The Little Things in Baseball Make a Difference For the Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 24: Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 24: Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

The difference between winning and losing are the little things in a game and the Rays are showing how much those little things really mean and the implication it could have.

It’s the second half of the baseball season and every win is important. The Rays are right in the middle of the hunt and a couple of wins or loses could mean the difference between making the playoffs or not.

The Rays are pretty good ball team. They have starting pitching that can win on any given night, they hit with power throughout the lineup and have decent defense that is getting better. But the difference between winning and losing are the little things in a game and never was that on display more than in the Thursday night opening game of a four game series against the New York Yankees.

The series is the beginning of a grueling 17 game portion of the schedule that has the Rays playing New York, Houston, Milwaukee, Boston and Cleveland. Each team is either first or second in their respective divisions. Of course, New York and Boston are AL East rivals in a tight race for the division or a wild card berth.

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The Rays liked their odds in the opener with Chris Archer on the mound. He fell behind 3-0 early but the Rays put five runs on the board and were leading 5-3 after six innings. Then the wheels came off the bus. Archer had thrown over 100 pitchers after six inning and left the game. This started a parade of six relief pitchers for the Rays.

Newly acquired Dan Jennings gave up a run in the eighth while getting no one out. The Rays still led when Alex Colome allowed a runner to get to third with two out in the ninth. Colome then got the ground ball he needed but it went by Adeiny Hechavarria and Tim Beckham to tie the game. Bret Gardner homered for the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth and the game was over.

What were the little things that cost the Rays this game. First of all, Archer, the team’s ace, could not get past six innings. This led to multiple calls to the bullpen and when that happens, someone is probably going to give up a run or two.

These short outings have been happening all season with Jake Odorizzi and Blake Snell being the primary culprits. Archer has had his short outings as well. Austin Pruitt, up from Durham to replace Odorizzi while he is on the DL, has only started four games this year and will have to be watched closely.

This has a profound affect on the bullpen. If the starters can’t get past five or six innings, it will cause the team to use fur to five relievers to finish a nine inning game. Even if you have a solid bullpen, and up until now, the Rays have not, you can’t use the same relievers every day. The addition of Dan Jennings and Steve Cishek will help but the team still needs to get more innings out of their starters.

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And then there is the need for more offense late in the game. Many times this season, we have seen the Rays take an early lead, give up that lead and never be able to reclaim it. Joe Maddon used to call runs late in the game “tack on runs” and they are valuable particularly if you have to go to your bullpen early.

Certainly, the Rays offense has improved this season but they are still too reliant on the long ball and don’t often enough put together two or three run rallies late in the game.

Lastly, there is the defense. Twice in the last five games, the Rays have committed crucial defensive miscues that have cost them the game. Sunday, against Texas, Mallex Smith misplayed a sure catch in center field that cost the Rays two runs.

Archer then lost his composure and threw two wild pitches to force home the winning run. Last night, leading 5-4, the infield messed up a ground ball in the ninth with two out and the Rays went on to lose to the Yankees.

The Rays don’t get blown out of many games. They are too good for that to happen. The issue here is that they simply lose too may close winnable games. It is possible that the next sixteen games may decide the season.

Next: Rays Trade Erasmo Ramirez to Seattle for Steve Cishek

If that is the case, Kevin Cash, Tom Foley and Jim Hickey will have to tighten the screws on this team and come up on the winning side of more close games.