The Tampa Bay Rays were supposed to be better than this. Alex Cobb was supposed to be better than this.
Yet, here they are, standing just one game ahead of the New York Yankees for the final Wild Card spot in the AL with no less than three other teams right in the mix, wondering just how and why it is that the supposed return of a breakout ace to the rotation has left them 3-7 in their last 10 and barely holding serve in the playoff race.
Not that Cobb necessarily deserves the goat horns for this, of course.
After all, he only pitches once every fifth day, and isn’t responsible for what his offense does (or isn’t doing, as it were). Still, from a counting numbers perspective, 0-1 in his last four starts isn’t exactly what the team is looking for, and though he’d finished August with that hard-luck loss on his record despite an eight-inning, two-run gem … he’s definitely taken a step back in September as opposed to using that outing as a springboard.
What happened to the pitcher who’d put together a brilliant 2.66 ERA through his first 10 starts with a sterling walk rate, who own a 9.74 K/9 to 1.95 BB/9 through 32.1 innings in a 3-0 May?
That’s the pitcher the Rays expected Cobb to build towards down the stretch, and while he’s by no means what you’d call bad, his two crucial starts for this team (a bit of a misnomer at this point because they all are, really) in September have come up just short to helping the team win.
For example, if the righty could have avoided even just one of the runs in the three-run third inning against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday that served as a precursor to his early exit, maybe the Rays bullpen wouldn’t have had to spring into action earlier than expected, and it’s possible that they wouldn’t have gone into extras with the weight of the pressure eventually causing it to collapse.
With a 5.40/1.54 ERA/WHIP and a .311 BAA through 11.2 innings this month, Cobb is definitely not quite himself — at least not the one that the Rays saw earlier this year.
Sound nitpicky, especially when the onus here should really be on the offense? Maybe so, but here’s the thing: small sample or not, and whether the offense let him down or not, the Rays have gotten themselves into a position where there is simply no room for error.
One run, one less batter faced could be the difference between the playoffs or the golf course, and for a Rays team that has built its success around pitching … well, let’s just say that Cobb isn’t making that difference when the team needs it most.