Updated: Jun 7, 2021
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
After sulking in the misery of my bandwagon playoff team Tampa Bay Rays losing in Game 6 of the World Series I figured it was finally time to put some words down on paper. This was the team of destiny that was going to cap off a wild 2020 MLB season in the only way that it should have. The underdog Tampa Bay Rays were going to win Games 6 and 7 in thrilling fashion. This Rays team was not the Denver Nuggets nor the Miami Heat. They were the Tampa Bay Rays. They had the pitching, the defense, and the hitting. Okay, maybe not the hitting but they had Randy Arozarena and for some reason, the Dodgers were still pitching to him. My favorite thing about the 2020 Tampa Bay Rays was how likable this team was. It was so easy to become a Rays fan for the playoffs after my Washington Nationals did not show up for the 2020 season and my Yankees choked once again. Sad.
There were so many players for Tampa that were impossible to dislike. Randy Arozarena set the record for most home runs in a postseason with 10 and most hits in a postseason with 29. This is the same guy that was an afterthought and was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Rays before the season. What is even crazier about the trade is Arozarena was not the biggest piece in this trade. The main player in the trade, DH José Martinez, batted only .239 with 2 home runs for the Rays and was shipped off to the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline for a player to be named later or cash. Arozarena had only played in 44 career MLB games with the Cardinals and Rays, and he had 8 career home runs and 24 career hits. He surpassed his career home run and hit total in one playoff run. Will Arozarena be a one-hit-wonder or a star in the league for many years to come? Who knows, but watching him scorch opposing pitching in this years playoffs was enough for me. Their starting first baseman Ji-Man Choi is 6'1 and 260 pounds and would be my best bet to win a Gold Medal as a gymnast in the 2021 Olympics. A man that size should not be that flexible. The Rays bullpen had a plethora of players that threw fastballs of at least 98 mph. Their starting pitching was absolutely filthy and had no holes in their top three. By the way, the Rays assembled this roster with the third-lowest payroll in all of major league baseball just ahead of the Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates. They came into the World Series as a heavy underdog even though they led the American League with a 40-20 regular-season record.
Before the series began I predicted the Rays would upset the heavy favorite Los Angeles Dodgers in 6 games. I liked the odds too much at +170 and I thought it was a good pick for the first-ever Moe Money segment on the MoeCast podcast. For the most recent episode that came out on Tuesday, October 27th, I asserted my confidence in the Rays once again while they were down in the series 3-2. I was so confident that I gave out another pick for the Rays to win the World Series in 7 games with +425 odds. I was hopeful for my World Series MVP Randy Arozarena pick, with +1000 odds as well, especially when Randy hit ANOTHER home run in Game 6 to score the games first run (which I predicted at +405 odds for Moe Money you guys better be checking it out if you gamble).
Blake Snell was dealing, Mookie was still scuffling, and Corey Seager was not coming anywhere near Blake Snell's curveball. I was cruising with my fellow Rays fans. And then it happened. "The pull".
This slip up in Game 6 of the World Series deserves a name to go down in MLB history. Derek Jeter and the Yankees had "The Flip" game in the 2001 ALDS against the Oakland Athletics. Willie Mays had "The Catch" in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. Bobby Thomson and the New York Giants won the National League Pennant in 1951 against the Brooklyn Dodgers when Thompson hit the "Shot Heard 'Round the World". Kevin Cash pulling Blake Snell in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series deserves a name and I am going with "The Pull" until told otherwise. I am open to suggestions. The Rays pride themselves on an analytical approach and outsmarting their opponents but the decision to pull ace Blake Snell after 73 pitches will go down as one of the most questionable moves in World Series history. Even if this move panned out there would have been some questions, but let's look at how bad this decision truly was.
Baseball is an ever-changing sport. America's pastime seems to be diminishing in popularity and the game has become too slow for some people, but the MLB collected 11 billion dollars in revenue over the 2019 season, and in 2020 viewership increased almost 5% according to Forbes. Every single World Series game outdrew all six of the NBA Finals games, and Game 7 of the NLCS outdrew Game 6 of the NBA Finals by almost 5 million viewers (10.2 million compared to 5.6 million). The new era of baseball has begun and the Rays are the frontrunners. They were the first team to utilize an opener- a relief pitcher that "starts" the game and pitches 1-2 innings before replaced by a "starter" that pitches 4-6 innings- and the Rays were the first team to ever start 9 left-handed batters in a game since the modern era began in 1900. With that being said, it came as no surprise that Kevin Cash yanked Blake Snell after 5 1/3 innings pitched and 73 pitches. Snell was passing the eye test, he only allowed 2 hits and walked 1 batter while striking out 9 Dodgers. He was hitting up to 98 mph on his fastball and had a sharp break on his curveball. Maybe 73 pitches was a high pitch count for Snell after battling injuries last season and only pitching in 50 regular season innings this year? Wrong. Snell threw 73 or more pitches in 14 out of his last 15 starts. Cash stated after the game that his reasoning for pulling Snell was that he did not want Snell to face the Dodgers lineup for the third time, but would this have truly made a difference? Let's see what Kevin Cash's analytics had to say.
