The Rays’ season may have ended with October’s American League Division Series loss, but their postseason accolades continued to come in on Monday night, when the Baseball Writers Association of America revealed its finalists.
Three Rays earned nods, as Charlie Morton, Brandon Lowe and Kevin Cash were named finalists for the AL’s Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year awards, respectively.
• 2019 BBWAA Awards finalists | All-time winners
Morton was Tampa Bay’s go-to guy in must-win situations, and he showed his mettle time and again. The 35-year-old played a big part in the team’s playoff push in September, which the Rays finished with an 18-7 record that included a 12-2 home performance. Morton went 3-0 in his five September starts, including a six-inning, one-hit, nine-strikeout outing against the Yankees on Sept. 25.
“It’s pretty surreal; I haven’t really experienced anything like that in my career, in terms of individual accolades,” Morton said of the nomination. “To finish anywhere near where I am, it’s pretty amazing.”
As good as he was en route to a 16-6 record and 3.05 ERA during the regular season, Morton was even more impressive once the playoffs rolled around. The two-time All-Star finished 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in two impressive clutch postseason outings.
The first was a gritty five-inning effort against the A’s on Oct. 2, when he rebounded from a 32-pitch first frame to hold Oakland to one run (none earned) and send the Rays to victory in the AL Wild Card Game.
“Those last couple of weeks of the regular season were really special,” he said. “We went on a run. There was a different vibe in clubhouse. There was a different vibe on the field when we knew it was in our hands.
“But I do think seeing the guys on the field in Oakland in that environment was pretty awesome. I’d never seen that stadium like that. … To see their fans in that moment, and to see our guys go out and do that in that game, that was pretty special.”
That win was Morton’s third in a winner-take-all postseason contest -- a first in MLB history -- as he also won Game 7 of both the AL Championship Series and World Series in 2017 with the Astros.
Morton stepped it up another notch in the must-win Game 3 of the AL Division Series on Oct. 7 against his former team. Down 2-0 in the series, the Rays again relied on their veteran, and he delivered in fine fashion. Morton battled through a rocky first to fan nine and allow just one run over his five innings to send the series back to Houston.
“[It’s] just what Charlie's done all year long,” Cash said after the game. “He's got that knack for doing some special things for us, and he did again.”
The Rays scooped up Morton from the free-agent market on Dec. 21, 2018, locking him in for two years and $30 million with an option for ’21. He certainly proved that he was worth every penny in ’19, finishing third in the AL in ERA, tied for fifth in wins and games started (33), and fifth in strikeouts (240), WHIP (1.08), strikeouts per nine innings (11.10) and win percentage (.727).
The other finalists for the AL Cy Young Award are Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander of the Astros.
Lowe appeared the clear front-runner for Rookie of the Year accolades until he landed on the injured list on July 4 with a bruised right shin sustained when he fouled a pitch off his leg on July 2. The injury that caused the 25-year-old to miss his first All-Star Game was not deemed serious at first but eventually cost him the next 2 1/2 months, as he sustained a left quad strain while running out a ground ball during a rehab assignment on Aug. 23 and wasn’t activated until Sept. 22.
Tampa Bay's 2015 third-round Draft pick impressed the organization enough during Spring Training this past season that the Rays offered him a six-year, $24 million contract extension that includes a pair of club options.
He validated that decision right up until his injury, as he slashed .276/.339/.523 with a team-leading 16 homers and 49 RBIs in the first half.
“It’s pretty incredible. Just an honor even to be nominated,” Lowe said. “It was definitely disappointing having that first injury right when I thought everything was going to clear up and go well at the plate, and the hindsight of looking back and seeing what numbers could’ve been, but there’s a plan bigger than my own.”
Assuming he is unhampered by injury in 2020, the ceiling appears high for the left-handed-hitting Lowe, who was only lightly recruited out of Nansemond River High School in Suffolk, Va., before giving the Rays reason to invest in his future.
The other finalists are Astros designated hitter/outfielder Yordan Alvarez and Orioles left-hander John Means.
This is the second nod for Cash, who was voted AL Manager of the Year by the Sporting News for his part in the Rays’ successes this season. The fifth-year skipper deftly managed a roster that was decimated by pitching injuries and had just three players (Tommy Pham, Willy Adames and Morton) available for all 162 regular-season games. Along the way he shepherded the Rays to 96 wins, tied for second best in franchise history, and an ALDS berth.
“I think he has a really good pulse on the guys and what they need,” Morton said. “There were times that I felt there was something that needed to be said in the clubhouse … and Cashy did it.
“Guys get their first taste in the big leagues, and a lot of times, they struggle to get along. [Helping them] was one of his main concerns in the clubhouse.”
Due in large part to injuries to their rotation (defending AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, Yonny Chirinos and Tyler Glasnow), Tampa Bay used a franchise-record 33 pitchers en route to its fifth playoff appearance in its 22-year existence.
Cash -- an eight-year Major League veteran who was the Rays’ catcher in 2005 -- earned respect this season for managing the clubhouse and also the creative lineup and pitching decisions he rolled out, most notably the choice to ride a bullpen day during a must-win ALDS Game 4 against Verlander and the Astros, a game in which Tampa Bay used six pitchers and took a shutout into the eighth inning before winning, 4-1, to force a winner-take-all Game 5.
“We certainly had our [injuries],” Cash said. “It just shows where your depth is, and where you are in the organization. It’s a credit to the guys and the coaching staff to stay positive. There were times where we had to put a little bit of a poker face on. We had some injuries to our pitchers, and that was a little bit of a gut shot.
“I think ultimately, these awards are in direct correlation and a reflection of where our team was. Obviously, we didn’t get where we wanted to, but we’ve come a long way.”
The other finalists for the AL Manager of the Year Award are Rocco Baldelli of the Twins and Aaron Boone of the Yankees.
Voting for the BBWAA Awards took place at the conclusion of the regular season, meaning postseason performance does not come into play. The BBWAA will reveal the Rookie of the Year Award winners on Nov. 11, the Manager of the Year Award winners on Nov. 12 and the Cy Young Award winners on Nov. 13. All three award shows will begin at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.
Their announcement came just one day after center fielder Kevin Kiermaier took home his third AL Gold Glove Award.
Dawn Klemish is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Tampa. Follow her on Twitter @Sportsgal25.