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Rays’ Kevin Cash a finalist for American League Manager of the Year

Charlie Morton is in the top 3 for the Cy Young Award and Brandon Lowe for Rookie of the Year honors as well.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) pumps his fist while walking onto the field just prior to taking on the Houston Astros for Game 3 of the American League Division Series in St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Nov. 4
Updated Nov. 5

There were multiple elements to the Rays’ success in overcoming a series of injuries to win 96 games and wild-card entry to the playoffs, including the performance of specific players, unorthodox pitching strategies, a series of in-season acquisitions, an unselfish, team-first approach.

And there was one common thread, the work of Kevin Cash in deftly managing the personalities and personnel to lead the team back to the postseason for the first time since 2013.

Cash’s efforts were acknowledged Monday with the news he is one of the top three vote-getters for the AL Manager of the Year award that will be announced Nov. 12.

The other two finalists are Aaron Boone, who led the Yankees to a 103-59 record and AL East title, and Rocco Baldelli, the former Rays player, executive and coach who led the Twins to a 101-61 record in his first season on the job.

Cash’s candidacy will be boosted by Tampa Bay’s league-low payroll and the way he navigated a serious rash of injuries to the starting rotation.

“It’s a credit to the guys and the coaching staff to stay positive because there were enough moments this year for us with the Rays that we had to kind of put on a little bit of a poker face,’’ Cash said. “We had some injuries to those pitchers, those were some gut shots. Give the guys a lot of credit for doing what they did and withstanding a lot of that.’’

Two other Rays were named finalists for the awards presented by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for each league, and announced over four days next week.

Infielder Brandon Lowe is among the top three finishers for the Rookie of the Year award expected to be won by Houston’s Yordan Alvarez. Lowe missed 68 games due to injury after fouling a ball off his right shin July 2; at the time he was leading the Rays and was second among AL rookies with 16 homers and 49 RBIs. He returned to action Sept. 22 and finished the season hitting .270 with 17 homers and 51 RBIs. Baltimore pitcher John Means is the other finalist.

“As soon as I was told that I was going to break (spring training) with the team I wanted to be the rookie of the year,’’ Lowe said. “That’s the award I had as a personal goal. That’s what I wanted to do selfishly. Obviously, the team comes first, but tucked away this is what I had my eyes set on for myself.’’

Charlie Morton made the cut for the AL Cy Young award, though looks to be the No. 3 finisher in a race that should be a close vote between his two former Astros teammates, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. Morton, who turns 36 next week, had a year of personal bests for the Rays, going 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA and 240 strikeouts while making a career-most 33 starts and working a career-high 194 2/3 innings.

Morton, who turned his career around in Houston in 2017, made the past two American League All-Star teams but had never received a Cy Young vote, let alone finished among the three finalists.

“I really never thought too much about it, being an All Star or being in the running for the Cy Young award. It just didn’t seem like a realistic goal to me,’’ Morton said Monday night. “I’ve always looked at myself as kind of a glass half-empty guy, I kind of still am. I never thought of myself this way.’’

Among the Rays, Cash, naturally, is the clear favorite.

“One hundred percent,’’ veteran centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “There’s a ton of teams in the American League this year that had really good seasons. I’m going go sound biased because it’s my manager and the guy I’ve been going to battle with each and every day for the last five years, but you look at our roster compared to all the other teams out there, Oakland is the one team that’s similar to us, but with all the injuries, losing three key starters, and I don’t even want to get into our payroll and all that, Kevin deserves this.’’

His bosses were pleased also.

“Kevin did a marvelous job,” GM Erik Neander said. “We had ambitious goals for 2019 and while we had our fair share of adversity, his expectations for this club never wavered. His belief, energy and leadership were remarkably consistent and the players fed off of that. Never an excuse to be found. They gave it their all day in and day out.”

Cash was a finalist last year, finishing third behind Oakland’s Bob Melvin and runner-up Alex Cora of Boston.

Cash has now been with the Rays for five seasons, hired, somewhat unexpectedly, to take over the Rays in 2015 following the departure of Joe Maddon. The Rays went 80-82 in Cash’s debut, dropped back to 68-94 in 2016 and have improved annually from there, going 80-82 in 2017, 90-72 last season and 96-66 this past season.

Staff writer John Romano contributed to this report. Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. FILE - In this July 24, 2019, file photo, Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws to an Oakland Athletics batter during a baseball game in Houston. Verlander has been awarded his second AL Cy Young Award. MICHAEL WYKE  |  AP
    The Mets’ Jacob deGrom wins the NL award for the second straight year.
  2. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash talks with reporters in the dugout the day after clinching a playoff spot. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Ray Rocco Baldelli wins top honors after his first season with the Twins, Aaron Boone was second.
  3. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, addresses the media during a press conference at Tropicana Field Friday, Oct. 11, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Award came from a vote of team executives; Yankees Cashman was second.
  4. Flanked by his mother, Michelle Alonso, left, father Peter Alonso (blue shirt, standing), girlfriend Haley Walsh, right, and friends, New York Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, 24, reacts as he finds out he has won the National League Rookie of the Year award on Monday at his home in Tampa.  Alonso, a Plant High graduate, made a grand entrance to the big leagues, hitting a major-league rookie and team-record 53 home runs for the Mets. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The easiest part of the day for the travel-weary first baseman may have been receiving the prestigious award.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash speaks at a news conference before an Oct. 1 American League wild-card game practice in Oakland, Calif. JEFF CHIU  |  AP
    Marc Topkin: The Twins Rocco Baldelli and Yankees Aaron Boone are the other two finalists for the hard-to-define award.
  6. Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe (8) is showered with sunflower seeds after hitting a solo homer in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Plant High and Florida star Pete Alonso a favorite for NL Rookie of the Year, to be announced Monday
  7. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, says of the general manager meetings, which start this week, "We’d love to find a way to score a lot more runs without sacrificing run prevention.'' DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Rays Tales: Erik Neander says 2019 success provides “a stronger starting point” than they have had in a while. Plus, rumblings.
  8. Manager Kevin Cash has led the Rays to back-to-back seasons of 90 or more victories. He finished third in the American League Manager of the Year voting in 2018 and is one of three finalists again this year with the winner being announced on Tuesday. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    John Romano: His profile is as low as Tampa Bay’s payroll, but AL Manager of the Year candidate Kevin Cash consistently gets the most out of the Rays.
  9. ALLIE GOULDING   |   Times
Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro (33) talks to umpire Bruce Dreckman at the bottom of the fourth inning against Texas Rangers on Sunday, June 30, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. 
 ALLIE GOULDING  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The other finalists, per a report, are Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.
  10. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) pumps his fist while walking onto the field just prior to taking on the Houston Astros for Game 3 of the American League Division Series in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Charlie Morton is in the top 3 for the Cy Young Award and Brandon Lowe for Rookie of the Year honors as well.
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