The Tampa Bay Rays have known for some time now that they would be in the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
The American League East champions now play the waiting game as they await the winner of the Red Sox-Yankees wildcard game Monday night to see who they will play in the ALDS.
The Rays have a record of 11-8 this season against both the Yankees and the Red Sox. But the Red Sox have played the Rays much more competitively than the Yankees. The Red Sox will host the wildcard game Tuesday night but will be without J.D. Martinez due to a sprained ankle.
The Rays did not announce their postseason roster, but we know who will start the first three games of the series. Shane McClanahan will start game one, Shane Baz gets the nod in game two, and Drew Rasmussen will start on the road Sunday afternoon in game three.
McClanahan was 7-3 at home this season with a 3.50 ERA and has been the ace of this rotation since Tyler Glasnow was sidelined in June.
The Rays will also have one of the youngest starting rotations in the postseason. They will start two rookies in Shane McClanahan and Shane Baz, along with second-year pro-Drew Rasmussen.
Shane McClanahan went 10-6 with a 3.43 ERA this season. He got off to a rough start but found his groove mid-season and has been outstanding the second half of the season.
Shane Baz, another highly touted rookie and one of the top prospects in MLB. He made his big league debut in September and exceeded everyone’s expectations. In three starts, Baz went 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA. In 13 innings, Baz walked three and struck out 18.
Drew Rasmussen was a real surprise that I don’t know if anyone saw coming. Rasmussen went 4-0 with a 2.44 ERA after being moved into the rotation. Rasmussen started ten games this season and finished with 48 strikeouts in 59 innings.
The highly-touted prospect acquired from San Diego in the Blake Snell trade the last off-season, Luis Patino had an up and down season as part of the rotation. Although he seemed to find his groove in his previous couple of starts, Patino struggled early on. He finished with a 5-3 record and a 4.31 ERA.
Patino was used out of the bullpen in New York over the weekend. And will pitch out of the bullpen in the ALDS.
Then there is the case of Michael Wacha.
Wacha was horrible till late July. Since then, Wacha has not allowed more than two runs in five of his last six outings. He has a 3.38 ERA, 34 strikeouts, and six walks over 29 innings. With those kinds of numbers, you have to find a spot for Wacha somewhere on the postseason roster.
The Rays believe they have one of the best bullpens in baseball, and they were in till September. This last month of the season, the bullpen has not been as stellar as it was through the first half of the season.
If they are going to make a deep playoff run, the Rays will need to get the kind of performance from the bullpen that we saw in the first half of the season.
Pete Fairbanks, Ryan Yarbrough, and Josh Fleming have all been roughed up of late. Fairbanks had a stretch mid-season where he was just awful. He seems to have put some of those issues behind him. He is still not pitching as well as he was early in the season.
With Nick Anderson off the DL, it will be interesting to see how Kevin Cash sets up his bullpen. Anderson was one of the most dominant closers in baseball till his arm injury.
Andrew Kittredge has been the closer the final month of the season and was one of the Rays representatives at the All-Star game.
Kittredge is 9-3 with a 1.88 Era on the season with eight saves. He has 77 strikeouts in 71 innings.
The Rays do not have a big-name starter like Gerrit Cole of the Yankees or Max Scherzer of the Dodgers. But I would put my money on this rotation to come out on top in a five-game series.