The Tampa Bay Rays won an AL best 100 games this season, earning them the top seed in the playoffs, and will face off against the Boston Red Sox in a best of five that will determine who will go to the ALCS.
During their regular season series against their division rival, the Rays were able to win 11 of the 19 games played between the two.
Tampa Bay in general have had to get a little creative while searching for wins, as when staff ace Tyler Glasnow went down with an injury, it left them with no clear-cut answer to replace him.
Luckily for Tampa Bay, when it comes to being innovative, they take the cake.
Now that it is the playoffs, they will need someone and step up to set the tone for the series. Even if that person does, they will need the rest of the team to rally together if they are going to repeat as AL Champions.
Here are three players the Rays need to step up the most in their playoff series against the Red Sox
This one is a little obvious, but if there is going to be anyone to set the tone for the series, it’s going to be the former first round pick. He was named the game one starter for Thursday and was the closest thing to a staff ace on the roster with Glasnow out.
The 24-year-old McClanahan made history in 2020, becoming the first pitcher to make his major league debut in the playoffs. He pitched in two games in the ALDS against the New York Yankees, allowing one run in 1 2/3 innings, striking out two batters.
Houston wasn’t as nice in the ALCS, tagging McClanahan with three earned runs in 1 2/3 innings. He also pitched an inning in relief during the World Series, a scoreless frame against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Fast forward to 2021, the hard-throwing lefty recorded a 3.43 ERA in 123 1/3 innings striking out 10.3 batters per nine innings pitched (K/9). He hit double digit in wins (10) and showed respectable control (2.7 BB/9).
Velocity is the name of the game for McClanahan, as he recorded the eighth highest average fastball speed velo among all starting pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. It was the highest mark among lefties as well.
Throwing that hard allowed the hitters turn on the ball at times, as not only was he among the hardest throwers with his fastball, but he also allowed some of the highest exit velocity numbers. His average exit velocity was 91.7 MPH, the second highest mark in the league.
The good news is, while the wins weren’t there, McClanahan had success against the Red Sox this year. In three starts, he struck out 18 batters across 16 innings while posting a 2.81 ERA. The lefty held Boston hitters to just a .598 OPS in those games.
This one is a little bit on the weird side, as the 30-year-old veteran pitcher didn’t post the best of numbers in his first season with the Rays, and it isn’t likely that they’ll be looking his way to start any of the first three games in the series.
What Wacha does bring to the table is experience, the owner of 35 1/3 innings of postseason baseball, capturing the 2013 NLCS MVP during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals.
If the Rays don’t turn to Wacha as a starter, he will have to improve upon his 8.31 ERA as a reliver. Tampa Bay appears to be favoring a younger rotation in the playoffs, meaning they will need one of their veteran pitchers at the top of his game coming in relief.
In two starts against Boston, Wacha pitched 10 innings, posting a 0-1 record and a 3.60 ERA.
He really has been Mr. Do It All for the Rays this season, opener, closer, multi-inning relief guy, pretty much whatever they needed him to be. The former 45th round pick out of Spokane, Washington posted a 1.88 ERA in 71 2/3 innings while starting four games and saving eight.
Kittridge also made the All-Star team for the Rays.
The 31-year-old has been lights out against the Red Sox this year. In seven appearances, one of which was a start, the righty is 2-0 with a save in 7 1/3 shutout innings while striking out 15 batters.
It will be up to the rotation to get the game to Kittridge so he can slam the door shut.
Bonus, Shane Baz and Drew Rasmussen
It isn’t hard to figure out what ‘type’ of pitcher the Rays prefer, as it’s evident in the potential rotation for the ALDS. There is also little doubting that they have no issue putting their faith in their young players.
For Baz, he barely made his major league debut a month ago and he is already a starting pitcher in the AL win leader’s rotation. One of the most electric pitching prospects in the game, Baz has shown flashes of his stuff already and will now oversee starting game two of the ALDS.
The Rays will have their hands full trying to contain the fifth highest scoring team in the majors during the regular season, who also hit the tenth most home runs as well. While it will have to be a team effort, these players especially will have to step up if the Rays are going to have any kind of success.