Tampa Bay Rays: Mid-Season Report Card
Team: Tampa Bay Rays
Record: 55-41 (2.5 GB)
Biggest Surprise of 1st Half:
The Rays’ batting leader through the first half of the season (.315/.366/.466), James Loney is the team’s biggest first half surprise.
About a year ago, he all but appeared finished with the Los Angeles Dodgers, stuck in a platoon with Juan Rivera. By the time he left the Dodgers in a trade with the Boston Red Sox, Loney was hitting .254 with only 4 home runs over 114 games. The change of scenery did no good, as he could only manage a .230/.264/.310 line over 30 games with Boston to finish the 2012 season with the worst offensive performance in his big league career.
Signed to a one-year deal with the Rays as a free agent, not only is Loney playing the kind of first base defense the team prizes, he is making solid contact and spraying the ball across the field. He never grew to be the slugger that some had hoped, hitting no more than 13 home runs in any full season, but with nine so far on the year, he is on pace for a personal best in that category, while serving as the Rays’ number three RBI producer. In all, Loney is flashing the kind of offense not seen since his heralded rookie campaign in 2007 and making a run at American League Comeback Player of the Year.
Biggest Disappointment of 1st Half:
For a team that relies so heavily on pitching and defense, the Rays’ carefully crafted rotation has to be its biggest disappointment. It all begins, of course, with David Price. The 2012 Cy Young winner started the season 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP through nine games before being sent to the disabled list with a triceps injury for 44 days. But ineffectiveness, injury, and inconsistency took their toll on other members of the Rays’ rotation, too. Jeremy Hellickson saw his career 3.06 ERA balloon as he started his 2013 campaign with an ERA of 5.61 through the end of May. Roberto Hernandez, who just cracked the rotation during spring training, is struggling and barely meeting low expectations with a 4.90 ERA for the season so far. Alex Cobb was leading the Rays’ starters with a 3.01 ERA before a shot by Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer struck him in the head and sidelined him with a concussion on June 15. Even All-Star Matt Moore’s stellar 8-0 start came to a crashing end as he went 0-3 with a 13.86 ERA to begin the month of June.
Evan Longoria’s sometimes spectacular defense at 3B, 18 first-half dingers, and solid .860 OPS make him a candidate for top All-Star snub. But some in the Rays’ front office may just be heaving a sigh of relief that he will have the break to recover from a bout of plantar fasciitis that sidelined him for a few games in June. The team’s HR and RBI leader, Longoria’s biggest achievement of the season in many ways has been avoiding the DL, where he spent about half of the 2012 season. A projected cornerstone of the Rays signed through 2023 on a team-friendly contract, Longoria’s health is the organization’s main concern. On that, he has certainly delivered this year while displaying the offensive tools that make him one of the game’s more productive third baseman.
Prospect Ready To Make An Impact:
Finally in the majors, Wil Myers looks about to shed the prospect label. Although he has not exploded onto the big league scene a la Mike Trout or Yasiel Puig, he has occasionally flashed power and speed and produced 15 RBIs in his first 26 games. With a slash line of .288/.327/.413 Myers has become a valued producer in the heart of the Rays’ lineup.
A very honorable mention goes to Chris Archer, called up this season to spell both Price and Cobb as they hit the DL. Through nine starts, the rookie right-hander with the killer fastball-slider combination owns a record of 4-3 with an ERA of 2.96 and WHIP of 1.14. He wrapped up the team’s first half with a complete game four-hit shutout of the Astros.
Contender or Pretender:
If the season were to end today, the Rays would qualify as the first wildcard in the AL, so the team is a contender almost by definition. Yet even though Tampa is only 2.5 games back of Boston, nothing is certain in the powerful AL East, with four teams well over .500, and where even the last place Toronto Blue Jays have put together stretches of dominance.
Overall Team Analysis:
The Rays have always relied on their pitching corps to carry the team as they did in 2012, leading the league in ERA and setting a record for strikeouts. But this season, led by a healthy Evan Longoria, the team’s offense has been the fourth most productive in the AL, even before the call-up of Wil Myers. With these men in the lineup, the Rays are at full strength on offense and scoring enough runs to make the playoffs.
But there is still one piece missing on the pitching staff. If Alex Cobb can replicate his pre-injury success upon his forecast return in August, he will join a pitching staff with momentum. Price has been excellent in his three starts since coming back from the DL, with a 1.08 ERA and 0.704 WHIP over 25 innings. Moore overcame his rocky stretch in early June, winning his last five starts before his first All-Star appearance with a 1.91 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and a 10.9 K/9. Hellickson has also settled down, going 6-1 in June with a more respectable 3.35 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Archer is pitching well enough to force a difficult decision upon Cobb’s return – whether to keep Hernandez in the rotation or let the rookie run.
The Rays would have to go 35-33 after the All-Star break to lock up their fourth consecutive 90-win season, and they are certainly in position to do that. But as last season showed, 90 wins is not necessarily enough to make the playoffs. In contrast to the powderpuff schedule they played in the run-up to the All-Star break, the Rays come back to a 10-game roadtrip against their AL East rivals Blue Jays, Red Sox and New York Yankees. A successful swing against this competition will boost their position for the playoffs this year.