Rays Earn Well Deserved Rest, Starting Pitching Observations

Deciding Who To Start In The ALDS, Rays Have Many Options

AP Photo: Chris O’Meara

Tampa, FL – The Tampa Bay Rays fell to the New York Yankees 1-0 on Sunday in the Bronx. The Yankee win enabled them to avoid the uncomfortable postseason play-in Game 163 that would have been played against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday afternoon. The loss brings a regular season to an end for the Tampa Bay Rays. A season in which they had an American League best record of 100-62.

While the regular season win-loss record as well as winning the American League East are both big accomplishments to be celebrated, for a team coming off a World Series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020, the record and all the accolades can be appreciated later. This team has work to do for them to reach the ultimate goal of being crowned World Champions by month’s end.

There are many questions…….

  1. Postseason anxiety, enthusiasm, energy, excitement, adrenaline…whatever we want to label it is real. Their is a magnification to everything that happens in October. Legends and goats are born in October and the labels stick. Reggie Jackson, Bill Buckner, Kirk Gibson, Joe Carter, and Donnie Moore just to name a few illicit instant memories, some good, some awful.
  2. Controlling nerves seems much easier if a player has experienced the bright lights before. They are more in-tune to what will be required to achieve their normal high level of performance without adding extra pressure leading to overthrowing or squeezing the sawdust out of the bat.
  3. This leads to thoughts about the starting pitching. Shane McClanahan pitched in the postseason last year. He even took the ball in the World Series. Overall though, he only worked 4.1-innings spanning four appearances all in relief. This year, he’ll be expected to take the ball in a starting role, presumably Game 1 of the American League Division Series against either the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox on Thursday at Tropicana Field.
  4. Like McClanahan, Luis Patino also has postseason experience, working as a reliever with the San Diego Padres in 2020. He did appear in a pair of games, one in the National League Wild Card Series and once in the National League Division Series. His final two appearances for Tampa Bay in 2021 came in a relief role. Kevin Cash had stated that the team wanted to see how he performed coming out of the pen, they may also have wanted to conserve innings as he threw just 17.1 in 2020 and 77.1 in 2021. My guess is that he will make his first postseason start in the American League Division Series.
  5. Drew Rasmussen is another of the Rays projected starters that has postseason experience but only in a relief role. He was in the Brewers bullpen in the National League Wild Card series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and worked a scoreless inning in relief. He was acquired by Tampa Bay as part of the return for Willy Adames* on May 21, 2021, originally reported to the Durham Bulls before joining the Rays on June 19th. He worked out of the bullpen until August 6th. On August 12th he made his first start for Tampa Bay and remained in the Rays rotation the rest of the season. Over his final eight starts he pitched to an impressive 3-0 mark with a 1.46 ERA (6ER/37IP). He’ll be counted on to have his day in the postseason as well.
  6. Ryan Yarbrough might start, he might follow, and in the postseason you never know if he would be called upon late in a ballgame. His role is seldom crystal clear, but he is always willing to take the ball in any situation. He also has postseason experience, both as a starter and a reliever. He appeared in three games in the 2019 American League Division Series against the Houston Astros (all in relief). He worked in a bulk role finishing five innings of relief against the New York Yankees in the 2019 American League Championship Series. He made a start against the Astros in the 2020 ALDS and made a start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2020 World Series. In the 2020 run to the World Series, Yarbrough pitched to a 3.68 ERA (6ER/14.2IP).
  7. Michael Wacha has the most postseason experience on the pitching staff. He’s appeared in seven games (six starts) and pitched to a 4.08 ERA (16ER/35.1IP). He was the MVP of the 2013 NLCS while with the St. Louis Cardinals posting a 2-0 mark without allowing a run over two starts spanning 13.2 innings of work. His last appearance in the postseason came while with the Cardinal against the Chicago Cubs in 2015 NLDS.
  8. There was talk amongst fans and writers alike in mid-August that Wacha’s roster spot was in jeopardy. He had pitched poorly in three consecutive outings. Against the Seattle Mariners on August 2nd he allowed six earned runs in four innings. On August 8th against the Baltimore Orioles he allowed five earned runs in five innings. On August 14th he allowed seven earned runs in five innings. In the three starts combined he pitched to an 11.57 ERA.
  9. The Rays stuck with Wacha through his struggles and it appears to have paid dividends. Over his last eight appearances (seven starts) he pitched to a 3.20 ERA (14ER/39.1IP) while striking out 45 and walking just seven. These numbers include a clunker of a start in which he allowed six earned runs in six innings to the Toronto Blue Jays.
  10. Then there’s Shane Baz. He opened the year with the Rays Double-A affiliate Montgomery Biscuits. He dominated there pitching to a 2-4 mark with a 2.48 ERA while striking out 49 batters and walking just two in 32.2 innings of work. He was promoted to the Rays Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls where he continued to make his case for a shot in the big leagues. With Durham he made 10 starts posting a 3-0 mark with a 1.76 ERA striking out 64 batters in 46-innings. He also was part of the Silver Medal winning United States Olympic Team.
  11. Baz made his MLB debut against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 20th. He held their vaunted lineup to just two runs over five impressive inning of work. He made a total of three starts including his debut and pitched to 2-0 mark with a 2.03 ERA while striking out 18 batters and walking just three over 13.1 innings of work.
  12. It will be interesting to see how the Rays choose to line up their pitching staff either against the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. It’s probably safe to assume that Shane McClanahan takes the ball to open the series on Thursday afternoon. After that, the Rays could go with a number of options, including an opener such as Colin McHugh.
  13. While we are looking at starting pitching, it’s probably a good idea to also include the most viable opening candidate and look at his postseason track record. McHugh made a pair of starts for the Houston Astros in the 2015 postseason. Both starts came against the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS and he went 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA (5ER/10IP). He also appeared out of the Astros bullpen in the 2017 ALDS against the Boston Red Sox, ALCS against the Yankees, and World Series against the Los Angles Dodgers. He continued his postseason with the Astros pitching against the Cleveland Indians in the 2018 ALDS and against Boston in the 2018 ALCS.

The Rays have a number of choices to make as to who will be making starts, or following, during the ALDS starting Thursday night at 8:07 pm against either the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees. Who get’s there “day” in the postseason? McClanahan most certainly does. Patino? Is he better suited in a relief role? Shane Baz? He certainly looked impressive during his short big league tenure. Did pitching in the bright lights help give the Rays confidence that turning the lights on in October will have a lesser impact on him? Michael Wacha? He was a force down the stretch. Has he found a groove? Ryan Yarbrough? Old reliable and able to bounce into just about any role? Maybe he doesn’t get his own day, but he has to be on the staff somewhere…right? Drew Rasmussen? He appears to have locked into one of the guaranteed starter spots with his performance since joining the rotation.

If I had to guess on the rotation of arms that will guarantee to get a start, I’d go with McClanahan and Wacha for Game 1 and 2 at Tropicana Field and Rasmussen as my Game 3 starter.

Tampa Bay will hold a workout at Tropicana Field today at 11:30 am at Tropicana Field.

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Manager Kevin Cash will have a lot of decisions before the Rays take the field on Thursday night against the winner of the Wild Card game Tuesday night between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.