AJ Pollock led off the bottom of the 6th inning with a popup and number 9 hitter Austin Barnes was next up to bat. Snell was through 5 1/3 innings allowing 1 hit on 70 pitches. Snell gave up a bloop hit to Barnes on the third pitch of the at-bat and was pulled before he could face leadoff man Mookie Betts. Cash exited the dugout and immediately signaled for Nick Anderson in the bullpen without even conversing with Snell. To no surprise, Snell was visually upset and stormed off the mound after pitching his best performance of the 2020 MLB season. The 2018 AL Cy Young Award Winner was replaced, by Nick Anderson, one of the most dominant relievers in baseball that no one has ever heard of, but Anderson had allowed a run in six straight appearances in the playoffs. He only allowed 1 run (a home run by the youngest player in the MLB in 2020, Nationals STUD second baseman Luis Garcia) in 19 games in the regular season to the tune of a 0.55 ERA. Snell was dealing but Cash continued his trend of yanking pitchers before going through the third time in the batting order, but it was different this time. Not only was Snell shoving, but the analytics also backed up keeping Snell in the game.
Snell had faced Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner, the Dodgers 1, 2, and 3 hitters in the game twice. They were a combined 0-6 with 6 strikeouts. In 2020 hitters had an OPS of .462 against Blake Snell the first time they faced him, a .977 OPS the second time they faced him, and a .913 OPS the third time they faced Snell. Hitters did worse against him the third time they saw him compared to the second time they saw him. This was the same case against Snell in 2019 when batters had a .730 OPS against him the second time through the order and a .716 OPS the third time through the order. This shows you a lot, but former MVP and the second-best player in the league Mookie Betts was coming up to the plate, so let's see what the numbers were for him. Mookie in 2020 had a .904 OPS and a .311 batting average the first time he faced a pitcher, compared to a .786 OPS with a .229 batting average the third time facing a starting pitcher. This followed the same theme as his 2019 season with Boston, when had had a worse batting average, OPS, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage the third time facing a pitcher compared to the first time. Maybe Mookie crushed left-handed pitching this season? Not quite. Mookie had 226 plate appearances in 2020, with 182 against righties and 64 against lefties. Mookie batted .323 against righties with a 1.061 OPS. He batted .200 against lefties with a .531 OPS. Maybe Betts crushed curveballs like Snell's against lefties? Wrong once again. Mookie batted .154 against left-handed breaking balls compared to a .267 batting average against right-handed breaking balls. Betts batted .212 against fastballs off left-handed pitchers and .359 off of fastballs from right-handed pitchers. .359! So what does Nick Anderson do after being inserted into the game for Blake Snell? First pitch: fastball up and away at 96 mph. Second pitch: fastball outside at 95 mph. MOOKIE BETTS IS A FASTBALL HITTER, so with a 2-0 count what do you think Anderson does after throwing 2 straight fastballs? Third pitch: 95 mph fastball right down the middle ripped for a double down the line. At that moment the series was over in my book.
The Dodgers went on to win the game 3-1 and the series 4-2. Corey Seager became the eight-player in MLB history to be named the LCS and World Series MVP in a single postseason. Playoff Kershaw was fantastic and got his first ring. The Dodgers are the World Series Champions for the first time since 1988, but the real story in my mind is the what-if. What if Blake Snell stayed in and the Rays closed out Game 6. Mr. Game 7 Charlie Morton would have pitched for the Rays the next night and the Dodgers would have been out at least Justin Turner after it was announced he had COVID-19 and found out... in the 7th inning of Game 6? What a wild season it was and how crazy it is to realize that we were able to witness baseball in 2020. I want to give a special thank you to Kyle Leverone for creating the Good Griefs so I can voice my frustrations on issues like this one. Man oh man did this make me angry. Kevin Cash deserves every single ounce of criticism in my mind and the Moe Money listeners deserve a direct apology from him for costing the Rays the World Series. Boo this man till eternity.