Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Losing 20 last thing on mind of Rays' Archer

CHICAGO — Chris Archer will take the mound tonight as he has 32 previous times this season seeking to lead the Rays to a win.

But more relevant is that he doesn't lose.

That's because if he does, Archer will become the first major-league pitcher in 13 seasons, and just the second in the past 37, to have 20 losses.

Archer, understandably, isn't pondering the possibility.

"Going into every start, I'm not thinking about getting a loss," he said Wednesday. "I'm trying to do everything I can to win the game. And I feel like up to this point, I prepare myself more than anybody to be in a position to win. It's just what that given day gives me, gives the team and gives the other team."

The bit of existentialism at the end is part of Archer's perspective that losses — and wins — are not an accurate measure of a starter's performance.

That view has become increasingly common around the game. It's based on both the common sense aspect of how many other factors determine which team wins a game and which pitcher gets credit; and the ongoing evolution of advanced stats and metrics that provide more detailed methods to gauge performance.

But, still, 20 losses?

Mike Maroth was the last one to get there, losing 21 — while also winning a team-high nine — as the opening-day starter on a brutally bad 2003 Tigers squad that lost 119 overall.

Maroth, living in his native Orlando and working as a rehab coordinator for the Braves, said he doesn't hear much about it these days except, well, when a pitcher gets to 19 losses like Archer has and it comes up on TV or reporters call.

At the time, Maroth said, "It was very challenging, more from the mental standpoint of going out there and trying to really battle. We all go out there as players to win games, so when you are constantly losing games it becomes pressing."

All these years later, it hasn't become much more palatable.

"I've never really had any fun with it," he said. "Is it one of those things where people mention it and I'm like, 'No, stop talking?' No. It happened. It's something that happened that year. Anybody who understands the game knows it goes much deeper than that.

"As far as accepting it, I have to accept it. It's part of the game. That happened. That was the year. Those are my numbers. They are not going to change, no matter what."

Archer hasn't pitched that badly this season. And there has been a lot out of his control factoring in — occasionally poor defense, an unstable bullpen, a lack of run support, with the Rays scoring two or fewer for him in 15 of the 19 losses. (Overall, the Rays are 9-23 in his starts.)

Consider that Archer is 8-19 with a 4.02 ERA while ex-Rays ace David Price, pitching for the first-place Red Sox in the same division, is 17-9 with a 4.04.

But, still, 20 losses?

"A lot of entities in the game today have somewhat diminished the importance of wins and losses, and while that may be the way that things are viewed right now, the one thing that I can assure is that 20 losses will be something that stays with you for a long time," said Rays TV analyst Brian Anderson, who was 82-83 during 13 seasons in the majors.

"Let's hope that Chris forces Mike Maroth to carry the mantle a little while longer."

Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said there is "a stigma" with 20 losses, just like other similarly round numbers. And while acknowledging circumstances did factor in, he isn't absolving Archer of blame for the bottom line.

"You can't undo things that happened. You can certainly go back and say, 'Boy, if he didn't have this rough stretch, he would be this that and the other,' " Hickey said.

"But I hope he would be the first to say that he didn't pitch well throughout the course of the season, because he didn't pitch well throughout the course of the season. He pitched well on a lot of occasions, and not so well on a lot of other occasions.

"And I really hate the downplay of the wins and the losses really don't matter. Because they do matter. They are out of your control a lot of times."

Maroth was the first to lose 20 since Brian Kingman 23 years earlier, so it was something of a big deal then, as it will be if Archer joins him. (And, no, there won't be any reverse 1972 Dolphins-like champagne popping if Maroth gets off the hook.) It may be even more so as Archer would be the first to lose 20 the season after being an All-Star since Phil Niekro in 1979.

Archer didn't want to ponder what 20 Ls would mean to him.

"I don't know," he said. "I'll have to answer that if it happens. I'm not planning on that happening, so I'm not planning on having to answer that question."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected].

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