Despite the Red Sox and Yankees running away with the AL East under first year managers, what Kevin Cash has done with the Tampa Bay Rays is nothing short of miraculous.
The Tampa Bay Rays entered the 2018 season the laughing stock of baseball. Before any games were played. The off season brought so many changes to the roster that nobody, seemingly not a single person, thought the Rays were trying to compete. Tampa Bay Times Rays writer Marc Topkin recaps that today. He calls it “Rays Hate”. In two words, that appropriately summarizes it.
Now, as we head toward September 1, the Rays remain one game over .500. They just took two of three at Yankee Stadium, but have struggled this weekend (who doesn’t?), at Fenway Park. But, if they can scrape away a win today, they’ leave the weekend splitting six games on the elites’ home fields.
The Rays have done it with youth. The play of rookies Jake Bauers, Willy Adames, Ryan Yarbrough, Joey Wendle, and many others has affirmed that the Rays are doing it right in the minor leagues. Sure, each player mentioned here were acquired in trade. But, one could argue that the Rays identified the likes of Bauers and Adames several years ago while they were still teenagers means they saw and projected the talent that they’ve become today.
The Rays have done it with Openers. Of course they have. As unorthodox as this idea sounded in May, it still has everyone talking today. Can it work long-term? Will it revolutionize pitching as we know it? There are advocates and there are skeptics. Just today, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora tells MassLive.com that he doesn’t feel that this strategy will continue into next season.
"“We’ve been talking about how to approach this. Do you treat the opener like a reliever, like a guy who’s coming in the eighth or ninth? Or are you patient? I don’t know.”"
With Cash, credit must also go to his staff, completely remade in the off-season.
When Joe Maddon took off to Chicago, only Dave Martinez followed. The rest of the coaching staff stayed behind to support first year manager Kevin Cash. Finally, this season, Cash has been able to work with his own staff. For me, not to minimize the accomplishments of anyone on the staff, the most positive change has been at pitching coach.
Jim Hickey clearly did a great job with the Rays pitching while he was here. But, he was better suited for Maddon. Kyle Snyder, on the other hand, has worked with most of the pitching that the Rays have today. And, watching him on the job, he appears to have the perfect demeanor to work with the young pitching.
Charlie Montoyo, Matt Quatraro, Rocco Baldelli, Ozzie Timmons. All with a long history in the Rays organization. Chad Mottola not so much, but seemingly built from the same ilk. If you’re willing to peek at Durham, Jared Sandberg belongs in this conversation. A perfect group of leaders that seem well-suited for this type of team.
So, while hats off to the jobs Alex Cora and Aaron Boone have done or the success of Bob Melvin in Oakland, what Kevin Cash has done with the Rays deserves attention. 100 losses seemed a foregone conclusion on opening day. But, their next win makes that feat impossible.