The Rays won 96 by doing the little things well

by Gary Shelton on October 2, 2019 · 0 comments

in general

Morton had a terrific regular season./JEFFREY S. KING

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

This year, they got 15 fewer wins from Blake Snell.

This year, they got 30 fewer home runs from C.J. Cron.

This year, they got 69 fewer points on the batting average from Joey Wendle.

So how. exactly, did the Tampa Bay Rays make the post-season?

This year, they started fast with a brand new bullpen, which then imploded.

This year, they lost every starting pitcher but Charlie Morton.

This year, they ran slap out of catchers.

And they won 96 games.

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Despite it all, they won a remarkable 96 games, enough to get them into tonight's Wild-Card game against the Oakland A's. Despite the injuries, despite the nights when the hitting was off, despite their swoon with the bullpen, they did enough things well to earn the right to keep playing.

How did they do it?

They did it by winning close games. This season, they were 23-16 (.590) in one-run games. Last season, they were 28-31 (.475).

They did it by beating the senior circuit. This year, they were 14-6 in inter-league play. Last year, they were 7-13.

They did it with balance. This year, they had four batters with 20 or more homers and another with 19. Last year, they had one player (Cron) with more than 20.

They did it with resiliency. This year, they had three walk-off defeats. Last year, they had eight.

They won by keeping the ball in the yard. The Rays gave up 181 homers, the lowest figure in the American League and 52 fewer than average.

They did it with front-office smarts. The 2018 trade of Chris Archer for Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows was highway robbery. The trade for Tommy Pham by giving up Justin Williams, Genesis Cabrera and Roel Rameriz was a nice maneuver, too.

They won it by improvement. Willy Adames had 10 home runs last year. He had 20 this year and played terrific defense.

They won on the fly. Emilio Pagan had 15 of his 20 saves in the second half of the season.

They won with more power. The Rays hit 217 homers this year. They hit 150 a year ago.

They did it with glovework. Kevin Kiermaier played in 129 games (as opposed to 88), doubled his home runs to 14 and drove in 55.

They played better against Boston. They won 12 games this year, and only eight last year.

They did it on the road. They won 48 games away from Tropicana compared to 39 the year before.

They won it in extra innings. They won 11 extra innings games this year, only five a year ago.

They won it by knowing who to keep (Ji-Man Choi, Matt Duffy, Kiermaier) and knowing who to import (Avi Garcia, Travis d'Arnaud, Nick Anderson).

They did it despite injuries. Not many teams could survive losing Snell, Glasnow and Yonny Chirinos from the pitching staff and Brandon Lowe from the infield. The Rays did it with the resiliency that has become their secret weapon.

They won no matter how the scoreboard read. They came from behind in 38 of their wins.

They won when their bats were on. They were 81-39 when they hit a homer, 68-23 when they scored first and 69-10 when they scored five or more runs (they were 27-54 when they scored fewer than five runs).

What did it all add up to? It added up to one of the most exciting seasons the Rays have played (the 2008 team that went to the playoffs won only one more game in the regular season; no other Rays team won more.)

It added up to tonight, when Morton will pitch against Sean Manaea, a lefty (the Rays haven't fared as well against left-handed pitching) who is 4-0 since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 1.

The game begins at 8:09 p.m. Eastern.

The matchups

First base: Ji-Man Choi had a clutch season for the Rays. But Oakland has Matt Olson, a gold glove winner who had 36 home runs. Edge: A's.

Second base: How will Cash play this one? He has Brandon Lowe back, who has more pop, but he also could go with Joey Wendle or Eric Sogard. The A's have Jurickson Profer, but he's struggled. Edge: Rays.

Shortstop: The A's Marcus Semien had a strong season. So, too, did Adames. Edge: Tie.

Third base: Matt Chapman was a star for the A's, also hitting 36 homers. The Rays should resist the urge to play Yandy Diaz, who just got back. They should decide between Matt Duffy or Wendle. Edge: A's.

Left field: The Rays have Tommy Pham, who has been cool lately. But he's better than Chad Pinder or Seth Brown. Edge: Rays.

Center field: Kevin Kiermaier can take your breath away defensively. The A's Ramon Laureano isn't bad either. Edge: Rays.

Right field: Austin Meadows has done about everything for the Rays this season. The A's Mark Canha had a solid season. Edge: Rays.

Designated hitter: Kris Davis had had his struggles this season, but he's a long-ball threat. Against a lefty, Avi Garcia might get the nod over Choi. Edge: A's.

Catcher: Rookie Sean Murphy started hot for the As. Travis d'Arnaud, however, has been everything for Tampa Bay. Edge: Rays.

Pitcher: Manaea has done it lately for the A's, but Morton has done it all year for the Rays. Edge: Rays.

Bullpen: Once Nick Anderson came to the Rays, the team's roles seemed more defined. If Morton can go six or seven innings with his start, the pen should be fine. Injuries have hurt Oakland. Edge: Rays.

Bench: It's always tough to tell until you see the game's rosters. Both teams have found plenty of help from non-starters. Edge: Tie.

Managers: Bob Melvin is very close to Kevin Cash in terms of accomplishment. Because of injuries, I think Cash had the better regular season. But Melvin is at home. Edge: A's.

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