ST. PETERSBURG — With a five-inning, 109-pitch outing in the Rays' 2-1 Tuesday defeat to the Red Sox, Chris Archer moved to within one loss of matching Tanyon Sturtze's franchise record of 18.
No matter how little you think of wins and losses as a barometer of a pitcher's performance, that is not a topic of conversation anyone would have anticipated this season, as Archer sits at 7-17 with a 4.11 ERA, with a half-dozen chances to match, even surpass the record.
Not after Archer's 2015 breakout, in which he made the All-Star team, finished fifth in the American League Cy Young voting and second in the AL in strikeouts and offset his pedestrian 12-13 record with a shiny 3.23 ERA.
That's not to say this season, with 18 or even the magic number of 20 Ls, would be a total loss, as Archer could again lead the league in strikeouts and has a shot, though not a great one, at reaching the 200-inning plateau.
Nor is it to say it has been all his fault, as there has been shoddy defense behind him and behind the plate, inconsistent to barely existent run support and a sprinkling of bad luck.
But the Rays (52-72) expected better this season. As did Archer.
As Rays management starts forming an action plan for this offseason, one of the more interesting decisions will be whether to keep Archer or to trade him.
Which means deciding which is the Archer they will get.
With seven, possibly eight, starters lined up for 2017, the Rays seem likely to deal at least one during the winter, their usual modus operandi to fill holes elsewhere on their roster. Of which there are more than a few.
Archer will have appeal to a number of teams based on his arm, his age (27) and his team-friendly contract ($38.5 million for 2017-21). There was sincere interest at the trade deadline, beyond that ESPN report of the "70 percent" chance he's a Dodger, with the Rangers among the teams that were on him closely.
And there had been signs of improvement, as he went into Tuesday's start 3-4 with a 3.06 ERA in his previous seven, a noticeable improvement from his 4-14, 4.66 mark in 19 before the All-Star break.
According to manager Kevin Cash, it was a matter of approach.
"I think he simplified some things and realized ultimately he had to do a better job of throwing more strikes," Cash said. "Whether it's fastball, slider or changeup, it's getting it over the plate. A lot of that, once you show a lineup or the first couple hitters that you're willing to throw strikes, you open up a lot of avenues to get them out.''
But then Tuesday, Archer didn't do that very well.
Granted, he was facing the top offensive team in all of baseball, a team that is patient, experienced and quite familiar with his repertoire, and he did allow them only one earned run.
(As well as the team that has been the most vexing, as he has lost 10 straight after beating them in his first try, back in 2012.)
Archer is typically all about the process, saying he is much more focused on executing as many of his pitches as he can than determining the outcome.
But still …
His execution rate Tuesday wasn't very good, as he threw only 68 pitches for strikes (which includes the five hits he allowed). He threw first-pitch strikes to only eight of the 21 hitters, went 2-and-0 nine times and to a full count eight. Only four at-bats ended in three or fewer pitches, and two of those were singles.
"It's the best offense in baseball; I wasn't as fine as I wanted to be," Archer said. "I did some things well, but at times I didn't limit quite as well as I wanted to."
He lasted only five innings, which is not good enough, and he knows that. But the score was only 2-1, and while one run was on him for two singles, the other not so much as rightfielder Steven Souza Jr. erred with a throw.
Cash praised Archer for battling, saying, "He did his job to give us an opportunity to win."
But there should be more.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.