When The Joy Of Suck Fades
11:46 AM EDT on July 14, 2022
Ed. note: All Ray Ratto blogs are by definition Rays Week blogs.
Baseball may be unfashionable among the snottier classes and commenters, and the sport’s extraordinary gift for kicking its own dangly bits has a lot to do with that, but we can at least say this much for the game at this moment: it is genuinely weird and getting weirder. Two days ago, Tony La Russa got worked over for intentionally walking Cleveland's Jose Ramirez on an 0-1 count; that criticism was wrongheaded, but only in the sense that La Russa should have walked Ramirez for the entire day during the exchange of the lineup cards. Shohei Ohtani continues to make his own less-filling/tastes-great argument with his own career after striking out half the Houston Astros he faced in six innings on Wednesday night. The Kansas City Royals had a team meeting ahead of their road trip to Toronto and a plurality voted for plague instead of play. How can you not love these ridiculous people, and the ridiculous product they create?
But hidden within this box of ray-dioactive gems is another uniquely baseball thing—the rising of the dead, dying, and purposely infirm. In other words, the recent improvement of the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners, a rise driven by the simple decision to locate the best players in the farm system and ignoring the service time conundrum by having them, well, play.
The Mariners are the stealthier of the two teams in that their 10-game winning streak has only raised them into a tie for the last American League wild card spot and gained them a mere two games on the Astros in the AL West. They could at this rate be the only non-AL East team to wild-card the system, and that includes the Toronto Blue Jays, who just jackhammered manager Charlie Montoyo for reasons that even the Maple Leafs would find curious.
More to the point, though, the Mariners are being guided by 21-year-old Trout-in-training Julio Rodríguez, 25-year-old starter Logan Gilbert, and 25-year-old everyday catcher Cal Raleigh, who has become both your standard .200-hitting catcher and a 12-homer guy who runs a pitching staff. Rodríguez and Gilbert could still be service-time-managed in the minor leagues so that the Mariners can save a few bucks but instead are being employed to help make them a surreptitiously interesting team; Raleigh, who was not quite as blue-chip a prospect as either, has been playing like one all the same.
The Orioles also have won 10 consecutive games, and are above .500 for the first time in a normal July in six years. They might actually win more games than they did in any of the last three seasons before the end of the month, and part of the reason for that might be because they finally stopped sweating out catcher Adley Rutschman's service time and decided to put him into service. He is not the only reason why the Orioles are no longer the clown show that the other clown shows throw urine balloons at when the circus comes to town, and in fact his raw numbers don't exactly light up the room—like nearly every catcher in baseball, he barely reaches base one-fifth of the time. But we'll deal with that in a paragraph or so.
This is where we would normally mention about eight other Orioles who are as important, but since the ones who even remotely approach the minimal standard of Rays Week—having the letters R, A, and Y somewhere in their names—are manager Brandon Hyde, the Ryans Mountcastle and McKenna, Bryan Baker, Jordan Lyles, Trey Mancini, and Anthony Santander, we're sticking with Rutschman (who conveniently also meets the standard).
Hey, don't yell at me. This theme wasn't my idea. I wanted Adderall-Addicted Monkeys Of The Antarctic Week, but got shouted down by the children.
Anyway, Rutschman. Since he got the full-time job May 21 the O's are 26-17. It is as if once the front office decided that using the best players in the system makes for more fun at the daily company picnic, the entire roster decided that was permission to be as good as they can be. Baltimore’s current 26-man roster has only four players over the age of 30, and only one, backup catcher Robinson Chirinos, can accurately be described as old. In other words, merit might have finally trumped the manipulation of service time, a cultural victory in a sport mostly driven by Ned and Thelma in Accounting.
The Orioles and Mariners, though, do have the same short-term problem, and that is Toronto. If the Jays (not the Rays, who as we know are already a mortal lock to win 105 games because Rays Week takes no prisoners) get healthy and plays more to their preseason expectations than they have to date under new manager John Schneider, who many baseball weirdos believe is the guy whose place Montoyo was holding all along, Toronto could make the playoffs impossible to achieve for either of these upstarts.
In the meantime, though, two teams that embraced today's bottom line to the exclusion of tomorrow's investment have finally concluded that the betterment of the Tacoma Rainiers and Norfolk Tides was a poor excuse for not trying harder at the big league level. At some point the future has to be this morning, otherwise what's the future for, beyond complaining that it will be wasted on young people?