The Rays entered September as one of the surprise teams in baseball, even though they aren't in contention in the American League East given how well the Red Sox and Yankees have played. Nevertheless, Tampa Bay picked up where it left off in August, going 7-1 to start the month, including a 5-1 record last week.
How have the Rays managed to run their season record to 78-64 despite trading away players like Evan Longoria and Chris Archer since last offseason, and relying on several rookie pitchers to shoulder most of the club's innings?
A major factor has been the bullpen, which has been stellar even as manager Kevin Cash has implemented an unorthodox strategy of having starting pitchers go one inning on some days, followed by relievers for the remainder of those contests.
It's worked wonders so far, and with a 2.47 ERA over 43 2/3 innings, the Rays' relief corps earned MLB Bullpen of the Week presented by The Hartford honors for the week of Sept. 3-9.
As part of The Hartford Prevailing Moments program, each Monday throughout the 2018 season, MLB.com is honoring the MLB Bullpen of the Week presented by The Hartford. An industry-wide panel of MLB experts, including legendary stats guru Bill James, constructed a metric based on James' widely renowned game-score formula, to provide a weekly measurement of team-bullpen performance.
Here's how the Bullpen Rating System is compiled for each week. For reference, a weekly score of 100 is considered outstanding:
• Add 1.5 points for each out recorded
• Add 1.5 points for each strikeout
• Add 5 points for a save
• Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed
• Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed
• Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed
• Subtract 1 point for each walk
• Subtract 5 points for a blown save
The Rays' bullpen finished well ahead of the rest of the pack last week, compiling a score of 142. The A's finished second, with a score of 109.5, and the Brewers finished third, with a score of 99.
Rays rookie right-hander Yonny Chirinos made two appearances during the week, one on Monday and one on Sunday, tossing a combined 13 1/3 innings while giving up four runs (2.70 ERA), relieving the "opener" in each of those games.
Other Tampa Bay relievers with standout performances during the week were rookie right-handers Jaime Schultz (three scoreless outings, 3 2/3 innings, four strikeouts, one walk) and Andrew Kittredge (three scoreless outings, 3 1/3 innings, six strikeouts, two walks).
The unexpected: With the Rays utilizing "the opener" strategy against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Tuesday, the pitching staff as a unit was cruising with a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth. Ryne Stanek (1 IP), Hunter Wood (2), Jalen Beeks (2 2/3), José Alvarado (1/3) and Diego Castillo (2) combined for eight scoreless frames. Adam Kolarek came on for the ninth, but following a groundout to open the inning, he issued a walk to Justin Smoak and gave up a Kendrys Morales single to put runners at the corners.
How they prevailed: Cash summoned veteran right-hander Sergio Romo out of the bullpen, and Romo sealed the victory by getting Randal Grichuk to pop out in foul ground and Kevin Pillar to fly out to center field.