ARLINGTON, Texas — The World Series-bound Rays took it easy on Sunday, general manager Erik Neander calling it a needed day for recovery.
And, yes, he meant that in a couple of ways.
At least for some, from the late-night celebration following Saturday’s 4-2 American League Championship Series Game 7 win that clinched their second pennant.
And certainly from the grueling stretch they took to get there, playing 12 high-intensity playoff games in 13 days against the Yankees and Astros, with both series going to a winner-take-all game.
“Today, really to this point has been really a recovery day, I would say,” Neander said early Sunday night. “Not because of the celebration (Saturday) night — though that probably is a little bit of a part of it — but the 12 games in 13 days has been a bit of a grind here.”
The Rays spent Sunday at the Carlsbad, Calif., resort that has been their bubble home for the last two weeks, though they didn’t have a choice as they can’t move into the hotel being used outside Dallas until the loser of Sunday’s Braves-Dodgers NLCS finale heads home.
The Rays will fly to Texas Monday morning, then head over to Globe Life Field to work out and get their first look at the new stadium where the best-of-seven World Series starts on Tuesday.
And that’s when they will do the bulk of the work on their two most important tasks:
Analyzing the voluminous reports their scouts and analysts prepared on both potential opponents, and deciding how to best utilize their personnel in setting a 28-man roster that is due Tuesday morning.
Though scouts were not allowed at games this season due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Rays had staff watching TV and video breakdowns of all potential opponents from the tail end of the regular season through the postseason.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Neander said. “We have a lot of trust in the people that have been following those clubs more closely than we have.”
The roster decisions will be impacted by who the Rays play and also the schedule, as the Series — though not moving from the neutral site — will be played with the traditional two off days for travel following Games 2 and 5.
With no need for a fifth starter/bulk-inning guy, the Rays most likely will drop a pitcher and add a position player in going back to the 14-14 alignment they used in the first two rounds. For the ALCS, they added lefties Josh Fleming and Jose Alvarado, dropping right-hander Trevor Richards (who had replaced injured Oliver Drake) and outfielder Brett Phillips.
(The best-of-five division series and best of seven league championship series were played on consecutive days at the request of the players union to shorten the stays in the bubble.)
“We need to make sure we’re fresh physically and we’re in a good place coming out of this gauntlet of sorts that we just endured,” Neander said. “Certainly having the off days in there, it’s the traditional postseason format, and the ways you think about organizing a pitching staff and your position player group, it’s a little bit different. The considerations go back to something that we’re more accustomed to.”
It’s Randy Arozarena’s world
Expect a lot of raving this week about the performance of outfielder Randy Arozarena, who became the first rookie position player to win the MVP award for an LCS (or World Series) by hitting .321 with four homers, six RBIs and a 1.152 OPS in the seven games. For the entire postseason, he is hitting .382-7-10-1.288, having already set a rookie record for homers and, with 21 hits, is one shy of Derek Jeter’s 1996 rookie mark. Neander said the Rays didn’t expect him to be this good when they acquired him from the Cardinals in a January trade. “There’s no way we saw anything coming like what he’s done here this postseason,” Neander said “No way. But we’re glad we have him.” Nor, Neander said, can he put Arozarena’s accomplishments into words: “My vocabulary is not good enough to put that into appropriate context.”
The Rays have had fun in their clinching celebrations despite the health and safety protocols, shooting confetti cannons and Silly String. As if there wasn’t enough motivation to win the World Series, catcher Mike Zunino said they’ve heard that traditional champagne spraying will be allowed, and they want to take part. “There’s nothing better than popping bottles and wearing some goggles, and it’s still seeping through there and burning the eyes. There’s nothing better than that,” he said. “There’s one time we get to do that this year, and that’s if we win the World Series. And guys have that in mind. ... That is the end goal. If you can win the last game of the year, you can pop some bottles. So that would be ever sweeter if that can happen."
Consider this: the Rays have won three postseason series with their team MVP, Brandon Lowe, hitting .115 (6-for-52) with one homer, two RBIs and a .366 OPS. … The Rays were the ninth team to play a “winner-take-all” game in the division series and league championship series in the same season but only the third to win both, joining the 2012 Giants and 1981 Dodgers, who both won the World Series. . … With Saturday’s win, Charlie Morton improved to 4-0 in four appearances (three starts) in “winner-take-all” games. No other pitcher has more than two wins, and his 0.46 ERA is third-lowest, behind Madison Bumgarner (0.00 in 23 innings) and Justin Verlander (0.00 in 17). … The only current person in a Rays uniform involved in their 2008 ALCS clincher is manager Kevin Cash, who was a backup catcher for the Red Sox at the time.