Is Matt Moore going to be the second coming of Bob Gibson or the second coming of Bret Saberhagen? Only time knows for sure—he may not even be the equal of Saberhagen. So, before we start throwing out the superlatives, we have to remember what we are looking at here: a pitcher that has exactly two major league starts. If I had a dollar for every pitcher that looked this good after only two starts, I'd be able to afford to go to all of these playoff games.
Now that we have these things out of the way, we need to take a look at what Matt Moore symbolizes. His performance was a bit of good fortune, just like the good fortune of seeing Kelly Shoppach hit two home runs. You can praise Joe Maddon for that, but, really, that is all about good fortune. Every winning playoff team has those kinds of moves. Matt Moore represents something else (as does Desmond Jennings) entirely.
The Tampa Bay Rays are dealing with a payroll that makes them the poorest team in the playoffs. It really isn't even close. In the wake of the landmark movie Moneyball, the Rays have perfected the marriage of smart baseball with traditional scouting. As soon as someone goes to free agency, they allow him to leave and bring in more talent.
When that new talent comes of age, they make immediate use of it. This is how a small-market team has managed to make it to the postseason for three of the last four years and advance in the face of huge money. From top to bottom, they have flown in the face of conventional wisdom.
Conventional wisdom tells us that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush; it also tells us to go with the devil you know over the devil you don't know. Joe Maddon, Andrew Friedman and the Rays have been successful because they turned that logic on its ear.
The Rays made it to the playoffs because they had five solid starting pitchers. Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann had 4.45 and 4.06 ERAs respectively. They took the ball every fifth day and logged more than 300 innings between them. Joe Maddon knew that if one of them started a game, they would likely lose.
For most teams, the choice would have been a difficult one: Either take your chances on James Shields, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson pitching on short rest, or hope Davis or Niemann comes up big. Fortunately, the Rays aren't most teams. They had Moore in the hole.
Naturally, we wouldn't be talking about this if the Rays had lost 9-0. However, it still would have been an innovative move. They likely would have lost anyway, even with Davis or Niemann on the mound. So, they threw the dice and rolled a seven. Everyone goes on regular rest and they have a good pitcher going in each game.