Last night the Rays won handily, thanks to four home runs to tally the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth runs of the game against Detroit. This team remains below .500, but has yet to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs thanks to some hot hitting over the past five and a half weeks weeks.
Since the beginning of August, no major league team has a better batting average than the Rays, and the starting pitching has been competent. Both of these should be considered victories for a team decimated by injury. I've lost count of how many players from the 25-man roster have spent time on the disabled list, but the number is far above 30 individual players.
The injury struggle includes the rotation, where season-savior Nathan Karns has buoyed the Rays. Now he is moving to the overworked bullpen, due to issues with stamina in his rookie season, hopefully helping that which has become the weakest link for the team. To say that in May would have been surprising, but that which once carried the Rays when all seemed lost in the early months of the season has become depleted.
Karns is joined by Enny Romero and spot-starter Alex Colome, both of whom have transformed their games into better-than-expected talents. Romero suffered under the pain of his back and has had difficulty convincing umpires to call strikes, but a streamlined delivery has helped his stars align. In comparison to those minor adjustments, however, Colome has made strides.
When Jake McGee went down with a torn meniscus at the end of August, the Rays had only one high-leverage reliever remaining: closer Brad Boxberger. At the time, pitching coach Jim Hickey called the injury to McGee an opportunity for Xavier Cedeno and Brandon Gomes to mop up innings, but when it came to replacing the big southpaw, Romero could only do so on the depth chart. Colome did so in talent.
Calling Colome the "biggest surprise" in the bullpen, Hickey recently noted in an interview with Neil Solondz how the transition has parallels to the career of Wade Davis - but with a caveat: the transition has been embraced by Colome, a rarity for starters forced out through depth.
Colome apparently enjoyed his relief work last season, despite struggles to shorten his warm up routines, but work in winterball and into the season has paid off. He was a starter when the Rays needed it early in the season, but with that need salved by the return of Moore and Smyly, we've seen an up-tick in the velocity and breaking stuff, making Colome the power arm the Rays need.
Painful, however, is the lack of a third man, and that's something Karns has not yet become.
At the trade deadline, the Twins came knocking for Kevin Jepsen when most teams were done dealing high leverage arms, and it got them a closer. The price was steep, and Minnesota gave the Rays who they wanted (pun intended): Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia. Most on this site have been behind this trade all the way, but who would be the next man up to take his place in the bullpen?
The answer, evidently, was no one.
Kevin Jepsen -- Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Xavier Cedeno is useful for his fearlessness and maturity (not to mention his ability to get out lefties and his 2.16 ERA), but in the month of September both he and Steve Geltz have been recently unavailable with undisclosed injuries. The next man up has been Brandon Gomes, who simply isn't good enough to be who Kevin Jepsen was.
This might be a good place to talk about what we mean by "a high leverage reliever." Kevin Jepsen had the ability to have success against any type of batter (even if his overall level of success wasn't perfect), and that meant that he's up for any type of high leverage situation, not just one that narrowly fits his skill set.
Gomes, with his splitter, theoretically has the pitches to fill this role, and the Rays have given him these chances but he's never been able to in real life; furthermore, his decent 3.51 ERA this season hides some struggling peripherals (which include a nasty spate of giving up home runs to righties, who are normally his bread and butter). Gomes is fine on paper for a role similar to that of Geltz, maybe even Jepsen in the right opportunity, but the results have simply not been there, and that's been horrible for the Rays chances this season.
No bullpen in the majors has as many losses as this Rays relief core. 31 losses have been attributed to the bullpen this season, including nine for the American League's leader in saves Brad Boxberger. The Rays have not won a game in extra innings in the season of summer (seriously, it's been since May) and have not been able to batten down the hatches for a close game.
Let me say it again: Trading one of three high leverage pitchers looks like a really poor choice!
The deal was acceptable because of the clear value in its return, but when Jake McGee went down with a knee injury, the Rays were helpless to replace his contributions. Brandon Gomes is not the answer. With a 68-71 record, the Rays are now 6.0 Games out of the Wild Card. They're in shooting distance, but without a sniper.
Today is an off-day for the Rays, to be followed by a ten game homestand to kick off a stretch of divisional play. That starts with the also-hot-hitting Red Sox, and if this team wants to contend for the postseason they have to win more often. I'm not sure how the team does that without a third high leverage arm. Andrew Bellatti and the Durham supply run has been helpful with Cedeno and Geltz mysteriously on the shelf, but that still doesn't fill the void.
The Rays are still one piece away, and they have been for the past month. This team could theoretically vie for the playoffs, why not try?
Blake Snell -- Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Here's one more thought for context: remember David Price and Matt Moore? Where did their careers begin?
When the Rays have had a stand out pitching prospect, he's gotten a turn at early promotion around mid-September the year before. David Price and Matt Moore got relief honors in post-season pushes, and became highly effective. It's time to do that once more if the Rays are truly going to contend in September.
I'm not anticipating another miracle like 2013, and I'm not anticipating a trip to the World Series, but if this team sees the post-season in reach, why not put the best foot forward? With the Durham season now over, the USA Today minor league player of the year Blake Snell has nothing to do but sit on his hands. Give him the ball. It's that simple.
I'm not presuming to know all the scouting nuances that would indicate whether Snell would be doomed by a big league roster, but if the Rays need one more high leverage piece, our experience with the team tells us this could work. If it can't, I need to hear it from someone other than Stu Sternberg's shrugs and Marc Topkin's tweets. Here's the only explanation we have:
the combination of Snell needing to be added to the 40-man roster, the Rays falling back in the playoff race and an abundance of starting pitchers all worked against him, as did the resulting impact a promotion could have on his free agency eligibility.
A few days of roster time, that may be spent next year in Durham any way, and the desire to maintain the 40-man roster? Jake McGee hasn't been moved to the 60-day disabled list! Jake Elmore is still on the roster! I don't see the issue.
Why aren't we going to have the best pitching prospect in the Rays system helping close the gap in the most crucial part of the season? Up next the Rays have an incredible opportunity, unlikely as the post-season might be:
3 vs Boston
3 vs New York
4 vs Baltimore
4 @ Boston
3 @ Toronto
3 vs Marlins
3 vs Toronto
20 of 23 games are divisional. It's like the baseball gods want this to happen. The offense is ready to go. The starting rotation is resurgent. The bullpen is in shambles.
Maybe Karns fixes things. Among the anticipated starters, only Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi remained in the rotation at the beginning of the season, and Nate Karns flashed three major league pitches for the first time this season, doing much to salve that wound. Unfortunately, stamina has redirected his year to the bullpen, and while Karns's transition to the bullpen is a downgrade for the 2015 rotation, it's a potential godsend in the bullpen. However, he's not free to roam about the schedule.
Matt Moore is precarious every time he takes the mound, the same could be said for Smyly. Karns is stellar, but he may best serve a role as the go-to long man behind the two men rehabbing at the major league level. He's important, but he's not the high leverage burst of energy this team needs. The loss of Kevin Jepsen remains a shadow cast across this team.
If the Rays are this close but willing to give up so easily, I need a damned good explanation as to why I've even bothered following this season. It is in vain to extenuate the matter.
Give me Blake Snell or give me death.