So, how much faith do you have in Rays’ starting pitching?

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ST. PETERSBURG — A cynic might say this is a story about money. And maybe it is.

A realist would say this is a story about talent. And, surely, that plays an outsized role.

As for me, I prefer to think of it as a story about faith. And, ultimately, whether it is misplaced or rewarded.

At this point, you are probably aware that the Rays are in the middle of another pennant race in the American League East. You may even know that the trade deadline came and went on Friday, and the Rays declined to improve their starting pitching.

I’m convinced that was a mistake, and said as much to Tampa Bay general manager Erik Neander. He’s probably convinced that I’m a doofus but is far too kind to say that out loud.

You see, Neander has faith. He has faith in scouts and data. In players and coaches. Mostly, he has faith in the deep bullpen he has assembled and in a pair of rookie pitchers who might very well sit atop the Rays rotation when the playoffs begin.

“At some point,” he said, “you have to commit to what you have and provide them with opportunity.”

So this is where the talent comes in. And the money too, I suppose.

Nine months ago, the Rays were coming off a mostly magical postseason run with Tyler Glasnow, Charlie Morton and Blake Snell leading the way. Those three pitchers combined to start 16 of Tampa Bay’s 20 postseason games and came within two victories of winning the World Series. A month later, the Rays declined to exercise an option in Morton’s contract and, a month after that, they traded Snell.

Those were financial decisions, although Tampa Bay’s collection of young, talented arms figured prominently in the decisions, too. Why pay Morton and Snell a combined $26 million in 2021 when you can replace them with younger, explosive pitchers making closer to $600,000 each?

All these months later, those choices have been largely justified.

The Rays are neck-and-neck with Boston in the AL East and lead the American League in ERA. The Rays reinvested some of the money saved in the Morton and Snell contracts in some lesser veteran pitchers and had enough left over to add DH Nelson Cruz at the trade deadline.

“It seems like our group has been okay,” Neander said with a grin.

He’s right about that. The future is bright and the present ain’t too bad, either.

Neander also points out that Tampa Bay’s staff is constructed differently from last October. The Rays have a plethora of lethal relievers and do not need their starting pitchers to go beyond five innings. Maybe even less in the postseason.

And yet, I still have doubts heading toward October. Glasnow was expected to be the ace, but he’s been out with a sore arm since mid-June and now may be heading toward surgery.

Rich Hill has been traded, Michael Wacha has been inconsistent and Chris Archer is still a question mark as he comes back from his own injury problems. That means the rotation is largely dependent on Ryan Yarbrough and three rookies. Maybe four rookies, if you believe the Rays are just waiting for an opportune time to bring up Shane Baz to join Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino and Josh Fleming.

So it’s possible the AL playoffs could feature former Cy Young Award winners like Zack Greinke and Dallas Keuchel. And mega-contract stars like Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi. And a trio of 2021 Cy Young candidates like Lance Lynn, Carlos Rodon and Robbie Ray.

Meanwhile, if the playoffs started today, the Rays would probably begin with McClanahan (who has four big league victories) and follow with Patino (who has three big league victories).

They are enormously talented, no doubt about that. And, once a playoff game begins, no one cares about the numbers on the back of your baseball card. But, to me, it seems risky to begin a World Series quest with so much riding on the arms of rookie pitchers.

That possibility hasn’t escaped the thoughts of Rays executives. They had some interest in Max Scherzer at the trade deadline, but he wanted to go to California. They would have embraced a chance to reacquire Morton, but the Braves didn’t want to let him go.

As for the other starting pitchers who were traded last week — Jose Berrios, Danny Duffy, Kyle Gibson, J.A. Happ, Andrew Heaney, Jon Lester — the Rays decided they weren’t really upgrades or teams were expecting too much in return.

“There’s some arms out there we spent time on, but,when push came to shove, (considering) the acquisition costs on some of them, we would rather go with what we have and let those guys grow and take their lumps, which is inevitable for a younger player,” Neander said. “(We have) a bullpen that we have confidence in, not just a few of the guys, but a long list of guys that will be able to protect them as they experience those things. And they’ll be better for it, hopefully sooner rather than later. Time will tell.”

As I said, it comes down to faith. Neander believes in his guys right now.

I’m more skeptical, but imagine how great it could be if I’m wrong?

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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