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Rays 0, Astros 1: Opener, Part XVI

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Luck Dragons and quiet bats combined for the L

MLB: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There are many times in baseball when the script writers go crazy, and what was supposed to be a pitcher’s duel ends up a 11-10, 14-inning affair.

Of course, because of the absurd 162-game nature of the MLB season, there are also plenty of times this doesn’t happen, and what was supposed to happen is exactly what ends up happening.

Thursday’s matchup between the Astros and Rays was much more the latter than the former in that regard.

The Astros, the team with the best ERA in baseball, turned to their would-be-an-ace-on-25-other-teams stud Lance McCullers, while the Rays, the team with the best ERA in baseball since May 19 (the somewhat false, but apparently universally accepted, start of “The Opener” experiment), turned to yet another Opener outing.

The Astros lineup was also without Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa, the former out on paternity leave and the latter just put on the DL as of Thursday. Brian McCann (75 wRC+) also got the start behind the plate over Max Stassi (125 wRC+) putting a bit of a dent in the elite Houston offense.

Both pitching staffs were locked in from the start, with Ryne Stanek continuing his run of dominance in The Opener role. With the 1.2 scoreless innings, he made a bit of tongue-in-cheek history, as our resident historian, Adam Sanford, pointed out:

Presented without comment, since it is still far too early to take anything of real value away from this experiment, is the updated Opener chart (I am continuing to use less-than-10-batters-faced as the cutoff, meaning none of Wilmer Font’s starts count):

Rays Opener Outings

Date Pitcher IP BF ER K H BB ERA WHIP Game result
Date Pitcher IP BF ER K H BB ERA WHIP Game result
4/8/18 Andrew Kittredge 2.00 8 1 1 2 0 4.50 1.000 L 7-8 @BOS
5/4/18 Andrew Kittredge 2.00 9 1 1 2 1 4.50 1.500 W 6-2 TOR
5/19/18 Sergio Romo 1.00 3 0 3 0 0 0.00 0.000 W 5-3 @LAA
5/20/18 Sergio Romo 1.33 6 0 3 0 2 0.00 1.500 L 2-5 @LAA
5/25/18 Sergio Romo 0.67 5 1 1 2 0 13.51 3.003 L 0-2 BAL
5/26/18 Ryne Stanek 1.67 5 0 3 0 0 0.00 0.000 W 5-1 BAL
5/27/18 Sergio Romo 0.33 4 3 0 2 1 81.08 9.009 W 8-3 BAL
5/31/18 Ryne Stanek 1.33 6 2 0 1 1 13.50 1.500 L 3-7 @OAK
6/1/18 Sergio Romo 1.33 5 0 0 0 1 0.00 0.750 L 3-4 @SEA
6/6/18 Jonny Venters 0.33 6 5 1 3 2 135.14 15.015 L 2-11 @WAS
6/7/18 Ryne Stanek 1.00 6 0 2 1 2 0.00 3.000 L 4-5 SEA
6/12/18 Ryne Stanek 2.00 6 0 3 0 0 0.00 0.000 W 4-1 TOR
6/16/18 Ryne Stanek 1.33 5 0 1 1 0 0.00 0.750 L 1-4 @NYY
6/18/18 Ryne Stanek 1.67 5 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.000 L 4-5 @HOU
6/22/18 Ryne Stanek 1.00 5 0 1 1 1 0.00 2.000 W 2-1 NYY
6/28/18 Ryne Stanek 1.67 7 0 3 0 2 0.00 1.200 L 0-1 HOU
Total 20.66 91 13 23 15 13 5.66 1.355 6-10

Ryan Yarbrough came in for Stanek in the second, and the first two batters reached, causing Marc Topkin to clutch his pearls:

Yarbs got George Springer (who the Rays youngster had on skis all game) to strike out with the bases loaded, extending the Rays pitchers scoreless inning streak.

