Let us all, as fans of America’s games, consider the implications of what we’ve just seen: the Tampa Bay Rays go to the World Series. And Randy Arozarena was the MVP for an American league championship series that featured Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer and Zack Greinke.
Even as we wait to see who comes out of another game 7 on Sunday when the Los Angeles Dodgers face the Atlanta Braves in Texas, let’s recognize how this year with a pandemic we are heading for a World Series . It will happen. For so long it did not seem possible.
Let’s then admit that anyone who chose the rays to win the AL pennant before the shortened season began in July was spot-on. (This writer was not one of them. Thank you, Yankees.) But let̵
“You might think a 60-game season, you’re coming to the post season, and it’s just not the same,” said Rays Game 7 starter Charlie Morton. “But I’ve looked across the excavation in every team we played this post season, and I know the guys we played, they care, they want to win. Probably more this year than any other year. The motivation is to do it for every Other. “
The expected love for Tampa Bay had more to do with the Rays’ pitching operation than their framework. Because the Rays have had a decentralized, crowd-sourced pitching structure for many years, they seemed well-suited to the hectic 60-game campaign we ended up with. Starters would not be built. No one would really be built up. So a club with unique pitch depth and a plan for different use of pitcher would be well located.
If it does not sound like the rays, it does not matter. Sure enough, when ALCS played out, Tampa Bay’s organizational approach emerged as a moment-by-moment proof of concept.
“The way we’ve just acquired talent through our minor leagues and trades, it’s unbelievable what [general manager] Erik Neander and the front office have done, “said Kevin Kiermaier. It really is. They made a good list and that’s why our talent and depth is what it is. If I have said anything, it is that if there is any staff that can shut down the hot-hit Astros, it is our staff. “
True, this can be bypassed-but not unless you’re a techie who knows what he’s doing. The problem with the Rays’ offense was that their most productive hitters in the regular season were not productive during the playoffs – Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle, Willy Adames and Michael Brosseau among them. So others stepped up, including usually easy-hitting catch Mike Zunino and semi-regular outfielder Manny Margot.
But no one characterized the next man-up dynamic of the rays more than Arozarena.
Arozarena broke into the majors last season and raked – to St. Louis. He had a .891 OPS over just 19 games and was hit-free in four appearances during the playoffs. He was then traded alongside Jose Martinez (since traded) in exchange for pitch prospect Matthew Liberatore.
Well, players move around in the big leagues, right? Arozarena looked good during its short period for St. Louis, but sometimes the players look good in short moves and are turned around because their original team knows why this success becomes fleeting. The only problem is that once the Rays have inquired about a player, they have repeatedly proven that your best answer should probably be, “No, thank you.” Because if the rays like your player, then there is something that likes a lot.
“I would not say I was chasing MVP,” Arozarena said through an interpreter. “I was just trying to do everything for the team.”
He almost did. This is not to hammer on the cardinals, though as the years go by, it may be impossible not to do so. But who could possibly have imagined that Arozarena would do what he does this post season?
See, the players come on hot streaks. It happens all the time, and when a player gets on the roll, he is not necessarily on his way to Cooperstown. After the season series is pr. Define a parade with small sample sizes so you find that there will always be plenty of unsung heroes available to fill playoff stories.
But what Arozarena has done is not normal. It’s not routine. Others have gotten as hot as him in the post season, but if you have a notion of baseball history, his name will skip the list of hottest post seasons and point you in the eye. Among players who place a higher OPS than Arozarena’s 1,288 over at least 50 playoff appearances, you will find only Barry Bonds (1,559 in 2002), Carlos Beltran (1,557 in 2004), Paul Molitor (1,378 in 1993) and Alex Rodriguez (1,308 in 2009).
Then there is Arozarena. One of these names is not like the others.
“Ever since I was traded over, it felt like a family,” Arozarena said. “They welcomed me with open arms and they gave me the freedom to be the player I want to be.”
But it’s the rays. Just ask Zunino, who went back in Game 7 and was picked up in a zero-buzz trade last year from the Mariners. Just ask Austin Meadows, saved from prospect bust status from Pittsburgh. Ask Manny Margot, who just dominated a series played at Padres’ home ground – the club that sent him away last winter.
There are so many similar stories. The common denominator is a lesson that sounds simple, but if it really was, every team would have learned it. The lesson Rays has learned is that if you focus on what a player can do, rather than what he can not, and you enable him to do it, he does it well, that player can excel. Then, as a team, if you surround that player with other players who do complementary things well, it all adds up to a good baseball team. Granted, none of this is food for a sexy World Series teaser. But, damn, it’s probably effective.
“Man, that feels great,” Zunino said. “This is beyond my wildest dreams here. I feel very grateful. This group of guys, this organization, whatever we had to endure this year. It’s a special group.”
In addition to the all-do-its-part aspects of the player list, there are machinations by manager Kevin Cash, who is a kind of strangely enthusiastic Vulcan when excavated logicians go. He speaks in no-ego, it’s about the style of the players with a successful College World Series coach putting the front for potential recruits. But he is also a relentless supporter of the actuarial side of the game and follows best analytical practice as if he had Spock’s dead emotional life.
Time and time again, to the dismay of baseball lovers, his interpretation of quantitative principles is spot-on. It happened again in clincher.
Charlie Morton, veteran Rays starter who played a key role in the Astros’ 2017 championship, was at his game. After five innings, he had retired on 13 straight Houston hitters and only used 49 lanes. No Rays pitcher has thrown a complete game since May 14, 2016, when Matt Andriese did, but could it happen again? After all, given Morton’s dominance and minimum number of counters, why should you remove him?
After beating Josh Reddick out on three lanes to start the sixth, Morton Martin Maldonado went on four lanes. Springer rolled into a force. Altuve singled out, but it was an infield chopper that was perfectly placed. Morton was in 66 seats, and while there was traffic at the bases, he still looked like a pitcher in command of the game.
So of course Cash took him out. And that, of course, was the right move.
“The idea of getting him, I think we have to be consistent with what we think is the right decision,” Cash said. “That is not to say [the decisions] are not tough. They certainly are. We are just so grateful to Charlie Morton for what he brings to our club on the field and certainly in the clubhouse. “
Nick Anderson – The Rays’ closer – came on to escape the sixth-inning jam. He did just that and then hit the seventh, and by the time he went out to Pete Fairbanks, he had gotten six outs. Fairbanks got the last four. Overall, the Rays threw only 114 spots in the game, slightly within Morton’s ability if he had been left to go the distance. But that’s not how these rays do things.
Now the rays are in the world series. Just like in 2008, the second vampire season in Tampa Bay, there will be numerous studies on how a non-star team with a bottom-up salary can end up in the World Series.
These studies are worth conducting, but eventually they will come up empty. The rays succeed because they must. You can apply the same principles and follow the same methods and crush the same numbers, but you probably can’t come up with the same answer. Because you are not the rays.
The Rays do not have superstars. They have a list full of excellent baseball players, although many players on this list were not so special when working for another. It’s like rooting ants or a Rotten Tomatoes score or the All-Star Game poll.
Remember that when the Rays match in the World Series against the Dodgers or Braves. You might be able to scan their list and wonder how that team of drones might end up in the Fall Classic. Do not. The rays are the total wisdom of the baseball masses.
“We believe in our process,” Cash said. “And we will continue to do so.”