at any pitcher (except for Zack Greinke and Framber Valdez) over the past few days:

 

The Astros are limited in terms of rested options, as they have refused to deploy Cy Sneed, who has a career 4.78 FIP.

Enoli Paredes will likely be available in a big spot. The righty has closer potential, but he also threw 36 pitches on Thursday and has pitched three times in this series:

Jose Urquidy should be available for a couple of innings on three days of rest. He frustrated the Rays on Tuesday (5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K) and didn’t run into trouble until his third time through the order.

He’s likely their best relief option on Saturday and is another pitcher with reverse splits — performing significantly better against lefties (.202 wOBA) than righties (.353 wOBA) to this point in his career. The Rays may want to stack their lineup with right-handed bats against McCullers and Urquidy.

In terms of their own relief situation, the Rays have a well-rested Pete Fairbanks in addition to Nick Anderson and Ryan Thompson as their primary options on Saturday. Tyler Glasnow, who is only on two days of rest, should also be available in an elimination game.

 

Fairbanks is a bit wild at times (12% walk rate in 2020), but he generates a ridiculous 17.1% swinging strike rate this season, on par with James Karinchak (17.2%), and both his xFIP (3.58) and xERA (3.38) detail his effectiveness.

Fairbanks relies on a fastball/slider combo, getting elite spin (81st percentile) and velocity (96th percentile) on the heater before dropping the hammer:

As they did in Game 5 against the Yankees, I expect the Rays to change pitchers each time they turn over the Astros’ lineup — and Fairbanks will be a significant part in executing that gameplan.

Fielding

The Rays ranked sixth, with 22 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) this season, six spots ahead of the Astros, who recorded eight DRS.

Tampa Bay excelled both in the outfield (+18 DRS combined) and on the right side of their infield (+8 DRS), but if Kevin Kiermaier (+10 DRS) still cannot play the field in Game 7, it takes the best defender off of the field and causes a hit to the overall defensive quality of their team.

That being said, the Rays are expertly managed, and they have ranked as a top-10 defensive team each year dating back to 2015.

Carlos Correa (+7 DRS), Michael Brantley (+5), Kyle Tucker (+5), and George Springer (+3) were above-average defenders for the Astros in 2020, but Alex Bregman, who went from +8 DRS in 2019 (No. 4 overall third baseman) to neutral in 2020 (No. 17 overall), failed to meet expectations, and Jose Altuve (-3) showed that his recent throwing errors are becoming a glaring issue.

Altuve has always been a below-average defender, but his throwing arm used to be a positive aspect to his game, and it has returned negative value over each of the past two seasons.

The Astros have a slightly lesser defensive unit, but both of these clubs put their players in the best positions to succeed.

Projected Lineups

Data via FantasyLabs

Stadium, Umpire and Weather Report

Data via Sports Insights

 

Projected Odds & Favorite Bets

I project the Rays as -134 favorites (implied 57.3%) in this game, and I set the total at 7.8 runs. Therefore, I see actionable value on the Rays’ full game moneyline but not on the total. 

I see this game being close to a coin flip for as long as the starting pitchers remain, but once it goes to the bullpens, the Rays should have a significant edge, especially given the Astros’ ridiculous efforts to tie up this series.

As a result, I don’t see any value on the F5 moneyline or total.

However, I would make a play on the Rays full game moneyline at -120 (implied 54.5%) or better, a 2.8% edge relative to my projection (57.3%).

The PICK: Tampa Bay Rays (play to -120)

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