Rays Up -- Tampa Bay Advances to ALCS
There are times where postseason elimination games can seem almost anti-climactic. Friday’s battle between the Yankees and Rays wasn’t one of those occasions.
The fifth and final game of the ALDS was packed with all of the drama and intrigue that sports fans could ever ask for. Unfortunately for Yankees fans, it was the Rays who wound up on top of this epic showdown.
It all started on the mound. For the Rays, it was right-hander Tyler Glasnow working on just two days’ rest. The expectation was that he’d be able to make it once through the order -- maybe -- if things were going well, before turning the game over to a well-rested bullpen.
Glasnow came out lighting up the radar gun with his triple-digit fastball, though he didn’t have his usual command -- throwing only 18 of his 37 pitches for strikes. In all, he navigated his way through the Yankees’ lineup one time -- allowing just two walks while striking out a pair in his 2 1/3 innings of work.
Rays manager Kevin Cash then turned to his best reliever -- Nick Anderson -- to come on to work in the third inning of this one. The thinking was that facing a man on and one out with DJ LeMahieu coming to the plate in a scoreless game, was perhaps as high of a leverage situation as there would be. Anderson made the decision look like a wise one, as he got LeMahieu to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the diamond, it was Gerrit Cole working on three days’ rest for the Yankees. The veteran right-hander got himself into a major jam in the opening inning, allowing a one-out walk to Brandon Lowe and then beaning Randy Arozarena. He then issued a two-out walk to Yandy Diaz to load the bases and fell behind Joey Wendle 3-0.
That’s when the worldwide viewing audience was reminded once again that Cole has never walked a batter with the bases loaded in his career -- and he wasn’t about to start now. He battled back to ring up Wendle on a called third strike, then exited the mound with a visceral scream. Cole was dialed in after that, striking out the side on 12 pitches in the second inning before racking up another pair of K’s during a perfect third inning.
Anderson returned to start the fourth inning for the Rays, where he was greeted by a leadoff home run from Yankees’ slugger Aaron Judge, giving the Bombers an early 1-0 advantage. He then retired the next three hitters in order and came back to work a scoreless fifth inning as well.
Cole came out and gave the Yankees a shutdown inning in the fourth after Judge’s blast, and got the first two outs in the fifth inning before Austin Meadows turned the game on its head -- crushing a 1-1 offering over the wall in right field for a game-tying solo home run. It was the first -- and only -- hit that Cole would allow in the ballgame.
Peter Fairbanks was called upon to relieve Nick Anderson to begin the sixth inning for the Rays. The hard-throwing right-hander retired LeMahieu and Judge to begin the inning, then got himself into a serious jam by allowing a single to Aaron Hicks and issuing a walk to Giancarlo Stanton. He roared back though, blowing Luke Voit away with a 100-mph fastball to end the threat.
Cole returned to start the sixth inning for the Yankees, and the first pitch that he threw was crushed by Randy Arozarena to deep left field, but Brett Gardner was there to take away what looked like a potential go-ahead homer away from the hot-hitting outfielder. With Ji-Man Choi and his outstanding career numbers against Cole due up second for the Rays, Yankees skipper Aaron Boone decided it was time to make the change.
Ultimately, Cole allowed just the one run on one hit while striking out nine and walking two in his 5 1/3 innings of work. He became the first pitcher in big league history to strike out nine or more batters while allowing one or fewer hits in a winner-take-all postseason game. He’s also the first Yankees hurler to strike out eight or more batters in three straight postseason contests.
With left-hander Zack Britton taking over for the Yankees, Rays’ manager Kevin Cash turned to lefty-masher Mike Brosseau to pinch-hit for Choi. The move seemed to pay dividends as he reached on an infield single. Yandy Diaz then reached on a seven-pitch walk to move Brosseau into scoring position, but Britton then punched out Joey Wendle on three pitches before retiring Willy Adames on a hard line drive that was barreled to right field.
Fairbanks remained in the game for the Rays in the seventh and he made quick work of the Yankees. After getting Gio Urshela on a fly ball to left field, he struck out Gleyber Torres and Brett Gardner each on three pitches to end the frame.
Britton stayed on for the Yankees in the bottom half of the seventh. After striking out Kevin Kiermaier to begin the inning, Mike Zunino reached on an error by third baseman Gio Urshela. Britton then retired Austin Meadows on a fly ball to left field. With Brandon Lowe set to hit next, Boone turned to his bullpen ace -- Aroldis Chapman. Once again, the move seemed to pay off as Chapman set Lowe down on strikes to alleviate the threat.
With tensions running high in a 1-1 game heading to the eighth inning, Cash called upon Diego Castillo to face a Yankees lineup that was about to turn over. With catcher Kyle Higashioka due up, Boone countered by pinch-hitting Mike Ford. It was somewhat telling that Boone opted to use Ford -- a career .217/.308/.461 hitter who batted just .135/.226/.270 in 2020 -- rather than Gary Sanchez, even though Sanchez would have to come into the game to replace Higashioka defensively.
Castillo got Ford on a called third strike then struck out DJ LeMahieu swinging. He appeared to want no part of Aaron Judge -- walking him on four pitches -- before getting Aaron Hicks on a ground out to first to end the inning.
