Yesterday we backed the St. Louis Cardinals for one main reason, the recent pitching results of Jack Flaherty. Flaherty has been one of the best pitchers in the league for the second half of the season, and I expected him to continue those strong results against the Arizona Diamondbacks. And he did just that, as Flaherty was absolutely dominant enroot to seven shutout innings that saw him allow just one hit while striking out eleven.
The problem for us is that the DBacks managed to use a committee of thirteen pitchers to match him pitch for pitch! After Mike Leake gave up a leadoff home run to start the game, the DBacks pitching staff really stepped up to hold the Cards to just two runs in a nineteen-inning affair. Arizona eventually won the game in walk-off fashion on an Iidemaro Vargas game-winning single in the bottom of the nineteenth inning.
What can you do, sometimes you get a lot of things right about a game and still come up short. For today’s pick, we will check in on the American League pennant chase as the Tampa Bay Rays host the New York Yankees.
The New York Yankees are in Tampa Bay Wednesday for game two of a quick two-game set with the Rays, with a lot on the line. The Yankees are banged up at the moment but are trying desperately to catch the Houston Astros for the top seed in the American League. New York had won ten of its previous fourteen games before losing last night in extra innings in Tampa. The Yankees trail Houston by a game and a half for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
For Tampa, they are playing for their postseason life tonight as they are a half of a game behind the Oakland A’s for the first wild-card spot in the AL, and a half of a game ahead of the Cleveland Indians for the second wild card in the league. If things break their way today and they can beat New York, and the A’s lose to the Angels, the Rays would be in the first wild card. If the Rays lose, and the Indians win against the White Sox, they could be on the outside looking in for the postseason. This is a true must-win game tonight for Tampa Bay.
Starting for the Yankees is opener Jonathan Loaisiga (2-1 4.25 ERA), and for the Rays it is Charlie Morton (15-6 3.15 ERA). The game total over-under is set at eight and a half runs. The Rays are -145 home favorites. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 PM PST from Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay.
Many people have wondered just what this Yankees starting rotation will look like come playoff time. Well, we got a little glimpse of what that looks like this week as the Yankees announced that JA Happ will be pitching out of the bullpen the rest of the regular season and the playoffs. New York will give him some practice coming out of the bullpen today as they start opener Jonathan Loaisiga, who is expected to pitch an inning or two, and then turn things over to Happ.
Jonathan Loaisiga rejoined the team in mid-August as a late-season call-up and the Yankees are hoping he can be an impact arm in the playoffs. He has pitched well here in September as he is 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA in six appearances. Loaisiga has started three games this season, but the deepest he has gotten into a game is just four innings, so don’t expect to see him in the game too awful long, I am thinking probably two innings at the most.
That leads us to Happ, who will probably pitch the majority of this contest. After having a brutal month of August that likely sealed his fate for the postseason, Happ has really stepped up his game here in September. This month, Happ has made four starts and is 1-0 with a 1.61 ERA. The Yankees are 3-1 when Happ starts in September. Happ has been solid against Tampa Bay this season as he has an ERA of 2.61 in two starts against them and the Yankees won both games.
With their season on the line, the Rays send the best they have got to the mound in Charlie Morton. While Morton hasn’t been quite as good in the second half of the season as he was in the first, he still has been elite. In September he is 2-0 with a 3.42 ERA in four starts, and the Rays are 4-0 in those games. Morton has 231 strikeouts on the year, that is good for sixth in the league, and don’t be surprised if he ends up getting a couple of Cy Young Award votes at year’s end.
This is what playoff baseball is all about. Both teams have a lot to play for, and if last night’s game is any indication as to how this one will go, runs are going to be hard to come by. The Yankees have been banged up all season long, and they may be without Gio Urshela tonight as he left last night’s game after hitting hit in the hand by a pitch.
And with two starters who are pitching great right now, with a lot on the line, I expect this to be a low scoring game. The Rays and Yankees have two of the best bullpens in the American League, and this feels like a 3-2 type of game. So, while I will stay away from the game side, to be honest that number feels spot on, I do have an opinion on the game total. Playoff baseball is almost always lower scoring, and this is a playoff-type of game. So, I will jump on the under eight and a half runs and expect a tightly contested game that comes in under.