The Tampa Bay Rays have played a franchise record 11 straight games decided by 2 runs or fewer. They are 4-7 in these games and have played in 29 one-run games and are 15-14 in these competitions.
Playing tight games requires a lot of luck, or in other words, luck. Unfortunately, luck runs out and betting on lucky jumps to win baseball games is a recipe for missing the postseason altogether.
Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-4 on walkoff, it was their second straight walkoff win over Pittsburgh in as many nights. Lots of smiles in the Rays dressing room on Saturday, but the inability to put teams away has to be a source of frustration for Kevin Cash and the coaching staff…not to mention straining the nerves of the fans watching.
Winning tight games in walk-off mode can ease the pressure on a team and also remove some of the frustration that can haunt a team for long stretches.
The 2022 season reminds me of the 2017 season when the Rays turned to Jake McGee, Kevin Jepsen and Brad Boxberger on what appeared to be a nightly basis to protect 1-2 run leads. The Rays didn’t make it into the postseason in 2017, finishing with a record of 80-82. This team finished the year with 45 1-run contests, averaging a 21-24 record in such games.
More than 2017, the string of final games in 2022 takes me back to the 2013 season. One night in Texas in particular, on April 8, 2013, seemed to set the stage for a growing frustration that spread weeks later. It should be noted that the Rays ended 2013 with a 92-71 record and had 47 1-run games ending 26-21 in those games.
Blown call ends the game, Nathan gets 300. Save:
To set the stage, we need to go back to April 8th of the 2013 season
The Rays were at the top of ninth place, 3-2 behind the Texas Rangers. Sean Rodriguez was at first base after delivering an RBI single to reduce the lead to just one run. Ben Zobrist was at bat and had worked the count to the full. Lurking on deck was Evan Longoria, the best scenario for the Rays’ offense.
Rangers closer Joe Nathan, already on 23 pitches, delivered the 3-2 pitch that shot out of the zone, but umpire Marty Foster raised his right arm and challenged Zobrist on strikes. It was a promising opportunity for Nathan to make his 300th save.
Put simply, it was a terrible call. How terrible?
You can see Nathan form the word “wow” after the call.
Joe Maddon was upset after the game, saying of the call, “It just can’t happen in a Major League Baseball game.”
To his credit, Marty Foster himself conceded the mistake: “I saw the pitch and of course I don’t have a chance to do it again, but if I had a chance to do it again I wouldn’t take that pitch.” call it a strike.”
Zobrist did his job, paved the way, and gave Longoria the chance…all meaningless due to a horrible phone call.
Same situation at home against Padres:
The Texas game was a frustrating loss in a very disappointing start for playoff hopeful Rays. They went into the game 17-18 and struggled to find their rhythm. Fast forward a few weeks and Tampa Bay is hosting another rally on the 9th. This time they play the San Diego Padres at home.
The backdrop to that game was that Tampa Bay had built a 6-2 lead, only to see the lead change hands in the 7th inning as San Diego scored five goals
Padres closer to Huston Street was on the mound trying to maintain a 7-6 lead. Ben Zobrist is back at the plate with Evan Longoria on deck – and again Zobrist makes the count and takes the pitch – this time for ball four.
Longoria sends everyone home happy and lines a 2-1 pitch over the fence in left midfield to give Tampa Bay an 8-7 win.
After the game, a cheery Longoria said, “You need games like this, whether it’s me or someone coming through in the clutch, to boost morale and get everything going.”
Better to be good than happy:
Ray’s manager Joe Maddon was unenthusiastic about the way the game was developing and was unusually grumpy after the game.
He struggled with the fact that his team had given up a 6-2 lead, allowing San Diego to hit 5 runs in the 7th inning. The rally started with a lead off walk by Jeremy Hellickson, who later scored in a grand slam by Jesus Guzman.
“To be able to come back is outstanding, it’s wonderful, it’s part of the game, but I’d rather be good than happy,” Maddon said.
Maddon conceded that these kinds of comebacks won’t happen that often. That’s the anomaly he noted when he said they were lucky to have Longoria in this situation.
Maddon then repeated what had bothered him… and that means you can’t play a game like the Rays had played and expect to play it in October.
“You can’t go to the dance like that. If you get leads, you have to take out the other team,” he said. “I’m not satisfied with that. This is inappropriate. That has to stop.”
To play in October you will not be lucky, you must be good.
2022 rays must be good, not happy:
Fast forward to 2022. Tampa Bay wants to play in October, but winning games like Saturday’s in walk-off fashion will be the anomaly.
Tampa Bay has won the last two games in walk-off fashion, and the other common denominator is that leads are evaporating.
On Friday night, Tampa Bay led 3-0 over Pittsburgh after the first inning but failed to extend the lead.
By the fifth inning, Pittsburgh had fought back against a trio of solo home runs to tie it. It wasn’t until the Rays hit the game-winning run into the bottom quarter of the 10 that they were able to score again.
On Saturday afternoon, Tampa Bay built leads 2-0 and 3-2 only to see Pittsburgh go 2-2 and then take a 5-3 lead on a 3-run homer by Jack Suwinski in the 6th inning.
At least the Rays were able to take the lead when Isaac Paredes homed in the 8th and cut the lead to 5-4. Pirates Closer David Bednar came on to defend his narrow lead. Although he lacked command, he was able to withdraw Josh Lowe and Randy Arozarena for the first two outs.
Then the Rays offense went to work and fought. Ji-man Choi and Vidal Brujan pulled back-to-back walks and brought in pinch-hitter Jonathan Aranda to meet Luke Raley. Aranda sent a Grounder back toward the hill, which was deflected by Bednar’s gauntlet. Retrieving the ball felt like he had no chance of snatching Aranda on the 1st and the bases were loaded for Paredes.
Paredes came through in the clutch and delivered the opposite field’s walk-off single to give Tampa Bay the win, but those kinds of games can’t continue if Tampa Bay wants to play in October.
Clean the self-inflicted wounds:
The Rays need to clean up their game, starting with protecting those valuable outs and doing a better job on the bases. Randy Arozarena, a common name when the subject of bad baserunning comes up, delivered an RBI double for Josh Lowe to give the Rays a 3-2 lead. Unfortunately, he was picked up off second base with Ji-Man Choi at plate. Of course, Ji-man Choi followed the pickoff with an RBI single and who knows how the rest of the inning would have played out.
Tampa Bay has made 33 outs on bases this season, according to the baseball reference. Most in the majors and four ahead of the Chicago Cubs, who made 29 outs on bases. This number does not include pickoffs, caught steals, or forced plays. The outs on bases coupled with the pickoffs and caught steals are a big reason it’s scoring just 4.06 runs per game, down 1.23 runs per game from 2021’s How Much attributed to the injuries suffered by Brandon Lowe, Wander Franco and others? Of course, the injury factor is a big variable, but what percentage are self-inflicted wounds caused by careless work on the bases?
The Rays also need to clean up their glove work. They have allowed 46 unmerited runs in 2022, the second most in the majors. It’s her most unearned runs before the All-Star break since 2005 (also 46). The 46 unearned runs this year account for 79.3 percent of the total unearned runs allowed in 2021 (58).
Clues can’t keep evaporating – whether it’s lack of insurance, extra insurance, or the bullpen blocking them, the Rays must learn to lock teams away.
Yes, the Rays are best on the bullpen and offense in particular, but they’re a talented group that can play better than they show.
You must be good, not lucky like today.