The Rays postseason came to an abrupt end last night, as the American League’s top seeded team fell to the Red Sox in back-to-back walk off losses.
It hurts, and it’s going to for a while. Many players the Rays depended on in the regular season — Brandon Lowe, Mike Zunino, Nelson Cruz, Drew Rasmussen, Collin McHugh, and Shane McClanahan, among others — struggled in various capacities.
But it wasn’t all poor performances. Across the four games of the ALDS, several Rays players also rose to meet the moment. Here’s our top five.
We’ve all known Randy Arozarena was capable of taking the postseason by storm. We witnessed it last year. So, it was no shock when he parked a home run into the left field seats in Game 1 of the ALDS. What I was not expecting was to witness that night was a steal of home, a play so exciting and so rare that neither myself, my dad, or the older gentleman sitting next to me at the Trop had ever seen.
Game 1 snowballed into another incredible postseason for Randy, reaching base nine times in nineteen plate appearances, driving in three runs and stealing two bases. But no matter what else he has in store in his postseason career, it’s difficult to imagine a moment that will top him stealing home.
Arozarena was who the Rays needed him to be (again) with a .474 OBP in 19 plate appearances this postseason, and is the Rays leader in postseason homeruns (11).
— Brett Rutherford
Jordan Luplow could have been the new Dan Johnson. The destroyer of left-handed pitchers helped usher in the unscripted exit of Chris Sale in Game 2 when he hit the second Grand Slam in Rays postseason history after being a questionable inclusion on the postseason roster by some.
In Game 4, he makes an incredible scoop to save a run in extra innings on the throw from Wander Franco to keep hope of advancing on life support just a little longer. In that Game 4 he rounded out his performance with a hit and a run to help fuel the comeback.
From headline to footnote, just that quick.
MR SCOOPS JORDAN LUPLOW SAVES A RUN IN EXTRA INNINGS pic.twitter.com/y5fIZMvwVj— Officially Unofficial (@OfficUnofficPod) October 11, 2021
Jordan Luplow appeared in all four games, providing a .375 OBP over 8 plate appearances, including the Grand Slam:
OH MY GOODNESS JORDAN LUPLOW JUST OBLITERATED A GRAND SLAM AND THE TROP IS…… ELECTRIC— Ben Verlander (@BenVerlander) October 8, 2021
— Jamal Wilburg
Randy Arozarena stole the show in game one with one of the most exciting plays in Rays history when he dashed for homeplate and successfully stole home. That wasn’t the end of his heroics as he came through with the game tying hits late in game 3 or 4. He was doing his best to live up to the standards he set last October.
However the story of the playoffs to me is the continued maturation of Wander Franco. Franco came into the season as a uber talented prospect that turned 20 during Spring Training. The transition to the majors wasn’t smooth, but he adjusted very fast. When trying to compare him with 20 year olds the list isn’t all that long. You either are comparing them to guys who played multiple decades ago who became Hall of Famers or the biggest young stars in the game like Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, and Ronald Acuna. Wander “struggled” for a couple weeks, but he was the impact player many thought he could become very quickly.
After the All-Star Break he hit .314/.372/.500 and put up a 143 wRC+. He didn’t slow down in the playoffs. He hit .368/.368/.789 with two doubles and two homers in a tiny 19 plate appearance sample in the playoffs. He hit two late inning homeruns that helped the Rays tie both games at Fenway.
These moments are ones that Franco was made for. His future is very bright. He’s going to have a good team surrounding him for at least the next few years. It’s a very exciting time to be a Rays fan.
— JT Morgan
The new Four Horseman
The bullpen, or more specifically concerns over the ‘pen, was the talk of September. In October, a mix of new names, old names, and a familiar Stable horse stepped up to the challenge.
In a close series, every single pitch, every single inning mattered. That’s why JT Chargois, Andrew Kittridge, Pete Fairbanks, and David Robertson get my spotlight. This quartet of Stablemates used movement rather than velo to keep the potent Red Sox bats off balance. Together they combined for a line of: 13.1 IP 9 H 1 ER 3 BB 8 K.
By Championship Win Probability Added (a way to measure impact positively or negatively towards a championship) this quartet were the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th most important pitchers in the series (behind only Garrett Whitlock and Nick Pivetta).
In particular, I wanted to offer some individual praise for JT Chargois. One of the newer members of the Rays high leverage pen, he arrived in a much-discussed trade of Diego Castillo. Chargois pitched in every game of the ALDS, and was asked and answered the call for some extremely high leverage moments.
Before I wrap my mini Stable praise, let me give my own ovation to Andrew Kittridge.
Kitt was asked to carry a heavy load all year for the Rays, earning an All-Star appearance for his efforts. After not being used in the first two games of the series, Kitt came in back-to-back games, both times immediately providing a stabilizing presence (maybe pun intended?) and keeping the Rays in the game to allow for some late-inning magic to mount valiant comebacks. A fantastic year for Kitt capped by doing what he did best: getting it done in every role he was asked.
— Darby Robinson