Kevin Cash frustrated by Rays' fundamental flaws

The Rays’ Luke Maile, right, is tagged out in a rundown between second and third by Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman in the fourth inning Sunday.
The Rays’ Luke Maile, right, is tagged out in a rundown between second and third by Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman in the fourth inning Sunday.
Published Aug. 29, 2016


Chris Archer avoided tying the team record of 18 losses, and the Rays avoided a rare sweep that would have dropped them back under .500 post-All-Star break with a 10-4 win Sunday over the contending Astros.

But, even with recent improved results, there is no avoiding they are a fundamentally flawed team.

Or, more precisely, there are flaws in how they handle the fundamentals.

Baserunning has been an ongoing issue, with mistakes showing up seemingly daily, drawing the attention and the ire of manager Kevin Cash repeatedly over the weekend. Mental mistakes on defense, such as throwing to the wrong base or not backing up a play or making the wrong play, have been regular occurrences, including Sunday. Pitchers have not been aggressive enough at times, while hitters have not always been smartly selective.

"As a staff, we're losing sleep over it," Cash, looking like it, said Sunday morning.

"Look, we've got a group of some young players here. We're always going to have young players. But at some point those young players, even though they are young, we've got find a way to impact them to where they're making positive decisions and adjustments in their game.

"We've spent a lot of time talking about it, what can we do better this last month, what we can address more of. It's going to take all of us, myself, getting a little more hands-on and coaching these guys, trying to play it out how it's going to happen before it actually does. I think there'd be some benefit to that."

Blame can be assigned in many areas, which is more of an investigative task for baseball operations president Matt Silverman and his staff, of which there certainly are enough hanging around the clubhouse when not pounding their computer keys.

But whether it's that the players they sign and acquire are not instinctive enough from the start, or that the minor-league staff does not develop them properly, or that Cash and his crew of coaches don't make it enough of a priority, or that as big-leaguers the players get too casual and, well, big league, something has to change.

"It's got to stop at some point," bench coach Tom Foley said. "It's got to stop. These players have to take pride in their trade, in what they're doing."

Physical errors are part of the game and going to happen, sometimes at incredibly bad times. The Rays' 79 errors are third most in the American League and a prime factor in the 41 unearned runs they have allowed.

But it's the lack of awareness, the brain cramps and the bad decisions — even seemingly small ones that can lead to bigger problems — that are most annoying and troubling, especially among repeat offenders such as Tim Beckham and Steven Souza Jr.

"The mental mistakes shouldn't happen, whether it be defensively or offensively, it does not matter. They should not happen. So we need to get better, obviously," Foley said.

"Basically, it can't happen. You can't win games by making mental mistakes."

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Especially not the way the Rays typically win games, with an emphasis on pitching and defense. There is just no margin for so many transgressions.

During the six-year run in which they made the playoffs four times, the Rays seemed to be one of the tidiest teams in the league, playing clean defense and forcing other teams into mistakes with heads-up aggressive moves on the bases. But that started to erode during the final years of the Andrew Friedman/Joe Maddon regime and has yet to be restored.

The coaches are not the only ones frustrated with the repeated mistakes.

"You don't expect that from guys at this level," old-school second baseman Logan Forsythe said. "I think it's not thinking too much ahead. Knowing the situation but not going over the situation in your head — what could potentially happen, where do I need to be, what's my thought process. …

"Guys have to realize the mistakes we've made this season and take it into spring training. Fundamentally, we have to become a better ballclub."

Cash said they plan to start now, doing specific onfield work over the next five weeks to put players in more game-like drills to get them thinking the right way. And they are already plotting ways to make it even more of an emphasis in the spring, though they thought, incorrectly it turned out, they did that this past year.

But it's not as if they haven't tried addressing it — over and over and over — with the players.

"I'm disappointed with the way that I've handled things with them," Cash said, somewhat magnanimously. "I'm surprised at my lack of communication with them."

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.