Why either Tyler Glasnow and Zach Eflin should start Game 1 of the playoffs

With the Rays officially in the postseason, the next big decision will be who toes the rubber to start the series in October
Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

It was a bittersweet weekend for the Tampa Bay Rays. After winning the first two games of the four-game set in Baltimore, the Rays found themselves in a virtual tie for the lead in the division. However, they dropped their games on Saturday and Sunday, putting them two games back in the division again. Sunday's loss was especially tough, blowing a 3-1 lead and losing in the 11th inning.

Despite the tough result in the series, the news wasn't all bad. With the Texas Rangers' loss to Cleveland on Sunday afternoon, Tampa Bay officially clinched a postseason berth for the ninth time in franchise history and the fifth consecutive season. The Rays clinching was a certainty, but this made it official. The only thing left to decide is whether the Rays will play in the Wild Card round or earn a bye to the ALDS after winning the division. Current odds have the Rays with less than a 20 percent chance of topping the AL East.

Before his injury, Shane McClanahan was the obvious choice to take the mound for the Rays in Game 1. Now that he's out of the picture, it's a two-horse race between Zach Eflin and Tyler Glasnow. There isn't a bad choice between the two pitchers. However, this decision could swing the momentum of a series. The most important thing to consider is which pitcher you think will likely get the series started on the right foot.

The case for Zach Eflin to start Game 1 of the playoffs for the Rays

Zach Eflin is the only starting pitcher from the Opening Day roster still in the rotation. Frankly, it's incredible the Rays have been this successful despite their injuries this season. Despite a brief back injury in April, Eflin has remained relatively healthy. Through 9/18, Eflin leads all Tampa Bay starters in starts, innings, wins, WHIP, WAR, and strikeouts, among many other stats. He's been one of the most reliable arms in the rotation. Of his 29 starts, 19 have lasted at least six innings, with arguably his best start coming on Friday night in Baltimore, as he pitched five hitless innings in a seven-inning dominant performance.

There are two big knocks on Eflin's resume. First, his numbers have dipped a little during the second half of the season. He's allowing about half a run more since the All-Star break, and opponents are batting 21 points higher against him in the second half. Some of this is reflected in his 5-4 record in 12 starts since the break. Second, Eflin lacks crucial starting experience in the postseason. While Eflin did make ten appearances for the Phillies during their run to the World Series last season, all of it was in relief, and he never needed to record more than four outs. While this experience is noteworthy, it's all the pitching he's done in the postseason.

The case for Zach Eflin to start Game 1 of the playoffs for the Rays

Beginning the season on the injured list, Tyler Glasnow returned to the rotation at the right time. Joining the team in late May, Glasnow has been as dynamic as ever. Despite missing nearly two months, Glasnow has made the most starts of his career, topped his career-high in strikeouts and wins, and will eclipse his career highs in innings, assuming he makes another start longer than two innings. He's done all this after suffering from an oblique injury in February and losing a mile per hour on his fastball. He's used his fastball less and relied on his curveball to do the most damage.

Between him and Eflin, Glasnow has significantly more postseason experience. He's started nine games for the Rays in the postseason, including Game 1 twice, opening the ALDS against Houston in 2019 and the World Series against Los Angeles in 2020. However, for all his experience, his numbers aren't great in the postseason, carrying a 2-5 record with a 5.75 ERA. To his credit, Glasnow was excellent in Game 2 of the Wild Card Round last season against Cleveland, pitching five scoreless innings of two-hit ball. It was easily the best postseason start of his career. Glasnow has also struggled in September, going 2-2 with a 5.48 ERA in four starts so far this month. He did record 14 strikeouts on 9/16 against Boston, but he was roughed up against Baltimore on 9/16.

Honestly, there isn't a wrong choice between Eflin and Glasnow. They're the two best options the team has to open the postseason. Right now, I'd lean toward Eflin starting Game 1, regardless of whether it's in the Wild Card Round or the ALDS. He's been phenomenal in his first season with the Rays. Eflin and Glasnow as a 1-2 punch could give teams fit. After Eflin and Glasnow, Aaron Civale and Zack Littell would likely round out the rotation. It's unclear who the Rays will face in the postseason, but they have a rotation that could be trouble for any team.