No team does more with less than the Tampa Bay Rays. It hasn't yet paid off in a World Series title, but that day could be drawing near.

Following the best regular season in history, the 100-win Rays are set to open Thursday's American League Division Series (ALDS) against the Boston Red Sox, who defeated the New York Yankees 6-2 in Tuesday's Wild Card game. Playing in the postseason has become commonplace for Tampa Bay – the Rays lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games in last season's World Series after falling to the Houston Astros in the 2019 ALDS.

This season was particularly gratifying for the budget-conscious Rays, who had the AL's best record in consecutive seasons for the first time. They should have no fear facing the Red Sox following an 11-8 record in the season series, including 7-3 at home.

Tampa Bay went a franchise-record 51–25 against the AL East in a year when four of five times won 90 games, the first time that's happened since baseball went to six divisions in 1994. The Rays accomplished all this with 61 different players, including 38 pitchers, both franchise records.

While the core of this year's Rays team is much the same as last season, their scheduled starting pitchers for Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS are rookies Shane McClanahan and Shane Baz. Tampa Bay will become just the second team in postseason history to start rookie pitchers in the first two games of a playoff series, joining the 2012 Oakland Athletics in the ALDS (Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone).

McClanahan, 24, went 10-6 with a 3.43 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 25 starts in his rookie campaign and the 22-year-old Baz - the team's number one prospect – has just three starts on his major league resume. McClanahan allowed more than three runs just three times in his 25 starts and Baz totalled 18 strikeouts and surrendered only six hits in 13.1 innings as a major leaguer.

The left-handed McClanahan relies heavily on heat and his fastball velocity of 96.5 mph was the fourth highest by an AL starter (minimum 750 thrown as a starter) this season. Only Gerrit Cole (97.7), Nathan Eovaldi (96.9) and Dylane Cease (96.7) were better. McClanahan handled the Red Sox very well this season, posting a 2.81 ERA in three starts with 18 strikeouts in 16 innings.

When the Rays opened the 2020 postseason against the Toronto Blue Jays, their first two starters were Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow. Due to budget constraints for a team that ranked 26th in payroll this season at $76.6million, Snell was traded to the San Diego Padres in the offseason and Glasnow was limited to 14 starts due to a season-ending elbow injury.

 

An injury to their ace and the trade of a former Cy Young Award winner hardly mattered as the Rays led the AL with a 3.67 ERA. Elite pitching has become the norm for Tampa Bay, which has a 3.64 ERA since the start of the 2019 season, a mark bettered only by the mega-payroll Los Angeles Dodgers (3.16) during that span. Dodgers' pitchers Trevor Bauer and Clayton Kershaw – both of whom won't be pitching this postseason – earned a combined $69m this season, just $7.6m less than the entire Rays payroll.

The Rays bullpen is also a major strength and another area where they seem to have an unrivalled ability to find contributors from out of nowhere. The relievers underwent an overhaul during the season and saves leader Diego Castillo was traded to Seattle in late July. J.T. Chargois was acquired as part of that deal, and he went 5-1 with a 1.90 ERA in 25 appearances.

Tampa Bay's relievers led the majors with 58 wins and topped the AL with a 3.23 ERA, holding opponents to a .224 batting average despite pitching a major league-high 703 innings. While that is a lot of innings for a bullpen to cover, Andrew Kittredge led the team with 57 appearances to rank tied for 99th in MLB.

While the Rays and their uncanny ability to develop pitching consistently garners most of the headlines, this season's club also features a potent and diverse offense that scored a franchise-record 857 runs, second most in the majors behind the Astros (863). Just as impressive is Tampa Bay scoring a major league-best 312 runs in the seventh inning or later, with the next-closest team the San Francisco Giants (276).

Austin Meadows spearheads the line-up and is coming off a career-high 106 RBIs this season, one every 4.89 at-bats. That is the third-best RBI rate of any qualified AL player this season. Ahead of Meadows are Toronto's Teoscar Hernandez (4.74) and Jose Abreu (4.84) of the Chicago White Sox. Meadows is the first Tampa Bay player to reach 100 RBIs since Evan Longoria in 2010.

Prized rookie Wander Franco made his major league debut on June 22 and sparked the Rays to a 46-24 record the rest of the way. The 20-year-old Franco reached base in 43 consecutive games at one point, tying Frank Robinson (1956) for the longest such streak by a player 20 years or younger. Franco's .439 on-base percentage against lefties since the All-Star break ranked fifth in MLB.

