Wildcard Wishful: Tampa Bay Rays

Your Manager: Kevin “the contrarian” Cash.

Congrats Tampa! You’ve officially and successfully moved on from bad managers that had haunted you up until 2008. Ever since Tampa has exorcised the devil out of the team name, it’s been one of the better managed and coached teams. Joe Maddon blessed Tampa with winning and wacky baseball for six solid years and brought you to the promised land only to get absolutely out-coached and out-classed by the least classy team, the Phillies. Maddon left for Chicago on his 10 speed Schwinn in 2015 and since then the heir to the Trop has been Kevin Cash. 

Kevin Cash, you may recall is a former backup catcher who played his entire unremarkable career for every team in the American League East as well as fifty-four shitty at-bats with the Houston Astros. The Rays are short on history and while the coaching carousel was in full effect in the 2014-2015 offseason, the Rays opted to hire Cash based on his extraordinary ties to the franchise: Cash joined the Rays in 2005. On April 5, 2006, the Devil Rays designated Cash for assignment, and after clearing waivers, reported to Triple-A Durham where he spent the entire 2006 season.

Never afforded an at-bat but awarded the reigns to the fucking team – go figure. Erik Neander and Matt Silverman took one look at this man’s resume and must’ve seen his experience with the division and said, ‘fuck it, let’s go with Kevin’. In theory this is a match made in heaven: the most overlooked franchise hires an overlooked manager. It didn’t take long for the ghost of Joe Maddon to possess Kevin Cash either. After a few uninspiring seasons, Cash must’ve opened the Marauder’s Map of Tampa Bay and pinpointed where Maddon’s secret journal was stashed (right behind the ray tank in right center) because just like his goofy Bernie Sanders wannabe predecessor, Cash began experimenting as only a contrarian could. OPENERS! 

What’s that? Relief pitchers *starting games? You bet your sun-squeezed ass! Kevin Cash is the trailblazer for the phenomenon we have now come to accept as the opener. It’s the stupid fucking method of re-inventing the wheel that only the Rays would be “bold” enough to employ. Going into 2018, Cash and co. traded away the franchise cornerstone, Evan Longoria, didn’t address the fifth spot in the rotation, and decided to go with a four-man rotation all year for the sake of limiting innings, providing a new-age philosophy to a proven formula that has worked for more than a century, and to cut budget better than an inner-city public school. Not only has the opener found its way to other teams, it’s also indirectly costing players money. When it comes time for arbitration, how in the fuck do you think a guy like Austin Pruitt, Jalen Beeks, or Ryan Yarbrough will be able to demand to be paid like a starter? They won’t because their buddy Kevin minimized their value by throwing them as an appetizer to the main course of the meal. Who’s gonna fork over a bill for filet mignon when all you had was the soup du jour? And meanwhile, the Tampa front office is pitching a collective tent because they’re saving dimes on the dollar. Kevin Cash has seemingly ruined the starting pitcher position and improved his team at the same time – fuck you, Kevin.

The team: Name their lineup

Aside from four players – headlined by the blue-eyed man rocket known as Kevin Kiermaier – none of the players on this roster were developed firsthand by the Rays organization – over 70% were acquired via trade. Billy Beane just came in his pants. Every person on this shit heap of a roster is Tampa Bay’s treasure and another man’s trash, but don’t grab the Kleenex and lube yet, Brian Kenny – a lot of it is still trash. 

Speaking of the life-sized Ken fuck-doll, Kevin Kiermaier makes Jacoby Ellsbury look like Luke Cage. Every other day he seems to pop his hamstring. For all those mind-bending defensive plays Prince Charming will make, he’ll also accrue more injuries than items on a CVS receipt. Not to mention, in addition to his run-saving ability, he applies the same strategy at the plate and will successfully hit a robust .220 average. Enjoy him batting in a do-or-die situation in the wild card game and never forget him trying to slather Vaseline over his body to prepare for the cold weather. Heads up, Kev, you can’t control the climate when you’re not under a roof. 

Also patrolling the depressing outfield of Guantanamo Bay Tropicana Field is Tommy Pham and Austin Meadows. These two are the best bats you have Tampa, and that’s unfortunate. On one hand, Meadows leads the team in all stats like average, home runs, RBI, and runs scored, but on the other hand his production amounts to half a season of Mike Trout. How in the hell is this team in playoff contention? Tommy Pham as you may recall bitched and moaned because he wasn’t an all-star. Don’t worry Tommy, you’re twenty stolen bases aren’t lost on the fifty-six fans that show up to watch you play. But maybe, just maybe, carry a better batting line than .279/20/62. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Ace of the pitching staff, Blake Snell. Blake Snell coming off one of the best years for a starting pitcher in 2018 followed that up by breaking his toe attempting to move a piece of furniture after a shower. For any grown man who wants to be called ‘Zilla’, it’s not a stretch to assume he is telling the truth that he thought it was a good idea to lift furniture while being naked and greased up like a wet seal, but my money is on that is not how it happened. Don’t quit your day job, Blake. Leave the home reno to Chip and Joanna. 

Players like Eric Sogard, Willy Adames, and Ji-Man Choi could all go unnoticed in a police lineup. Your pitching “rotation” has more turnover than a venture-backed tech start-up, and your stadium can’t even keep its fucking lights on.

You could’ve fooled me that this was a vigil for a Phil Collins concert and not an actual baseball game. But hey, life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? The city can’t even fund a vacant lot like Gerald Field in “Hey Arnold!”.

What will the turnout be if the Rays host a wild card game? A better question to ask is how early it will be. Tampa Bay has cornered the market on retired Yankees and Mets fans that don’t give a shit about baseball anymore and would rather scooter down to nightly bingo for the early-bird special than watch a game in the shit hole that is known as Tropicana Field. But consider this: The Rays are actually in position to host a playoff game, so get your cowbells! 

Why they could go deep: Pitching

While it’s easy to take a 30,000-foot view at this team and come away completely dumbfounded as to how they are contending at this point in the year, it’s easy to pinpoint that their success is largely due to their pitching.

The Rays lead the American league with a team ERA of 3.65 and WAR at 23.2. To add on to that, they’re also boasting one of the top closers who seemingly came out of nowhere in Emilio Pagan. They’re also really good at keeping the ball in the park – in fact they’re first in the league in that regard only surrendering 1.11 home runs per nine innings. That’ll play on any team, especially a team that has its pitchers used in more roles than a Gen Z pronoun sheet. 

And how can I not mention “Uncle” Charlie Morton. Morton did what famed explorer, Ponce De Leon could not, and he found the fountain of youth in Florida. Morton most closely fits the demographic of the fanbase of Tampa, but he also is far and away the best pitcher and player on this team. He’s a front runner for the Cy Young, which would make it the first time in the Rays’ storied and fabled history that back-to-back Cy Young winners came from Tampa Bay. I didn’t look that up, but I’m probably right considering how horrendous this franchise has been for most of its existence. 

So, if the pitching holds up and Kevin Cash can deploy his a la carte menu of pitchers, this team could very well be positioned to make a run past the wild card play-in game. I refuse to recognize that game as a playoff game – earn that shit Tampa. 

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