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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.