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The Rays need a reignited Brandon Lowe

Lowe was the Rays’ best hitter this year. After slumping to start the postseason, he finally played like it in Game 2.

World Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Two Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Tony Gonsolin had only thrown 11 pitches before the Rays struck blood in Game 2. On a 3-1 pitch, Brandon Lowe connected on a 95 mph fastball, sending it opposite way to left field and driving it into the seat. With a 105.9 mph exit velocity and a 29-degree launch angle, the first inning home run set the tone for the rest of the evening. The Rays are undefeated after scoring first this postseason and went 25-6 when doing so during the regular season, best in baseball.

Tampa wrapped up its 6-4 win a few hours later, but not until after Lowe homered again. In the fifth, now with Dustin May on the hill, Lowe again went to the opposite field — this time with a 104.0 mph exit velocity and a 24-degree launch angle, another barrel. After being cold all postseason, Lowe had reignited the Rays’ offense and carried the team to a series tie.

Apropos of nothing, these two homers were Lowe’s first two to the opposite field this season, and they also made him the first player in baseball history with two opposite field home runs in a single World Series game:

Lowe’s Game 2 certainly came at an opportune time for the Rays. Despite being the team’s most consistent producer during the regular season, Lowe’s bat went silent in the postseason. He slashed .269/.362/.554 with 14 homers and a 150 wRC+ in the regular season, but entered Wednesday’s game hitting just .107/.180/.161 in the playoffs.

In the meantime, the Rays have been buoyed by the flaming hot Randy Arozarena. But, in order to defeat the Dodgers in the best-of-seven, it seemed unlikely that just one player could carry their offense to the title. Among the 16 teams that made the playoffs, the Rays’ offense ranked high in overall output: They were sixth in wRC+, at 109. However, the team’s 27 percent strikeout rate and 11 percent walk rate showed that they were rather reliant on timely extra-base hits in order to score sufficient runs.

In the ALCS against the Astros, Arozarena carried the freight with the extra-base hits, slashing .321/.367/.786 with four homers. The rest of the team, however, was quiet. One could make the argument that the lack of crooked numbers contributed to Houston’s 3-0 comeback. Rays not named Arozarena hit just .183/.286/.319 over the seven-game series. Yikes.

It’s also worth noting that this performance came against an Astros team that had weak pitching. In Game 5, for example, Houston started 23-year-old rookie Luis García, who had a career 12 13 major league innings before pitching in an elimination game during the ALCS. He walked two hitters, but the Rays couldn’t muster any offense against him, a story emblematic of the series, especially the latter half.

But, really, the Rays’ offense has been a weakness for them this entire postseason. While they were more in line with their regular season numbers in the Wild Card series against Toronto (though it was just a two-game sample, in fairness), the offense took a dip against the Yankees and Astros:

Rays’ slash line by postseason series

World Series .239 .288 .418 .706
ALCS .201 .296 .379 .675
ALDS .202 .290 .423 .713
ALWC .254 .309 .460 .769
Reg Season .238 .328 .425 .753

Compare that to the Dodgers’ offense, which has been inconsistent throughout the postseason, but has hit much better overall, especially since the end of the Wild Card series (which, again, was only a two-game sample anyway):

Dodgers’ slash line by postseason series

World Series .227 .338 .500 .838
NLCS .245 .325 .422 .747
NLDS .287 .409 .406 .815
NLWC .207 .292 .345 .637
Reg Season .256 .338 .483 .821

If the Rays win the World Series, heavy-hitting isn’t how they will do it. They rely heavily on their excellent pitching and defense — the latter of which looked spectacular during the ALCS — but they need to hit just enough to make it work. The Rays only lost one game during the regular season when they scored five or more runs, posting a .962 win percentage in those games. This compares very well to the MLB average, which was a .788 mark when scoring at least five runs.

Really, to say, “Wow, a second hot hitter would be good for the Rays” isn’t too hot of a take. A second hot hitter would be good for any team, certainly. But, considering how the Rays are constructed, and how reliant they are on just enough runs, a return of Brandon Lowe to his regular season excellence would be a welcome sight for Tampa Bay. And, if it is really is here, Lowe’s arrival to the offensive scene this postseason would be coming just in time.

Devan Fink is a sophomore at Dartmouth College and a Contributor at Beyond The Box Score. Previous work of his can be found at FanGraphs and his own personal blog, Cover Those Bases. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.