After a Guardians victory in Game 1 of the American League Wildcard Series, it’s time to break it down and reflect on how Cleveland came out on top as well as what is to come for Saturday afternoon’s Game 2. Here are my observations on both matters:
- This game was a classic, playoff pitchers’ duel. It felt like we were back 25 years ago when games were half an hour shorter. Honestly, if Rob Manfred could, he’d probably have starters Shane Bieber and Shane McClanahan pitch every game on the entire MLB schedule because he would be so enamored with the pace of play.
- Bieber was absolutely electric. 7 2/3 innings pitched. Only four base runners allowed. eight strikeouts including Randy Arozarena all three times that he faced him. The only Tampa Bay Ray to touch second base off Bieber was Jose Siri on the one mistake all day. Siri turned around and put it over the center field fence. But that was it. Literally no other Tampa Bay Ray touched second base while Bieber was on the mound.
- Watching it, I actually didn’t think Siri hit the ball that well, but the metrics don’t lie. When a guy with a Barrel Rate below the league average hits a ball at an Exit Velocity of 108 mph, he got you good. Tip your cap.
- Otherwise, Bieber was just dominant. He had 18 swings and misses- double what McClanahan generated. He mixed all four of his pitches and was especially lethal with his slider as 2/3 of the sliders that Rays batters swung at were cut on and missed. Sliders also produced the weakest contact of any of Bieber’s pitches.
- McClanahan, of course, was good in his own right. seven innings of no-walk, two-run ball is a great playoff performance. He had a really good curveball that kept the Guardians off balance when mixed with his high 90s fastball. He is really good at throwing them on the same plain and tricking hitters into being unsure of what is coming.
- As the game progressed and McClanahan matched Bieber it just felt like the game was going to come down to a single mistake by one of the pitchers. Honestly, it felt a little unsettling when Tampa Bay took the lead. You could tell the crowd got quiet too, but while Bieber made one mistake, McClanahan made a bigger one to Jose Ramirez.
- And of course, Hosey deserves his props. McClanahan pitched him carefully in what would be the game-deciding 6th inning at bat. The first pitch strike fastball was actually off the plate according to both K-zone on the broadcast and Statcast’s own interface, but McClanahan got the call. After a big curve down and also out of the zone that he laid off, Ramirez put the barrel on what was a pretty good 1-1 changeup on the outside corner. McClanahan probably would’ve preferred it was down more, but it wasn’t a complete mistake pitch to me. Either way, a great player made a great play and put it over the fence. It amazes me how much damage Ramirez has done as pitchers have progressively pitched more carefully to him as the season has gone on.
- Not to be lost in this, Amed Rosario. Rosario was the other Guardian with two hits on the day and obviously his single through the right side was key to Ramirez’s two-run bomb. He also put up a nine-pitch at bat in the 8th against Rays reliever Garrett Cleavinger. Rosario seeing the ball well will be important to the Guardians progress in October. He and Steven Kwan can wreak havoc and provide Ramirez/Josh Naylor/Oscar Gonzalez with run scoring opportunities. Rosario turning it around would be huge as he hasn’t walked in October yet (including regular season) and has a wRC+ of just 53 since the Guardians clinched.
- The entire Guardians offensive approach was also their same classic approach from all of this year. Obviously, it didn’t make for a lot of runs, but only one of their eight hits on the day were to the pull side. They didn’t let the moment get too big for them, get pull-happy and start swinging for the fences. They stuck to the plan and did just enough to scratch out a win against the other team’s ace.
- There’s been a lot of talk in terms of a teacher vs. disciple storyline when it comes to the managers in this series. Kevin Cash (the disciple) has gotten the better of Terry Francona (the teacher) in the past, but I think Cash played right into the Guardians’ hands today by running McClanahan out there for the 6th and 7th innings. It’s completely atypical of how the Rays operate. Cash has caught criticism for pulling starters early in the past in big moments, but the Guardians M.O. on offense is to create as many opportunities for themselves as possible in order to increase their chances to take advantage as games progress. Many a time you will see them wear down starters and start scoring runs in the 5th, 6th and 7th innings- which is exactly what they did on Friday. Maybe it was nothing, but I feel like Cash got lulled into a false sense of security. If say, Brooks Raley pitches the 6th after a strong five from McClanahan do things play out differently?
- Expect Cash to return to form on Saturday. Tyler Glasnow, who will start Game 2, just got off of the Injured List from Tommy John surgery in September and couldn’t pitch seven innings even if Cash wanted him too. Saturday should be a vintage Rays bullpen game and it will be interesting to see how that changes the calculus.
- On the other side, I was a little surprised Bieber came back out for the 8th, but he didn’t disappoint. I don’t think taking him out against Siri in the 8th was about the fact that Siri had homered but rather that Francona was comfortable going with Bieber until one swing could change the lead. Once that was the case, he went to the fireballer.
- And what a fireballer he was. Emmanuel Clase was like a hot knife through butter. 11 pitches to get four outs. Did the guy even break a sweat?! Those 11 pitches gave him the 3rd highest Win Probability Added for the game of anyone on the field (behind Ramirez and Bieber, of course).
The Look Forward
- I very much prefer being up 1-0 in a best of three than down 0-1. I know that’s common sense, but really, I feel like a short three-game set would be a really reasonable place to tighten up and get nervous when losing. Beyond that, I have to feel like getting a win under the Guardians’ belt is vindication for them. The national baseball media seems to have split between saying “what a great story and fun team!” and “this team got lucky winning a bad division, its doubtful they will make it far in the playoffs”. Coming out and getting a W on day one is proof positive that this team belongs. There are no doubts now. Its just any other game now.
- Saturday is now a prime opportunity to take care of business and get the Rays eliminated before they even realize what hit them. With Glasnow, a righty, on the mound, I imagine we will see Will Brennan in the lineup instead of Owen Miller, but I would otherwise expect a similar nine. With the Rays likely to change between righties and lefties on the mound as the game progresses, expect Francona to go to his bench more as well. On the other side, if Cash is concerned about getting more offense in a short series, he may entertain starting Isaac Paredes at second base tomorrow over Taylor Walls. I’m less in tune with the Rays, but I would otherwise expect a similar lineup from them Saturday.
- Tristan McKenzie gets the ball for Game 2 against Glasnow. He comes into the game with a 1.89 ERA in his last three starts including six innings of one-run ball against the Rays on September 28th. Two of the three hits he allowed that evening were of the infield variety and he buried the Rays hitters with curveballs and fastballs down and away. If Tristan stays hot and sticks to a game plan, he’s going to be tough to beat.
- Game 2 should be more of the same brand of baseball. Which teams’ pitching will break first? The Guardians should get a good, long look at the Rays bullpen either because Glasnow falters or won’t be able to pitch deep into the ballgame. Cleveland will need to take advantage if one of Tampa Bay’s arms is having an off day. To me, that’s the most likely outcome and if the Guards can grab an early lead, then between the pressure mounting and Cleveland’s bullpen that could be all she wrote.
- A prediction (because why not): Guardians win Game 2, 3-1.