Here we are at the All-Star Break. The Tampa Bay Rays are 46-45 and 3.5 games out in second place in the American League East. Now, if someone had asked me before the start of the season if Rays fans would take that at the All-Star Break, we all would have said “Hell Yes!”
This team has always been a low budget over-achieving type of team. Off seasons are rarely kind to the Rays. In fact, late seasons are sometimes cruel too. But the past late season/off season was especially bad for Rays fans. First, in a rather curious move, they traded ace pitcher David Price at the trade deadline despite the fact that the team was hot and still in the playoff race. After that, they tanked and finished well below .500.
Then in the off-season their GM left for the Los Angeles Dodgers, their all-time best manager by far in Joe Maddon left for the Chicago Cubs, and they traded away the guy that was supposed to be their next big star in Wil Myers to the San Diego Padres. Throw in losing fan favorite and “human Swiss Army Knife” in Ben Zobrist and there was not much to be excited about coming in to spring training.
But it went from bad to worse once Spring Training began. First, the Rays hired Kevin Cash to replace Maddon, a guy with no managerial experience. And when I say “no managerial experience” I mean zero, not in the majors, not in the minors, not even college or high school. None. That was a bit scary.
Then a tidal wave of injuries hit in the early season to make winning seem impossible. The disabled list for the Rays has included stars such as Alex Cobb, who has not thrown a pitch all season and will not for the better part of next year either, Drew Smyly who has made three starts so far, Matt Moore who has made three starts (but is back healthy for now), John Jaso who just recently got back after injuring himself on Opening Day, James Loney who has been on the DL twice (the first two times in his career), Jake Odorizzi who missed a little over a month, Jake McGee who has been out most of the season and Desmond Jennings who we saw briefly in April and not since then.
All of these were players the Rays were to count on heavily this season, all missing significant time and yet, here they are at 46-45. Kevin Cash should win Manager of the Year if the Rays do not win another ten games.
I will admit that at times these guys have been unwatchable. In a recent horrible stretch the Rays lost 17 of 20 games. In a four game sweep at home to the Cleveland Indians, they went at least the first five innings without a batter reaching first base three games in a row. In one of them, they did not get a hit until they were down to the last strike. Their offense at times is not just bad, it’s not even MLB worthy. Yet here they are.
So what do the Rays need to do these final 71 games?
First, they had better get off to a fast start. The entire American League East is one hot week from making a serious leap in the standings. Therefore, the opposite is also true. They Rays know this better than most as they were in first place before the 3-17 skid hit and in fourth place when it was over. In only three games since they have gone from fourth to second.
The Rays start the post All-Star Break schedule with three game at the Toronto Blue Jays. That is a huge series because the Jays sit in fourth place right now but only one game behind the Rays. The Baltimore Orioles are in between them at 4.0 game out. From there the Rays move on to National League doormat, the Philadelphia Phillies. So a fast start in Toronto could get them off and running. This would leave them with some decisions to make. Should they add a bat for the stretch drive? Ironically, Ben Zobrist is one they may be able to get as his Oakland A’s are likely going to be sellers at the deadline. The Rays sure could use him.
But even if they stand pat, as long as they don’t become sellers at the trade deadline, they should get better if everyone stays in the lineup. With Loney and Jaso back, Evan Longoria should get more fastballs to hit. If Odorizzi and Moore can team up with Chris Archer and give the Rays some great starting pitching and give the bullpen a break, the Rays could very well stay in the race.
Graphic via rocketsports
If the Rays start off badly, then they may have to think about next season and trade for more prospects. So far, that hasn’t worked out badly for the Rays in season’s past. They seem to have a knack for knowing the right time to get rid of players. B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford come to mind. So far it looks like dumping Myers might have been the right move also. Perhaps it is time to cut Jennings lose?
Whatever the Rays wind up doing at the deadline, it is tough to second guess them because they seem to be able to do more with less than most other teams.