If the Tampa Bay Rays expect to hang with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, they'll have to take this important lesson from Game 1: Be more like the Tampa Bay Rays.
In an odd twist we didn't see coming, the Rays seemed to lose their identity in Tuesday's 8-3 series-opening loss. Rather than being the aggressors and creating advantageous pitching matchups — a Rays hallmark — manager Kevin Cash instead rode starter Tyler Glasnow until the wheels fell off, and Tampa Bay may have lost Game 1 because of it.
Gamble on Tyler Glasnow backfires
On one hand, it's understandable that Cash would have supreme confidence in Glasnow. The 27-year-old right-hander has thrust himself into the ace discussion since his arrival from Pittsburgh prior to the 2019 season. Since then, he's also logged several important innings for Cash in the regular season and postseason.
In Game 1, Glasnow started strong, holding the Dodgers scoreless through three innings with five strikeouts. Then Cody Bellinger launched a fourth-inning two-run home run and everything changed.
What had previously looked relatively easy suddenly turned into a battle for Glasnow. His pitch count was climbing quickly, and it seemed the more looks the Dodgers got, the more damage they were able to do. That led to a four-run fifth-inning rally that essentially sealed the game for Los Angeles and put Cash's decision under the microscope.
In total, Glasnow was charged with six runs over 4 1/3 innings. He struck out eight, which is good, but allowed three hits and six walks, which is both a testament to how patient the Dodgers are and how difficult it is to fool their lineup two or three times around. Perhaps most notably, Glasnow threw a career-high 112 pitches. He was stretched into territory not familiar to him, and his declining effectiveness was expedited by the majority of those late pitches coming under stressful circumstances.
Given the outcome, it’s clear Cash made a tactical error. In the moment, though, the Rays manager had full confidence that he attributed to Glasnow's strikeout prowess. Particularly when it came to a key matchup with Max Muncy during the decisive fifth inning.
“The at-bat with Muncy right there. Just was hoping that he was the best guy to get a strikeout.” Cash told reporters following the game. “We needed a strikeout after we weren't able to hold the runners. When we got to second and third, it felt like Glas with his stuff was equipped to get a strikeout but ended up getting a ground ball. Yandy (Diaz) made a great play but Mookie (Betts) just had a tremendous jump.”
Ah, yes, Mookie Betts. We must acknowledge his game-changing performance. Without Betts’ aggressive baserunning stealing a run and extending that fifth inning, it’s possible we’re having an entirely different conversation. But that’s what great players do. They change the conversation. The Rays had no answers on Tuesday.
Why Kevin Cash's decision shocked us
It's just not the Rays way to be two or three steps behind. They've maintained a high level of success over the last 12 years by being two or three steps ahead, even when those steps seem unnecessary.
This is the same Rays organization that essentially created the opener — a pitcher that starts, but is limited to one or two innings — to hide flaws and chase even the slightest advantage. In fact, Cash is the same manager who just last week pulled Blake Snell, a former Cy Young Award winner, and Charlie Morton, his most trusted postseason starter — in Game 7, no less — earlier than most viewers felt was necessary.
A great note in this column from my friends at @StatsBySTATS:
Before Blake Snell, no *healthy* Cy Young had ever been pulled from a game in the 5th or earlier, when...
*He was working on a shutout
Earliest before Snell: Justin Verlander (5.1 IP) in the 2018 ALDS https://t.co/JRuyvkvDg7
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 17, 2020
Of course, those moves ultimately worked. Otherwise the Rays wouldn’t be in the World Series.
The main point is we rarely, if ever, see Rays pitchers put in vulnerable positions, and especially so if the circumstances allow for flexibility. Game 1 of the World Series, with a rested bullpen, should have been when Tampa Bay was most flexible.
There's still a lot of series left to be played and a lot of key decisions left to be made. It will be interesting to see how the outcome influences Kevin Cash's decisions moving forward. Particularly with Snell starting Game 2.
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