Adjustments. I feel like a broken record at this point and we aren’t even into the division series yet. They are a much bigger part of baseball than I ever considered. How does a team adjust? Who adjusts first?
The Tampa Bay Rays adjusted first tonight. They adjusted first and they adjusted better. And they won the game, moving on to face the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series.
First, it was Alex Cobb who adjusted. In the lead up to this game, we all heard so much about his ability to throw a beautiful split-change. It was his out pitch, it was in his Rays DNA. Early on, it didn’t seem like he had the best command of the pitch. So he made his adjustment, going to the curveball.
Instead of sputtering or sticking with his bread and butter pitch, Alex Cobb used his curveball to get himself through the middle innings. It wasn’t always pretty, as he loaded the bases in the fourth and put too more batters on in the fifth. It was ugly, but it worked. After the game, Cobb praised the game-calling “creativity” of catcher Jose Molina.
Alex Cobb ended up throwing more curveballs than splitters, 35 in total. The highest single game usage for his curve this year. It was ugly
Danny Salazar came out throwing fire, blowing away the Rays in the first inning, smoke billowing from his fingers. 99. 98. 100 mph as he struck out three straight hitters, setting down the first six Rays he faced. Then word made its way through the Rays dugout. Maybe Salazar was tipping his pitches? Delmon Young greeted him with a home run in the third, getting on top of a fastball up and on the inner half.
Salazar is noticeably slowing his delivery down when he throws his slider and change. Wonder if the #Rays can pick up on it.
— Chris Rodriguez (@chrisrod13) October 3, 2013
Tampa Bay struck for two more runs in the fourth inning, getting balls through the infield but appearing to be right on his fastball – in all its triple-digit glory. Salazar faced one batter in the fifth and then his night was over.
Terry Francona did what he could. He played matchups and used his strong bullpen to great effect, holding the Rays through the eighth inning. Justin Masterson made a cameo performance from the bullpen, getting six big outs to keep the score close. Joe Maddon began to flex his muscle in the 8th, going to defensive replacements for the hobbled Desmond Jennings (who did damage at the plate, driving in the two-third inning runs with a double.) With a runner on base and two out in the eighth, Maddon made the curious decision to call for lefty reliever Jake McGee to face noted lefty-masher Ryan Raburn. What was he thinking?
Jake McGee isn’t a guy with huge platoon splits, though Raburn certainly is. What Raburn offers, however, is big time heat. A fastball that sits in the upper nineties. Digging into some numbers, I found Ryan Raburn posted just a .537 OPS against high end heat (95+) this season, compared to an OPS over 1.000 against all fastballs. Just one of his nine homers claimed off fastballs came from pitches 95 or above.
Maddon played a hunch? Maddon thought he had an advantage beyond the standard lefty/righty dynamic? He could go to Fernando Rodney but, rather than task an overused reliever with getting four outs, he went to the lefty with the live arm.
And it worked. This time. It only had to work once. Ryan Raburn struck out on four pitches.
Cleveland did not execute. Their key performers did not produce when they must. Carlos Santana reached base twice but none of the hitters around him could string hits together. Even the bottom of the order — Yan Gomes and Lonnie Chisenhall, the eight/nine hitters — reached base five times. But the bats at the top could not capitalize. Nick Swisher‘s playoff woes continue, a man who appears to want to do too much during the postseason, abandoning the patient approach that made him both successful and rich.
Bourn, Swisher, Kipnis, Cabrera… 0-for-16.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) October 3, 2013
A great season for Cleveland ends with disappointment while the Rays roadtrip of chuckles continues. On to Boston, where the task is MUCH taller than grabbing one game from Texas or Cleveland. A two teams very familiar with each other. The tired narratives of “too much rest” and “momentum” are locked and loaded. As tonight shows, the ability to change on the fly can negate all the storytelling that happens off the field.