Not to put too fine a point on it, but that has to be just about exactly how the Rays Front Office imagined the best case scenario for the 2018 season playing out when they made the (sometimes questionable) decisions they made this offseason.
There was: Great run prevention behind one of their young pitching studs; a ragtag lineup stringing together just enough hits; big hits with runners in scoring position; huste; a solid bullpen to close it out; and of course, just a bit of luck.
In fact, it was such a perfect amalgamation of these factors that it lends itself perfectly to a tidy little set-up for Wednesday afternoon’s victory recap.
Great run prevention behind one of their young pitching studs
Jake Faria got the start for the Rays on Wednesday, a decision that wasn’t even finalized until earlier this week. Faria had looked lost in his first two starts of the season, but in his most recent outing before Wednesday, he showed signs of the young pitcher who won us all over last season, holding the Phillies to one run on two hits (with a 7:2 SO:BB ratio) over 5.1 IP last Friday.
Faria was just as sharp on Wednesday, answering the call of exactly what was needed in a key, early-season rubber match of this three-game home series against the Rangers. (If the Rays had lost that series, it would be pretty easy to start throwing in the towel on 2018, for those who haven’t yet.)
Faria didn’t look quite himself in the first inning, allowing singles to new Rays nemesis Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Adrian Beltre, before a nice scoop from CJ Cron got him out of the inning without any runs allowed. That scoop (these Rays first basemen really must have put in some time on scoops in the offseason, they’ve been excellent in that regard this season) seemed to settle Faria down a bit, as he looked excellent in the second, flashing signs of Manic Pixie Dream Faria, with his changeup landing strikeouts, and his fastball doing enough to throw batters off. His punch out of Robinson Chirinos was especially impressive, with a pin-perfect changeup to put Chirinos in just a brutal lose-lose to end the at bat.
Faria gave up the lone run of his Wednesday outing in the third when other Rays nemesis, Shin-Soo Choo, took him deep to left-center with one of the smoothest home runs in recent memory. Faria bounced back, however, keeping batters off balance, even when he wasn’t lcoating his changeup quite as well as he might have wanted to. Faria only got eight whiffs on the day (per Brooks Baseball), but it’s hard to argue with 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, and 6 K.
Stringing together hits with a ragtag lineup
For a while it appeared as though Faria’s excellent effort might go to waste, though. Cole Hamels tore through the Rays lineup like a Ginsu through butter for the first five innings, allowing only a Brandon Snyder double in the third and a Mallex Smith double in the fifth for Rays baserunners until the sixth.
The Rays really started to get to Hamels in the sixth, as the lineup turned over for the third time. Johnny Field led off with a single, just the Rays third hit for the first two times through the order. During their third time through the order, however, the Rays tallied three more hits, and the lone batter Hamels faced a fourth time got a hit, as well. The nine hits the Rays tallied for the day were the most hits the Rays have had in a game in which they didn’t hit a homer all season. Small ball, just like the Front Office planned.
Hitting with RISP
The Rays were able to succeed with that Small Ball plan in large part because they timed those hits well. One batter after Field’s single, Daniel Robertson hit a double, Carlos Gomez reached on a hit by pitch, and CJ Cron extended his hit streak to eight games. Add in a nice piece of hitting by Adeiny Hechavarria to get a sac fly RBI, and the Rays had jumped ahead 3-1 by the end of the sixth inning.
That lead may well have not been as cushy (yes, a two-run lead is considered cushy by 2018 Rays standards, ok) if it hadn’t been for some excellent base running, however. Cash has emphasized throughout the season that the Rays speed isn’t necessarily going to be noticed in a flashy stolen base total, but by grabbing extra bases, and running the bases with intelligence.
The Rays did just that in the seventh, as Johnny Field showed off some nice wheels, scoring from first on Robertson’s double, and Robertson was nice and heads up to take third when the throw came to the plate. (Field’s slide to avoid the tag was top notch as well.) Carlos Gomez showed some speed and intellect of his own taking third on Cron’s bloop single, thus leaving Gomez just 90 feet from home for Hech’s one-out at bat which turned into the third run.
Solid bullpen to close it out
Cash took Faria out after six solid frames, handing the ball over first to Chaz Roe.
Roe did his typical whiffleball thing with his slider, straight dominating the 7-8-9 hitter in the Rangers lineup (despite some questionable - and maybe a touch cultural appropriation-y - follicle choices).
Then it was this author’s favorite Ray, Jose Alvarado, who, well, a picture is worth a thousand words (and a GIF is worth two thousand):
Then it was Alex Colome to finish it off.*
* We’re going to ignore the pants-pooping fear that Colome is putting into all Rays fans… At least for today. Today is a happy day.
Little bit of luck
Of course, the game might have played out a bit differently if not for a bit of luck in the fifth inning. (You know, Butterfly Effect and all that.)
With one out in the fifth, Faria allowed what appeared to be a home run off the bat of Renato Nunez. The ball was caught by a fan, but it was ruled a double (fan interference) on the field. The replays certainly looked like the ball would have cleared the fence with the fan touching it, but that decision wasn’t clear enough to overturn the call on the field. The fan also had the instant backup ball in his cargo pant pocket to throw back on the field while he kept the real one. I’d say he was smart if I hadn’t seen the hat he was wearing…
So there you have it. Take some solid young starting pitching, a ragtag lineup that eeks out hits when they need to, add a sprinkle of hustle, a solid bullpen, and a touch of luck, and it all works out. Now, if the Rays can repeat that formula another 80 or so times this season, we’ll have an interesting September after all.
The Rays record is now 5-13, they play again on Friday at Tropicana Field.