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Rays are at home, but their pedigree lives on in the playoffs

John Romano | Three of the four remaining teams in MLB’s postseason are run by former Tampa Bay execs. Kinda validates the Rays way, huh?
Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, left, congratulates players on the field after Boston defeated the Rays 6-5 in Game 4 of the American League Division Series.
Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, left, congratulates players on the field after Boston defeated the Rays 6-5 in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. [ CHARLES KRUPA | Associated Press ]
Published Oct. 19
Updated Oct. 19

ST. PETERSBURG — By now, the Rays should have won a World Series. That’s not a criticism, it’s a statistical oddity.

For 14 seasons, the Rays have been one of Major League Baseball’s elite teams. By sheer odds alone, they should have stumbled into an October celebration.

Look at it this way:

Only the Dodgers, Yankees, Cardinals, Rays and Red Sox have had a winning percentage of .540 or higher since 2008. Four of those five teams have won a World Series during that span. Guess who hasn’t?

The reason I bring this up is there have been some rumblings recently about the way Tampa Bay goes about winning. Is it possible the team’s formula works spectacularly in the regular season but does not translate as well to the postseason?

It’s a legitimate question, although the answer might be staring us in the face.

If the past few postseasons have taught us anything, it is that Tampa Bay’s philosophies have spread throughout Major League Baseball. And the evidence suggests it can work in October as well as April.

Not convinced?

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman celebrates with the trophy after winning Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Braves last year.
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman celebrates with the trophy after winning Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Braves last year. [ TONY GUTIERREZ | Associated Press ]

Consider the four teams still alive in the playoffs. The Red Sox, Astros and Dodgers are all run by former Rays executives. And that’s not a fluke. Three of the four finalists in 2020 also had Rays fingerprints. That would seem to be a pretty good argument for defensive shifts, offensive versatility and counting innings on the pitching staff.

Naturally, there are variations from organization to organization but, really, there’s one major differentiator between Tampa Bay’s operation and what we’re seeing today in Los Angeles, Boston and Houston.

Money.

The Dodgers currently have the biggest payroll in the game. The Astros are fourth, the Red Sox are fifth. And the Rays are 26th.

This is the point where philosophy and economics collide. When the Rays lost Tyler Glasnow to elbow surgery at midseason, they had to suck it up with replacements from the minors. When the Dodgers lost Trevor Bauer to the suspended list, Andrew Friedman traded for future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer.

And while Chaim Bloom may have gotten a bloated payroll under control since arriving in Boston two years ago, the Red Sox still have three starting pitchers (Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez) making a combined $55 million. Similarly, Houston general manager James Click has three starting pitchers (Zack Greinke, Jake Odorizzi and Lance McCullers Jr.) making $51 million.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay started Shane McClanahan, Shane Baz and Drew Rasmussen in the American League Division Series. Their combined salaries are about $2 million.

This isn’t a pity party, nor is it an excuse. It’s just the reality of what Tampa Bay is facing, and the advantages of being able to cover up injuries or mistakes with a checkbook.

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It doesn’t mean the Rays cannot win a World Series. Heck, they had a lead going into the sixth inning of Game 6 of the Series last year.

Astros manager Dusty Baker, left, smiles as he talks with general manager James Click, right, during a recent practice in Houston.
Astros manager Dusty Baker, left, smiles as he talks with general manager James Click, right, during a recent practice in Houston. [ TONY GUTIERREZ | Associated Press ]

What it means is Tampa Bay’s margin for error is slimmer. The Rays cannot afford consecutive short outings from their starting pitchers in the postseason. They cannot afford their No. 3 hitter going silent. They cannot afford baseballs bouncing off a rightfielder’s hip and flying over a short fence.

“We’ve won a lot of games at the major-league level, we’ve won a lot of games at the minor-league level. We’ve established the winning culture,” president of baseball operations Erik Neander said “Our best chance to win a World Series is to have a shot as many years as possible. And I think we are succeeding in that right now.

“We just have to stay at it and continue to have an opportunity as many years as possible by getting in the dance and, from there, anything can happen.”

The point is not that the Rays have fallen tantalizingly short. It’s that they are sitting at the big boys table despite having few of the economic advantages of other markets.

And if you think Tampa Bay’s innovations and methods aren’t working in the postseason, then you aren’t watching what’s happening around the game. Other teams are using openers and bullpen days, and are cutting back on the number of innings from their starting pitchers.

And other owners are scooping up graduates of the Rays front office like it’s the Ivy League of baseball.

The difference is they are combining Tampa Bay’s methods with payrolls big enough to create that extra edge when the calendar turns to October.

The Rays way works. We’ve seen it happen.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen it in Los Angeles, Houston and Boston, too.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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