How they got there: Rays' path to Fall Classic

October 19th, 2020

After the Game 5 loss in the American League Division Series to the Astros last October, the Rays decided to stay one last night in Houston in order to reflect on what they accomplished.

The group understood that the front office would make slight changes to the team, but that the core would likely stay the same. After some reflection, the message for the 2020 season was simple: make it back to the postseason, and then make some noise.

With a 4-2 win in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series on Saturday night at Petco Park, the Rays got their revenge against the Astros and are headed to the World Series for the first time since 2008. They'll face the Dodgers in the Fall Classic, which begins Tuesday night at Globe Life Field.

How they were built
Amateur Draft:
Blake Snell, Josh Fleming, Brandon Lowe, Nate Lowe, Kevin Kiermaier.

International signings: José Alvarado, Diego Castillo.

Free agents: Charlie Morton, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Mike Brosseau (undrafted free agent), Kevan Smith, John Curtiss, Aaron Loup, Ryan Sherriff.

Trades: Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake, Pete Fairbanks, Tyler Glasnow, Trevor Richards, Aaron Slegers, Ryan Yarbrough, Michael Perez, Mike Zunino, Willy Adames, Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Díaz, Brian O’Grady, Joey Wendle, Randy Arozarena, Manuel Margot, Brett Phillips, Hunter Renfroe.

Postseason standout: Randy Arozarena
Arozarena is having one of the best postseasons in Major League history, and the Rays have needed every bit of it. After hitting seven home runs in 23 regular-season games, Arozarena has matched that total in 14 postseason contests. Arozarena’s seven homers are also a rookie record for a single postseason.

So far in the postseason, Arozarena has shattered nearly every rookie record, and with 21 hits, the ALCS MVP Award winner is only one away from tying Derek Jeter for the rookie postseason record. He also joined Carlos Peña and Evan Longoria as the only Rays players to homer in three consecutive postseason games. The power boots are for real.

October surprise: Mike Zunino
The easy answer here would be to go with Arozarena again, but what Zunino has provided has been just as important for the Rays. Zunino has mostly struggled offensively in his two seasons with Tampa Bay, but he has more than made up for it this October, tallying four homers and eight RBIs in 13 games.

Memorable playoff moment: Mike Brosseau’s go-ahead homer off Aroldis Chapman
Glasnow called it a “very storybook” moment, and the right-hander is spot on. After Chapman threw a 101 mph fastball over the head of Brosseau during the regular season, the Rays’ utility man got the last laugh, launching a solo home run in the eighth inning to lift Tampa Bay to a 2-1 win in Game 5 of the ALDS against New York.

Outfielder Austin Meadows said there were players tearing up in the clubhouse, as the moment goes down as one of the most memorable in Rays history.

Key offseason acquisitions
Renfroe, Tsutsugo, Margot and Arozarena were some of the big acquisitions during the offseason, but the signings that have paid off the most for the Rays are the ones that didn’t receive much Hot Stove attention.

Curtiss signed a Minor League contract with the Rays in February and has since become one of the most reliable bullpen arms for Tampa Bay. Loup, who was fighting for a roster spot during Summer Camp as a non-roster invitee, has also made the most of his opportunity.

Rookies such as Fleming, Thompson and Nate Lowe weren’t acquired in the offseason, but they have also stood out this season once getting their opportunity.

Managerial decision
With all the versatility on the roster, the Rays didn’t make any one particular move that helped shape the season. However, manager Kevin Cash deserves a lot of credit for how he managed the bullpen, given all the injuries, and how he constructed a lineup that often gave the Rays the best matchups. It even included the first all-left-handed lineup in Major League history.

Defining season stretch
The Rays swept a three-game series at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 20, closing out one of the best road trips in franchise history. Tampa Bay went 9-1 on a road trip that included games against the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Yankees.

With the sweep of the Yankees, the Rays moved into first place in the AL East, and haven’t looked back since. During the stretch, the Rays became just the fifth team in Major League history to sweep a series of three or more games at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium on the same road trip.

Breakout player
Brandon Lowe was an All-Star last season, but his performance this season established him as one of the best second basemen in the AL. Lowe has carried the Tampa Bay offense with 13 home runs, including a stretch where he homered in four consecutive games.

Calling card
Losing Yonny Chirinos, Colin Poche, Andrew Kittredge, Chaz Roe and Jalen Beeks for the season were big blows for the Rays, but the pitching staff has performed well through the adversity and it is still considered the Rays’ biggest strength.

The starting trio of Glasnow, Snell and Morton are the key for the Rays, while Yarbrough and Fleming also provide quality depth. Relievers Anderson, Castillo and Fairbanks lead a bullpen that still has plenty of firepower.

Memorable moment
Just hours after seeing a 100 mph fastball from Chapman fly over his head, Brosseau had one of the best games of his career, launching two home runs in an emotional 5-2 win over the Yankees on Sept. 2.

After the game, the Rays talked about how much closer the team got, given everything that surrounded the previous night, including some powerful postgame comments by Cash.

“A lot of us had tears in our eyes,” Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro said after the game. “It was a special moment that he’ll never forget. It just goes to show the willpower that guy has to move on from what happened yesterday, put it behind him, and go play his game.”