The Nationals and Rays have fought back against the odds.
The Rays just took two in a row against pitchers who will undoubtedly be in the Hall of Fame one day, but they now have to beat the King of K’s, Gerrit Cole, in his home park. Cole is still young, so the Hall is not yet on the table, but his career also seems to be bound for Cooperstown. If the Rays win that game, it would be the climax of a comeback for the ages. When they were down 2-0, you could probably have gotten 20-1 odds against them beating three of the best pitchers in the game successively.
Of course they have not done it yet.
I know the Yankees are rooting for them.
The Rays have succeeded using a lot of creative strategies. In this game they used six pitchers and none of them lasted more than two and a third innings. None of those pitchers were yanked for poor performance. They all pitched well until a fresher arm or a better match-up was available. As a group, they allowed the powerful Astros only six hits. The save went to last year’s Cy Young winner, starter Blake Snell.
The Rays are tinkering with the whole concept of a starting pitcher. Ryne Stanek, a relief pitcher, started 27 games this year, 29 last year. They call him an “opener” rather than a starter. A guy really has to swallow his ego to take on that role, because at the end of the day, his record in that job will be 0-and-something, and his winning percentage will be an embarrassing zero. According to the rules of MLB, a guy who pitches the first inning or two can get a loss, but not a win, so Stanek’s lifetime record in 56 starts is 0-3.
The Rays don’t really believe very strongly in closers, either. The 2018 staff had 52 saves, but no individual pitcher had as many as half that amount. The team had 46 in 2019, but no individual topped 20. In contrast, Osuna had 38 of the Astros’ 47 this season; Kirby Yates had 41 of San Diego’s 47.
I’m impressed that San Diego had so many leads to preserve. For the season they had 73 save opportunities with only 70 wins, compared to Houston’s 67 opportunities in 107 wins. There is normally a correlation between team wins and save opportunities, although that relationship is not a 1-to-1 correspondence because there are complicating factors. For example, if a team (like Houston) is often too far ahead, the rules allow them fewer save opportunities. But even given the normal complexity of the save-to-win relationship, the Padres were a real fluke. 73 save opportunities with only 70 wins is amazing. There were six other teams with win totals in the 67-72 range, and they averaged only 51 save opportunities.