Randy Arozarena has already proven he can flourish in the postseason. He was the talk of the 2020 playoffs after he slashed .377/.429/.831 and set postseason records for home runs (10) and hits (29) en route to winning MVP honours in the AL Championship Series (ALCS). Arozarena's 2021 was not nearly as devastating, but he did become just the third player in franchise history to collect 20 steals and 20 home runs (BJ Upton and Tommy Pham).

Tampa Bay can mash with the best of teams, ranking tied for third in the AL with 222 home runs, including five players with at least 20. Brandon Lowe finally stayed injury-free, and the result was 39 home runs and 99 RBI, including the first three-homer game by a left-handed batter in team history.  

Those 39 homers tied him for second in Rays history in single-season homers, trailing Carlos Pena's 46 in 2007. Lowe, Mike Zunino (33) and Meadows (27) combined for 99 home runs, tied for third most of any team-mate trio in the majors.

Zunino only batted .216 but he crushed left-handed pitching to the tune of a major league-high .868 slugging percentage (minimum 100 plate appearances). His 33 home runs were the most by a Rays catcher and all came while catching. That total was two shy of the AL record while catching, set by Ivan Rodriguez in 1999.

Nelson Cruz was acquired from the Minnesota Twins in July and the 41-year-old provided exactly what the Rays hoped with 13 homers and 36 RBIs in 55 games with strong leadership. He has always loved to hit at Fenway Park with a .343 life-time average, 14 home runs and 44 RBIs in 49 games at baseball's oldest park. Cruz's batting average at Fenway ranks third among active players (minimum 100 at-bats).

The Rays had the AL East locked up weeks ago and even the best record in the AL wasn't a huge challenge, so they haven't played pressure-packed games in a while. Still, with nothing left to play for this past weekend, they won two of three at Yankee Stadium and proved they have no problem turning it on when necessary.

A case can easily be made that no team is heading into the postseason with such a high level of both offense and pitching as the Rays. Tampa Bay have truly become the city of champions lately with the success of the NHL's Lightning and NFL's Buccaneers and the Rays could very well add their name to that list.

The New York Yankees' playoffs hopes were dealt a blow despite Jordan Montgomery sending down 12 strikeouts as they lost 3-2 to the Baltimore Orioles in 10 innings in MLB on Thursday.

Austin Hays delivered a walk-off single in the 10th inning to give the Orioles the win, with the Yankees moving to an 82-65 record, slipping behind the Boston Red Sox (83-65) in the American League (AL) Wild Card race.

Joey Gallo had put the Yankees ahead with a solo home run in the second inning, his fifth in 11 games. Gio Urshela got Gary Sanchez home in the second for a 2-0 lead.

But the Orioles worked their way back, initially as rookie Ryan Mountcastle made history with a 438-foot solo home run in the sixth inning off Montgomery.

Mountcastle's 29th homer of the season eclipsed Cal Ripken Jr's franchise record which has stood since 1982.

That was the only earned run Montgomery allowed, conceding six hits and one walk, with his 12 Ks.

Kelvin Gutierrez tied the game off a wild Clay Holmes pitch in the ninth inning, before Hays' chopper got Jahmai Jones home for the win.

 

Rays return to winners' column

The Tampa Bay Rays returned to winning ways with a 5-2 series-opening victory over the Detroit Tigers, with Yandy Diaz setting the tone with a lead-off homer, along with a late two-run shot from Mike Zunino.

Mathematically the Rays, who improved to 91-56 in top spot in the AL East division, could clinch their postseason spot on Monday.

Bryce Harper drove in four runs including a three-run homer for his 33rd of the season as the Philadelphia Phillies crushed the Chicago Cubs 17-8.

The Phillies were buoyed by a seven-run fourth inning, helping them stay in the Wild Card hunt at 74-72.

Fernando Tatis Jr launched a solo line drive home run, his 39th of the season, as the San Diego Padres toppled the San Francisco Giants 7-4.

Carlos Correa crushed a three-run shot while Alex Bregman drove in four runs as the Houston Astros downed the Texas Rangers 12-1.

The Cincinnati Reds stopped their slide and boosted their Wild Card hopes with a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

 

White Sox ejected after Ohtani hit

There was late drama as the Los Angeles Angels won 9-3 over the Chicago White Sox with reliever Mike Wright Jr ejected after three wayward pitches, with the latter hitting Shohei Ohtani in the leg. White Sox manager Mike La Russa protested the decision, insisting it was not intentional, before also being ejected from the game. For what it is worth, Ohtani was OK to continue.

 

Perez equals catcher HR record

Salvador Perez clubbed a two-run homer to match Johnny Bench for the most home runs in a season by a primary catcher. Perez's first inning home run took his season tally to 45 and helped the Kansas City Royals to an early 2-0 lead, before losing 7-2 to the Oakland Athletics.

