Despite a limited payroll, the Rays’ unconventional roster construction and creative player usage has Tampa punching-above-their-weight in this year’s playoffs. The main cog of their offensive success in this year’s expanded postseason is coming from previously-overlooked outfielder Randy Arozarena.
A little known fourth outfielder all season, Arozarena appeared in only 23 of the Rays 60 games, mattering little in their AL East dominance. Once the calendar turned to October however, he increased his profile significantly over the course of 17 playoff games, posting incredible numbers, and driving the Rays to within one game of their second franchise World Series appearance.
So far this postseason. Arozarena has started all 12 games for the Rays, posting 20 hits, including six home runs. He is slashing .417/.462/.896in the playoffs. He has feasted on both Blue Jays and Yankees pitching, putting up 12 hits, two walks, and a hit-by-pitch in just 30 plate appearances — a .500 OBP in the wild card and ALDS rounds. He hit home runs in three consecutive LDS games against New York, serving as the catalyst in Tampa’s game two and game three offensive showcase.
Arozarena has done much of the same in the ALCS, where he’s managed eight hits and two walks in just 22 plate appearances against Houston’s pitching. His fifth inning solo shot last night was the third of the series (but was not enough to get the Rays over the hump to clinch the series) but his hot-bat continued.
Tampa acquired Arozarena from St. Louis, liking his batting eye, his speed, and his upside. He appeared in the playoffs last year for St. Louis, but did not garner a hit (he did end up stealing one base). As a nice-to-have extra outfielder, and with a farm system stacked with similar players, St. Louis viewed him as expendable.
Prior to this year’s playoffs, Arozarena generally struck out often, walked infrequently, and occasionally ran into a home run at the Major League level. Despite decent walk rates in the minors, it had not translated at the top-level, however we’re getting a glimpse of the power potential this October.
Whether this month’s breakout is a fluke or something sustainable, we’ll find out in 2021, but right now, none of that matters. Just three days ago, Tampa held a commanding 3-0 series lead against the Astros, but now they are on the brink of a series that very well may be tied 3-3 by the end of the day on Friday. Arozarena will be critical to get the Rays their next win.
If the Rays can avoid an epic collapse against the Astros, who now are only one win away from tying the ALCS 3-3, Arozarena may be their MVP heading into the Fall Classic; if his hot streak continues, he can be the reason Tampa brings home the AL pennant and potentially their first World Series title.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano