The regular season is just two short weeks away from coming to an end, and it will signal the end of play for the 14 teams around baseball that will not make the playoffs.
One of those 14 teams will be the Tampa Bay Rays, though one wouldn’t think so when looking at their record. The Rays are currently 84-66, which is identical to that of the Cleveland Indians who clinched their division earlier this week. Unfortunately for the Rays, they play in the American League East, which is home to a historically great Boston Red Sox team that has won 103 games and counting, as well as the omnipresent New York Yankees.
How did the Rays manage to have such a strong season? Well, they certainly did not do it the same way as their Amerian League East counterparts. The Rays possess the lowest payroll in all of Major League Baseball at just $68 million. That is almost half the payroll of the Baltimore Orioles ($124 million) who, at 43-108, currently hold the worst record in all of baseball.
It has never been about the money in Tampa Bay. What Kevin Cash has done with extremely limited resources has been impressive enough to earn him strong consideration to win the American League Manager of the Year award.
The Tampa Bay Rays entered the 2018 season with essentially just three established starters — Chris Archer, Blake Snell, and Jake Faria. Archer was traded at the deadline, and Faria missed significant time in the middle of the season due to injury. For a long stretch of time the Rays’ only true starter was Blake Snell, who could very well win the AL Cy Young Award this year, currently holding a stymying 20-5 record with a 1.97 ERA in 29 starts.What @RaysBaseball manager Kevin Cash has done to put the club in the spotlight, with an ever-changing roster and low payroll, is deserving of AL Manager of the Year honors.Click To Tweet
It was because of this lack of starting pitching depth that Cash implemented his now infamous, “opener” strategy, in which he would start the game with a relief pitcher and then fill in the middle innings with a young starter whom he is trying to stretch out. The idea was widely criticized across baseball, as most new ideas often are. Nevertheless, the strategy has mostly been effective for the Rays and has not only helped them stay competitive in an extremely tough division, but it has also allowed them to slowly develop their young pitchers so as not to burn them out too early.
Too often in baseball teams will discover a young, talented pitcher in their system and immediately press him to pitch 150 or more innings in his first season. Cash did not fall into that trap, and now he has a promising cabal of young pitchers coming up through the system that could bolster the Rays’ rotation for years to come.
It is not just the pitching that Cash has worked magic with, the Rays’ offense has been impressive as well. The team has been led by young, breakout hitters such as Joey Wendle, Willy Adames, Matt Duffy, C.J. Cron, and Mallex Smith, all of whom are under 30 years of age.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic regarding the Rays’ offense is that they only have one player on their current roster who has more than 100 strikeouts, and that would be C.J. Cron. However, Cron has smashed 27 home runs this season from the middle of the Rays’ lineup to make up for his strikeouts. Most other teams around baseball have at least three or four players with more than 100 strikeouts on their roster because that is what the game has mostly turned into in 2018. Teams care less about plate discipline and more about raw power and run production.
Except in Tampa Bay. Kevin Cash and his coaching staff have clearly put an impetus on plate discipline and manufacturing runs by getting players on base as opposed to just mashing as many home runs as possible. This is particularly impressive given how young Tampa’s roster is. Younger players have a tendency to want to swing out of their shoes instead of sitting back and staying patient. Clearly, the philosophy of Cash and his coaching staff has gotten through to his players and has turned their lineup into a frustrating opponent for any of their American League counterparts to go up against.
The bottom line is this: with the lowest payroll in baseball, a limited pitching staff, and the youngest roster in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays will finish the 2018 season almost 20 games over .500 and should not go overlooked as one of the best teams in baseball.
Think about it this way: if the Rays were in the American League Central they would currently be tied with the Cleveland Indians for first place. Not only that but if they were in the National League East or the National League West then they would be in first place in either of those divisions. That is how good this team has been this year.
The biggest reason for the Rays’ success is their manager, Kevin Cash, and that is why he deserves to win the American League Manager of the Year award. Typically, this award is given to the manager with the best team in his league, which is why it will be difficult for Cash to wrestle the award away from Red Sox manager, Alex Cora. However, to achieve so much with so little is harder than to achieve greatness with the largest payroll in baseball, and that is why Cash deserves the nod over Cora for the award.