Although we’ve come
to the end of the road,
still I can’t let go.
— Boyz II Men
At 3:10 this afternoon, the Tampa Bay Rays will take the field one last time, in search of their 80th win of the season and the fourth in as many days. For the Rays, it’s an inglorious and begrudgingly settled upon goal — one that comes after they started the final month of play with postseason aspirations. Yet their desire was officially dashed about a week back, on October 26, resulting in the ultimate de facto goal.
In all fairness, those aspirations were all but a pipe dream back on September 1 when the team started a stretch of 22-games against clubs that either were ahead of them in the AL Wildcard rankings, or in the AL East standings. Back then Tampa Bay was just 3-1/2 games back of Minnesota for the last playoff spot, and four-games behind the slumping Yankees. But when you go 9-14 over a 23-game stretch, culminating in a loss on September 26, the most you can hope for is an 80 win season.
We’ll dig deeper into what went wrong later, but first things first.
Today we say our goodbyes to eight players that will be free-agents after the 27th out is recorded. Some of them meant a lot to the organization, while others probably never should have donned a Rays’ jersey in the first place. They are RHP Alex Cobb, 1B/DH Logan Morrison, 1B/DH Lucas Duda, RHP Steve Cishek, RHP Tommy Hunter, RHP Sergio Romo, OF Peter Bourjos, INF Trevor Plouffe.
Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote that the most likely of the Rays’ eight pending free agents to return is Sergio Romo, which we here at X-Rays Spex would be over the moon for. We also hope with the highest of hopes that Stu Sternberg will open the coffers, and allow the front office to make some bold moves in the off-season.
Dear @RaysBaseball, extend Hechavarria’s contract, re-sign Hunter, Cishek & Romo, & promote Adames and Bauers in 2018! Please and thank you!
— X-Rays Spex (@XRaysSpex) September 24, 2017
We, however, aren’t naive and we know what the future likely holds. That’s what makes the season finale so gut wrenchingly tough.
I’m not looking forward to Cobb’s “BJ Upton circa 2012” moment, and it sounds like he isn’t either. In an ideal world, Cobb, like Evan Longoria, would be with the Rays for the entirety of his career. But this is not an ideal world, rather it’s a business built on the frugality of any given owner — Sternberg not precluded.
The right-hander told Topkin that while he is excited for the future, he isn’t excited for what will be an emotional goodbye:
Saying my goodbyes to everybody has been real tough. That’s been really difficult. You don’t realize how many relationships you formed over the years.
We’ll have an elegy for Alex Cobb in the forthcoming weeks.
Here we are fans of a small market team. Because of it we have become numb to both losses on the field and in the clubhouse. Familiarity of this feeling, however, doesn’t make things any easier. So here is to one last win before we watch 10 other teams battle it out in the playoffs, starting Tuesday.
The New What Next
The Rays look to sweep a three-game series, and win a fourth straight, to conclude the year. Tampa Bay (79–82) has won the season series against Baltimore 10-8, and is looking for its first sweep since doing so against Detroit April 18-20.
A victory today, as Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) noted, also would give the Rays 80 wins, matching their high under Kevin Cash set in 2015 — a 12-game improvement over last season.
Blake Snell (4-7, 4.27 ERA, 4.46 FIP) will get the start for the Rays, pitching opposite of Kevin Gausman (11-11, 4.81 ERA, 4.56 FIP).
Snell suffered a loss on Tuesday (his first since July 24) when the Yankees chased him after just one inning — snapping a 10-start unbeaten streak (the longest of his career). The poor start came on the heels of his best outing of the season, a 7 IP/2 H/0 ER/5 K outing against the Cubs.
Gausman wasn’t slated to start again this season, however, with Jeremy Hellickson unavailable due to a back issue, Showalter will hand him the ball for one final outing. He’s coming off a loss to Pittsburgh in which he allowed six runs in just four innings of work, but prior to that he performed to a 2.25 ERA in four September starts. The 26-year-old right-hander, that owns a 4.81 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over 179-2/3 innings this season, Blanked the Rays over six innings on July 24 while fanning eight. Key Matchups: Curt Casali (3-8, 2B, RBI), Lucas Duda (1-4), Trevor Plouffe (4-9, 2 2B, HR, 4 RBI, BB), Cesar Puello (1-2, RBI), Wilson Ramos (2-8, HR, RBI), Mallex Smith (2-4, 3B, BB), Jesus Sucre (2-6, 2 2B, RBI)
Rays 10/1/17 Starting Lineup
Souza Jr RF
— We’ll be rooting on the Minnesota Twins in the Wildcard game on Tuesday (preview to come), as well as moving forward throughout the postseason. From there, we’ve got Cleveland. Expect coverage of either team (or both) after a quick breather on Monday.