The Tampa Bay Rays are one win away from a World Series berth. The same was true Wednesday and Thursday, but the Astros won Game 4 (HOU 4, TB 3) and Game 5 (HOU 4, TB 3) to force Game 6 on Friday. Houston is only the fourth team ever to force a Game 6 after trailing a best-of-seven series 3-0. .
Pitching and defense have carried to the Rays to this point. Their 3.25 ERA this postseason is second lowest among teams that have played at least four games -- the Braves have a 3.07 ERA but they've thrown 20 1/3 fewer innings than Tampa -- and their defense has been just spectacular. It has almost felt like the Rays know where the Astros are going to hit the ball during the ALCS.
Offensively, the Rays have been led by rookie outfielder Randy Arozarena, the breakout star of the postseason. Arozarena is 20 for 48 (.417) with six home runs in 12 games this October. , and his four three-hit games are tied for the most ever in a single postseason among all players, not just rookies.
"He's a dangerous man," Astros manager Dusty Baker told reporters, including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, when asked about Arozarena on Friday.
Arozarena has been out of this world good this postseason. The rest of the Rays? Not so much. In fact, the rest of the Rays have been downright terrible offensively outside the odd home run, like Ji-Man Choi's game-tying homer in Game 5 of the ALCS. The numbers:or
Rest of the Rays
The Rays are 12-for-63 (.190) with runners in scoring position this postseason and 29-for-141 (.206) with men on base. Homers have accounted for 35 of the team's 49 runs, or 71 percent. Historically, run scoring goes down in the postseason, but the home run rate stays the same, so homers are more important in October. Still, the Rays are taking it to the extreme this year.
"They've pitched us well. They've pitched us tough," Rays manager Kevin Cash told reporters, including MLB.com's Juan Toribio, following Game 5. "That big hit continues to elude us with guys on base."
Brandon Lowe, Tampa's regular season MVP, is 4-for-45 (.089) this postseason and was benched in ALCS Game 4. He did go deep in Game 5, but was otherwise overmatched in his at-bats. Willy Adames is 4-for-34 (.118) this postseason. Yandy Diaz is 3-for-22 (.136). Austin Meadows is 4-for-30 (.133). Manuel Margot and Joey Wendle have been the team's two most consistent hitters other than Arozarena and they are 16-for-65 (.246) combined this postseason. Wendle does not have an extra-base hit.
As good as they are at preventing runs -- and they're very good -- at some point, the Rays will need someone other than Arozarena to contribute offensively. He's a one-man wrecking crew right now, but should Tampa advance to the World Series, their opponent may give him the Barry Bonds treatment. They might just pitch around him and force his teammates to beat them.
For now, Tampa's pitching and defense have given their offense breathing room, and they're getting enough from guys other than Arozarena that they're a win away from a World Series berth. They're where they are in spite of their offense though, not because of it, and they'll need several players to right the ship to have their best chance at winning the franchise's first title.
"We've been streaky throughout the course of these playoffs," Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier told Toribio after Game 5. "We've had some offensive outbursts in a few games and we've been quiet for a lot of them. We need to do a little bit better job of taking our walks, create runs in many different ways and use our speed and athleticism. But we have to get on base and put the pressure on them at a little bit better pace. We're going to try and do that tomorrow."