Everybody marvels at the way the Rays continue to win, despite a low payroll and low attendance in St. Petersburg.
The Phillies have talked about it internally.
Maybe it crossed their minds again following Sunday afternoon’s 6-2 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay took both games in the two-game set and has won 15 of its past 16. The Rays have the best record in the American League. The Phillies are 5-11 in that same stretch. They are three games below .500 (25-28) for the first time this season.
The Rays did almost everything well this weekend. The Phillies did not.
Two examples from Sunday:
• First, Rays left fielder Austin Meadows worked a leadoff walk in the second, but only after Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm overran a catchable popup in foul territory. Bohm possibly lost the ball in the baseball-colored roof, but it should have been the inning’s first out. Three batters later, Mike Zunino hit a two-out, two-run home run to left field off Zach Eflin to hand Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.
“He was on a dead sprint, and this is a tough place to catch popups, if you’re not here a lot,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “Probably [Bohm missed it] because you’re in a shift and you’re so far away and he’s in a dead sprint. It’s a play that he’s capable of making, but he didn’t make it.”
If Eflin had not allowed those two runs in the second, perhaps Girardi would have managed the fifth inning differently. Eflin allowed a two-out solo home run to Brett Phillips to make it 3-0. He then allowed back-to-back singles to Randy Arozarena and Brandon Lowe.
Eflin had thrown 86 pitches to that point. Maybe Girardi would have let Eflin finish the inning if the deficit had been 1-0 instead of 3-0. But Girardi pulled him, making it the first time in 11 starts this season that Eflin did not pitch six innings.
Left-hander Ranger Suárez allowed a double to Ji-Man Choi to score Arozarena, making it 4-0.
“I was throwing a lot of pitches per inning, a couple innings were extended,” Eflin said. “I wasn’t 100 percent, but I was still throwing competitive pitches and being competitive, which is all that matters. But my command wasn’t really there today. I was spraying it all over.”
“I didn’t want to push him any further,” Girardi said.
Bradley walked Meadows. He then allowed a single to right to Joey Wendle. Phillies right fielder Brad Miller airmailed a throw home that got past first baseman Rhys Hoskins and Bradley as Arozarena scored. The ball also got behind catcher Andrew Knapp, which allowed Meadows to round third and head home. Knapp retrieved the ball near the Phils’ on-deck circle, but his throw to Bradley at home plate missed the mark.
The Rays had a 6-2 lead.
“We gave them runs, and it changes the complexion of the game,” Girardi said.
The Phillies have the fifth-highest payroll in the Majors at more than $183 million, according to Spotrac.com. The Rays are 26th at more than $63 million. But Tampa Bay finds the players to fit into its system and wins. Phils president Andy MacPhail mentioned the Rays in October when he made his only public critique about Philadelphia's five years under former general manager Matt Klentak.
“I look at Tampa [Bay],” MacPhail said. “They're able to unlock the hidden value or potential in Minor League players that have been around a while. They recognize something that we're not picking up on yet. I think that's one thing that this franchise needs to improve on. Our [research and development] needs to obviously help with that. … [The Rays are] seeing something we're not, and we've got to figure out what that is.”
It was enough to beat the Phillies again.
“They do a really good job,” Girardi said. “You’ve got to give their front office and [manager] Kevin Cash a lot of credit. The guys that they bring in, they find roles for them. I think they look for a lot of outliers, and they use them in those spots that they can be successful. They have a lot of success.”