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Tampa Bay Rays: Fielding seen vs. Astros in ALCS has been there all season

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Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman is out at first by Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi (26) during the eighth inning in game two of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman is out at first by Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi (26) during the eighth inning in game two of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Tampa Bay Rays fielding has been strong all year. The Astros are getting a taste firsthand in the ALCS.

Manuel Margot‘s falling-over-the-fence catch may be the video highlight that sums up Game 2 of the ALCS between the Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros.

But Margot’s phenomenal play wasn’t the lone defensive highlight of the game. In fact, you can make a good argument the Rays’ pitching just looks even better because of the fielders manager Kevin Cash writes into the lineup behind them.

The Rays’ Twitter account highlighted some of the plays after the team’s 4-2 victory put Tampa Bay up 4-2 in the series:

You can see Willy Adames making picks at short, Joey Wendle diving all over the place at third, and Ji-Man Choi doing the splits repeatedly at first base, grabbing throws moments before the batter crosses the bag.

The defense came up big in the ninth inning when reliever Nick Anderson needed it most. He gave up three consecutive singles to open the ninth inning, nursing what was then a three-run lead.

With no outs on the board, the Rays may have been in their biggest trouble of the entire evening at that point.

Anderson got Springer to hit a grounder to Brandon Lowe, who was positioned so well he made it look easy with a step on second and light toss to first.

The run scored, but the threat was mostly over. Alex Bregman lined out to Kevin Kiermaier in center field to end the game.

"“Joey Wendle and Willy Adames … put on a clinic today defensively,” manager Kevin Cash said, per Marc Tompkin of the Tampa Bay Times.“We work on it every day,” Adames said, again per Tompkins. “We’re just happy that we can help the pitcher on the mound, today it was Charlie (Morton). We work on it. And when you work on it in practice, it is going to show up in the game. It did today, and we’re really happy about that.”"

A look at the Tampa Bay Rays fielding metrics

Although advanced metrics for defense can be a little iffy, and it’s worth noting just a 60-game season in 2020 makes them even more fragile, no one should be exactly shocked to find the Rays at or near the top a couple of sabermetric lists.

At FanGraphs, for instance, their Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games ranked first at 10.6. The second-best team, the Cubs, came in at 5.6. The Rays lead in FanGraphs’ overall defensive stat, too.

They rank fifth in Defensive Runs Saved, a different style of measurement, with 24. Among teams still in the playoffs, the Dodgers have the highest figure at 29,

At Baseball Savant, Kiermaier ranks 13th in Outs Above Average among all MLB players, with five. Wendle is 20th among infielders with three.

Another way to look it is what the impact of the fielding may have been on the pitchers, looking at the difference between pitchers’ ERAs and their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) stats.

Rays pitchers had an ERA of 3.56 in 2020, while their FIP “predicts” a 3.94 figure. That’s a difference of -0.38, the fourth most in MLB.

The Dodgers lead there at -0.77, if you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself and thinking about a possible World Series matchup already.

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