The Tampa Bay Rays took Game 1 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros. Their bullpen plays a big part.
The Tampa Bay Rays took the first game of the American League Championship Series in a way that more or less aligns with the expected narratives: in tightly pitched 2-1 affair.
Randy Arozarena hit a home run to remain hot for the Rays. That’s his fourth home run in his past six postseason games. He’s now batting .419 with 1.406 OPS for the playoffs.
The starting pitching lived up to billing. Blake Snell gave up one run on six hits in five innings, starting for Tampa Bay. Jose Altuve tagged him for 388-foot home run.
But relief pitching is the narrative that will likely play the biggest role this series, and the Rays’ side of the equation did its part on Sunday night. (To be fair, so did the Astros’, also allowing no runs.)
As noted by Jayson Stark of The Athletic last night on Twitter (and updated to reflect Game 1):
Three key stats related to the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen
The Rays when:
- Leading after 6 innings: 33-1
- Leading after 7 innings: 30-0
- Leading after 8 innings: 37-0
The Rays improved to 16-5 in one-run games this season as well.
One more stat: Rays relievers have inherited 16 runners this postseason without allowing any to score, as ESPN noted.
If you don’t take a lead by the time the Rays’ starting pitcher leaves the mound, you’re as good as doomed.
Following up Snell’s appearance, Tampa Bay used four pitchers from the bullpen.
Aaron Loup got into a little bit of trouble with a hit batter and wild pitch, allowing Houston’s Michael Brantley to second base with no outs. A walk and a single later and the Astros were in business with bases loaded and just one out.
But as soon as Rays manager called for Diego Castillo, it was as good as over. He forced Yuli Gurriel into a double play to escape. He gave up just a hit in the ninth while closing out the game, striking out Altuve to get the save.
That’s going to be important the deeper the series goes because there are no off days here. Bullpens are going to be poked, prodded, and stretched thin.
Cash said after the game (per ESPN):
“That’s what you want as a staff. You certainly don’t want the guys down there who don’t want the ball. We’re going to keep hoping they want it.”
The Rays and Astros will continue their series at 4:07 p.m. Monday. The game will be shown on TBS.