Rays vs. Red Sox: Tampa Bay hosts like-minded foes in ALDS
By George Curcio
The question largely existing in the baseball world is, “How do the Rays do it?”
Every time they need to sign a pitcher, it seems they identify and sign someone who has been relegated to the scrapheaps and has never had success previously in their career.
They do this with position players as well.
Yet, when they join the Rays, it seems they suddenly flourish. The question commonly asked is “How do they do it?”
Rays manager Kevin Cash hates the question. He says it’s “simply about the players.”
To say it as Cash does seems simply a restatement of the original premise. Yes, it is about the players. But how do the Rays seem to always wind up with “diamonds in the rough”? What is different about the Rays, and why does no other team emulate what they do?
As would seem appropriate, the team the Rays are facing in the ALDS is perhaps the closest to the Rays in style. That is perhaps because Boston Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom worked in the Rays’ front office for 15 years before assuming his current position.
Tampa Bay Rays: It’s about the culture
What the Rays do that no other team does is put their culture first. That places hard-working, everyday players above the “stars,” who very often have a mentality that places themselves above the team.
Indeed, it is many times not their fault but just a by-product of earning large incomes at a young age. Francisco Lindor, for instance, made $45.3 million this year at age 27. His New York Mets failed to make the playoffs.
The New York Yankees failed to advance past the Wild Card Game, despite having signed pitcher Gerrit Cole to a nine-year, $324 million contract. The 31-year-old Cole was the losing pitcher in the Wild Card game.
The Red Sox hiring Alex Cora as manager is indicative of their implementation of the Rays’ approach. Cora is considered a players’ manager, but not in the traditional sense. Instead, Cora reflects a “winning attitude” that allows the players to do what they do best instead of focusing on what they cannot do.
It closely matches the approach of Rays manager Kevin Cash. During the 2021 season, Cash mixed and matched 61 players in the Rays’ lineup, and Cora did a similar thing with the Red Sox when the team was hit with mass deactivations due to the COVID virus.
Boston is also hesitant now to sign a big-name, big-priced free agent, preferring instead to sign players who are first committed to the team. Their trade-deadline pickup of Kyle Schwarber reflected this, and the Red Sox have reaped rewards from it.
Red Sox about the worst ALDS opponent possible for Rays
Ultimately, the Red Sox seem the worst opponent the Rays could have in the playoffs. Apparently, however, that is no accident. It still appears, however, the Rays can play the game as well or better than anyone, and that hopefully will be proven through the playoffs.
Looking at tonight’s Game 1, to be played at Tropicana Field, Eduardo Rodriguez starts for the Red Sox against Shane McClanahan in a battle of left-handers. Both are considered to be the aces of their team.
Rodriguez pitched in four games against the Rays this season, pitching 21 innings and going 1-1, with a 4.71 ERA and 1.238 WHIP. McClanahan pitched 16 innings in three starts against Boston this year, also going 1-1. His ERA against the BoSox was 2.81 and his WHIP was 1.250.
The Rays are hoping for a large crowd at the Trop, and much noise in support of them. It would seem a good time to meet their hopes.