This was Tampa Bay’s seize-the-division-title opportunity. With the Red Sox in the tank and the Yankees limping along, in many cases literally for their players, the American League East Division was ripe for the taking. Instead, the Baltimore Orioles have made themselves pesky challengers who won’t go away and the Rays are on the verge of being left out of the playoffs.
It’s not closer Fernando Rodney‘s fault. Appearing in just about every other game, although for cameo bursts of time, Rodney has thrown in 66 of Tampa Bay’s games, collected 42 saves, and has an earned run average smaller than an ant. The number is 0.69 and that’s about as microscopic as an ERA can get if a guy gives up a single run somewhere over the months.
Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds is getting more attention in the National League than Rodney is in the American League, but Rodney may be having a better year. Chapman is 5-5 with a 1.60 ERA and 35 saves. Chapman is known for topping 100 mph with his fastball, but Rodney has done that, too. Rodney is 2-2 on the year.
While Chapman was being groomed for greatness from the time he defected from Cuba, and was expected to be a starter this year, Rodney, who is from the Dominican Republic, spent several years with the Detroit Tigers switching roles, but often pitching middle relief. He signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay for this season for $1.75 million and that makes him a huge bargain. In July, Rodney was chosen for the AL All-Star team, his first selection.
At 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, Rodney looks like one of those pitchers who has never done a situp in his life and who considers being in shape incidental to playing baseball. Yet he has been getting results. That hasn’t always been true. Lifetime, Rodney’s won-loss record is 24-40. The only other season he has had comparable to this one was 2009 when he notched 37 saves for the Tigers. In 2006 Rodney finished 7-4 working in middle relief.
Rodney is 35 and this is his finest season, an unusual development for most players, for sure. He just may have found his niche as a closer, but whatever he is doing it has been producing results all season for Tampa Bay. The Rays have not been getting the type of consistency Rodney has offered from too many other guys on the roster, making it difficult to maintain a hot streak. A winning streak is what the Rays need right now when the teams ahead of them are playing so-so ball and focused on one another.
Going into Thursday’s play, Tampa Bay was three games behind New York and Baltimore. It would take a startling streak for Tampa Bay to leapfrog both the Yankees and Orioles, but with less than three weeks left in the regular season it is still possible to gain a wild-card spot. If the Rays make the playoffs they can thank Rodney. If they don’t, they have to look elsewhere for reasons why not.