Rays lose to Blue Jays, fall 2 1/2 back in AL Wild Card

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The clock is ticking on the Rays.

Unable to solve Brandon Morrow, the Rays lost 5-1 to the Blue Jays tonight to fall 2 1/2 games back of the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card race. Morrow was completely dominant, allowing just two hits over seven shutout innings while walking four and striking out nine. Oddly, he also induced his first double play of the season. According to Brooks Baseball, he got 18 swinging strikes. Good luck with that.

David Price, who was hit in the chest with a comebacker during his last start, surrendered five runs (two earned) on five hits and two walks over six innings. The three unearned runs scored in the third inning, when Price made a pair of costly throwing errors, including one that allowed two runs to cross the plate. The Rays could only muster three hits on the night, all of them singles, and didn’t score their first run until the bottom of the ninth inning.

The Red Sox might be collapsing in historic fashion right now, but with seven losses in their last 11 games, the Rays aren’t exactly playing the part of the 2007 Phillies. The Rays have five games remaining this season while the Red Sox have six more to play.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.