The Tampa Bay Rays are going to get their postseason rolling on Thursday night against the Boston Red Sox.
The Rays are coming off of a 100-win regular season, but they’re not satisfied with what they’ve accomplished so far.
The team has bigger aspirations, like a World Series title.
And Tampa Bay’s path to a title — which would be its first in franchise history — all starts against Boston.
The Rays are going to give the ball to Shane McClanahan in Game 1 of the series.
The 24-year-old made his MLB regular-season debut this year, and he’s being thrust into a massive spot in the 2021 postseason.
Here are some storylines heading into his start.
Will The Moment Be Too Big For The Rookie?
Very rarely do you see a rookie on the mound in Game 1 of a playoff series.
But when it comes to McClanahan, it’s clear that the Rays have a ton of confidence in the youngster.
He does have experience pitching in big games.
In fact, even though he’s considered a rookie, he made his MLB debut in the 2020 playoffs.
Shane McClanahan making his MLB debut for the Rays in the ALCS in San Diego.
— Jerry Beach (@JerryBeach73) October 6, 2020
But the results weren’t great, as he made four relief appearances and pitched to an ERA of 8.31.
However, there’s reason to believe that McClanahan is capable of rising to the occasion in big spots.
During his time at the University of South Florida, McClanahan found himself in the NCAA Tournament in two straight years.
In 2017, he made one appearance during the team’s tourney run.
He tossed two scoreless innings before handing things over to the bullpen.
Then, in 2018, the lefty got one more chance to shine on the big stage.
He tossed five innings of two-run ball and fanned three batters in his lone tournament start.
College ball is certainly a different world compared to the big leagues, but there’s no denying that he performed well in high-pressure situations at USF.
That’s a good sign.
Appreciating McClanahan’s Stellar Regular Season In 2021
McClanahan’s 2021 regular season was all the Rays needed to see to give him a shot in Game 1 of the team’s postseason.
The former first-round pick made 25 starts, and the results were outstanding.
He pitched to a 3.43 ERA, 115 ERA+, 3.31 FIP, and 1.27 FIP.
He also fanned 141 batters in 123.1 innings.
Shane McClanahan, Wicked 88mph Slider…and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/AbyOufCL0a
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 9, 2021
McClanahan didn’t allow more than four runs in any of his starts in the regular season.
Moreover, he went on a crazy run to finish the year.
He posted a 1.50 ERA over his final four starts and a 2.81 ERA over his final 13.
He’s got the hot hand right now, and the Rays are certainly hoping that trend will carry over into the playoffs.
The fate of the Rays’ 2021 season will likely come down to how the team’s young pitchers perform.
All of those players are 26 years old or younger.
Tampa Bay has no choice but to live or die with its youngsters.
Will it work out?
Only time will tell.