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Rays 9, Blue Jays 4: The season ends at 90

“Nine, Eight, Seven”

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

9

innings left to reach an arbitrary mark

I’m not sure why 90 wins feels important. There’s very little difference between 90 wins (and out of the playoffs) and 89 wins (and out of the playoffs). Whether or not the Rays win the final game of the season they’ll be the same team tomorrow, and they’ll have had basically the same season.

But basically the same and exactly the same are not exactly the same.

This season, it’s often felt like more is at stake than just the playoffs. During the offseason, the Rays traded Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson, and Steven Souza Jr. Baseball writers across the nation called them a disgrace. The players union filed a grievance, alleging that they weren’t using the money they received from revenue sharing to improve the team.

Cooler heads noticed that the Rays actually weren’t going to be that bad at baseball, and that their moves made some amount of baseball sense, and that they were doing an intriguing job of building for the future without actually tanking—an unseemly process that other winning teams such as the Cubs and Astros have built their success on.

But then the Rays lost eight of their first nine games, and it seemed like maybe the circling vultures, hoping to pick over the Rays and their small market bones, were going to be proven right.

Next the Rays started acting weird, using relievers in the first inning, and the vultures yelled about how they were not just bad at baseball, but also evil, with the nerds in the front office intent on, from their mothers’ basements, suppressing player salaries and destroying the Great American Passtime.

Then the Rays started winning.

Ninety wins games isn’t enough to make the playoffs this year out of the American League East, not with the Red Sox and the Yankees, unchecked superteams based in wealthy cities, with rich histories and national fan bases. (From where I sit, the relative purchasing power of these superteams is the real embarrassment to baseball.)

But 90 wins sure looks good in the record books. Ninety wins tells the vultures to shut up and go away.

8

rookies penciled in on the lineup card

Nick Ciuffo, Jake Bauers, Brandon Lowe, Willy Adames, and Joey Wendle started on the infield. Austin Meadows played right field. Ryne Stanek opened on the mound. Then Ryan Yarbrough took over as the bulk guy.

It didn’t stop there. Hunter Wood came on after Yarbrough, and Adam Moore and Andrew Velazquez both entered as late subs.

The Rays youth movement might be what gets remembered most about 2018, or it might not. When good young teams evolve into great teams of unremarkable age, they are remembered by many. When they do not, they are remembered only by a few.

Stay tuned, baseball narrative.

7

rWAR in the books for the Tampa Bay ace

Blake Snell was once a part of that youth movement. In the second half of last year, it seemed like Snell might turn out to be pretty good. Now he is pretty good. If the rest of the young Rays never reach his level, Snell might be what we remember about 2018.

Interviewed during today’s game, he said, about his 21 wins and 1.89 ERA, “It’s all factual. It all happened.”

That sounds to me like a man who thinks that rWAR, which uses runs allowed, is a better way of picking season awards than fWAR, which is based on the more predictive FIP.

I happen to agree with him. Snell for Cy Young.

6

times that Tommy Pham’s taken the extra extra base

Tommy Pham hits the ball hard. Tommy Pham hits the ball to center. Tommy Pham runs fast.

Put those together, mix in the dimensions of Tropicana Field, and apparently what you get is six triples in 169 plate appearances.

After giving up the lead in the top of the fifth inning, the Rays stormed back to retake it in the bottom. It started out with a fun sequence, where the Blue Jays started off the inning shifting Jake Bauers to the pull side, but playing their third baseman in to take away the bunt. Once Bauers got ahead 3-1, though, they backed off, assuming he would be swinging away. Bauers said “thank you very much,” and bunted for a base hit.

Nick Ciuffo bunted him over to second, and Mallex Smith singled Bauers home with a line-drive single.

That gave Pham the chance to do his thing. He did, crushing a fly ball to the very deepest part of the park in left-center, just off the top of the wall. In most other parallel universes, that was a home run. In some it was a double. In this universe, it was extra weird. The Blue Jays threw home, where with Mallex Smith running they obviously had no play. That allowed Pham to motor to third.

Joey Wendle brought him home with a sacrifice line drive, stretching the lead to 5-2.

How do you compete in the American League East, when the Red Sox and the Yankees can generally be assumed to have great players? You need some great players of your own. Tommy Pham is the best position player the Rays have had since Evan Longoria was in his prime.

5

five stolen bases for the running Rays

In recent past years, the Rays offense has been built on power. This year, it was all about getting on base and then showcasing speed. In the American league, only the Red Sox beat the Rays’ .333 OBP. Only the Red Sox and the Indians had more than the Rays’ 123 stolen bases.

Against Toronto’s Sam Gaviglio, who has struggled to hold the running game this year, it was off to the races. Mallex Smith stole twice. Tommy Pham forced an errant throw with his stolen base in the third, allowing Jake Bauers to run home from third. Wendle and Bauers also got in on the action with a steal each.

4

times on base; Bauers had himself a day

The Rays first baseman of the future had a great start to his big-league career, but then slumped through to the end of the season, casuing some to wonder what type of “of the future” he was bringing to Tampa Bay. Through the ups and downs, though, one thing was constant: Bauers never stopped getting on base.

Today he singled in the first inning, stole second, and came around to score the first Rays run. He bunted for a hit in the fifth, and once more came around to score. He walked in the sixth and hit a ground rule double in the seventh.

With that three-hit performance, Bauers will finish above the Mendoza line.

3

hits out of every ten for the star who shouldn’t be

With one out and one man on in the eighth, manager Kevin Cash made a defensive substitution, replacing Joey Wendle with Andrew Velazquez, and preserving Wendle’s .300 batting average on the season. The Tropicana Field faithful gave Wendle a nice round of applause as he left the field, one for three on the day, with a sacrifice fly. In the top of the ninth, he took a curtain call.

Like 90 wins, a .300 batting average is an arbitrary number. Like 90 wins, a .300 batting average matters.

Joey Wendle had doubters last spring, and he’ll continue to have them next spring. The difference will be that this time around, in addition to the doubters, he’ll have believers.

2

strong innings from TBD

The third potential way we’ll remember this season is as the introduction to the opener, and that makes it fitting that Ryne Stanek got the final start of the season. After Sergio Romo broke the ice, Stanek stepped in and became the face (or maybe the hair?) of the concept.

Why did the opener strategy work? Because Ryne Stanek embraced his role, and made it work.

Stanek gave up a leadoff single, but then pumped his high-90s fastballs into the zone for three flyball outs, exiting the inning after only nine pitches, so Cash gave him another.

Inning number two has been funny for Stanek and for Rays openers. There’s no reason an opener needs to go two innings, but sometimes they do. And for the Rays and Stanek, the results have been a lot worse second time out.

But as Carl wrote earlier in the year, that looks like some small sample size smog, obscuring a pretty good second-inning process. We saw a bit of that second-inning process today:

  • Four pitch strikeout of Rowdy Tellez
  • Six pitch strikeout of Aledmys Diaz
  • Eight pitch strikeout of Reese McGuire

1

fun team all ready for more

The 2018 season is in the books for these Rays. I cannot wait for 2019.

Hat-tip to Molly Bang for “Ten, Nine, Eight,” the current favorite book in the Malinolds household.