We have to start with the pitchers. In Game Two, Gerrit Cole authored one of the most dominant postseason pitching performances ever. He struck out 15 Rays, compiling a game score of 85. He induced 33 swinging strikes (including foul tips): 14 on fastballs, 10 on knuckle curves, eight on sliders, and one on the changeup. All four pitches were simply devastating, and his 7 2⁄3 scoreless innings paved the way for a 3-1 Astros victory.
It’s unfair to expect the sequel to match the original, but that was actually a normal game for Cole. He’s arguably the best pitcher in baseball this year and could win the Cy Young. Here’s how he’s pitched since the beginning of September:
In those seven starts, including his ALDS appearance, he’s averaging seven innings, 3.4 hits, 0.9 runs, 1.1 walks, 12.7 strikeouts, and a game score of 78.9. It is simply impossible to be more dominant over an extended stretch of time. If past results predict future outcomes (which sometimes happens, sometimes not so much), we should see another shutdown performance tonight.
It certainly seems bleak for Tampa Bay, but they have their best pitcher on the hill as well. On a rate basis, Glasnow was even better than Cole in the regular season. He posted a 2.26 FIP, and his 57 DRA- was third best among AL starting pitchers (min. 50 innings), trailing only Cole and Justin Verlander. Injuries wiped out about four months of his season, limiting him to 12 starts and 60 2⁄3 innings, but that hardly matters now.
His worst start of the season came on October 4— ALDS Game One. He surrendered a pair of runs in 4 1⁄3 innings, allowing seven baserunners, including a home run, and fanning five. Six of his nine batted balls allowed were considered hard hits (exit velocity greater than 95 mph).
Glasnow will need to be at his usual best to match up with Cole, but length will not be necessary. In an elimination game, literally every active Rays pitcher will be available. The team used a bullpen game to secure Game Four, so everyone is more or less rested. This can become a bullpen game too, if need be. In fact, it’s extremely unlikely Glasnow turns faces the Astros lineup a third time— even if he’s throwing a perfect game. 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell made his first ever relief appearance in the last game, and there’s a good chance he’ll make his second tonight.
The same goes for Houston. Pretty much everyone except Verlander— the Game Four starter— should be available out of the bullpen. Frankly, we can’t even completely rule out Verlander! It’s cliché to say it’s all hands on deck, but, uh, it’s all hands on deck.
Alex Bregman and José Altuve have carried the Astros offense so far, the latter having homered off Glasnow in the first game. Willy Adames has been Tampa Bay’s best player. Guessing which position players will have the biggest impact over nine innings and a handful of plate appearances is a fruitless exercise. Anyone could be a hero or goat.
As I write this, the Cardinals just scored ten runs in the first inning. Absolutely no one predicted that. This underscores the unpredictability of a single game, yet one of these teams will have to win and advance, while the other does not. Cole vs. Glasnow profiles like a pitcher’s duel, but so did Flaherty vs. Foltynewicz.
That’s the fun part! We have no idea what will unfold in any game, let alone a series deciding game. That’s why this game will be appointment viewing.