 

Thursday's results 

Cincinnati Reds 1-0 Pittsburgh Pirates
Los Angeles Angels 9-3 Chicago White Sox
Oakland Athletics 7-2 Kansas City Royals
San Diego Padres 7-4 San Francisco Giants
Baltimore Orioles 3-2 New York Yankees 
Philadelphia Phillies 17-8 Chicago Cubs
Tampa Bay Rays 5-2 Detroit Tigers
Houston Astros 12-1 Texas Rangers 

 

Padres at Cardinals

Wild Card spots are on the line when the St Louis Cardinals (76-69), who have won five games in a row, host the San Diego Padres (76-70) in the National League.

The Tampa Bay Rays added to their season-long list of eye-popping statistics as they rolled past the Boston Red Sox 12-7 at Fenway Park on Tuesday. 

Nelson Cruz and Mike Zunino combined to go seven-for-nine with a double, a triple, four home runs and eight runs batted in as the first-place Rays built a 12-1 lead before Boston tacked on six runs in the final two innings. 

Cruz homered in the third and fith innings to reach 30 for the season, making the 41-year-old the oldest MLB player to reach that mark. Zunino is close behind Cruz on the season, hitting his 28th in the fourth inning and 29th in the sixth. 

According to Stats Perform, they are the second visiting duo to each have at least two home runs and at least four RBIs in the same game at Fenway Park since Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris of the New York Yankees on May 30, 1961.

While those two were going deep, Wander Franco was getting on base once again. The rookie walked in the seventh to extend his on-base streak to 37 games, breaking a tie with Mantle to put him behind only Hall of Famer Frank Robinson (43) in consecutive games reaching base for a player 20 years old or younger. 

The Tampa Bay win and another Yankees loss extended the Rays' American League (AL) East lead to nine and a half games. 

 

Astros storm back to beat Mariners, Angels spoil Snell's brilliant outing

The Houston Astros trailed the Seattle Mariners 4-2 heading to the bottom of the ninth inning, but Alex Bregman's two-run homer tied the game and Carlos Correa won it 5-4 for Houston with a walk-off ground-rule double in the 10th. 

San Diego Padres starter Blake Snell was perfect through six innings but ended up taking the loss when Jo Adell hit a two-run single with two outs in the seventh on the way to a 4-0 Los Angeles Angels win. Snell has held opposing hitters to a .071 batting average over his last four starts, which Stats Perform says is the lowest since Johnny Vander Meer held batters to a .063 average over four games – including his back-to-back no-hitters – in 1938. 

Avisail Garcia hit his 25th home run while Eric Lauer and two Milwaukee Brewers relievers held the Philadelphia Phillies to five hits in a 10-0 victory. The Brewers lead the National League (NL) Central by 11 games over the Cincinnati Reds.

Ozzie Albies homered for the fourth successive game, his two-run shot in the seventh giving the Atlanta Braves the lead for good on the way to an 8-5 victory over the Washington Nationals. Albies also drove in runs with a fourth-inning sacrifice fly and an eighth-inning single. 

 

 

Cole leaves injured as Yankees lose again

Gerrit Cole left in the fourth inning with hamstring tightness and the New York Yankees lost 5-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays, their eighth defeat in 10 games in a skid that began immediately after a 13-game winning streak. With their sixth straight win, the Blue Jays are now two games back of the Red Sox in the American League wild card race. 

 

Pujols hits another homer in St Louis

Albert Pujols got a standing ovation from the fans in St Louis, where he starred for 11 seasons, before hitting his 206th home run in the city and the 679th of his career.

 

Hitting a homer directly after getting a standing ovation is so awesome. pic.twitter.com/EdJGzkmOdS

— MLB (@MLB) September 8, 2021

 

Tuesday's results 

Minnesota Twins 3-0 Cleveland Indians
Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 Detroit Tigers
Baltimore Orioles 7-3 Kansas City Royals
Tampa Bay Rays 12-7 Boston Red Sox
Atlanta Braves 8-5 Washington Nationals
Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 New York Yankees
New York Mets 9-4 Miami Marlins
Milwaukee Brewers 10-0 Philadelphia Phillies
Cincinnati Reds 4-3 Chicago Cubs
San Francisco Giants 12-3 Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers 7-2 St Louis Cardinals
Houston Astros 5-4 Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers 3-1 Arizona Diamondbacks
Los Angeles Angels 4-0 San Diego Padres
Chicago White Sox 6-3 Oakland Athletics

 

Blue Jays at Yankees

Luis Gil has yet to surrender a run in three career MLB starts and the Yankees (78-60) will hope for more of the same as they try to stop Alek Manoah and the streaking Blue Jays (75-62). 

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.