Last fall, the Rays took the Astros to five games in a division series but lost twice to Cole and once to Justin Verlander, who is out because of Tommy John surgery. Their absence puts the Astros in a similar spot as the Rays: depending more on the depth of their pitching staff than one or two aces, especially with no days off in this series.
In five of the Astros’ six postseason games so far — all but Game 2 against Oakland, when Framber Valdez worked seven innings — Manager Dusty Baker has pulled his starter before the last out of the fifth. The rookies Enoli Paredes, Blake Taylor and Cristian Javier have combined for 12 shutout innings of relief, with Valdez adding another five in the first-round opener against Minnesota.
“Our bullpen did such a great job keeping us in games,” Correa said after beating Oakland. “I think they are the reason why we won the series.”
The Rays could say the same about their clash with the Yankees. They took two of the first three games, each with a starter — Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton — going only five innings. The Rays then used three other pitchers in a Game 4 loss, saving their best arms for the finale, when four hard throwers — Glasnow, Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo — stifled the Yankees for six to eight outs apiece.
“Hey, are you surprised?” said Anderson, the Rays’ saves leader, who entered the game in the third inning. “That’s kind of like the Rays’ way — switch things up, do something a little different. Everybody’s on board with everything; everybody knows anything could happen.”
The low-budget Rays have never won the World Series and have been there just once, in 2008. Baker, 71, is seeking the first championship of a long and distinguished managerial career, and his presence may soften some fans’ feelings for the Astros.
But if most of the public — and perhaps even the league office — just wants the Astros to go away, the last two rounds have shown that it will not be easy. The Astros are holding tightly to their A.L. championship trophy, and need eight more victories for Manfred to present them with his.