Tampa Bay Rays rely on bullpen depth in another one-run win to open ALCS

After his team locked up yet another one-run victory by beating the Houston Astros 2-1 in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday, Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash wouldn’t attribute that success to anything but bullpen depth.

“Our analytical guys might think they’re lucky or fluky, but, no, I don’t think that,” Cash said after the Rays improved to 16-5 in one-run games this season, including the playoffs.

That .762 winning percentage in such contests is the best of any team in baseball history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

After the Rays overcame an early 1-0 deficit, Tampa Bay starter Blake Snell exited the game having held the Astros to that one run over five innings, getting the hook because he had burned through 105 pitches.

It was not an unfamiliar development for the Rays. Snell has not completed six innings in a single contest all season, and as a team, Tampa Bay has gotten more innings from its relievers than its rotation over the course of the campaign. The formula has worked, as evidenced by the Rays’ presence in the ALCS.

“We’re here because of all that depth,” Cash said.

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A few hours before the match, Cash conceded that “efficiency” from his starters would be an important factor this week.

With all the games unfolding at neutral-site Petco Park in San Diego and no travel days, the possibility of seven games over seven days loomed.

Complicating matters further was the emotional five-game divisional series the Rays just completed late Friday night, when they knocked off the rival New York Yankees 2-1 in Game 5. Cash got just 2 1/3⅓ innings from starter Tyler Glasnow in that game, but he got 2⅔ innings from relief ace Nick Anderson, two innings from Peter Fairbanks and two innings from Diego Castillo. Among that trio of his top-tier relievers, only Castillo was available on Sunday night.

Yet one thing that sets the Rays’ bullpen apart is that the proficiency of their top relievers is not as separated from the rest of the relief staff as it tends to be on other teams. Tampa Bay simply has lots and lots of effective relievers.

As good and deep as the Rays’ bullpen is, someone still has to put the right pitcher in the right situation at the right time. That person for the Rays is Cash. That fact, as much as anything, might explain why Tampa Bay keeps to befuddle the probabilities of one-run success.

“It can’t go overlooked the timing of the moves,” Zunino stated. “Cashie is on top of it. It goes without saying why I think he’s the best manager in the game.”

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