I’m back for one night only, filling in as a favor to Steve, who is off being a good person. And no, I don't know why my avatar is a Red Sox logo, but it wouldn't change back earlier, so whatever.
You can’t predict what will happen within a single game, series, or week of baseball games. Last night, the Rays walked once and failed to score, despite being given 48 outs. Tonight, the Rays were on the board before registering an out, and walked six times before the Yankees starter, the volatile A.J. Burnett, was removed after 5 1/3 innings pitched. The unpredictably extends to Alex Cobb too, who had walked more than three batters only twice in his previous 47 appearances, yet walked four tonight.
Most of the action came in the final frame, but for the purposes of chronological order, I’ll start with Cobb. He lacked his best fastball control tonight and it showed in the walk total. Still, Cobb managed six innings and two runs against one of the best lineups in the league. He walked more than he struck out and that’s generally a poor idea, but when you generate more than 70 percent groundballs in front of the league’s best defense, sometimes you can escape with minimal harm.
Cobb’s performance is bit of a letdown after Jeff Niemann’s masterpiece, but it’s hard to have too many gripes. For that reason, I’ll stop here about him.
Speaking of that defense, the Rays entered the day with a Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of 3.91—meaning this: the Rays defense turns 3.91 percent more of the balls in play into outs than the league-average defense would given the same park. The second-best team in the league is Seattle … at 1.79. This defense doesn’t just catch liners, it also catches flyballs and scoops grounders—and does so better than any team in baseball, more than twice over.
Now then, let’s just jump to the last few innings. Entering the game, Joe Maddon had limited bullpen options. Juan Cruz is on the disabled list and had thrown in three-straight games anyways, Brandon Gomes threw 48 pitches last night and 61 over the last two games leaving him unavailable, Adam Russell is on his way to the waiver wire, J.P. Howell threw 25 pitches last night, and Jake McGee had thrown 25 over the last three games. That left Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Cesar Ramos, and Alex Torres remaining.
Maddon got his six innings from Cobb and had to split up the four remaining relievers in a way that maximized the likelihood of a Rays win. He decided Peralta in the seventh, Ramos in the seventh or eighth, then Farnsworth for the eighth and ninth should get it done, and most of the time it probably does. Peralta and Ramos got through the seventh without allowing a run to score, but Ramos put two on with nobody out in the eighth before getting Andruw Jones to fly out, in came Farnsworth.
Russ Martin hit a ball on the ground to left field that Sam Fuld got in quickly, as he is wont to do, even though the momentum of the throw took Fuld tumbling head over heels. With the bases loaded and one out Farnsworth got another groundball, another that got through, thus scoring a run. With the tying run 90 feet, Farnsworth again got a groundball, but this time one that was fielded by Elliot Johnson. A toss to Sean Rodriguez and a successful throw to Casey Kotchman would end the threat. Alas, Brett Gardner executed a beautiful takeout slide on Rodriguez, leaving him without the firm standing required to deliver the final relay of the double play. Just like that, tied game.
The offense went quietly in the bottom of the eighth and Maddon had to make a choice. Roll out Farnsworth, with 35 high-leverage pitches under his belt these last two days, or turn to Torres. He decided to give the rookie his first major league appearance. The book on Torres is that everything he throws moves, but even he is incapable of harnessing that gift from the baseball gods at this point in his career.
Torres struggled with his control. He walked three batters, two unintentionally, he walked in the go-ahead run, and it took him 44 pitches to get three outs—the other Rays relievers on the night threw 48 pitches and got six outs. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t efficient, it wasn’t optimal, but what exactly do you expect given the marathon game not even 24 hours ago and the depleted state of the bullpen?
It’s a rough beginning to Torres’ big league career, but it’s just the beginning. Nobody really gave a flip about what Jake McGee did in his big league debut against the Yankees when he blew some high-90s heat by Adrian Gonzalez on Saturday and in time nobody will care about this outing from Torres either. He threw some real live stuff and showed the confidence to throw each of his pitches in various situations—he threw a different offering on the first-pitch to each of the first three batters he faced. Judging him based on one appearance, an admittedly poor one, is being too harsh. Torres has a big league future, even if his present form requires more time in Durham.
The offense is something of an afterthought at this point, but B.J. Upton had an awful night. He failed to reach in five trips to the plate and struck out thrice. He also flew out with the bases loaded and hit into a double play with runners on the corners and nobody out. Given the state of this lineup, without it’s second-best hitter in Matt Joyce, the Rays just can’t afford to waste too many opportunities.
Oh, Robinson Chirinos made his debut too and drove a ball to deep center on the first pitch he saw. Defensively, Chirinos was unable to throw out any runners, however some of that blame goes towards Cobb as well. I didn’t measure his pop times or anything, but he looked mostly like a big league catcher tonight, which is a compliment given his situation. I look forward to seeing more of him.
So the Rays are now further back, and have suffered three-straight losses to the Red Sox and Yankees, thus putting everyone in emo mode. Look, this is a good team relative to the rest of the league. It really is one of the top-five teams in the American League, but the Red Sox are the best team in baseball and it’s not even that close. The Yankees aren’t on the Red Sox' level either, but they’re better than the Rays.
Entering this season, the Rays were going to need some breaks to go their way and against the Yankees and Red Sox, and yet, look at the lineup tonight. Two of those players passed through waivers within the last year and a half, one came on a minor league deal, Evan Longoria is nursing a foot injury, and Joyce is out with a knee injury. Rosters are in constant transition and right now the roster isn’t as good as it can be—as it will be—sooner than later. Desmond Jennings and Brandon Guyer will help, but they aren’t necessarily going to make up the difference by themselves this season.
Not to wave the white flag, but have some perspective here: The Rays are losing because they aren’t as good as these two teams and some breaks are going against them. The face of a season’s death is staring back now because of these last few games, but it was always present—the Rays just managed to keep it away for longer than anyone should have expected, given the circumstances. The best part about this season is that the Rays will probably win 85-to-88 games—and absolutely nobody will be pleased.
Now, hopefully you'll be pleased with this recap. Enjoy the rest of the season and remember that this is supposed to be fun.