The Tampa Bay Rays are on the verge of a World Series berth. Tuesday night the Rays took advantage of a Jose Altuve error and rode their stellar defense to a Game 3 win over the Houston Astros (TB 5, HOU 2). Tampa holds a commanding 3-0 series lead. They can clinch the American League pennant as soon as Wednesday night.
It is never just one hero with the Rays. Joey Wendle and Hunter Renfroe had two-run base hits during the team's five-run sixth inning in Game 3, and five relievers held the Astros scoreless for four innings. The Rays have allowed only five runs in their last four games, with four coming on solo home runs. Extended rallies against this team are impossible.
Here are five takeaways from Game 3.
Altuve made another crucial error
Altuve's throwing is a capital-P Problem for the Astros. He made a throwing error on a routine play in the first inning of Game 2 -- his throw short-hopped Yuli Gurriel at first base -- that extended the inning and led to Manuel Margot swatting a three-run homer.
In Game 3 on Tuesday, , this time throwing a potential 4-6-3 double play ball into left field. I'm not certain the Astros turn the double play with Brandon Lowe running, but they definitely should've had the lead runner at second. Instead, nothing.
The Rays capitalized on Altuve's error because of course they did. When it was all said and done, Tampa put five runs on the board in the sixth inning to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 5-1 lead. Here is Altuve's error and the ensuing rally:
Altuve made zero throwing errors during the regular season, so either he forgot how to throw at some point these last three weeks (i.e. developed the yips), or he's nursing an injury that is affecting his throwing. For what it's worth, neither Altuve nor the Astros have said anything about an injury.
For Houston, the easy solution is putting Altuve at DH moving forward, with Aledmys Diaz taking over at second base. Diaz was at DH in Game 3.
Tampa is making every play
It's bordering on comical at this point. While Altuve struggles to make routine throws, the Rays are making exceptional plays left and right. The Tampa defense has stifled the Astros in the ALCS and they made several more great plays in Game 3. Check it out:
Alex Bregman in particular has felt the wrath of the Rays' defense. He put seven balls in play in Games 2-3 and six were very well-struck. The exit velocities: 106.8, 99.5, 103.0, 103.1, 98.4, 96.3, 82.2. All outs. Every single one. Hit the ball hard and good things usually happen. Not for Bregman in the ALCS though.
The Rays ranked fifth in baseball with 24 Defensive Runs Saved during the regular season and, based on these last few nights, that feels incredibly low. They've been spectacular. They're catching everything, snuffing out rallies, and saving their pitchers pitches.
Arozarena is making history
Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena has been the breakout star of the postseason. He went 4 for 8 in Tampa's Wild Card Series sweep over the Blue Jays, hit three home runs against the Yankees in the ALDS, and is now wrecking the Astros in the ALCS. Arozarena went 3 for 4 with a double and a walk in Game 3. He has great fashion sense too:
Handsome Randy now has four three-hit games this postseason. He also did it in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series and Games 1 and 3 of the ALDS. He's the first rookie ever with four three-hit games in a single postseason and only the fifth player ever with four three-hit games in a single postseason. The list:
- Jay Buhner: 1995
- Edgar Martinez: 1995
- Albert Pujols: 2004
- Jose Altuve: 2017
- Randy Arozarena: 2020
Because the Rays have a 3-0 series lead, Arozarena will have at least four more opportunities to become the first player in history with five three-hit games in a single postseason. He is 18 for 39 (.462) in 10 postseason games this year.
Altuve is climbing the postseason homer leaderboard
It's not all bad news for Altuve. For the second time in the ALCS, he opened the scoring with a first inning solo home run in Game 3. He took Blake Snell deep in the first inning of Game 1 and then did it to Ryan Yarbrough in Game 3 as well.
Altuve now has four homers in nine games this postseason and 17 home runs in 59 career postseason games. Only 11 others have hit as many dingers in October. The career postseason home run leaderboard:
- Manny Ramirez: 29
- Bernie Williams: 22
- Derek Jeter: 20
- Albert Pujols: 19
- Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle: 18
- Altuve, Nelson Cruz, David Ortiz, George Springer, Jim Thome: 17
Carlos Correa is sitting on 16 career postseason home runs, it should be noted. It'll take some work, but it is possible three current Astros will be top five in career postseason homers before 2020 lets out.
The Rays have a commanding lead
One more win and the Rays are the 2020 American League champions. Tampa has a commanding 3-0 series lead and, historically, teams that take a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven have gone on to win the series 97 percent of the time. That's 37 series wins and one loss. The one is, of course, the 2004 Red Sox and their historic ALCS comeback against the Yankees. The Rays lost four straight games once during the regular season -- they lost five straight from July 29 to Aug. 2 -- so a comeback is possible, but it's a tall order. The Astros are in trouble and the Rays are sitting pretty.