Allow us to all, as followers of America’s sport, mull over the ramifications of what now we have simply seen: The Tampa Bay Rays are going to the World Sequence. And Randy Arozarena was the MVP of an American League Championship Sequence that featured Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer and Zack Greinke.
At the same time as we wait to see who emerges from one other Sport 7 on Sunday, when the Los Angeles Dodgers face the Atlanta Braves in Texas, let’s acknowledge how within the yr of a pandemic, we’re on the cusp of a World Sequence. It should occur. For therefore lengthy, that did not appear potential.
Subsequent, let’s acknowledge that everybody who picked the Rays to win the AL pennant earlier than the shortened season started in July was spot-on. (This author was not one in every of them. Thanks, Yankees.) However let’s additionally revisit the rationale for selecting the Rays again then, as a result of that has been on full show all through this postseason. Quite a bit has been on show throughout this lengthy postseason.
“You would possibly suppose a 60-game season, you get to the postseason and it is simply not the identical,” Rays Sport 7 starter Charlie Morton stated. “However I’ve appeared throughout the dugout in each crew we performed this postseason, and I do know the blokes we had been taking part in, they care, they wish to win. In all probability extra so this yr than every other yr. The motivation is doing it for one another.”
The forecasted love for Tampa Bay had extra to do with the Rays’ pitching operation than their hitting. As a result of the Rays have featured a decentralized, crowd-sourced pitching construction for a few years, they appeared well-suited to the frantic, 60-game marketing campaign we ended up with. Starters would not be constructed up. Nobody, actually, could be constructed up. So a membership with distinctive pitching depth and a plan for disparate pitcher utilization could be well-situated.
If that does not sound just like the Rays, nothing does. Certain sufficient, because the ALCS performed out, Tampa Bay’s organizational strategy emerged as a moment-by-moment proof of idea.
“The way in which now we have simply acquired expertise by way of our minor leagues and trades, it is unimaginable what [general manager] Erik Neander and the entrance workplace have finished,” Kevin Kiermaier stated. “It truly is. They made a terrific roster, and that is why our expertise and depth is what it’s. If I’ve stated something, it is that if there’s any workers that may shut down the hot-hitting Astros, it is our workers.”
True sufficient, however you even have to attain. The difficulty for the Rays’ offense was that their best hitters through the common season weren’t being productive through the playoffs — Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle, Willy Adames and Michael Brosseau amongst them. So others stepped up, together with often light-hitting catcher Mike Zunino and semi-regular outfielder Manny Margot.
However nobody typified the next-man-up dynamic of the Rays greater than Arozarena.
Arozarena broke into the majors final season and raked — for St. Louis. He had a .891 OPS over simply 19 video games and went hitless in 4 plate appearances through the playoffs. Then he was traded, together with Jose Martinez (since dealt) in alternate for pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore.
Nicely, gamers transfer across the main leagues, proper? Arozarena appeared good throughout his transient stint for St. Louis, however typically gamers look good in brief stints and get flipped as a result of their unique crew is aware of why that success goes to be fleeting. The one drawback is that when the Rays inquire a couple of participant, they’ve proved repeatedly that your greatest response in all probability ought to be, “No, thanks.” As a result of if the Rays like your participant, then there’s something very a lot to be appreciated.
“I would not say I used to be chasing MVP,” Arozarena stated by way of an interpreter. “I used to be simply attempting to do all the things for the crew.”
He virtually did. This isn’t to hammer on the Cardinals, though because the years play out, maybe it will likely be unimaginable not to try this. However who presumably may have conceived that Arozarena could be doing what he is being doing this postseason?
Look, gamers get on scorching streaks. It occurs on a regular basis, and when a participant will get on a roll, he is not essentially headed for Cooperstown. Postseason collection are by definition a parade of small pattern sizes, so you work that there are at all times going to be loads of unsung heroes out there to populate playoff narratives.
But, what Arozarena has finished isn’t regular. It is not routine. Others have gotten as scorching as he has through the postseason, however if in case you have any conception of baseball historical past, his title goes to leap of the checklist of hottest postseasons and poke you within the eye. Amongst gamers who put up a better OPS than Arozarena’s 1.288 over at the least 50 playoff plate appearances, you discover solely Barry Bonds (1.559 in 2002), Carlos Beltran (1.557 in 2004), Paul Molitor (1.378 in 1993) and Alex Rodriguez (1.308 in 2009).
