The Tampa Bay Rays are two wins away from the American League pennant. The Rays beat the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the ALCS on Monday afternoon (TB 4, HOU 1) to take a 2-0 series lead. Game 3 is Tuesday night.
Truth be told, the Astros beat themselves as much as the Rays beat them. Jose Altuve committed an error on a routine play in the first inning, extending the inning and opening the door for Manuel Margot to hit a back-breaking three-run home run. Lance McCullers' Jr. pitched quite well otherwise.
The Rays have allowed a total of four runs in their last three games. Here are three takeaways from ALCS Game 3.
Altuve and Gurriel made a brutal error
Officially, the error goes to Altuve, but Yuli Gurriel deserves a share of the blame as well. With a man on first and two outs in the first inning, Ji-Man Choi pulled a little ground ball to Altuve in the shift. It was a routine play and it should have been the the third out of the inning.
Instead, Altuve made a careless short hop throw to first base, and Gurriel was unable to make the scoop even though it hit him right in the glove. A big-league first baseman has to make that play. A big-league second baseman has to make that play too. Neither did. :
When Choi stepped to the plate, the Astros had a 47.3 percent chance to win Game 1. After the three-run home run, that was down to 21.6 percent. Had Altuve and Gurriel made the play to end the inning, Houston's win probability would've been 46.7 percent. That's a 25.1 percent swing in win probability. Brutal.
It should be noted that a half-inning following his home run, Margot made a tremendous catch in foul territory to end the inning with two runners on base. Look at this:
The Astros didn't make the routine play to end the first inning -- Altuve made another error on a very similar play later in the game -- and the Rays made the exceptional play to end the second inning. Story of the game right there. Great catch by Margot and a clutch homer. His third homer of the postseason too. He had one home run in 47 regular season games.
The Astros left a small army on the bases (again)
For the Astros, the story of Game 1 was runners left on base. They went 2 for 8 with runners in scoring position in the loss and left 10 runners on base. That includes blowing a bases loaded with one out situation in the eighth inning down a run.
Game 2 was more of the same. The Astros had runners on the corners with one out in the first inning and did not score -- Alex Bregman with a 107 mph line drive at Willy Adames for the second out of the inning -- and they went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position overall. They stranded 11 runners. That's 21 runners stranded and 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position in the series.
A recap of Houston's early rallies that resulted in zero runs in Game 2:
- Runners on the corners with out in the first.
- Runners on second and third with two outs in the second.
- Leadoff single in the third.
- Runners on first and second with two outs in the fourth.
The biggest squandered opportunity came in the ninth inning. The Astros loaded the bases with no outs against Nick Anderson. He was on the ropes! George Springer then banged into a first pitch double play to take the wind out of Houston's sails. Then Anderson reloaded the bases with two outs! And Alex Bregman flew out to end the game on the first pitch. Womp womp.
The Rays played tremendous defense (see: the Margot play above) and the Astros wasted opportunity after opportunity. Charlie Morton was not sharp at all in Game 2, but he made it through five innings, then Tampa's high-powered bullpen shut things down from there. Houston missed early opportunities and it cost them.
Through two ALCS games Altuve, Gurriel, George Springer, and Michael Brantley are a combined 9 for 31 (.276) with one extra-base hit. That's not awful, but it's not good either, and Houston needs more from their top hitters to have a chance in this series.
The Rays are in the driver's seat
Two more wins and they're on to the World Series. Historically, teams that take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series 85 percent of the time. The ALCS is far from over but the Rays have put themselves in very good position. They're expected to pair an opener with bulk reliever Ryan Yarbrough in Game 3 on Tuesday. The Astros will counter with Jose Urquidy.