Think back to the beginning of the year, before a single pitch had been thrown this season. Imagine if, as the Rays approached the halfway point of the season, it was known that they would have a team ERA of 4.20, which would be 24th in baseball. Imagine knowing that David Price would spend a good deal of the first half of the season on the disabled list, or that Jeremy Hellickson would have an ERA over 5.00 at this point, or that Fernando Rodney would be closer to the 2006 through 2011 version, instead of the 2012 Rodney. Chances are, it would have been expected that the Rays would be languishing out of contention, and would be looking to sell off pieces.
Yet, at this point, the Rays are 41-38 heading into tonight’s slate of games, just 5.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox for the AL East, and are only two games out of the Wild Card. Tampa has been able to win based on their offense, scoring the seventh most runs in baseball, and are ranked eighth in OPS. Quite the opposite of what the Rays have been like over the past few years.
It has certainly helped the Rays cause that Evan Longoria has been reasonably healthy all year, and that James Loney and Kelly Johnson exceeded expectations. Matt Joyce is playing more like he did in 2011 then he did last year. And the promotion of Wil Myers may end up being the Rays version of a high profile deadline deal, especially if he continues to tap into his power and can cut down on his strikeouts.
The pieces are there for the Rays to make one of their patented second half runs. Price is on the way back, and has said that he feels better than he had at any point in the season. Hellickson and Rodney were expected to regress, but not to this extent. If both can get their final numbers to approach league average, that would indicate a strong second half when the Rays would most need it. Meanwhile, the bullpen appears to be settling into place, and Alex Torres may actually give the Rays an option other than running Joel Peralta out in every close game.
If Longoria can remain healthy and the production from Loney, Joyce, Johnson and the unexpected offense from the catching position can continue, the Rays offense could remain as one of the best in baseball. If added to the type of pitching that the Rays typically have received, then an excellent second half could be in store.
Given how the Rays pitching staff performed thus far, they have easily exceeded would could have been realistically expected. Without even making a move, they could be set up for an excellent run come July.