HOUSTON -- Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow has been granted the clearance to work deep into Game 5 of this American League Division Series on Thursday.
But considering the success Tampa Bay has enjoyed throwing multiple arms at the favored Houston Astros, maintaining a committee approach might serve as the best course of action.
On the heels of a franchise-record 107 wins in the regular season, the Astros will face elimination in the decisive contest largely due to their inability to solve Rays pitching. After leading the majors in batting (.274), on-base (.352) and slugging percentage (.495) during the season, the Astros have slashed .241/.294/.391 in the ALDS, with their .685 OPS a whopping 163 points below their regular-season mark of .848.
Central to the Rays' success has been their reliance upon bullpen depth. When Glasnow, who took the loss in Game 1, toes the rubber opposite Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole, he will do so knowing he has ample support at the ready.
The Astros are fully aware of this as well.
"They made it perfectly clear they weren't going to let guys see a guy multiple times," Astros manager AJ Hinch said of the Rays.
"And statistically, and from a competitive standpoint, that's the way to go. If you really want to be the most effective, that's the approach to go with. It's hard to do that over 162, but in a five-game set, you're seeing them play out their script about as well as they possibly could.
"It's up to us to make the adjustments. We've seen these guys now. You can't have it both ways. You can't say it's difficult on one guy seeing a guy over and over again, and on the flip side when you see a guy over and over again, you've got to find a way to put up good at-bats."
Eight different pitchers have worked at least three innings for the Rays in the ALDS, four out of the bullpen. Right-handed relievers Chaz Roe (six outs recorded) and Emilio Pagan (five) also have logged more than an inning each, with the Rays outpacing Houston in the battle of individual matchups.
When Rays manager Kevin Cash opted for an opener in Game 4, his gambit paid dividends.
"I think it's a combination (of stuff and talent)," Cash said of his relief corps. "Their stuff is really, really good. Now, saying that, I don't know if you're going to see two bigger contrasts from Diego Castillo to Ryan Yarbrough, and then you bring in Nick Anderson. There's a lot of opposites in there.
"So it's a combination of both. But (Game 4), probably that's where the contrast really played a role. And you've probably got to have a little bit of that contrast to be fortunate enough to do what they did against as good as the Astros lineup is."
Given the calamitous prospect of losing in the ALDS despite being favored to win the World Series, the Astros are under pressure to unlock the mystery of Rays pitching.
Having Cole, unbeaten over his last 23 starts, on the mound helps, and the Astros should be emboldened by playing at Minute Maid Park, where they set a franchise record for home wins (60) this season.
"We're fine," Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. "The energy is up, the confidence, the chemistry is still really good. We're talking about how good it's going to be (in Game 5). We believe in ourself. We have great hitters. Like I always say, this is a team full of good players.
"And so we're going to go out there and prove it (Thursday)."
Cole set a club postseason record with 15 strikeouts across 7 2/3 scoreless innings in a Game 2 victory. Entering the series, he had been 0-2 with a 3.51 ERA in four career starts against the Rays.
Glasnow allowed two runs on four hits across 4 1/3 innings in the Game 1 defeat. He won his only previous start against Houston, allowing one run on six hits over five innings on March 30.
--Field Level Media