Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
Published Sept. 25, 2017

BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

Couldn't command his slider, couldn't keep the Orioles from scoring six times, couldn't get through even four innings in the 9-4 loss.

"Just wasn't a great day for me," Archer said.

He has had a few of those recently. Too many. Four times in the past five starts, if you count the Sept. 2 game in Chicago that he left three batters in due to forearm tightness that started this slide, he hasn't gotten past four innings.

"I have a pretty bad taste in my mouth right now considering what I did leading up to the month of September," he said.

Certainly the basic numbers looked better then, as he was 9-7 with a 3.66 ERA after seven solid innings in St. Louis the last Sunday of August and goes into his final start on Saturday at the Trop 9-12, 4.18.

What does he make of this season's work?

"Honestly, if you remove maybe three starts, I had a terrific year," he said. "You put in three starts where I gave up about 18 runs, it's very mediocre for me. Lots of innings, lots of strikeouts, not a lot of wins. Just had a couple bad games and it skewed the numbers a little.

"For me, I still feel good about the overall body of work."

He has some points.

He is durable, four innings from a third straight season of 200-plus, and leads the majors with 155 starts since he was called up for good on June 1, 2013.

He is talented, his 243 strikeouts fourth most in the majors and nine shy of the Rays record he set in 2015.

And he isn't winning enough.

That can be a touchy subject, especially among the in crowd — which usually includes Archer — that is adamant that wins are a worthless way of measuring a pitcher's effectiveness, given that so much is out of his control.

If you feel that way, then maybe the 9-12 record this season, and the career 50-62 mark in 159 career starts, doesn't mean much.

But how about team wins?

Isn't that the goal anytime a starter walks up the hill? Shouldn't it be, more so than a quality start? Certainly even the staunchest critics of pitcher wins have to see it that way.

In those 159 starts Archer has made, the Rays are just 76-83.

And since he had that dazzling breakout stretch early in the 2015 season, the Rays have won only 33 of his 82 starts.

To his credit, he does keep the Rays in a higher percentage of games, but then he does something that costs him — a walk, a home run, something.

And to be fair, there are some games when he pitches extremely well and the Rays — especially with their all-or-nothing offense — can still lose. (This season, for example, he had 15 starts in which he allowed two or fewer earned runs, but he won only six and the Rays only nine.)

But, still …

As good as Archer's stuff is, with the high-octane fastball, nasty slider and improving changeup, and as good as he thinks he is, worthy of being included with the game's elite, shouldn't these numbers be better?

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Isn't that what All-Stars do?

Isn't that what aces do?

"You'd like to see the wins outweigh the losses certainly, because that's what it's all about, winning," Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "A lot of times that is out of your control. But I don't like the fact that we have a tendency to discount the wins and the losses, because at the end of the day that is virtually all we're trying to do, is win."

Rays TV analyst Brian Anderson, who pitched 13 years in the majors, says even with the high-quality pitches Archer has, it takes a certainly mentality to win.

"Think about the mind-set of a guy like Alex Cobb," Anderson said. "Alex Cobb is not going to throw a gem every time he pitches, but you know what he does do, he goes out and he wins. He wins (48-35 in 115 career starts; the Rays are 60-55). He wins the 1-0 game, he'll win a 6-5 game. He'll do whatever it takes to win. You just have to have that desire. That cold-blooded desire to win every game that you start."

"If you take the fastball that Archer's got, the slider that he's got, you continue to develop the changeup and find a way to use that, then you are talking about elite stuff. Now what he can end up doing with that elite stuff, time will tell."

As would winning.

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.