The Rays’ all just wasn’t quite enough

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The Rays used 22 of their 25 players in Tuesday’s loss, and they were one inning away from turning to their Game 5 starter. Still, no matter how much Joe Maddon maneuvered, there was no outgunning the Red Sox this week.

It was plenty close. The Rays got the break they needed in the second inning, when Stephen Drew’s near-three-run double was instead turned into an inning-ending double play by a leaping James Loney. With Jeremy Hellickson and Jamey Wright done after two, Maddon relied on lefties Matt Moore and Alex Torres to hold the fort for the late-game relievers. The Red Sox, better set up to face a righty with Daniel Nava, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew hitting consecutively, couldn’t get a rally going.

Alas, the Red Sox were able to outlast the Rays, even after Tampa Bay scored first. I was critical last night when Sox skipper John Farrell used Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa for just two batters apiece, but that meant Boston’s big three was fresher tonight than the Rays’ top three of Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney. It was Peralta the Red Sox broke through against, though the two runs were charged to Peralta. Rodney allowed another in the ninth.

Meanwhile, Breslow, Tazawa and closer Koji Uehara combined to allow one hit and strike out seven in 3 1/3 scoreless innings for the Red Sox. Breslow was particularly outstanding, fanning four in a row and getting five outs in all.

Give the Rays credit, though. It was a terrific effort, with nine pitchers throwing nine innings. Had it gone to the 10th, David Price was coming in, and the Rays just would have figured out Game 5 later.

Now it could be another harsh offseason for the Rays. Attendance didn’t increase as hope, so the payroll probably won’t add much from the usual $60 million-$65 million. Price’s salary will jump from $10 million to $15 million or so in arbitration, which could mean he’s made his final start for the club. James Loney figures to be too expensive to retain, so the Rays will have to dip back into the bargain bin at first base again. Rodney also seems certain to exit, as will several role players.

Still, even without Price, the Rays could put out a rotation of Alex Cobb, Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, and Price will likely bring back another Wil Myers-type prospect to integrate into the lineup, plus perhaps another young pitcher or two. Despite the modest payroll, there will be no writing off the Rays anytime soon. Price or no, they’ll be back to scare the pants off the Red Sox and the rest of the AL’s heavy hitters again next season.

Dusty Baker hired to manage the Astros

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Note: This was first posted yesterday morning. Now that it has been confirmed by multiple outlets, we are updating it.

The Astros and Dusty Baker have an agreement to make Baker the new manager of the Houston Astros. Baker’s hiring was first reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today yesterday. Today his hiring was confirmed by Marl Feinsand of MLB.com, citing multiple sources.

Baker recently interviewed with Astros owner Jim Crane who, as you know, was in the position of having to find a new manager on the quick given the suspension and subsequent firing of A.J. Hinch in the wake of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Crane also interviewed Brad Ausmus in recent days.

In Baker the Astros are getting a manager who needs no training and needs no introduction. He has won basically everywhere he has managed, taking the Giants to the World Series in three postseason appearances, taking the Cubs to the postseason once, taking the Reds to the postseason three times and taking the Nationals to the postseason in both years at the helm. In 22 years as a skipper he has a record of 1,863-1,636. His worst single-team winning percentage is .497 with the Cubs. He was a .593 manager in Washington, a .540 manager in San Francisco, and a .524 manager in Cincinnati.

Baker has a track record of taking over poor-to-decent clubs and, almost immediately, making them winners. He did it in Washington, he did it in Cincinnati, he did it in San Francisco and, though it was only in his first season before running into some bad years, he even did it in Chicago. No one has the market cornered on assessing manager skill and quality, but the fact that Baker has won everywhere he’s gone probably means that, if they do eventually figure out what the special sauce is, Baker will be found to have possessed a vat of it.

He certainly has an interesting challenge in Houston. Unlike his past gigs, he’s taking over a monster of a team, winners of 107 games and the AL pennant last year and, of course, winning the 2017 World Series. With the exception of Gerrit Cole, who departed via free agency, basically all of the players who took the Nationals to Game 7 of the 2019 World Series will be back in 2020.

Which makes figuring out the expectations we should have for Baker an interesting thing. On the one hand, when a team loses Game 7 of the World Series like the Astros did, all but one outcome is a step back. Given that winning a World Series is no guarantee, ever, there’s a chance that even if Baker does an amazing job in Houston he ends his tenure being cast, again, as some sort of disappointment. A guy who couldn’t get it done in the postseason.

On the other hand the Astros have just been busted in a massive cheating scandal and — if you believe they were still cheating in 2019, which some do believe — they will have lost an advantage they once had. Between that, the departure of Cole and the overall fallout of the sign-stealing scandal and the scrutiny under which the team will be in 2020, it would not be at all shocking if they take a step back regardless of who was hired to manage. Which means that if Baker does win it all with Houston, man, it’d be a hell of an accomplishment. Or he could fall short of a World Series win and still be considered a massive success by virtue of keeping a team with every reason to be distracted to stay focused and play good baseball.

No matter how this plays out on the field, however, the fact of the matter is that, in addition to winning everyplace he’s ever been, Baker has long been praised for his management of the clubhouse. For motivating players and keeping them on an even keel. For bringing calm to places where one might expect storms. Win or lose, that’s exactly what this team needs right now. It’s exactly why, in our view, Baker is the perfect hire for the Houston Astros.