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Rays relievers prove they are all about prevention

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Nick Anderson throws against the Dodgers.
Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Nick Anderson throws against the Dodgers during the fifth inning in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday in Arlington, Texas.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

The cracks were showing. The dam was breaking. The Dodgers lineup was about to topple an opposing pitching staff yet again.

Tampa Bay Rays starter Blake Snell took the mound for the fifth inning Wednesday working on a no-hitter. But then, as they’ve done all postseason, the Dodgers started to chip away.

Kiké Hernández drew a walk on five pitches. Chris Taylor drove a two-run homer the other way to put the Dodgers on the board. The lineup turned over. Mookie Betts took first on a free pass. Corey Seager hammered a single into right.

All of a sudden, a five-run lead had been cut to three. All of a sudden, the Dodgers had the tying run at the plate.

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These are the sequences that have helped fuel the Dodgers’ playoff success — big innings built on quick strike offense, sudden scoring streaks that even the Lakers could be proud of.

Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May weren’t effective early for the Dodgers, who fell behind and never recovered in a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in World Series Game 2.

But this time, the rally died with a fizzle. The Rays’ daunting bullpen stopped it dead in its tracks en route to a 6-4 win.

In Game 1 of this series, the Dodgers had success against Rays relievers, scoring four of their eight runs after starter Tyler Glasnow left the game (both of the runners Glasnow left behind came around to score, leaving him charged with six of the eight in the box score).

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It came as somewhat of a surprise.

This season, Tampa Bay’s bullpen ranked third in ERA, first in Fangraphs’ version of wins above replacement and helped the team go a perfect 34-0 when leading after seven innings. Its construction was unconventional, so matchup-driven that 13 Rays pitchers recorded a save, most in MLB history. The results were undeniable nonetheless.

“We think what we’re doing is maximizing our roster and doing everything we can to put players in the best spots to succeed,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before the series when asked whether the Rays’ methods were odd. “There’s not much odd about that.”

Indeed, seven of the 10 pitchers listed in their bullpen for Wednesday’s game had an ERA+ (an advanced statistic in which 100 is considered league average) of 119 or above. Diego Castillo and Josh Curtiss both had scores in the 200s. Nick Anderson was an unthinkable 780 after giving up just one earned run in 161/3 regular-season innings.

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Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Diego Castillo celebrates after closing out a 6-4 win in Game 2 of the World Series.
Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Diego Castillo celebrates after closing out a 6-4 win in Game 2 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Despite having Snell, a former Cy Young Award winner, anchoring their rotation, that complement of relievers seemed to be the Rays’ biggest edge against Dodgers’ streaking bats.

“I think if you look at an entire staff, there might not be a team in baseball that prevents runs better than those guys,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said entering the series. “I think collectively you can look at numbers on the surface. But as far as the way they can match up and really get advantages, they’re all about run prevention.”

That’s exactly what the Rays did Wednesday to even the series.

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With Betts and Seager aboard and right-handed hitter Justin Turner due up during that fifth-inning threat, Cash came to the mound. Snell was relieved by Anderson. And Turner struck out on a 95.5-mph fastball swinging.

“I don’t have a name for it,” Cash said when asked whether Anderson’s enter-at-any-time role has a title. “Just come in and be good, be Nick. He’s been as good as any reliever in baseball from the day that we acquired him. When the game’s on the line and he’s available, we’re going to go to him.”

The Rays’ bullpen wasn’t perfect Wednesday.

Will Smith homered off Anderson in the sixth. Pete Fairbanks ran into trouble in the eighth, yielding a home run to Seager and a short double to Turner that bounced between a pair of outfielders.

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The Dodgers have not done an optimal job putting players into position to succeed this postseason and it showed on Wednesday with Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May.

But then Fairbanks induced a pair of unproductive outs from Max Muncy and Smith,

Cash dipped back into his bullpen by summoning lefty Aaron Loup, and the left-hander rang up Cody Bellinger with a two-strike sinker that froze him as it dropped into the zone.

Another crisis had been averted. The floodgates had slammed shut again.

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“The biggest key for our bullpen and how good they are is Cash,” said Snell, plenty used to seeing Rays relievers save the day.

“He makes the right calls to put them in situations that he knows they can succeed.”


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