Then there’s Arozarena. A kind of names isn’t just like the others.
“Ever since I received traded over, it is felt like a household,” Arozarena stated. “They welcomed me with open arms, and so they gave me the liberty to be the participant I wish to be.”
However that is the Rays. Simply ask Zunino, who homered once more in Sport 7 and was picked up in a zero-buzz commerce final yr from the Mariners. Simply ask Austin Meadows, rescued from prospect-bust standing from Pittsburgh. Ask Manny Margot, who simply dominated in a collection performed on the house area of the Padres — the membership that shipped him away final winter.
There are such a lot of related tales. The frequent denominator is a lesson that sounds easy, but when it actually was, each crew would have realized it. The lesson the Rays have realized is that in case you deal with what a participant can do, moderately than what he can not, and you set him in place to try this factor he does properly, that participant can excel. Then, as a crew, in case you encompass that participant with different gamers who do complementary issues properly, all of it provides up a superb baseball crew. Granted, none of that is fodder for an attractive World Sequence teaser. However, rattling, it certain is efficient.
“Man, it feels superior,” Zunino stated. “That is past my wildest goals right here. I really feel extraordinarily grateful. This group of men, this group, what we needed to endure this yr. It’s a particular group.”
Past the everybody-does-his-part side of the taking part in roster, there are the machinations of supervisor Kevin Money, who’s a sort of oddly enthusiastic Vulcan as dugout logicians go. He speaks within the no-ego, it is all-about-the-players type of a profitable Faculty World Sequence coach placing on a entrance for potential recruits. However he is additionally a cruel adherent to the actuarial facet of the sport, following greatest analytic practices as if he had the useless emotional lifetime of Spock.
Again and again, to the consternation of baseball lifers, his interpretation of quantitative ideas is spot-on. It occurred once more within the clincher.
Charlie Morton, the veteran Rays starter who performed a key position within the Astros’ 2017 championship, was on his sport. After 5 innings, he had retired 13 straight Houston hitters and used simply 49 pitches. No Rays pitcher has thrown a whole sport since Might 14, 2016, when Matt Andriese did it, however may it occur once more? In spite of everything, given Morton’s dominance and minimal pitch depend, why would you take away him?
After hanging out Josh Reddick on three pitches to start out the sixth, Morton walked Martin Maldonado on 4 pitches. Springer rolled right into a forceout. Altuve singled, however it was an infield chopper that was completely positioned. Morton was at 66 pitches, and whereas there was visitors on the bases, he nonetheless appeared like a pitcher in control of the sport.
So, in fact, Money took him out. And, in fact, it was the suitable transfer.
“The thought to go get him, I believe we have to keep in line with what we predict is the suitable choice,” Money stated. “That’s not to say [the decisions] will not be robust. They actually are. We’re simply so appreciative of Charlie Morton, what he brings to our membership on the sector and undoubtedly within the clubhouse.”
Nick Anderson — the Rays’ nearer — got here on to flee that sixth-inning jam. He did simply that, then pitched the seventh, and by the point he exited for Pete Fairbanks, he’d gotten six outs. Fairbanks received the final 4. Total, the Rays threw simply 114 pitches within the sport, simply inside Morton’s functionality had he been left in to go the space. However that is not how these Rays do issues.
Now the Rays are within the World Sequence. Similar to in 2008, the opposite Tampa Bay pennant season, there are going to be quite a few examinations about how a no-star crew with a rock-bottom payroll can find yourself within the World Sequence.
These examinations are price conducting, however finally, they’re going to come up empty. The Rays succeed as a result of they should. You possibly can apply the identical ideas and observe the identical strategies and crunch the identical numbers, however you in all probability cannot provide you with the identical reply. Since you’re not the Rays.
The Rays do not need superstars. They’ve a roster full of wonderful baseball gamers, even when loads of gamers on that checklist weren’t that particular after they toiled for another person. It is like rooting for ants, or a Rotten Tomatoes rating, or the All-Star Sport voting.
Hold that in thoughts when the Rays match up within the World Sequence towards the Dodgers or the Braves. You would possibly scan their roster and marvel how that crew of drones may find yourself within the Fall Basic. Do not. The Rays are the collective knowledge of the baseball lots.
“We imagine in our course of,” Money stated. “And we are going to proceed doing that.”