The end of the baseball season is getting closer. As temperatures begin to drop, the heat begins to rise on the teams that haven’t yet joined the 80-win club. After a few days away to take care of employment situations, I return to bring you two more teams that have joined our club. The Tampa Bay Rays and the Cleveland Indians have been battling all season to reach a postseason berth. Now that they’ve reached 80 wins, they both feel they’re almost there. And, they’re telling the rest of the 80s club, (indirectly) “Shut your halfwit pie-holes! We’re trying to make the playoffs!”
OK, that SpongeBob reference may not have been the 80s, but we’re breaking down a team that didn’t even exist in the 80s but have some pretty awesome “Throwback” uniforms. The Rays help the sunrise on this edition of, “Backtrax MLB!”
Tampa Bay Rays
This franchise (along with the Marlins and Rockies), is the epitome of “Millennials.” Of course, older fans are saying, “Those damn millennials are ruining baseball again!”. Well, not this Rays team. Managed by Kevin Cash, who isn’t a millennial, he’s brought this team to an 82-59 record at this point. Also, let’s mention that Cash’s mentor could be described as a Baby Boomer, Joe Maddon. Both teams play similar, rely on pitching, small ball, and timely hitting. That’s how the Rays won the American League in ’08. That’s how the Chicago Cubs won it all in ’16. And that’s how the Rays could reach the playoffs in ’19.
Speaking of timely hitting, let’s break down the bats. The Rays are hitting .253 as a team, which seems par for the course. No one player is hitting above .300, but timely hits from Ji-Man Choi, Tommy Pham, and Austin Meadows have propelled the team to playoff contention. Also, the addition of Eric Sogard has helped their defense, as well as providing another timely hit or two. Meadows has provided the biggest spark in this offense, as he’s hit 26 homers and driven in 73. Pham is the only other Ray that’s hit more than 20 homers and driven in more than 50, with 20 and 61. Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Kiermaier are the only other Rays that drove in more than 50, with 56 and 53, respectively. On offense, the wealth is shared, and it’s reaped great benefits in a tough AL East.
Unlike other teams, the Rays are unique. Cash uses an opener for numerous games, so it’s hard for a stats man like me to determine a starter and reliever average ERA. One thing I can tell you guys is that the starter they rely on, Charlie Morton, has done well, with a 3.06 ERA and 14 wins. He’d be great for a Wild-Card game or Game 1 of a division series. However, the mystery stems deeper than that. With Blake Snell hurt, the Rays have made an opener of Wilmer Font and primaries of Ryan Yarbrough, Jalen Beeks, Brendan McKay and Adam Kolarek. ERA and all, from opener, primary and pen, this team has a 3.63 ERA, which is not bad. Emilio Pagan has shut things down in the Pen with 17 saves. The formula, for all intensive purposes, is working. Let’s see if it can work for a postseason run.
Now, for a team that has a more solid pitching rotation… and a team that could spoil our @jball0202‘s championship hopes.
“Hello, Darkness, my old friend… I’ve come to talk with you again”, sings Johnnie as he reviews this article, or even as he reads it now. Yes, the Indians are in the club. No Trevor Bauer? No problem, as the Indians have an 81-59 record and seemingly have won the three-team trade at this point. Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes have made a difference in the lineup, as we break the Indians down starting with…
Like the Rays, the Tribe do not have a single player batting over .300. As a team, they are hitting .252. Jose Ramirez has driven in 75, the most on this team, but an injury to his hand has sidelined him for the rest of this regular season campaign. Francisco Lindor has picked up where Ramirez left off, by driving in 64 and hitting 27 homers. Carlos Santana has the rest of the Central telling him to “change his evil ways” by hitting 32 homers and driving in 85. And of course, Puig and Reyes have contributed to the many times you hear John Adams banging the drum in left field, by driving in 35 combined since the trade. The average may not be there, but the power and timely hitting is, and it’s challenged the Twins for this Central division so far. Now…
Unlike the Rays, the Indians have a core starting rotation, even with the Bauer trade. A core starting five of Shane Bieber, Mike Clevinger, Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko and Aaron Civale have netted the Indians a 3.20 ERA in the starting rotation. This is ALL without Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, which has made this run remarkable in Cleveland. Of course, Carrasco has now returned from his short bout with Leukemia, which is awesome to see. Now, he needs to buy the team cookies for his troubles!
The bullpen ERA, contrary to popular belief, is actually better than the starter’s. At 3.12, it’s among the top half of the AL, but it doesn’t feel that way. Oliver Perez and Nick Goody have made this team “Goody, Goody” in the 7th and 8th, while Brad Hand has been up and down in the 9th. However, a 3.42 ERA is similar to that of most starters, and 21 ER over 55 and a third innings have me thinking otherwise. Sure, it’s not “lights-out”, like Shane Greene was in Detroit, but it’s not the shakiness of Detroit’s bullpen or even the last season of Cody Allen closing it down. If Terry Francona can ride his hot rotation like he rides his moped to every game, the Tribe can make the playoffs, and can still challenge the Twins for the Central Division crown.
Wild Card Matchup
You saw the title of this article before clicking on it, and it’s something that’s very possible. If this becomes a wild card matchup, expect Morton to take the mound for Tampa against Bieber. With Bieber starting, there’s a guarantee that “One Less Lonely Girl” (Gab Kreuz or Bridget Linton? The world may never know!) will be roaming around Cleveland. Expect strong starts, and a shutdown bullpen for one of these teams. He who hesitates is lost, and he who gives up the first run will lose this game. It’ll be exciting to see if this becomes the wild card matchup and if it does, remember this article. Maybe it’ll go viral.
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images