Considering the challenge of facing the Astros’ trio of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke in a five-game series, it goes without saying that winning yesterday’s game was very important to the Rays. Yesterday’s starter for the Rays, Tyler Glasnow, although returning from injury, gave the Rays their best chance to flip home-field advantage on the Astros, even though he was going against Justin Verlander. For 4.1 innings, he almost did it, until Jose Altuve, alone among Astros hitters, finally connected with a Glasnow fastball, sending one deep into the Crawford Boxes for a two run homer. After two more unearned runs scored that inning off Glasnow’s relief, Chaz Roe, it seems the Rays almost conceded the game, following Roe with the B-list bullpen staff.
Tonight, the challenge for the Rays may be even tougher. As good as Verlander is, Gerrit Cole in his recent stretch of pitching has been invincible. His 16 straight wins by now is common knowledge, as is his league leading strikeout numbers and all-time record high K%. But let’s look at his performance since August 1st.
HIs ERA is 1.57, and this is not out of line with his peripherals; FIP, 1.74, xFIP 2.01. The K% is an other-worldly 45.8%, while walking only 4.4%. Batters are only hitting .148 against Cole, the WHIP is 0.67.
I don’t want to jinx him, but Gerrit Cole may be the hottest pitcher going into a playoff run since Bob Gibson in 1968. Bob Gibson’s ERA that year was 1.12.
Facing Cole, this year’s ERA champ, is last years ERA champ, Blake Snell. Snell has not been any kind of champ this year. Battling injuries, his season ERA is 4.29, although peripherals are running about a run below that.
Snell had surgery at mid-season to remove a loose body in his left elbow. Since returning to action on September 19th, Snell has pitched in three games for only six innings. He never got past 2.1 innings in those three games started. His ERA since his return is 4.50, although a high BABIP and low FIP say that number may have understated his actual performance.
So after losing game one, the Rays go into game two hoping for a miracle, that their former ace can somehow find both the form and stamina that has eluded him all year, but made him the Cy young winner in 2018.
“I’m betting on Blake,” said Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash. “We’re betting on Blake to catch a second gear.”
But actions speak louder than words. In today’s game the Ray’s’ A-team is ready to take over if the Snell miracle doesn’t happen. Expect starters Ryan Yarbrough or Yonny Chirinos to see early action, and/or some of the best relievers in one of the best bullpens in baseball to come out; Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson, or Emilio Pagan. The Rays left some of their best pieces off the board yesterday, ready to go into action today.
But are all of them together better than Gerrit Cole? One consolation for the Rays. The one poor game pitched by Cole since August was his game against the Rays in Tampa, where he allowed four runs in 6.2 innings.
But don’t get carried away with that. The Rays had a .455 BABIP that game, and a tiny 53.6% left on base percentage. Cole’s xFIP for that game was 0.66.
The Rays certainly don’t want to go back to Tampa Bay down 0-2. If they think Charlie Morton might resuscitate their chances in Game 3, consider this. In nine innings pitched against Houston this year, Morton has allowed eight earned runs.
If I had to pick just one betting option, at this point I would pick Astros win the ALDS in three games.