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Tampa Bay Rays’ manager Kevin Cash is the American League Manager of the Year. Period.
Yes, I understand the Rays are a third-place club. They trail the Red Sox by 18.5 games and the Yankees by 10.5 games in the American League East race. I get it. But, the Rays are 15 games over .500 and still in a playoff race, despite their lack of resources.
I think it’s obvious that Cash doesn’t have the financial resources that the managers of other major league clubs do. Tampa Bay has a team payroll $69.6 million this season, which is the second-lowest in the majors. Only the Athletics’ $62.6 million payroll is worse. By comparison, the Red Sox have the second-highest payroll in the majors this year at $206.2 million. The Yankees have a team salary of $161.3 million, which is the tenth-most in MLB.
Look at the Rays lineup from opening day. Do you notice how many players aren’t there anymore? The answer is MANY!
Opening Day vs. September 10
|Opening Day||September 10|
|Matt Duffy, 3B||Mallex Smith, CF|
|Kevin Kiermaier, CF||Tommy Pham, LF|
|Carlos Gomez, RF||Ji-Man Choi, DH|
|C.J. Cron, 1B||C.J. Cron, 1B|
|Wilson Ramos, C||Joey Wendle, 3B|
|Denard Span, LF||Willy Adames, SS|
|Adeiny Hechavarria, SS||Brandon Lowe, 2B|
|Daniel Robertson, 2B||Jake Bauers, RF|
|Rob Refsnyder, DH||Nick Ciuffo, C|
Tampa Bay traded Denard Span and closer Alex Colome to the Mariners back in May. They traded their ace, Chris Archer, to the Pirates at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. On that same day, they dealt former All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos to the Nationals. The Rays also parted ways with players such as Adeiny Hechavarria and Nathan Eovaldi. Cash is managing with a depleted roster. In all honesty, the Rays shouldn’t have won 65 games during the entire 2018 campaign—let alone 79!
A reason for the Rays’ success has been their versatility on the mound. Now, granted, I love baseball history and despise the idea of using “openers.” For those who don’t know, starting an “opener,” means starting a reliever instead of a starting pitcher. Instead of having a starter go six innings before using the bullpen, the Rays have been using their relievers to start the game. Then, Tampa would bring in their starters in the middle of the game, as relievers. (Try reading that five times fast).
I believe starting pitchers are STARTING pitchers. Using relievers at the start of the game degrades the history of the game and what it means to be a starter. I just don’t like it and probably never will. However—contrary to my personal feelings—the move has proven to be nothing short of brilliant.
The Rays’ rotation had been besmirched by injuries entering play on May 19. With their lack of starting depth, manager Kevin Cash began using relievers to starts games as “openers.” Tampa Bay was one game under .500 (21-22 record) before employing their first “opener.” Since May 19, the Rays have are 58-42—a .580 winning percentage.
How have things worked so well? Well for starters (pun intended), Blake Snell has emerged as a contender for the American League Cy Young award. The 25-year old left-hander is tied with Corey Kluber for the major league lead in wins with 18. His 2.06 ERA is second-best in the AL, trailing only Chris Sale. Also, here’s an even more impressive statistic. Opposing batters are hitting just .090 against Snell with runners in scoring position this season. In other words, he’s allowed just ten hits in 110 at-bats with RISP.
In addition, there have been underrated offensive threats in the lineup. Tommy Pham was acquired in the deal from the Cardinals on July 31 and has been doing nothing but hitting! Entering play Tuesday, Pham is on a 14-game hitting streak. He’s batting .407, with eleven RBI during that span.
Another hitter surprising fans of late has been Ji-Man Choi. A native of South Korea, Choi is playing for his fourth different team in the last three years. He made his MLB debut with the Angels in 2016, played for the Yankees in 2017, and began the 2018 season with the Brewers. Choi is hitting .346, with three home runs and ten RBI in his last eight games.
Odds are, the Rays will not make the postseason this year. However, Cash has been given a depleted roster that has no business winning baseball games. In other words, Cash has done a lot with a little. He’s the American League Manager of the Year.
Some might think differently. But, some would be wrong.