Chapman remained in the game for the Yankees to start the eighth inning, setting up a showdown between him and Mike Brosseau. You’ll recall that Chapman is currently facing a suspension (appeal pending) after firing a 101 mph fastball over Brosseau’s head in a retaliatory move the last time they squared off -- leading to a benches-clearing incident and ratcheting up the intensity of the rivalry between the two ball clubs.
Brosseau quickly fell behind 0-2, but battled back and fouled off four tough two-strike offerings while working the count full, before lining a go-ahead, franchise-altering blast over the wall in left field. The homer came on a 100.2 mph fastball from Chapman, which was the fastest pitch that has been hit by a Rays player since pitch-tracking data became available in 2008.
By serving up the go-ahead homer, Chapman infamously became the first pitcher in big league history to allow a series-winning home run in the eighth inning or later twice in his career -- as Jose Altuve victimized him in Game 6 of the ALCS in 2019.
Chapman ultimately rebounded to retire the next two hitters, but the damage had already been done. Castillo returned for the Rays to begin the ninth inning -- but they also had a double-barrel of Blake Snell and Charlie Morton ready in the bullpen should any trouble arise. They wouldn’t be needed. Castillo mowed down the heart of the Yankees lineup, striking out Stanton and Voit before getting Urshela on a screaming line drive to Joey Wendle at third base to close out the victory and the series.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said afterwards, “That was hands-down the greatest moment I’ve been a part of in baseball… There’s been some great ones, but for what that meant to this team, how we got there, that matchup, it’s pretty special.”
Brosseau -- the unlikeliest of heroes -- went undrafted out of Oakland University (just down the road from me in Rochester, Michigan), meaning that each MLB team passed on him at least 40 times during the draft. Ultimately, he signed with the Rays for only $1000 and had to work his way up the minor league ladder one rung at a time. All he did was hit -- especially against left-handers -- at each stop along the way. He finally earned a call-up in 2019 after slashing .304/.394/.567 with 16 homers and 60 RBI in 73 games at Triple-A Durham.
Through his first two big league seasons, he's hitting an impressive .284/.343/.500 with 11 homers, 28 RBI and three stolen bases in 240 plate appearances. Against left-handers, that line jumps to .313/.350/.589 with eight homers and 20 RBI in 120 plate appearances.
The next step for the Rays, as they look to secure their first World Series title in franchise history, is a battle with the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series which will begin on Sunday night. Expect Blake Snell to be on the hill for the Rays in that one, with Charlie Morton likely to pitch in Game 2 and Tyler Glasnow ready for Game 3.
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Bringing the A’s Back
Athletics general manager David Forst spoke with the media on Friday and answered the typical season-ending questions. There were a few nuggets to be taken away from the session though.
The A’s absolutely have interest in bringing back impending free agent shortstop Marcus Semien.
Forst told reporters, "I told him we would love to have him back here. We've had an open line of communication with him and his agent. That will certainly be one of the topics for this offseason." Forst also said that he exchanged text messages with Semien on Thursday to let him know how much he appreciates him and wants him to return next season.
The 30-year-old has seen his career take off in Oakland. In 2019, he slashed a monstrous .285/.369/.522 with 33 homers, 123 runs scored, 92 RBI and 10 stolen bases -- finishing third in the balloting for the American League MVP Award, behind only Mike Trout and Alex Bregman.
2020 was a completely different animal though. Semien struggled badly throughout the shortened season, hitting just .223/.305/.374 with seven homers, 23 RBI and four swipes. All of the leading indicators that you’re looking for in a hitter -- barrel rate, hard-hit rate, exit velocity, etc. all ticked downward for Semien in 2020. His strikeout rate also ballooned to 21.2% -- his highest rate since 2017.
Where his fantasy value falls in 2021 will ultimately depend on where he winds up. If he returns to Oakland -- and remains as their leadoff hitter -- I expect a bounce-back effort, though not nearly to the heights that he experienced in 2019. That would put him in the 150-ish range overall in fantasy drafts.
If he winds up on a better offensive team -- or a better offensive environment -- and his stock could certainly rise. He could also see a boost if he winds up with a more aggressive manager who allows him more freedom on the basepaths.
Forst also said that they hope to re-sign Semien’s double play partner Tommy La Stella. He gushed about La Stella on Friday, telling reporters, "He's the kind of guy who, when you play against him, you think you have a sense of how good he is. Then when you see him every day, you really appreciate the things he does. What he brought to our lineup the last month was critical to where we went."
The 31-year-old hit .289/.369/.423 with a homer and 11 RBI in 27 games with the A's following a mid-season trade from the Angels. He then hit .296 (8-for-27) with a homer and two in the postseason.
La Stella doesn’t have the dynamic power/speed combination that Semien does, so he isn’t as coveted from a fantasy perspective. His overall value heading into 2021 will also depend on where he lands -- and whether or not he’s in a position to receive everyday at-bats.
Quick Hits: The National League Championship series between the Dodgers and Braves will begin on Monday… Phillies left-hander Adam Morgan will be sidelined for 6-to-9 months after undergoing surgery on Thursday to repair his left flexor tendon… The Nationals outrighted four players off of their 40-man roster -- Aaron Barrett, Paolo Espino, Austen Williams and Adrian Sanchez -- and reinstated Tres Barrera from the restricted list (PED suspension)... Joe Biagini elected to become a free agent, rather than accepting an outright assignment from the Astros… Luke Voit will undergo an MRI exam for his lingering foot injury (plantar fasciitis) on Sunday. He should be fully healthy and ready to go for the start of the 2021 season.