SweetSpot: Kirby Yates



On June 10, the Tampa Bay Rays lost 1-0 to the Cardinals, their third straight game getting shut out. They dropped to 24-42, the worst record in baseball, 15 games out of first place in the AL East.

The David Price trade rumors heated up. The Rays were going nowhere. Price is a free agent after 2015 and the Rays won't be able to afford him. They would obviously trade him in the midst of this lost season.

Then the Rays started playing better, going 18-9 entering Wednesday night and, as the Blue Jays collapsed, found themselves nine games back of the Orioles. Just close enough that trading Price can't be assumed as a foregone conclusion if the Rays continue to shrink that deficit before the July 31 trade deadline. Hey, the Rays are known for their hot stretches of play -- they went 21-5 last July, for example -- and this is franchise that was caught the Red Sox for the wild card back in 2011 after being 8.5 games behind in September.

So the eternally optimistic Joe Maddon keeps saying the Rays aren't out of it. That he believes in his team. The odds are slim and the Rays know this. Entering Wednesday, FanGraphs' playoff odds gave the Rays a 3.1 percent chance of winning the division and 4.2 percent chance of making the playoffs. Clay Davenport's site gave the Rays a 7 percent chance of winning the division and 14 percent chance of making the playoffs.

The Rays have run their numbers. Maybe their own internal odds are more optimistic or more pessimistic. But I would guess the Rays have a number on where they have to be on July 31: Maybe it's five games back or six or seven. If they're at that number, they keep Price; if they're not there, they trade him.

So one win could be huge. Not just for the Rays, but the rest of baseball, or at least the rest of baseball interested in acquiring Price.

The Orioles had already lost when the Rays took a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning against Kansas City, three outs from trimming that lead to eight games. Alex Cobb had pitched 6 2/3 innings and Maddon then burned through Grant Balfour, Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger to get the next four outs. Maddon has been a little flexible with his bullpen of late. McGee had gotten the last three saves, but Boxberger and Balfour also have a save this month.

Anyway, McGee had thrown 26 pitches on Tuesday so he was pulled in the eighth after giving up two hits. Boxberger threw 10 pitches to get out of the inning. Maddon went to Joel Peralta for the save. But he gave up a single and a one-out walk to Eric Hosmer, and Maddon turned to a pitcher named Kirby Yates, a 27-year-old right-hander with 10 appearances in the majors.

I know nothing about Kirby Yates. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He'd been the closer the past two years at Triple-A Durham and turned himself into a prospect with some dominating numbers: He'd allowed one run in 25 innings there this year and had pitched well enough in his 10 games with the Rays, 15 strikeouts and three walks. Maddon had used him as mop-up guy; only one of his appearances had come in anything resembling a close game.

But he here was trying to get his first career save. As I said, Maddon is an optimist. He'll trust anyone on his 25-man roster. He gave the ball to Yates to face All-Star catcher Salvador Perez. Yates threw an 0-1, 91 mph four-seam fastball that Perez lofted into the left-field corner and just over the glove of a leaping Brandon Guyer and just over the wall for a three-run homer. Royals win 5-4. Big win for Kansas City.

So here's my point: One win could be the deciding factor on what the Rays decide to do on July 31. The Rays are an organization that studies the numbers. The numbers -- the standings and the playoff odds -- will determine their decision.

It's possible that Salvador Perez just changed the entire David Price trade dynamic. Which in turn could influence the entire season, depending on where Price goes and what he does.

Keep that in mind -- and remember Kirby Yates -- if Price is pitching for the Cardinals or the Dodgers or some other team in October.

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