That streak would reach 26 innings before it was broken in the top of the fifth when Yarbrough made his lone mistake of the day, a hanging change-up that the Astros number nine hitter, Jake Marisnick took way deep to left to break the scoreless draw. Even on a day when baseball seems to follow the correct script as a whole, it’s the number nine hitter who does the damage.

While Yarbrough excelled -- that one pitch aside -- the Rays offense sputtered, not putting together any sort of real threat until the sixth.

With two outs, Matt Duffy collected the Rays second hit of the night, and Jake Bauers followed that up with an excellent at bat that ended with a free pass. Wilson Ramos then got ahead of McCullers 3-1, but McCullers beared down and got the strikeout on one of his many nasty breaking balls on the evening.

The Astros continued to get about a baserunner an inning, but Yarbrough never cracked under the pressure, tossing 6.1 excellent relief innings. While The Openers are getting most of the attention around the league, it’s really the piggy backers who have impressed me the most with this Rays experiment. Here are Yarbrough’s 11 piggy back outings:

Yarbrough Piggy Back Outings

Date IP ER K H BB ERA WHIP
Date IP ER K H BB ERA WHIP
3/31/18 4.00 1 3 4 3 2.25 1.750
4/8/18 4.00 1 3 3 2 2.25 1.250
4/28/18 4.00 2 6 3 0 4.50 0.750
5/4/18 5.00 0 4 1 0 0.00 0.200
5/19/18 6.33 1 4 4 1 1.42 0.790
5/25/18 7.00 1 8 7 0 1.29 1.000
5/31/18 5.67 3 9 5 3 4.77 1.412
6/6/18 5.33 4 3 10 2 6.75 2.250
6/16/18 3.67 4 4 6 3 9.82 2.455
6/22/18 3.33 0 4 1 3 0.00 1.200
6/28/18 6.33 1 4 7 1 1.42 1.264
Total 54.66 18 52 51 18 2.96 1.262

It takes a special pitcher to be able to do what Yarbs has done this season, and he needs to start getting more recognition for it.

The Rays got a walk, a single, and a steal in the seventh, but none of that amounted to any runner getting past second, as the luck dragons continued to spit fire at the Rays.

But the seventh was nothing compared to the eighth.

Willy Adames led of the bottom of the eighth with an excellent hustle double, and then Kevin Kiermaier reached on a bunt single, leaving first and third with nobody out for the 2-3-4 hitters. So what happened? Naturally, Matt Duffy got ahead 2-1 in the count and spanked a line drive. But it was directly to Marwin Gonzalez at short, who not only made the catch but also doubled KK off first as he had been running on the play. That left a two-out, man on third set up for the Rays other youngster. Bauers put a good bat on a Chris Devenski pitch, but Jose Altuve made the play, leaving the Rays wondering how they had wasted such a golden opportunity.

The Rays then got a man to second base with two outs in the ninth, but scoring a run just wasn’t in the books for them, as Mallex Smith struck out to end the game, cutting the Rays win streak at five.

Two quick final notes:

  • Tom Emanski tangent: In the top of the fifth, there was an amazing play that just further highlighted how awesome the Rays youngsters are. With two outs and men on first and third, Yarbs caught Altuve leaning and threw over to first. Altuve was clearly going to try to extend the play to allow Bregman to score from third, but the Rays killed it perfectly. It was an incredibly heads up play from the Rays rookie, Willy Adames, who chased Altuve back while simultaneously staring down Alex Bregman who was cheating towards home. When Bregman finally made his break, Adames fired home, and Ramos fired back to third as Bregman tried to scamper back. But he was out by a mile, and the Rays showed provided every Little League coach with an absolutely perfect example of smart baseball. Staats and BA were deservedly gushing over the play for a while.
  • Luck Dragons, who do we need to sacrifice to you? The 1-0 loss was the Rays’ 20th one-run loss of the season, tops in the big leagues. Now they also have 14 such wins, making their .412 winning percentage in such games nothing incredibly out of the ordinary at this point in the season. But it’s incredibly frustrating when the team the Rays could hypothetically be chasing for a playoff spot are an insane 25-11 in such games. Also, there’s this: