And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights


Pirates 2, Cubs 1: And with that the Pirates are going to the playoffs. It’s so strange, though, how even though it’s the franchise that has lost for the past 20 years — even though it’s just the laundry which has been shut out so long — that we sort of passively put all that weight on the current members of the Pirates too. Weight that Andrew McCutchen talked about after the game:

“Even though I didn’t lose for the last 20 years, they make you feel like you are. You feel like you lost those 20 years”

That’s pretty remarkable when you think about it. McCutchen was six years old when Sid Bream slid into home plate in the 1992 NLCS, yet pressure has been put on him simply because he got drafted by the Pirates instead of, say, the Giants. The Reds clinched yesterday too and are back to the playoffs. No one asks, say, Shin-Soo Choo about any weight being removed even though he’s just as much of a playoffs newbie as McCutchen is. Oh well.

Reds 3, Mets 2: Like I said, the Reds clinched too, this on a Shin-Soo Choo single in the 10th, but it was a very different scene afterward. No champagne or anything, as they want the division title and seeing the Cardinals beat the Nats a bit after their game ended made that a half game harder to do.

Cardinals 4, Nationals 3: The Nats get eliminated. Proof that you can’t just sleepwalk for four and a half months and then step on the gas for a while and expect it all to be OK. Proof that preseason expectations and predictions mean nothing. Proof that when someone — like a lot of us around here — adds “on paper” to comments about how good a team looks in March it’s probably close to meaningless. Meanwhile the Cardinals are tied with the Braves for the best record in the National League. Whichever of those teams prevails in this regard gets to avoid the Dodgers in the NLDS, so yeah, there are still things to be decided in the NL.

Rays 5, Orioles 4: What an awful day for the Orioles. They lost on a James Loney walkoff homer, get swept in four games and lose Manny Machado and Alexi Casilla to serious injuries. The Rays are a game up on Cleveland for the top wild card spot. The O’s are all but eliminated.

Twins 4, Tigers 3: The Tigers could’ve clinched the central but the wheels fell off late. Lots here which suggests what kind of trouble the Tigers could have in the playoffs, though. Justin Verlander had a dominant stretch of strikeouts — he finished with 12 in six innings — but inefficiency prevented him from going deep into the game. This exposed the Tigers bullpen for too many innings and led Jim Leyland to go to closer Joaquin Benoit for a five-out save which just wasn’t happening. Today is another day to clinch, but I feel like there are reasons to be concerned.

Brewers 5, Braves 0: Atlanta played much like a team that had spent the previous night shooting champagne into each others’ faces. Marco Estrada tossed seven shutout innings and Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy homered.

Athletics 10, Angels 5: Not all teams which celebrated Sunday looked flat on Monday. Five wins in a row for Oakland, which benefited from Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss homers and RBI from seven different A’s.

Rangers 12, Astros 0: Alex Rios hit for the cycle and drove in four runs. Texas is a game behind Cleveland for the final wild card spot. All of their remaining games are at home.

Royals 6, Mariners 5: Alex Gordon keeps the Royals’ hopes alive. He gunned down a runner at the plate in extra innings and then scored on Salvador Perez’s two-out double in the 12th to put KC ahead for good. The Royals are still a longshot, though. Three back with six to play and, unlike the Rangers, all of their remaining games are on the road.

Marlins 4, Phillies 0: This could’ve been Roy Halladay’s final start for the Phillies. And, though he has said he will pitch again next year, the way he looks it could be his final start in major league baseball. He faced only three batters, walking two, and couldn’t break 83 on the gun. This is pretty sad to watch.

White Sox 3, Blue Jays 2: Tiger got to hunt, Bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?” Sox got to pitch, Jays have to bat, Man got to Jays fans have to ask where their Leafs’ schedule’s at. Why no, I didn’t read Charles J. Shields’ quite excellent biography of Kurt Vonnegut over the weekend. Why do you ask?

Padres 4, Diamondbacks 1: My Friday and Monday absences were occasioned by a trip to San Diego for a wedding. While there I got to take in Sunday’s game at Petco. And hang out and walk on the beach and eat In-N-Out Burger and good tacos and drink good beer at Karl Strauss and see my brother and enjoy all of the good things Southern California has to offer while avoiding just about all of the bad things it has to offer, mostly because I didn’t go up near Los Angeles. Starting about 8AM yesterday, as I was enjoying a wonderful breakfast, I began my usual “wait, why don’t I live here again?” musings. I’ve been back in Ohio for about eight hours now and I’m still musing. Sigh. Oh, Padres beat the Dbacks. Apologies for the non-recap of that one. I was busy consulting real estate listings.

2018 Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Tampa Bay Rays.

A lot of teams start one season looking very different than they did at the end of the previous season. Usually you can see those changes coming as early as August or September. What the Rays look like now, on the eve of the 2018 regular season, however, is very different than the sort of change we assumed as recently as the Winter Meetings.

We knew they’d let Alex Cobb walk in free agency and they did. But we did not expect them to trade Evan Longoria, to designate Corey Dickerson for assignment coming off an All-Star year, to trade 30-homer outfielder Steven Souza, or to trade Jake Odorizzi as spring training was getting underway as opposed to some time later when, perhaps, he could bring more value. The baseball justifications for some of these trades were better than they were for others, but the way they were done and the timing of it all cast a pall on the offseason, appearing as they did to be payroll slashing moves. The certainly didn’t impress the MLBPA, which filed a grievance against Tampa Bay last month, accusing them of pocketing revenue sharing money instead of trying to make the team better.

