Sweeping the first two games of the 2019 American League Series at home, the Houston Astros looked like they might cruise to the ALCS for a third straight year. The Tampa Bay Rays had other ideas, winning handily in both games at their own ballpark and forcing a deciding Game 5.

Houston and Tampa Bay will meet Thursday night in the series clincher with a trip to the next round of the MLB playoffs on the line. Gerrit Cole will take the ball for the Astros at home, giving the AL’s No.1 seed the edge over Tyler Glasnow and the Rays.

The Astros are pretty heavy favorites to win the ALDS and earn a matchup with the New York Yankees. Houston has -260 betting odds to win Game 5, according to OddsShark. Tampa Bay is a +240 underdog.

The total for Thursday’s Game 5 is seven.

The odds don’t accurately reflect how well the Rays have played in the last two contests. Tampa Bay dominated Houston at home, beating up on the Astros’ two Cy Young winners. Zack Greinke gave up six runs and didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in Game 3. On three days’ rest, Justin Verlander surrendered three runs in the first inning of Game 4.

Houston only totaled four runs in 18 innings in Tampa Bay. Scoring half that in Game 5 might be enough to hold off the Rays.

Cole will be on his normal rest Thursday night, coming off a dominant yet typical performance. The AL Cy Young favorite was unhittable in Game 2, striking out 15 batters in 7.2 shutout innings while allowing five runners to reach base. 

In seven starts since Sept. 2, Cole has given up more than one run once, and that was an eight-inning, two-run victory over the Texas Rangers. The right-hander has gone at least seven innings in five of those starts, largely taking the game out of the hands of the bullpen.

Gerrit Cole Houston Astros Gerrit Cole #45 of the Houston Astros pitches in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on October 05, 2019 in Houston, Texas. Photo: Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Rays were the last team to score more than two runs against Cole. Cole gave up four runs in 6.2 innings to Tampa Bay on Aug. 28 in an 8-6 Houston victory. Cole still managed to record 14 strikeouts. 

The way Cole is missing bats, the Rays will likely need a big outing from their starter. Glasnow faces a tough task in matching Cole, who has struck out at least 10 batters in 10 straight starts with five 14-strikeout performances in his last eight starts.

Glasnow had a better regular-season ERA than Cole at 1.78. His season was derailed by an injury, and the 26-year-old has not gone past the fifth inning in five appearances since returning on Sept. 8.

Tampa Bay’s starter gave up two runs and allowed seven hitters to reach base in 4.1 innings of work in Game 1. He’s going to have to be better than that Thursday night, even with the way the Rays swung the bats at home.

With the best bullpen in baseball, Rays manager Kevin Cash will keep Glasnow on a short leash. Blake Snell, last year’s AL Cy Young winner, has only thrown eight pitches since picking up the loss in Game 2. 

The Rays’ pitching should keep them in Game 5 for all nine innings. They might even be a worthwhile bet as such heavy underdogs. 

It’s just hard to see Tampa Bay upsetting Cole and Houston on the road to win the series.

Game 5 Prediction: Houston over Tampa Bay, 2-1