Houston Chronicle
Kate Barrington  |  Fri 29th Mar   | MLB

The Houston Astros showed right away why they are one of the favorites to go all the way to the World Series this year, as they dominated the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-1, on Thursday’s season-opener at Tropicana Field.

Now, it’s the Rays’ turn to respond.

After the battle between the top-2 hurlers in the American League last season, Friday’s duel on the mound will feature righty Charlie Morton making his Rays debut against his former team. The Astros, meanwhile, will counter with Gerrit Cole, who is coming off a 15-win season.

Houston Astros Team Preview

The Astros look to keep rolling Friday night (7:00 PM EST) in Tampa after a splendid pitching exhibition by Justin Verlander on Opening Day. The ace pitcher fanned nine batters and allowed just three hits and a run over seven innings to completely stymie the Rays.

Verlander admitted after the game that he had something to prove heading into his match-up with Blake Snell, whom he finished second to in the CY Young voting last year. Still, the 36-year-old lefty wound up a winner this offseason after agreeing to a contract extension (two-year, $66 million).

George Springer also played a huge part in the Astros’ first win of the season. Facing off against Snell, the 2017 World Series MVP blasted a three-run homer in the third inning that changed the tone of the match. Michael Brantley and Jose Altuve followed it up with a homer of their own in the fourth and fifth inning respectively to blow the game apart.

Tampa Bay Rays Team Preview

Nobody expected Snell to play sloppy after a CY Young season, let alone allowing three home runs in a single game. It’s really a rarity to see Snell struggle like that. In fact, the last time the Rays’ ace allowed that many home runs happened on May 13 of last year against the Baltimore Orioles.

Moving on, the Rays will now shift their attention on equalizing the series and they feel a former Astros can do the job. After two seasons and a World Series title with the Astros, the 30-year-old Morton signed a two-year, $30 million deal with the Rays last December.

Morton, who is fresh off a career-year with 15 wins, 201 strikeouts and 3.13 ERA over 30 games in 2018, is expected to be a handful against the Astros sluggers – a group of guy very close to his heart.

“It’s a group of guys I care a lot about,” Morton told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s an organization I was proud to be a part of. To pitch against them, yeah, I absolutely expect to feel some emotion.”

Houston Astros vs. Tampa Bay Rays Betting Pick

The Astros proved on Thursday how potent their offense can be if everything is clicking at the plate. Yes, they have such a deep lineup of starting pitchers and Cole is no joke, but the sheer talent they possess in their batting corps makes them basically a ticking time bomb at any point of the match.

The only way to contain the Astros sluggers is for Cole to come up with an outstanding game. He might need to pile up at least 14 strikeouts to keep the Rays afloat. He certainly can pull it off after a 201-strikeout season. Still, he needs help from his own batters.

Center fielder Austin Meadows scored the lone point for the Rays last Thursday after sending Verlander’s throw over the fence. He needs to replicate that along with production from Tommy Pham and Yandy Diaz to give them a chance in the game.

Kate Barrington