Lately, wins have been exceedingly difficult to come by for the Tampa Bay Rays. They have won just three of their last eleven games, falling from 2.5 games back in the AL East to 7.5 back in the process and from a sure bet for the playoffs to barely clinging to their lead on the second AL Wild Card spot. Two of their three wins, though, have come in the two games started by Matt Moore. Moore managed to keep the opposition off the board, allowing just 2 runs, 1 earned, in 11.2 innings pitched, but he really didn’t pitch all that well, averaging under 6 innings a start and managing just a 9-7 strikeout to walk ratio. With that in mind, is it simply coincidental that Moore has been the pitcher preventing the Rays from total collapse the last week and a half? It’s certainly a possibility. However, Moore has brought something to the table lacking by the rest of the Rays’ roster–an unbiased perspective–and that has made all the difference.
The Rays have plenty of talented players on their team. Even as people around baseball saw the Rays coming apart, they could not deny that fact. But having talent and performing are two vastly different things. In the minor leagues, a key distinction is between raw talent and refined ability. In the major leagues, the difference is much more intricate: between having the skills to succeed and being able to make the physical and emotional adjustments to make use of them on a consistent basis. On an individual basis, teams will find ways to exploit a player’s weaknesses, and that player has to find a way to adjust back. For a team, it has less to do with what the opposition does and more to do with how games play out. A circumstance comes up and after seeing your teammates falter time after time, you press and fall into the same trap they did. For the Rays, you don’t go from the American League’s best team with runners in scoring position to the worst by simple luck. Luck was only the start of the process. A few hard-hit balls are caught and suddenly Rays hitters come up to the plate thinking that they have to deliver and if they don’t no one else will. On the pitching side, the Rays are cetainly expriencing some misfortune that David Price is slowing down right when they needed him most, but just about every other Rays pitcher coming apart around him has to be at least partly due to Price’s failures. Get rid of a member the foundation and the human pyramid that is a baseball team topples down and requires plenty of effort to get back together. The Rays were getting beat on the field, but they were getting beat just as much by themselves, the thoughts they couldn’t help but think about as they stepped into the batter’s box and onto the mound. Matt Moore, though, simply wasn’t there.
Every member of the Rays’ roster has the ability to make an impact on their postseason run the last month of the season. In the recent past, however, all of them were part of the problem. David Price, Evan Longoria, and Wil Myers have struggled mightily, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Even among the players who have played well, there’s always something wrong. James Loney has gotten some of the few clutch hits but also made a big error. Jose Lobaton has hit well but has not done well on defense either. And Alex Cobb has pitched well overall but has also allowed several enormous runs that have crippled the Rays’ chances at victory. But not included in that category is Matt Moore. Moore has been far from perfect this year–we still can’t get his disastrous three-start stretch from June out of our minds–but he had been dominant for a month and a half before he got hurt and has come back with not quite the same level of effectiveness but the same mentality. Moore is walking too many batters and hasn’t struck out as many as the Rays would like, but that’s not a psychological issue but simply the problems that Matt Moore goes through sometimes. Moore was totally disconnected when he returned to the team after his rehab assignment, but in this case, that was critical because the only pressure being put on him was his internal drive to contribute to his team. Moore took the mound just like any other start, gave the Rays a pair of good outings, and after his strong performance on Sunday, he may just have become one of the catalysts to the Rays getting back on track. It’s unfortunate that Moore missed over a month with elbow inflammation–maybe if he hadn’t gotten hurt, the Rays would have never slowed down like this–but because of his injury, he has given the Rays exactly what they have been looking for ever since this disastrous stretch began. Moore has finally become that first Rays player who could come in entirely unfazed by the recent turn of events and simply play like it was any other day.