Three Keys For the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS
The Tampa Bay Rays left RingCentral Coliseum on Wednesday night after eliminating the Oakland Athletics with a 5-1 win in the American League Wild Card Game and boarded a plane bound for Texas, where a 107-win behemoth of a team, the Houston Astros, await them in the American League Division Series.
The Astros are heavily favored in this series, and understandably so. This is a team without a weakness. They combine an elite offense with elite run prevention, having scored the third-most runs in Major League Baseball this season while also allowing the second-fewest. Their MLB-best plus-280 run differential suggests they deserved that MLB-best 107-55 record.
Here are three keys for the Rays in this series if they want a chance to pull off the upset.
Blake Snell Needs to Step Up
Blake Snell had a pair of stints on the injured list this year and in the 23 starts he did make went 6-8 with a 4.29 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. In his Cy Young season a year ago, Snell went 21-3 with a 1.89 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.
Snell probably suffered from some bad luck. His 3.32 FIP is nearly a full run lower than his ERA. Snell’s .341 BABIP is well above his career .294 mark. But he’s actually striking out more batters than ever. Snell’s 12.36 K/9 rate is up from his 11.01 mark a year ago.
Still, in addition to his inconsistency this year, another concern with Snell is how much he’ll even be able to pitch. He’s made just three starts since returning from arthroscopic elbow surgery and has thrown 26, 52 and 62 pitches, respectively.
Snell’s last start in the regular-season finale against the Toronto Blue Jays also wasn’t terribly encouraging. He allowed two earned runs on three hits and two walks in 2.1 innings. Snell’s going to start Game 2 on Saturday, but presumably, the Rays aren’t going to let him throw more than 75-80 pitches or so. He’s going up against a fantastic offense, and with Gerrit Cole toeing the rubber for Houston, Snell can’t expect all that much run support. He’s going to need to be sharp and efficient to give Tampa Bay a chance.
Snell’s spectacular 2018 season earned him a Cy Young and a $50 million contract from the Rays. His 2019 has been a disappointment, but he now has a chance to redeem himself in the postseason.
Yandy Diaz’s Foot
Yandy Diaz was activated from the 60-day injured list on Sunday, the final day of the regular season. A foot injury had sidelined him for more than two months. Diaz went 0-for-3 with a strikeout, though the two balls he put in play had exit velocities over 100 MPH.
Diaz hit the ball hard against Oakland on Wednesday, too, but this time he got results to show for it. He went 3-for-4 with two home runs. When Diaz was activated, Kevin Cash said he expected him to be limited to designated hitter and pinch-hit duties, but Diaz started the Wild Card Game at first base. Does his foot feel good enough to play third?
Diaz got the start at first base on Wednesday with left-hander Sean Manaea getting the start for the A’s, but the Astros will have right-handers Justin Verlander, Cole and Zack Greinke starting the first three games. Cash will want Ji-Man Choi starting at first base. If Diaz has to DH, that would probably mean Avisail Garcia would have to sit while someone like Joey Wendle or Matt Duffy starts at third (or potentially Eric Sogard, if he’s healthy enough).
Given the quality of the pitchers the Tampa Bay Rays will face, they need their best possible lineup out there. It will be difficult for Cash to put that together if he can’t put Diaz at third.
Rays to Lean on Anderson
Nick Anderson has been outstanding for the Rays since being acquired from the Miami Marlins at the July 31st trade deadline. In 21.1 innings over 23 appearances, Anderson has a 2.11 ERA, 1.96 FIP, and 0.66 WHIP with 41 strikeouts to just two walks.
With Snell and Tyler Glasnow’s arms not fully built back up, the Rays will have to use their bullpen a lot in this series. The more outs they can get from Anderson, the better.