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How Kevin Cash’s handling of Rays’ 2020 ending keyed 2021 success

Now there’s a chance to become just the second back-to-back winner of a BBWAA Manager of the Year award.
Rays manager Kevin Cash takes the ball from starting pitcher Blake Snell in the sixth inning n Game 6 of the World Series against the Dodgers on Oct. 27, 2020 in Arlington, Texas.
Rays manager Kevin Cash takes the ball from starting pitcher Blake Snell in the sixth inning n Game 6 of the World Series against the Dodgers on Oct. 27, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 15, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander got a reminder of how good Kevin Cash was at his job by how he managed one of his worst moments.

Cash’s decision to lift starter Blake Snell for reliever Nick Anderson was a key factor in their 2020 World Series Game 6 loss and a major flash point for extensive criticism into the offseason, and Neander was curious to see how Cash would handle the highest-profile moment in his first six years managing.

“The fallout from last year’s World Series and all that he took on, those same attributes that have been there throughout — the authenticity, the accountability — I think you got to see those in a different light, under a different type of blowback and with a national audience watching him like that,” Neander said.

“You never know how coming into the 2021 season just how that’ll go, how our players are going to respond to that, and how our staff is going to respond to that. And just his ownership of that, the way he addressed it, the way he spoke to the group, and frankly, didn’t hide from it, was something that (stood out) — his way of moving past it was to take it head on, to joke about it, to own it.

“His ability to get our guys to buy in and to play hard under just about any circumstances, whether things work out, they don’t work out, is pretty remarkable. It’s pretty incredible. And to see our players continue to respond to him the way that they did, in the wake of that generating the kind of attention and criticism it did, I think really just highlighted some of those skills in a way that you might not have been able to see under those stresses prior.”

Cash had more to deal with once the season began, as the Rays got off to a mediocre 13-15 start, sustained a litany of injures and made a series of roster moves to transition to a younger core, leading to them using a team-record 61 players, including 38 pitchers.

But under Cash’s guidance, they won a franchise-record 100 games, earned a second straight American League East division title and claimed the top seed for the AL playoffs (from which they were bounced in the first round by Boston).

Others recognized the good work Cash did as well, as he is one of three finalists for what would be a second straight Baseball Writers’ Association of America AL Manager of the Year award, which will be announced Tuesday. Houston’s Dusty Baker and Seattle’s Scott Servais are the other finalists.

Cash, 44 next month, would be just the second manager with back-to-back wins in the award’s 38-year history, joining Bobby Cox (Braves 2004-05).

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Being a finalist is already noteworthy as Cash, who was third in 2018 and 2019 voting, is just the third manager with top-three finishes in four consecutive years, joining Cox (2002-05) and Houston’s Art Howe (1999-2002). Overall in seven seasons, Cash has a 554-478 (.537) record.

“It’s (his) consistency,” Neander said. “The accountability. It’s the basic ingredients that we saw going back to when we hired him, they haven’t left. Those are constants, they’ve been there.

“And the desire to get better, the desire to learn from the experiences on the job, it’s maintained. It’s nothing, no flattening out, no leveling off. He has continued the thirst, the desire, the (quest) to improve. And to continue to find a way to help us get that World Series (championship). It’s a constant. It’s been pretty special to see that maintained.”

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