So long, David Price. I hope when you go into the Hall of Fame, you’re wearing a Rays cap. I hope we get you back after you’re finished with the $100+ million contract the Tigers will give you, and that you can mentor our young pitchers again. For now, however, Price is no longer a Ray, and the team has to figure out how to move on without him. The Rays still have to win a lot of games over the next two months to make the playoffs. Which starter will step up to take the #1 slot in the rotation?
There’s no question that if the playoffs were to begin today and the Rays were one of their teams, their first game starter would be Chris Archer or Alex Cobb. Archer emerged this year as the sold number two in the rotation, with a 6-6 record and 3.37 ERA as of July 31. He’s pitched 125 innings and has struck out 108 batters, recording a strikeout to walk ratio of 2.20. His energy and athleticism can inspire the team. He’s also the pitcher who most talked about learning from David Price, and might be the most upset at Price’s recent trade.
Alex Cobb missed some time due to an injury, and at times has looked distracted on the mound, particularly when he’s been hit by line drives and grounders. Still, in 96 innings pitched, he has a 7-6 record with a 3.54 ERA. He’s recorded 92 strikeouts and his strikeout to walk ratio of 3.29 is better than Archer’s. He has been unhittable in his last two starts, combining to allow just one run in 15 innings of work, striking out 22 while walking 2. He has the ability to do that in any start. Cobb may not have the pure stuff of David Price or Chris Archer, but he is establishing himself as a very good pitcher.
Then there’s rookie Jake Odorizzi, who won the fifth starter slot in spring training. Odorizzi has great stuff, but showed in the early going that he still had a lot to learn. After his May 3rd start, his ERA stood at just 6.83 as he simply could not get through opposing batting orders more than one time. However, the Rays helped him adjust his approach, and he has been dominant since then. In his last 15 starts and 86 innings pitched, Odorizzi is 6-5 with a 2.83 ERA and a 3.68 strikeout to walk ratio. He has been even better following his June 5th start, going 5-2 with a 2.25 ERA to give him a 7-8 record and a 3.80 ERA on the season. Odorizzi has also struck out 10.2 batters per 9 innings, the fifth-highest total of any starting pitcher in baseball. The highlight for Odorizzi may have been July 22nd, when he beat Adam Wainwright and his hometown St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Of course, the team’s inspired play has helped Archer go 3-3 with a 3.28 ERA since June 5th while Cobb has gone 6-2 with a 2.91 ERA (not to mention David Price’s 7-3 record and 2.05 ERA). Odorizzi isn’t the only Rays pitcher hitting hit stride. However, Odorizzi has pitched like a frontline pitcher for nearly three months, and the Rays have certainly taken notice. If he can keep up this level of performance, Jake Odorizzi just might be the pitcher Joe Maddon relies for a one-game playoff or an ALDS Game 1.