After winning a major league best 100-games during the regular season, the Tampa Bay Rays entered the playoffs with high hopes.
Things didn’t quite work out, as after an emotional game one victory against the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS, Tampa Bay lost three straight games and were eliminated by their division rival.
The biggest question mark heading into the series was going to be the rotation, for as promising and talented they were, the Rays’ starters were just as inexperienced.
Only Colin McHugh, now a reliever, had started a game in the playoffs before the 2021 ALDS and he was used in that situation only because of game three going into extra innings.
The player that would have likely started game four, Luis Patino, had no prior playoff experience before this season and pitched in their extra innings loss.
Shane McClanahan, who made MLB history by becoming the first pitcher to make his major league debut in the playoffs in 2020, was the lone bright spot out of the rotation in the 2021 ALDS.
He pitched fantastic in game one, tossing five shutout innings in Tampa Bay’s lone win in the series. The left-handed McClanahan would later came on in relief during game four after McHugh pitched two innings to start.
It did not go as well as game one did. The rookie first round pick from the University of South Florida only recorded two outs, but gave up five hits, and five runs along with a walk. Tampa Bay came back and tied the game, but Boston still ended up winning the contest on a Kike Hernandez walk-off sacrifice fly.
Despite only making three starts (13 innings) during the regular season, Shane Baz earned the nod for game two. The team’s top pitching prospect would allow three runs on six hits and a walk in 2 1/3 innings before getting pulled from the game.
Tampa Bay had one of the deepest bullpens in baseball, and it was evident that they planned on using that to their advantage with the way they deployed their pitching staff.
It also explained why they were apparently comfortable with using Baz and Rasmussen as their other starters. They didn’t need whoever started to go deep into the game, just enough to get it to the bullpen with a lead.
The rotation took a blow when Tyler Glasnow was hurt, and in the end it never truly recovered. Tampa Bay had Michael Wacha on their staff, who has plenty of experience in the playoffs, but decided to use him out of the bullpen.
With one of the best farm systems in baseball, they could have gone out and added a starter at the deadline, although the cost of some the available names was insanely high. With their deep system, they could have certainly paid the price, but it would have been a move that wouldn’t have fit in with what we’ve come to expect from the Rays.
It was a disappointing end to a good season, but the Rays have a tried-and-true method that can see them reload and churn out yet another competing ball club and will do so with their young talented pitching staff having postseason experience now.