Schoenfield's take: Rays just miss perfection, but can they reach October?

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There have been 13 combined no-hitters in MLB history, including the Los Angeles Angels' emotional tearjerker on Friday night. On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays nearly threw the first combined perfect game in MLB history.

Ryne Stanek started and retired the first six Baltimore Orioles. Ryan Yarbrough came on and retired the next 18 in a row, and when Joey Wendle made a nice play for the final out of the eighth inning, it felt like the Rays would finish it off. The baseball gods weren't smiling on this day, however, and Hanser Alberto led off the ninth with a routine ground ball to second base -- except the Rays were in a shift with three infielders on the left side of the bag, and Alberto's grounder dribbled into right field to ruin the perfect game. It was just Alberto's second hit against a shift this season that went to the right side of the field.

The Rays settled for a 4-1 victory, and this game served as the exclamation point on how well the Stanek/Yarbrough combination has performed this season. Stanek has served as the Rays' opener 26 times and has excelled in the role: 41 innings pitched, 28 hits, 11 runs, 13 walks and 46 strikeouts, just two home runs allowed, for a 1.98 ERA. The Rays are 17-9 when he starts, and he has put up a zero 19 times. Maybe most impressive is that he's not just a one-inning opener, as he has pitched two innings in 12 of his 26 starts, like he did on nfl nike jerseys from china4

Yarbrough has followed Stanek to the mound eight times, and the Rays are 6-2 in those games. Overall, he's 8-3 with a 4.26 ERA between four starts and 11 relief appearances. Batters are hitting .223 against him with a .266 OBP. Among pitchers with at least 60 innings, he has allowed the 11th-lowest OBP in the majors -- and that's after an 8.10 ERA in April that landed him back in Triple-A for four starts.

One reason the Rays' opener strategy has worked is that both players have complete acceptance and understanding of their roles. When I talked to Stanek and Yarbrough in spring training, they both told me that seeing Sergio Romo buy in last season -- he was the first reliever Cash tried as an opener -- was important, as Romo was a longtime veteran who once got the final out of a World Series.

Stanek and Yarbrough, meanwhile, were young guys still trying to find their place in the majors. Stanek had made 21 appearances in 2017, but had a breakout season in 2018 with a 2.98 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 66⅓ innings. Yarbrough, who grew up a Rays fan, is more of a finesse lefty who went 16-6 with a 3.91 ERA as a rookie. He's perfectly suited for the bulk role as a guy who can go through the order two times:

First time or second time: .203 average, .561 OPS, 22% strikeout rate nfl cheap jerseys nike
Third time: .318 average, .979 OPS, 8% strikeout rate

What's interesting is the Rays haven't actually used the opener as much as they might have intended back in spring training. Cash opened the season with three set spots in his rotation with Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow, and even though Glasnow made just eight starts before landing on the injured list, outside of Stanek, the Rays have used Hunter Wood twice and Andrew Kittredge once as openers.

Two things happened: The bullpen was throwing a lot of innings early in the season, and Yonny Chirinos pitched so well that he went from a bulk-innings guy to a regular in the rotation. The addition of Brendan McKay, who has looked impressive in his first three starts, now gives Cash four regular starters to go with Stanek. Glasnow, who dominated before his injury, had a setback as he rehabbed his forearm strain and is expected out until the end of August (putting his season in jeopardy).

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