Thanks to an infusion of young talent, the Tampa Bay

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ST. PETERSBURG http://www.metsfanproshop.com/authentic-tim-tebow-jersey , Fla. (AP) — Rays overcame a slow start to win 90 games and spawn lofty expectations for next season.What was supposed to a rebuilding year for the Rays, who trimmed payroll in the winter and purged the roster again, might have been even more special if not for the success of AL East rivals Boston and New York.The Red Sox repeated as division champion with 108 victories and the Yankees won 100 to earn AL’s top wild-card berth.The Rays finished 18 games behind Boston and 10 behind New York, but weren’t eliminated from post-season contention until Sept. 24.“I hope we don’t have two 100-win teams in our division next year,” manager Kevin Cash said. “But if we do, we’re one of them.”First-time All-Star Blake Snell led the major leagues with 21 wins and an AL-leading 1.89 ERA, rookie Joey Wendle played solid defense while hitting .300 in 139 games, and C.J. Cron had 30 homers and 74 RBIs after being acquired during a trade in spring training.“As an organization there was some amount of satisfaction that came with the work that we’ve been doing the last several years to prepare a young group coming through our minor leagues … and to see that finally hit our major league team,” general manager Erik Neander said.“When we look back at this year, hopefully it will be seen as the year that started off a run of many competitive, playoff achieving seasons,” Neander added, “and hopefully Devin Mesoraco Jersey , a championship in there at some point.”The Rays lost 12 of 15 to begin the season, digging themselves into a hole few people felt they were capable of escaping after a winter that saw them trade Evan Longoria, Steven Souza Jr., Corey Dickerson and Jake Odorizzi and lose starting pitcher Alex Cobb to free agency.They trimmed salary again in July, unloading pitchers Chris Archer, Nathan Eovaldi and Alex Colome, as well as All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos and Denard Span to make way for the youth movement that keyed a second-half surge.The Rays went 41-25 after the All-Star break, including 19-9 in September. They were 9-1-2 over their last 12 series.“Coming out of spring training we didn’t know what kind of club we were going to have on the field as far as wins and losses,” Cash said, “but we knew we had a good group of guys, a good core group of guys and a lot to look forward to … with some of younger players getting opportunities.”One of the keys to overcoming the slow start was creative use of the bullpen that included the introduction of “openers” — relievers who started games and generally faced from three to nine batters.A “bullpen day” starter, by comparison, usually pitched deeper into games though normally no more than twice through an opposing team’s lineup.Prior to the debut of the “opener” on May 19, the Rays ranked 22nd in the majors in ERA. From that day forward http://www.metsfanproshop.com/authentic-tim-tebow-jersey , they were third-best behind the Dodgers and Astros.“I think any time you’re trying something a little bit different, you don’t know how it’s going to be perceived and how it will work out,” senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said. “You know you’re going to learn along the way, and we did learn. Overall, we were very pleased with how it went.”Some things to know about the Rays:DOMINANT SNELLSnell had 27 starts in which he allowed two or fewer runs, most by an AL pitcher since Wilbur Wood had 27 for the White Sox in 1972. The last two AL pitchers to win at least 21 games and a sub-2.00 ERA were Roger Clemens for the Red Sox in 1990 and Ron Guidry for the Yankees in 1978.RARE COMPANYThe Rays, who made the playoffs four times in six seasons from 2008-2013, have won at least 90 games six times over the last 11 seasons. The Red Sox (seven) and Dodgers (seven) and Yankees (six) are the only teams with as many or more during that stretch.NOT SATISFIEDCash called finishing with a winning record an “accomplishment,” but noted the standard for the organization is much higher.“We’re not going to settle for just the feel good story … but you’ve got to be proud of what’s taken place to this point, and we are,” the manager said. The Pittsburgh Pirates won’t play in October this season, but they think they’ve found a staff ace who can get them there in the future.Or perhaps they’ve discovered two aces, or maybe even three.Right-hander Jameson Taillon (14-9) makes his 32nd and final start of the season Saturday by opposing Cincinnati Reds right-hander Michael Lorenzen (3-2) in the second game of a three-game series at Great American Ball Park. The Pirates are 13-4 with seven consecutive wins against the Reds this season.Article continues below ...The Pirates assured themselves of only their seventh winning record in 34 years by beating the Reds 8-4 Friday night as Colin Moran homered and drove in three runs and Elias Diaz also homered among 13 Pittsburgh hits. The Reds lost their sixth in a row and 11th in 14 games. It’s the first time since 1988 the Pirates (81-78) will own a winning record in a season in which they didn’t make the playoffs. They won the NL East in 1990, 1991 and 1992 before enduring a record 20-year span without a winning record Pedro Martinez Jersey , then reached the NL wild card game in 2013, 2014 and 2015.Taillon isn’t being mentioned in any NL Cy Young Award discussion, but he’s developing into one of the league’s top starting pitchers. Taillon will be looking to make his 22nd consecutive start with three earned runs or fewer allowed, a streak surpassed this season only by New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who’s made 29 consecutive such starts.Taillon out-pitched left-hander Cole Hamels of the Chicago Cubs his last time out, allowing one run and five hits over seven innings of a 5-1 Pirates victory Monday night at Wrigley Field. The start before that, Taillon threw seven shutout innings and struck out a career-high 11 against the Kansas City Royals.“He’s a tremendous pitcher and he has a lot of upside to look forward to,” Hamels told reporters after the game. “He’s going to be a challenge from here on out.”Taillon has a 2.26 ERA in his last 14 starts, and is 8-2 with a 2.16 ERA in 12 starts since the All-Star break. He’ll be looking for his fourth win of the season against the Reds.The 26-year-old Taillon and right-hander Trevor Williams (14-10) give the Pirates an outstanding one-two combo heading into next season. The Pirates also have former AL All-Star right-hander Chris Archer, who is 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA since being acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays but was outstanding in his final start of the season. He shut out the Cubs for six innings, striking out nine, in a 6-0 Pirates win on Tuesday.Williams, also 26, took the loss as the Cubs beat the Pirates 3-0 on Thursday Max Kepler Jersey , when he gave up three runs and eight hits in five innings. Williams had a 1.29 ERA in his last 13 starts, and his 1.38 ERA over the second half of the season is one of the lowest in franchise history.“Finishing above .500 is going to be good for us moving forward with everybody coming back,” Williams told the team website.The last-place Reds have a number of young pitchers – including Lorenzen – but none has made a breakthrough like that of Taillon or Williams.Lorenzen will be making his third start since shifting into the rotation following 42 consecutive appearances out of the bullpen this season. He hadn’t started since 2015 before starting Sept. 18 against the Milwaukee Brewers. He lasted four innings in each of his two starts to date, giving up five runs and 10 hits, and was roughed up for four runs and nine hits against the Miami Marlins on Sunday. He is 3-1 with a 3.21 ERA in relief this season.Whether he’s a starter or a reliever in the future is to be determined, based on what other starters we have in the rotation and where he best fits,” Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “He’s been an integral part of the pitching staff.”Lorenzen is 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA in 23 career games against Pittsburgh. Taillon is 4-3 with a 4.28 ERA in 11 career starts against Cincinnati, including a 3-1 record and 2.84 ERA this season. He pitched a one-hit shutout against the Reds on April 8 in Pittsburgh, winning 5-0.

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