After digging themselves out of an 0-2 hole in the American League Divisional Series against the Houston Astros, the Tampa Bay Rays look to seal the deal in Game 5 and move on to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship. Rays’ Pitcher Tyler Glasnow takes the mound and has full permission to pitch into the later stages of the game, according to a report by Sports Illustrated, but it has to be assumed that the committee approach that saw Tampa Bay win consecutive games against the 107-win Astros will make an appearance in the pivotal game.
The Astros appeared to be cruising into the American League Championship after taking the first two games of the series as they sought their second World Series victory in three years. However, since the series moved to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Astros offense that dominated the regular season has been frustrated by the Rays’ pitching setup. According to the Sports Illustrated report, Houston’s hitting number has dropped from a 0.274 batting average in the regular season to 0.241 in the divisional round, a 0.352 on-base percentage to 0.294, a 0.495 slugging percentage drop to 0.391, and their 0.848 on-base plus slugging fall to 0.685. If the Astros want to keep their World Series dreams alive, they are going to have to learn how to cope with a deep and diverse Rays’ bullpen and do so fast.
Tampa Bay’s unique bullpen setup has allowed them to employ a strategy that prevents the formidable Houston lineup from seeing any of their pitchers more than once in a game, denying the usual adjustments and comfort that comes from facing the starting pitcher several times in a game. The Rays have taken this unique approach to win 96 games this season, one short of their franchise high, despite maintaining one of the lowest payrolls in the major leagues.
Speaking on the expectations for the Rays’ pitching in Game 5, manager Kevin Cash said, “Every little opportunity they’ve [the Astros] created, it seems like they have found a way to score runs from. Whether it was a miscue on defense, an infield single or a walk, it seems like they’ve capitalized on it. But the more that we can just stay in control of the count as much as possible has allowed us to have some success.”
While the Astros are under intense pressure not to collapse under World Series expectations and bow out in the divisional round, they have the advantage of playing in Minute Maid Park where they have won 60 games this season, a franchise record, along with Gerrit Cole and his 23-game undefeated streak taking the mound. Cole put on an impressive performance during his start in Game 2, shutting out the Rays during a 7 2/3 inning appearance which saw him set an Astros franchise record with 15 strikeouts. That gave Cole his first victory after going 0-2 with a 3.51 ERA in four career starts previously against the Rays.
As for Glasnow’s playoff performance, he allowed two runs over 4 1/3 innings in Game 1. In his only previous appearance against the Astros, Glasnow recorded a victory while allowing only one run over five innings.