Where Offense Goes to Die

It’s quite early in the season to start saying “Told Ya!”, but right now it’s powerfully tempting. The Tampa Bay Rays have been eyed as one of the potentially best pitching staffs in baseball throughout the media including right here at 643 Baseball. And if the first hundred innings of the season are any indicator, the Rays might be headed for something amazing in 2019.

Last year the Rays pitching staff was simply a bunch of no-names typically assembled by a small market team. There were no twenty game winners, a few veterans and good number of young arms around. Then they traded away closer Alex Colome who had led the American League in saves with 47 in 2017. Then they traded away superstar-in-waiting Chris Archer who not only possessed a great deal of talent but was on a team-friendly contract as well. On the surface those moves would lead most people to believe the team was going into a rebuilding mode of operation. Not so fast.

The Tampa pitching staff defied all logic and went on to win 90 games while playing in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox. Blake Snell won 21 of those on his way to the American League Cy Young Award. The rest were seemingly conjured by Rays manager Kevin Cash and his penchant for utilizing analytics in unconventional ways. Cash took the decades old practice of the “bullpen day” and made it a regular feature in the Rays rotation, two spots in the rotation over the last two months of the season. Former starter/primary reliever Ryan Yarbrough won 16 games as a result of the “Opener” strategy. To support his pitching staff Cash deployed infield shifts 1,783 times or 30% of their entire defensive plays throughout the 2018 season. All that combined with a home ballpark traditionally stingy on giving up runs added up to difficult road trips to Florida’s gulf coast for American League teams.

Now that difficulty looks to be evolving into nightmarish levels. Monday’s win against the White Sox completed one hundred innings pitched for the Rays in 2019 and the numbers are plainly haunting. Only 70 hits allowed, 20 ER, 108 K’s, 22 BB, 1.80 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, an opponent OPS of .547 and an 8-3 record. Now let’s have the fun of projecting this pace over 162 games. An entire season of pitching as this rate would produce 1400 innings pitched, 980 hits allowed, 280 ER, 1512 K’s, only 308 walks and 112 wins.

Snell is 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA but isn’t the only reason for the Rays’ brilliance. Free agent signee Charlie Morton has allowed only two earned runs in two starts. Tyler Glasnow, acquired in the trade for Chris Archer, has allowed only one earned run in two starts just as Ronny Chirinos has done. Opener Ryne Stanek has not allowed a run in six innings of work. Jose Alvarado hasn’t given up a run while saving half of the Rays’ eight wins. The staff is truly in a groove.

How long can it continue? It’s hard to say and there is every reason to believe that the Rays will come back to earth from their lofty heights. However, the first hundred innings of the season should serve notice that Kevin Cash and company are again out to beat all comers and they are going to do it their way. Nasty pitching that comes at you from unconventional angles, stifling defense born of hard study and just enough offense to get the job done. One thing that’s not hard to say is that the Rays are charging hard and just might be the story of the American League East instead of the defending world champs or the big spending pin-stripers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *