Kevin Cash deserves all the derision headed his way following his monumental butchering of Game 6 of the World Series. For the rest of his career, the Tampa Bay Rays manager will face questions about the decisions he made Tuesday night. He has no one to blame but himself.
Blake Snell was absolutely rolling. The southpaw had all of his pitches working and had overpowered the Los Angeles Dodgers through five innings. At that point in the game, he was working on a shutout and had surrendered one hit while striking out nine and walking none. He had only thrown 69 pitches as he returned to the mound to open the bottom of the sixth inning.
He got A.J. Pollock to pop out to second base on the first pitch. Then he surrendered a single to center on a 1-1 pitch to Austin Barnes. He was at 73 pitches, had allowed only two hits and his Rays were up 1-0. With Mookie Betts and the top of the Dodgers order due up, Cash strode from the dugout to yank his ace. It was a shocking decision that left most of the baseball world confused.
Snell was not pleased by the move:
Cash chose to replace Snell with Nick Anderson, a righty who had given up runs in each of his previous six appearances. Well, make that seven. Anderson promptly surrendered a double to Betts, then uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Barnes to score from third and moved Betts 90 feet away from home. He induced a grounder from Corey Seager, but first baseman Ji-Man Choi's throw home was late and Betts scored. Anderson got Justin Turner to fly out to the wall in left before being lifted for Aaron Loup. Anderson's ERA in the World Series ballooned to 9.00.
The Rays went on to lose 3-1 after more bullpen mismanagement helped the Dodgers tack on an insurance run. After Peter Fairbanks struggled his way through a 21-pitch seventh inning, Cash sent him back out for the bottom of the eighth. The first batter he faced was Betts, who took the hard-throwing right-hander deep. So Cash wouldn't let Snell continue to pitch when he was rolling, but left Fairbanks when he was struggling?
All season the Rays have pulled starting pitchers early. It's been part of their analytics-driven approach to the game. They usually hold fast to their rule of not letting a starter face a lineup for the third time. After the game, Cash said he didn't want to give Betts or Seager a third shot at Snell. Never mind the fact that Betts was 0-2 with two strikeouts against the lefty the first two times around. Or that the top three in LA's batting order (Betts, Seager and Turner) were a combined 0-6 with six strikeouts against him.
It's also worth noting, that Cash's insistence on pulling pitchers the third time through and replacing Snell with a righty ignored the fact that Betts lights up right-handed pitching. During the regular season, Betts hit .323 with an OPS of 1.061 and all 16 of his home runs against righties, while hitting .200 with an OPS of .531 against lefties. There is no stat on the planet you can use to convince me pulling Snell was the right move.
Betts looked like he was thrilled to face Anderson and he confirmed as much after the game:
Cash thought he was being smart and instead he played right into LA's hands.
Look, I get that the Rays rely heavily on analytics and outsmarting the competition by giving them different looks. I've written about it glowingly before. That's how you win 66.7 percent of your games despite having baseball's 28th-ranked payroll. I believe numbers should act as a guide for every MLB franchise, but there's a difference between believing in numbers and being a slave to them.
Sometimes managers have to trust what they see on the field. Snell was dominating and had plenty of gas left in the tank. Anderson has been one of baseball's best relievers over the past two years, but he simply hasn't had it in the postseason. By pulling Snell for a guy who had struggled, Cash gave the Dodgers the opening they needed and drove right through it.
I understand what the Rays do, and in many ways it's brilliant. But Tampa was facing elimination with an offense that has limited upside, and Cash had a former Cy Young Award winner on the hill pitching one of the best games of his life. The manager overthought the situation and cost his team a chance at seeing Game 7.
The decisions the Rays make are always in pursuit of gaining the edge on their opponents. On Tuesday night Blake Snell was their edge. Kevin Cash squandered that advantage, and managed his team out of the World Series.