After a tough 3-2 loss on Wednesday night, the Tampa Bay Rays look to remain relevant in the playoff chase with a win in the series finale with Toronto this afternoon. Chris Archer (8-7, 3.84 ERA, 3.17 FIP) will take the mound for Tampa Bay, pitching opposite of Chris Rowley (1-0, 1.69 ERA, 2.58 FIP).
There were a good number of factors leading to last night’s loss, of which Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) narrowed down to five mistakes:
- Rookie starter Jake Faria make too many mistakes, the failure to execute costing him repeatedly, most glaringly on three at-bats most key to the Jays scoring runs. The pitches that Jose Bautista hit for an RBI double (that bounced over Mallex Smith’s head) in the third and ex-Ray Steve Pearce lashed for a homer in the fourth were fastballs that were supposed to be down and away that Faria left up. And the pitch Pearce laced that froze LF Corey Dickerson and led to a run in the sixth was a slider that ended up sliding smack dab in the middle of the plate.
It all comes down to execution, Faria said. If you don’t execute they are going the punish the baseball. That’s what’s happening lately, when I don’t execute they’re not missing it. That’s really what it comes down to. It’s more on me. They’re major-league hitters, they’re good hitters. But it’s more on me just not executing. If I execute and they get a hit, I’ll take that. If I don’t execute and they get a hit, I’m not too happy about it. The balls that they hit were mistakes that I left in a bad spot and they hit them. So that’s on me. And that’s unacceptable. I have to be better about it.
- The ball Bautista hit should have been a single, moving catcher Raffy Lopez to second, maybe third. But RF Mallex Smith played it poorly and the ball bounced over his head, becoming an RBI double. That Smith was on the field Tuesday when the same thing happened to Steven Souza Jr. just made it worse.
Manager Kevin Cash was fairly blunt with his criticism, saying they have to know better:
At some point we’ve got to make some adjustments. That can’t affect us. Turf should be never tricky for us. We live on the turf. We know the ball bounces.
Smith didn’t have much off an explanation, saying:
What can you do? Just got to play it better. Got to know your turf. Just a bouncy turf.
- The liner Pearce hit that left Dickerson frozen was apparently lost in the lights according to Cash. And as bad as it looked and as costly as it was as Pearce went to third on a groundout and scored on a single up the middle off lefty reliever Dan Jennings with the infield in.
Cash was more forgiving.
That’s going to happen.
- As much emotion as Evan Longoria uncharacteristically showed after being called out on strikes with the bases loaded in the seventh led most Rays to be convinced ump Lance Barksdale must have missed the pitch. As much as Longoria battled to stay alive against Dominic Leone, there is still something to be said for swinging the bat if it’s that close, not leaving it up to the umpire. Similarly frustrating for the Rays was Logan Morrison making just weak contact to pop out for the final out.
- Smith made a mistake more of omission in the ninth that cost them as well. With a leadoff single against Jays closer Roberto Osuna, he had the green light and a dugout of teammates expecting him to steal as Adeiny Hechavarria stepped up. Hechavarria took one pitch, and Smith didn’t go. Hechavarria swung at the next one and rolled a ball through the middle, but SS Darwin Barney made a spectacular stop and flip to 2B Rob Refsnyder for the force out, one which would have been avoided had Smith been running.
I wanted to make sure that I ran smart right there, and I just waited a little bit too long, Smith said.
Compounding that decision, Brad Miller then grounded into a force play and Steven Souza Jr. took a called third strike to end it.
There is a bright side: Sergio Romo posted 1-2/3 hitless innings last night. Romo has now given up just four runs in 14 innings of work, and notched strikeouts in all but one of his 11 appearances with the Rays.
This also is great news:
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) August 17, 2017
The New What Next
In spite of the loss last night, the Rays are still just 2-1/2 games out of the last Wildcard spot … so yes, they are very much still in the thick of things. They must win, however.
Archer saw his 15-start streak of pitching at least six innings come to pass Saturday night against Cleveland, after surrendering three runs in 5-1/3 innings. Archer allowed single runs in the first, third and sixth innings, but was fairly inefficient, thus his removal one out into the sixth. The right-hander continues to collect strikeouts, and he’s consistently kept his ERA just below 4.00 over the past month and a half. He is 0-0 with a 2.57 ERA in three starts against Toronto this season.
Rowley was excellent in his Major League debut on August 12, working very quickly over 5-1/3 innings, while allowing just one run on five hits. He threw just 75 pitches in that outing, but he could go longer against the Rays. According to one scouting report, Rowley is a finesse pitcher that will move the ball around the zone:
Rowley will not blow the ball by hitters. Topping out at 91-92, he relies on command and his secondaries to keep hitters off balance:
“My game is based on throwing three pitches, all at different speeds, all in the strike zone and all moving differently, and the idea is for them to look the same until they get to the plate,” said Rowley.
Still, he has managed to strike out almost a batter per inning at AA. Rowley’s 47% ground ball rate shows that he excels at keeping the ball down in the zone, and his 15.8% line drive rate is proof that while he pitches to contact, it’s not often of the hard variey. The knock against him may be that he doesn’t miss a lot of bats, but the other side of that coin is that his sinker is very tough to square up, and his change and slider keep hitters off balance.
Rays 8/17/17 Starting Lineup
— Another day, another lineup shakeup; Kevin Cash has Evan Longoria hitting second, likely because Lucas Duda has been performing better than the face of the Rays, and it’s his attempt to get more run production out of his team. That, or Cash is trying to get Longoria going.
Cash plans to stick with this lineup structure, with Miller one and Longoria two, for a while against right-handed pitchers.
For his part, Longoria understood the decision by the Rays manager, saying:
It doesn’t bother me one bit. I just want us to get going.