Houston, problem, etc.
Astros Twitter, one of the most passionate fanbases on that hell site, is going bonkers. "What's happened with the offense?!" they scream into their morning coffee, probably while wearing Stetsons and driving to Space Center Houston. Not many expected the Houston-Tampa Bay leg of the ALDS to go to a Game 5, especially after Houston led 2-0 to start the series.
But here's the thing: While the Astros' lineup is deadly and they're a phenomenal team, maybe — just stick with me here for a second — the Rays pitching is just good. Whoa! How about that for a concept?
Much ado is being made about how cold some of the Houston hitters have been in this series, and yeah, it's a little alarming. Consider this from the Houston Chronicle's Chandler Rome:
The Astros are slashing .241/.294/.391 in 133 at-bats during the American League Division Series.
George Springer, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa and Josh Reddick are a combined 7-for-55.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) October 9, 2019
This, however, isn't a new thing. The Rays' pitching has been sensational all season. Their pitching staff led the majors during regular season in fWAR at 25.3. Consider this: Of the 33 players who have thrown a pitch — players, not pitchers, an important distinction to make — for the Rays this season, only three have a negative fWAR. That's insanity. The three players were: Michael Brosseau, a position player; Ricardo Pinto, who pitched in two games for Tampa Bay this season; and Jake Faria, who was traded to the Brewers on July 31.
By the same measure, the Dodgers have had eight players who have negatively contributed to the staff, of 25 pitchers used. The Astros had eight, as well, but of 26 players used.
The Rays are a good team. Surprise! Happy Obvious Take Wednesday. They were a 96-win squad that finished ahead of the defending World Series champions in their division, held their own against the Yankees and Astros and dealt with difficult injuries all season. Tyler Glasnow was out for the year until he wasn't. Blake Snell lost a fight with a piece of granite. Brent Honeywell, a Rays top prospect who was probably going to play more into their plans this season, was on his way back from Tommy John surgery until another arm injury sidelined him for the season. Through all that, they won nearly 100 games. It's time to start giving more credit to the Rays rather than ask what's wrong with the Astros.
Going to a fifth game in the ALDS with a team that many believed would moonwalk to an American League penant is certainly something of an achievement, but the Rays were never going to roll over. Not with their unorthodox ways — using openers, not being afraid to be untraditional with pitching in general, chicken sacrifices to the baseball gods and so forth. (OK, that last part is purely speculative.)
WAR isn't the end-all-be-all stat and there's a lot more context that goes into it, but here are more numbers from the regular season to chew on: The Rays 3.89 xFIP was third in the majors behind Houston and the Dodgers. Their 3.67 ERA was third in the majors, behind the same two teams and just a nose hair behind Houston (3.66). They were top 10 in baseball in hard-hit rate (35.7 percent). The staff allowed 181 home runs — the lowest mark in baseball.
It's easy for fans to flip out when bats go cold in October, especially when it's a lineup like the Astros', which has dominated pitching, good and bad, all season long. Remember the adage, though: Good pitching beats good hitting. We've seen that hold especially true this postseason, and arguably no one is better equipped to handle that than Tampa Bay. When Diego Castillo is throwing pitches like this, maybe the baseball gods are smiling down on you a bit.
Maybe Tyler Glasnow stinks up the joint Thursday and gets shelled. Maybe the Rays' staff gets bombed and they lose 11-2. It's certainly a possibility, because as they say in the northeast, "That's baseball, Suzyn."
It's easy to make jokes about Montreal and the Rays' stadium and the payroll and all that. No one has been more guilty of that than yours truly. But this pitching staff has been anything but a joke all season, and come Thursday the Astros might be the next victims to find that out.