Lingering questions about Rays’ loss to Red Sox

Lingering questions about Rays’ loss to Red Sox
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There always will be questions at the end of a season. Especially one that ends unexpectedly early as the 100-win Rays’ did, with an upset loss to the wild-card Red Sox in a four-game Division Series.

A few worth addressing:

When did they really lose the series?

In Game 2. Obviously the bad break/right call on the ball that bounced off Sox rightfielder Hunter Renfroe in the top of the 13th inning in Game 3 was a huge play, but they lost that game when Luis Patino gave up a walk, then a walkoff homer to Christian Vazquez.

And they lost Game 4 when the Sox got two ground ball singles on balls Yandy Diaz (or Joey Wendle?) could have made better plays on, then J.P. Feyereisen gave up the walkoff sac fly. (Which, to make you feel worse, was only the second postseason series in history to end with the winning team making an out, per Jayson Stark of The Athletic.)

But arguably most damaging was letting Game 2 get away at home, especially after the Rays had the early lead by scoring five in the first. (Teams doing so were 24-1 in postseason history, per ESPN.) Boston homers in the third off rookie Shane Baz and usually effective Collin McHugh cut the lead to 5-4, then in the fifth McHugh and Matt Wisler — whose finger obviously wasn’t fine like he kept telling everyone — gave up homers that put the Sox up 8-5 and woke their bats as they rolled to the 14-6 win.

Which Rays could have done more?

A lot of. them. The short outings in Game 2 by Baz (2 1/3 innings, three runs) and Game 3 by Drew Rasmussen (two-plus innings, three runs) were major problems, and McHugh and Wisler, two relievers they considered most dependable, failed to deliver. But their defeat also was on the offense.

Brandon Lowe is going to take the brunt of the criticism for his 0-for-18, nine-strikeout disappearance, but he wasn’t the only one to let them down. Nelson Cruz, whose overall stats since his costly July acquisition (roughly $5 million in salary, plus pitchers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman) were somewhat disappointing, was 3-for-17 with one extra-base hit.

Mike Zunino was 2-for-15 with six strikeouts, Yandy Diaz 3-for-15 with no extra-base hits, Manuel Margot 1-for-7. Kevin Kiermaier, who seemed to have a good series, was 3-for-14.

If McClanahan was going to pitch in Game 4, why didn’t he start?

It would have made sense. The Rays didn’t think using the 24-year-old on short rest would be an issue, planning for him to work multiple innings after coming in for the third. And they also banked on his 2020 postseason experience helping him adjust to pitching in relief.

So best guess? They figured by using McHugh as the opener they had two chances to grab a sizable early lead, 5-0 or so in the first or second, then save McClanahan for later, if it got close, or Game 5.

Would they have won the ALDS if Tyler Glasnow wasn’t hurt?

Probably? The question is whether Glasnow would be pitching as he was early in 2021 and not at the end of the 2020 postseason. A healthy, dominating Glasnow would have made a big difference, allowing the Rays to slide McClanahan back in the rotation, then use either Baz or Rasmussen, or both, and skip the bullpen day idea.

Thanks for the memories

Ji-Man Choi was among the Rays players taking to Instagram thanking fans, saying he was “very lucky” to have their “priceless” support and noting how special he felt — “fantastic and very honored” — to hear his name chanted at the Trop.

“I won’t forget about it,” he wrote. Choi is coming off a down year and is arbitration eligible again, with a projected salary of $3.5 million per mlbtraderumors.com, so his return is not certain. … Wander Franco also posted, thanking God and the fans “for this beautiful experience.”

Popping motivation

You’d think the Red Sox would have had other things to think about. But outfielder Alex Verdugo said the Rays having the nerve during Game 1 to eat popcorn in the dugout (as several said they often do) and making plans to have champagne on hand in Boston in case they won both games (as makes for good planning) ticked off and fired up the Sox.

“The first game, they’re over there eating popcorn, sitting on the field, chilling, talking,” Verdugo told NBC Sports Red Sox reporter John Tomase. “And then also, they’re telling the guys to get the champagne ready here and already ordering the stuff over. Just that little bit of disrespect like, ‘Wow, really? You guys think you’ve got it in the bag like that?’ It gave us extra fire. We already knew what we had to do and understood our job, but to give us that extra motivation to really ... get after it, it was great.”

Rays rumblings

No less an authority than the esteemed Peter Gammons, the poet laureate of Boston baseball, called the Rays-Sox Game 3 one of three best games he’s seen at Fenway Park in 50 years, just after Game 6 of the 1975 World Series vs. the Reds and the 1978 Sox-Yankees Game 163. … Expect bench coach Matt Quatraro’s name to surface for several of the managerial openings. … Carlos Rodriguez, vice president of player development and international scouting, reportedly was a candidate for the Cubs’ general manager job, and may be for others as well. … Reliever Andrew Kittredge marked the end of the season by shaving the bushy beard he had been growing since spring training. … Fangraphs.com gave Rays manager Cash a C for his handling of the lineups and pinch-hitting in the ALDS, and a B+ for his pitching decisions. … Facts matter: A Baseball Prospectus article making numerous complex assumptions about the team finances to suggest officials are being misleading about the overall condition spelled the name of the principal owner Stuart Sternberg as “Steinberg” and the bridge from Tampa to St. Petersburg as the Howard “Franklin.” … Rays prospects playing for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League include infielder Curtis Mead, outfielders Matt Dyer and Heriberto Hernandez, pitchers Trevor Brigden, Carlos Garcia, Matthew Peguero, Caleb Sampen. … The AL Rookie of the Year award, which seems likely to go to Randy Arozarena, will be announced Nov. 15; the top manager award, which may go again to Cash, on Nov. 16. ... David Hess, who spent parts of 2021 pitching with the Rays and Triple-A Durham, was diagnosed with a “cancerous germ cell tumor” and is being treated with chemotherapy.

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