Key factors in Rays' Wild Card Series success

October 2nd, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- After the Rays completed the two-game sweep against the Blue Jays in the American League Wild Card Series on Wednesday, the club went back into the home clubhouse and had a tame socially distanced celebration that included confetti and cupcakes.

Manager Kevin Cash didn’t feel the need to address the team or share a message. Instead, Cash said he’ll let the players control the message over the next couple of weeks. They knew what they had just accomplished, but it was just the first step towards the ultimate goal of winning a World Series.

The Rays won 40 games during the regular season, and they showed just how dangerous they can be during the Wild Card Series. As successful as the club was during the regular-season slate, Tampa Bay believe it's even more dangerous during a postseason unlike any we’ve ever seen.

Let’s take a look at four things we learned from the Rays’ sweep of the Blue Jays before they take on the Yankees in the AL Division Series at Petco Park in San Diego starting Monday:

1. Arms peaking at the right time
The Rays’ pitching staff finished the regular season with a 3.56 ERA, second in the AL behind the Indians, who posted a 3.29 mark. However, Tampa Bay had to navigate through 14 arms being on the injured list throughout the season, including five to season-ending injuries.

But even with all the success the Rays’ pitching staff had throughout the regular season, it might just be peaking at the right time. led the way with 5 2/3 dominant shutout innings in Game 1 against the Blue Jays, while allowed just two solo home runs in his Game 2 start.

In the last 29 innings dating back to the regular season, the Rays’ pitching staff has given up just three runs. Against the Yankees, Tampa Bay is going to need more of the same.

“I think it’s a huge advantage,” said center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. “We have some guys that can go deep into the game, and we have some very good long guys as well. We really like our starters, our middle guys in our bullpen, and then we throw 'The Stable' at them.”

2. Arozarena’s impact
Tampa Bay’s lineup won’t consistently light up the scoreboard, but is going to be a key for the ALDS showdown against the Yankees. Arozarena hit seven home runs and posted a 1.022 in 23 regular-season games, and he followed that up by going 4-for-8 with three extra-base hits in the two games against the Blue Jays.

“He doesn’t say much, but he’s a sparkplug in our lineup. There’s no other way to put it,” said catcher Mike Zunino. “The way he’s been going of late, he’s carried us in some games.”

3. Health
The Rays dealt with injuries throughout the season, but they’ve gotten healthy at the right time. and returned during the Wild Card Series, and there’s a chance could return for the ALDS.

Choi will play a big role in Game 1 against Gerrit Cole, as the left-handed hitter is 8-for-12 with three homers lifetime against the Yanks’ ace. Díaz is 5-for-12 with a homer.

4. Anderson’s October
was the best reliever in the Majors this season, posting a 0.55 ERA in 19 appearances. The right-hander had six saves, but he was responsible for getting the biggest outs of the game regardless of the inning. That won’t change in October. In fact, it’ll be his show the rest of the way.

Anderson pitched 1 2/3 innings in the Game 1 win over the Blue Jays, needing 29 pitches. That didn't stop Cash from going back to his best reliever to shut the door in Game 2, despite the 8-2 score.

“The idea [behind it] was that enough,” Cash said. “We’re going to go with our guy and get this thing done.”

Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu and the rest of the Bronx Bombers will become very familiar with Anderson over the next week.