ALDS Game Two Review: Tampa Bay

Expect the spotlight to be on the check-swing call in the fifth inning. Michael Young appeared to show intent of a swing on a Chad Qualls’ pitch. At least, it appeared that way to everyone but the first base umpire, who ruled that Young did not swing. Young homered and the Rangers never looked back. Young’s homer added .153 in win probability, shifting the Rays’ chances of winning from 22.8% to 7.5%. It’s impossible to say whether Qualls escapes the jam (although Randy Choate likely would have entered to face Josh Hamilton) or if the Rays would have plated a run later on. As such, speculation is rather pointless.

The fear over James Shields taking the mound proved to be mostly overblown as well. He failed to go five innings while allowing two extra base hits (a homer and a double), two groundball singles, and hitting Matt Treanor twice. Shields struck two out and walked none. He did not pitch brilliantly, but well enough that he kept the team in the game. The first run he allowed was a microcosm of his season. After hitting Treanor and having him advance on a Julio Bobron grounder and Elvis Andrus single, Shields made an errant pickoff throw, allowing the sluggish catcher to cross the plate easily. Some blame for that gaffe goes to first baseman Ben Zobrist too.

Joe Maddon pulled Shields in order to have a groundball pitcher face a groundball hitter in a double play situation. The added bonus being that Hamilton would not bat until the next inning and without runners on.

The real goat of the game (and series) continues to be the Rays’ offense.

Evan Longoria had two at-bats with a runner on while the game was competitive and reached out of the zone both times, recording nondescript outs. Only three batters held positive WPA for the Rays in this game and one of those (Dan Johnson) entered as a pinch hitter. Meanwhile, one of the other positive WPA hitters, Willy Aybar, joined the roster today, replacing the injured Rocco Baldelli. The Rays two-through-five hitters combined to go 0-11 with a walk and four strikeouts. Leadoff hitter Jason Bartlett was the only Ray to reach twice, once with a hit and the next time after being struck by a pitch.

A few media folk wondered aloud why Jeff Niemann didn’t start the game during his relief appearance where he struck out four batters in three innings while allowing two baserunners. Classic case of results bias, as those same folks would have questioned the decision to start a guy who made seven starts after returning from the disabled list and allowed 36 earned runs in 32 innings pitched.

The Rays will play the franchise’s first must-win Divisional Series game Saturday evening in Arlington. The probable matchup is Matt Garza and Colby Lewis.

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Take away the check swing and at best the Rays lose 2-0. They’ll complain and whine about it but you don’t win if you can’t score.

1 run over 2 games at home is no way to go through life, son.