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Rays vs. Astros: Tampa Bay goes contact heavy vs. Gerrit Cole as Eric Sogard gets first start of ALDS

Rays vs. Astros: Tampa Bay goes contact heavy vs. Gerrit Cole as Eric Sogard gets first start of ALDS

Sogard has been nursing a foot injury

Thursday night the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays will complete their ALDS matchup at Minute Maid Park (GameTracker). The Astros won the first two games, the Rays won the next two games, and now there's a winner-take-all Game 5. The winner moves on to face the Yankees in the ALCS. The loser goes home. Here's how you can watch Game 5.

The Rays released their Game 5 starting lineup uncharacteristically early Thursday afternoon. Here are the nine players Tampa Bay will start in Game 5, courtesy of Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times:

  1. LF Austin Meadows
  2. DH Tommy Pham
  3. 1B Ji-Man Choi
  4. C Travis d'Arnaud
  5. 2B Eric Sogard
  6. RF Avisail Garcia
  7. 3B Joey Wendle
  8. CF Kevin Kiermaier
  9. SS Willy Adames
    RHP Tyler Glasnow

The top of the lineup is fairly standard for the Rays. The new name in Game 5 is Sogard. He will be making his first start of the postseason in Game 5 after nursing a foot injury late in the season. Sogard is healthy enough to be on the ALDS roster — he had a pinch-hit RBI single in Game 1 — but he was not able to start a game until Thursday.

It's clear what the Rays are going for with Sogard: contact. Astros Game 5 starter Gerrit Cole struck out 15 batters in Game 2 and his 39.9 percent strikeout rate during the regular season was the highest strikeout rate for a qualified starter in baseball history. It wasn't close either. Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez is a distant second with a 37.5 percent strikeout rate in 1999.

The Rays struggled to get the bat on the ball against Cole in Game 2 and Brandon Lowe was one of the biggest culprits. He went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and a walk in Game 2. Lowe is 4 for 19 (.211) with 10 strikeouts in the postseason overall. Compare Sogard's and Lowe's regular season contact rates and you can see why Sogard is in the Game 5 lineup:

AVG/OBP/SLG Strikeout Rate Swing & Miss Rate

Lowe vs. RHP

.278/.355/.543

29.7%

34.5%

Sogard vs. RHP

.295/.356/.438

12.7%

10.2%

MLB average (LHB vs. RHP)

.254/.331/.444

22.0%

24.6%

Replacing Lowe with Sogard means the Rays are sacrificing power. A lot of it. They're also gaining quite a bit in terms of contact, and against a strikeout machine like Cole, they want someone who can put the ball in play in Game 5. Sogard is a much better bet to do that than Lowe, especially considering how much Lowe has whiffed this postseason.

There is an argument to be made power should be the priority over contact against Cole. He allowed 29 homers during the regular season, and 33 of the 66 runs he surrendered came on homers. Cole is so good that he can strike out anyone, even the best contact hitters. Stringing together hits against him isn't easy. When he makes a mistake, you need to capitalize, and that requires power.

The Rays have decided to prioritize contact in Game 5, and hey, who's to say Lowe won't come off the bench and pinch-hit at some point? Tampa Bay is very aggressive with its platoon matchups, and there could be a spot for Lowe to come up and run into a fastball. To start the Game 5 at least, it'll be Sogard and his contact-oriented approach at second base against Cole.

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