During last night’s contest between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers, Rays skipper Kevin Cash made several moves regarding the bullpen that have left me quite befuddled.
The Rays are in a tight battle with two other teams for the two Wild Card spots and ever game, inning, run, and pitch is highly critical in deciding the team’s fate. During the game on Tuesday night, 2018 AL Cy Young Blake Snell made his return and dominated...for two innings, before leaving with the Rays limiting his work due to his quick return to the mound.
Oliver Drake worked two perfect innings of his own. Great.
After that, the Rays troubles began with Colin Poche allowing free passes to the first two hitters he faced — Max Muncy was technically hit by a pitch, the 4th ball of the plate appearance. This was followed by a groundout but then a ground-rule double that scored two to give the Dodgers a lead.
Chaz Roe came on and ended the inning before anymore damage could be sustained.
Roe walked the first batter in the sixth, then gave way to Nick Anderson, who did Nick Anderson things and retired all three batters he faced, on just 10 pitches. However, Anderson was pinch-hit for in the top of the 7th, forcing Kevin Cash to bring in a new arm to keep the game tied at 2.
Peter Fairbanks got the call, and Fairbanks did not come through.
The seldom seen rookie allowed three runs and recorded just one out. Cole Sulser followed and allowed two more runs to score. So we went from a winnable tied game to a 7-2 Dodger advantage, one that even a three-run burst could not overcome in the 7-5 loss. Consequently, the Rays control of the second Wild Card fell to just a half game over the Cleveland Indians.
Prior to Wednesday’s series finale against the Dodgers, Kevin Cash addressed his bullpen usage as follows:
“We’re dealing with a lot of challenges right now,’’ Cash said. “We’ve got guys that we’re counting on in leverage situations that have never played six months of baseball. They’ve played five months and they’ve gone home. So a lot of that we’re trying to balance — (pitching coach Kyle Snyder and bullpen coach Stan Boroski) do a good job with the workload. Even Nick Anderson, as dominating as he’s been, he’s never played (in) a sixth month. We’re trying to value all those thoughts into these decisions that we’re making.’’
In discussing this balancing act, Kevin Cash is playing for today, and tomorrow, as well as 2020 and beyond. He is entrusting pitchers to make pitches, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Marc Topkin notes in his article that Diego Castillo was saved so he could potentially work two innings in tonight’s game, and gave similar logic for Nick Anderson’s low pitch count and quick exit during Tuesday’s game.
Why save Castillo? Why pull Anderson early when the Dodgers will be a threat in any inning the Rays face them?
Hindsight is 20/20, and had Fairbanks located a few pitches a bit better we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But, with the team pursuing their first playoff berth since 2013, every breath Kevin Cash takes will be hyper-analyzed to see if it was the correct amount of oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output.
And we fans will have opinions. Lots of opinions. So here’s mine: Stop playing for tomorrow when you haven’t won today.
The Rays have just 10 games remaining; they’re two games back of the Oakland Athletics, a half game up on the Cleveland Indians and there are so many possible moves left to be made over the next two weeks and each one of them is sure to be thrilling, and thought provoking.
A manager will never make everyone happy, but as long as the moves work out more often than not, the Rays will reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013...otherwise, there is always next year. I want there to be this year.