Hamels lets down Phillies one more time

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It seems like the story has been repeated several times this year. Cole Hamels came out firing again Saturday, keeping the Yankees hitless through three innings. The only one of the first 11 hitters to reach did so on a HBP. And then it all fell apart, too quickly for Charlie Manuel to do much of anything about it. Mark Teixeira walked and Alex Rodriguez homered in the fourth. In the fifth, four of the first five batters delivered hits, resulting in three runs. Hamels left down 5-3, and the Yankees ended up winning 8-5.
For the fourth straight postseason start, Hamels failed to last six innings. He’s given up 16 runs and seven homers in 19 innings. Compare that to the 2008 postseason, when he went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA and gave up two homers in 35 innings.
The search for a reason has been on for months. How could one of the league’s best be so consistently mediocre for so long? His strikeout, walk and home run rates are practically identical to his 2008 marks. His groundball rate is actually up slightly. His velocity readings are essentially the same.
Pitch tipping? It’d be the easiest explanation, but it’s one the Phillies have surely examined time and time again. I think a big part is that the league has gotten smarter about laying off his excellent changeup. Hamels has never had a remarkable fastball, and his curve is average at best. If you swing at those pitches, you have a pretty good chance against him.
Unable to come back after Hamels departed, the Phillies are now down 2-1 in the World Series. Andy Pettitte wasn’t great, but he neutralized the left-handers — Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez combined to go 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the game — and that ensured that both of Jayson Werth’s homers were solo shots. Alex Rodriguez, the redeemed Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui went deep for the Yankees in the victory.
The Phillies, so confident after Game 1, can’t be feeling good about things now. The decision to back up Cliff Lee to Game 5 leaves them with essentially no choice other than to start Hamels in a potential Game 7. J.A. Happ would be the alternative, and he’ll probably be too burnt from relief work. The Yankees, meanwhile, are all set to go with CC Sabathia against Joe Blanton on Sunday. The Phillies will have to pull off quite an upset to avoid falling behind 3-1.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

Blue Jays roster and schedule
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”