None of that played well, but if you take a couple of steps back, it’s possible to defend it all by realizing that even with all of those guys, the Rays were an 80-win team last year and would not have had a huge amount of upside this year if they had kept it all together. I’ll leave it to prospect experts, number crunchers to decide whether the Rays did a good job of tearing it down — and I think they could’ve done better than they did with stopgap measures until their minor league talent matures — but it’s at least understandable that they wanted to tear it down and start anew.

Until the fruits of those deals — and the fruits of a minor league system which has been pretty darn good in recent years — are ripe, though, the big league Rays are going to have a lot of question marks.

On offense the biggest question mark is health and durability. Here’s a pretty plausible Opening Day lineup Kevin Cash may send out there:

DH Denard Span
3B Matt Duffy
CF Kevin Kiermaier
RF Carlos Gomez
2B Brad Miller
C Wilson Ramos
1B C.J. Cron
SS Adeiny Hechavarria
LF Mallex Smith

Not terrible, but not durable or, in some cases, consistent. Kiermaier has had some freak injuries, but the nature of his play — hard, fast and diving for stuff — makes that a hazard and, as such, he’s really only played in one full season. Matt Duffy missed all of last year and, let’s face it, has never struck fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. Wilson Ramos knows the disabled list like few others. Meanwhile, Carlos Gomez, C.J. Cron and Brad Miller have had fairly substantial swings in production across recent and within recent seasons. Adeiny Hechavarria and Mallex Smith are not serious offensive threats.

It’s easy to squint and to imagine Span, Kiermaier, Ramos, Gomez and maybe Cron forming the nucleus of a respectable attack, but it’s also easy to see half of that lineup playing in only, like, 107 games, Cash penciling in dudes like Jesus Sucre and Daniel Robertson a lot or putting Denard Span out in the outfield more than he should to cover for whoever. The Rays featured the 14th-best offense in the AL in 2017. I can see a case for it improving a tad, but not by much, and if the injury fairy flies through the window, this could be really bad.

On the upside, most of these guys can pick it pretty well, so the defense should be pretty decent and potentially even superior. The pitching is good on paper too, but there is gonna be some weirdness afoot if Cash sticks with the plan he outlined earlier this month.

Even with the departure of Cobb and Odorizzi — and even with the season-ending surgery to top prospect Brent Honeywell — the Rays have five good starters in Chris Archer, Nate Eovaldi, Blake Snell, Jake Faria and Matt Andriese. Except they’re not going to use all five starters in their rotation. They’re going to go with a four-man rotation and a bullpen game every fifth day. At present it appears that Andriese, who started 17 games last year, is the odd man out and will be part of the all-hands-on-deck crew on day 5, whenever that comes up.

Early on this should not make a difference. There are a lot of off days in the first month of the season, so the need for that bullpen day will be pretty limited. One wonders, though, what this will do to their effectiveness and durability as the temperature rises and the season wears on. Yes, “bullpenning” got a lot of press in the postseason, but the idea that a bullpen can stay fresh with such a high-level of use for 5-6 months with few days off is a questionable one. That’s especially the case when three of the Rays’ four starters — Eovaldi, Faria and Snell — pitched limited innings last year and can’t be expected to go six or seven innings per start in 2018 (who can anymore?). Maybe Archer is a horse, but the rest of your games you’re going to need three relievers to finish things up based on how life works these days. Maybe more.

In light of that, is the bullpen going to be able to handle nine innings once every five days? Color me dubious. I think they’ll be fried by July. At least if they truly do use that fifth day as a true bullpen day and don’t, say, just call up a new fifth starter every week and a half and use that slot to audition organizational depth before ultimately just handing it over to Andriese. Indeed, now that I’m thinking about it, I’d wager that the fifth day plan morphs into that pretty quickly and that we’ll be smiling at the notion of a true bullpen day by the All-Star break.

As for the arms in that bullpen, Alex Colome is the closer, mostly because the Rays couldn’t find anyone to deal him to this past offseason. In support are old hands Daniel Hudson and Sergio Romo, neither of whom have been relief aces in recent years, even if Romo did do well for the Rays after coming over late last season. Dan Jennings, Jose Alvarado, Ryne Stanek and a cast of similarly anonymous guys will take the ball a lot. Even Johnny Venters, who had three Tommy John surgeries, could be in the mix at some point. The cast will be as big as “Love Actually.” Whether they are as annoying depends on who you’re rooting for.

Where does that leave the Rays? It leaves them with some serious dice rolling in the lineup, some good defense, some respectable pitching but a potentially odd and possibly detrimental approach to its deployment. It leaves them with a still very good farm system and a roster that looks really nice for 2020. I think it leaves them in some pretty serious trouble for 2018, though, especially in a division as top heavy as the AL East.

As far as on-the-fly rebuilds go, it’s not a bad one, but it’s still one that’s gonna leave the Rays in the low-80s win-wise at best, with some pretty serious potential downside.

Prediction: Fourth Place, AL East.