One of the most impactful players in Game 2 of the World Series between the Dodgers and Rays was Joey Wendle, Tampa’s 30-year-old infielder with local ties.
Wendle went to Avon Grove HS in Chester County and played collegiately at West Chester, where he hit .377 in his final two seasons. Nearly a decade later, the former sixth-round pick of the Indians has become a staple for the Rays.
Wendle hit a two-run double and a sacrifice fly to drive in three runs in the Rays’ 6-4 win Wednesday night over the Dodgers, which tied the series 1-1.
In three seasons with Tampa, Wendle has hit .279/.335/.410 while playing second, third, short and both outfield corners. He’s been a Scott Kingery-like Swiss Army knife for the Rays, just a much better hitter.
Wendle went 6 for 17 (.353) in the Rays’ ALDS win over the Yankees but 3 for 21 in the ALCS. Overall, he’s 11 for 47 (.234) this postseason with two doubles and five RBI.
The main reason why the Rays win is their ability to identify unheralded or undervalued players, develop them and accentuate their strengths. There is not a household name in that lineup. Their best offensive player in 2020, Brandon Lowe, appeared once in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects list, peaking at 93.
Rays playoff hero Randy Arozarena, who hit seven homers in 12 games in the ALDS and ALCS, was acquired in January from the Cardinals in a trade headlined by veteran hitter Jose Martinez.
Nick Anderson, Tampa’s best reliever and one of the five best in baseball right now, was a Marlin last summer. The Rays traded Ryne Stanek and Trevor Richards, two far lesser pitchers, for him. Anderson has a 1.43 ERA and 0.58 WHIP as a Ray with 67 strikeouts in 37⅔ innings.
Even at the end of the Rays' roster is a player like reliever John Curtiss, who had an ERA over 10.00 at Triple A in the Phillies' system last year but had a 1.80 ERA with 25 K's in 25 innings in the majors this summer.
All of those diamonds in the rough (in addition to a couple of top-end pitchers like Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow) are a major reason why the Rays are where they are despite ranking 30th, 30th and 28th in player payroll the last three seasons.
They don't just make the right decisions in the draft. They also creatively add talent via trade (Chris Archer for Glasnow and Austin Meadows was straight-up theft) and free agency. It wouldn't have taken much to beat Tampa Bay's two-year, $30 million offer prior to 2019 for Charlie Morton, who is 5-0 with a 0.70 ERA in his last five playoff starts and goes for the Rays in Game 3 Friday.
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