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dan shaughnessy

The Rays are easy to root for but actually bad for baseball

Starter Charlie Morton was removed from Game 7 against the Astros after giving up no runs and two hits in 5⅔ innings.
Starter Charlie Morton was removed from Game 7 against the Astros after giving up no runs and two hits in 5⅔ innings.Ezra Shaw/Getty

The American League champion Tampa Bay Rays are noble, honorable, easy to root for. They just beat the big-payroll Yankees and Astros in back-to-back playoff series. They lack big names, but still win. They have the 28th-highest payroll in baseball and yet they win. They play great defense. They have a different hero almost every night. Their manager, Kevin Cash, is a Terry Francona disciple who played for the Red Sox.

I hate the Rays anyway. I hate them because they are run by analytics guys. They play spreadsheet baseball. They love platooning, defensive shifts, and four-man outfields.

The Rays invented the “opener.” That alone makes them loathsome.

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With two outs in the sixth inning of Game 7 against the Astros Saturday, Cash lifted starter Charlie Morton even though Morton was throwing a two-hit shutout and had delivered only 66 pitches. And it worked.

I wish it hadn’t worked. I wish it blew up in their faces. Tampa’s geek-driven hedge-funders had me rooting for the cheatin' Astros.

“We believe in our process, and we’re going to continue doing that,” said Cash.

Ouch. I like Cash but hate any manager using the word “process.”

The Rays are good for parity. They are good for small markets. They are good for truth, justice, and the American way. But they are bad for baseball.

And now Team Anonymous is in the World Series. Starring Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, Austin Meadows … and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver. Good ballplayers all. Too bad they sound like the characters in a sitcom.

Randy Arozarena is Tampa’s best player and was MVP of the ALCS. If he continues to play like a star, he’ll have to leave Tampa to get his money. Like Mookie Betts in Boston.

“We’re not the most popular team out there,” said outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, the senior statesman of Team Roster Turnover. “We don’t have too many household names that a ton of people are going to know.”

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Amen. And it’s not the fault of the players. But it’s deadly for a sport that is already on life support.

Give me the Dodgers, big time, in this World Series. A Dodger win will put a dent in the game-killing Rays Way, while simultaneously giving Baseball America another chance to ask, “How could the Red Sox be stupid enough to let go of Mookie Betts? What were they thinking?”

Mookie Betts celebrates after robbing Atlanta's Marcell Ozuna of a homer during the fifth inning of Saturday's Game 6.
Mookie Betts celebrates after robbing Atlanta's Marcell Ozuna of a homer during the fifth inning of Saturday's Game 6.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The Rays had 12 different players record saves this year. Swell. Personally, I kind of liked it when I knew the name of the closer on the other team. It was fun to root against Rich Gossage or Mariano Rivera. How can fans summon any energy to care about Pete Fairbanks and Nick Anderson? (Or is it Pete Anderson and Nick Fairbanks?)

The cutting-edge Rays are all about the three true outcomes: strikeouts, walks, and homers. They make sure no pitcher ever faces a hitter more than twice in any game. Boring.

I sent my complaint to Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, who responded with, “The Rays are overachievers, closely-knit, hungry underdogs and they are fueled by exactly what bugs you — winning boring.”

All true.

Dick Vitale is the No. 1 Rays fan. There is no runner-up. The Rays have no diehard fans. I believe this is part of the reason they have excelled in this postseason: No big league team has had more practice playing in an empty ballpark.

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This is not all about World Series TV ratings. I hate the Rays because the Red Sox are trying to become the Rays. Chaim Bloom worked for the Rays for 15 years. A sharp young man who cannot tell a lie, Bloom has been brought to Boston to assemble Tampa Bay By The Charles.

That’s what you saw this summer: a thousand faceless, nameless players, one after another, parading through Fenway Park. Bloom loves undrafted guys, journeymen, sleepers, hidden gems, and bargains. He appears to be on a mission to assemble a roster of no-names who can win.

Perfect. Once the most popular team in town, the Red Sox have become anonymous in this market.

Can Chaim Bloom bring the same sort of winning formula that he discovered in Tampa Bay to Boston?
Can Chaim Bloom bring the same sort of winning formula that he discovered in Tampa Bay to Boston?Jim Davis/Globe Staff

We like winning, but we also like colorful characters. We like a little goofiness. We liked it when Wade Boggs said he willed himself invisible and when Mo Vaughn spoke about Sox ownership as “the joint chiefs of staff.” We liked Gene Conley going AWOL and attempting to fly to Israel after a bad loss at Yankee Stadium.

That’s all gone now. We are left with J.D. Martinez making excuses because he can’t have his video.

Blame it on the Tampa Bay Way.

I’m well aware that the Rays are not alone when it comes to nerds in the front office. The 2020 World Series will be the first Fall Classic in which both teams are managed by the geeks upstairs.

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The Dodgers are run by Andrew Friedman, a card-carrying Moneyball Youth who took over the Rays in 2006 at the age of 28. Two years later, Friedman’s Rays beat the Red Sox in a seven-game ALCS and went to the World Series, where they lost to the Phillies. Friedman went from Tampa to the Dodgers, where he now has a payroll triple the size of Tampa’s.

Friedman’s Dodgers have features the Rays lack. LA has a big payroll, star players, and continuity. The Dodgers have a lot of the same names in the lineup every year while the Rays are about constant roster overhaul. Only five of Tampa’s 2020 players were on the team in 2017. Tampa can’t afford to keep its best players. Is this what we can expect with Bloom running the show in Boston? Ugh.

Go, Dodgers. Go, Mookie. The innovative, soul-sucking, smarter-than-you-are Rays will only move us one step closer to the death of baseball.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.