The season has not yet hit the All-Star Break, but it has been a definite learning experience for both the Tampa Bay Rays and their fans. In the face of the heartbreaking losses and sometimes inconsistent play, building blocks have emerged that tell us the Rays will be back and stronger than ever. Without further ado, I give you the five things that we’ve learned from this season.
1. Predictions don’t always come true
Going into the season, everyone was predicting the Rays would rampage their way to the World Series. Acquiring Ryan Hanigan, Logan Forsythe, Heath Bell, the comeback of Juan Carlos Oviedo, year two of Wil Myers, a healthy Evan Longoria, and the continued maturation of Matt Moore and Alex Cobb all equaled success, but that has not happened. Injuries have devastated the Rays and the lineup has struggled to get into sync. It’s not so much that the Rays have been bad the whole season–they were just put behind the eight ball early and have never done enough to get on track. Not to mention, when one player has come back from injury, someone else has gotten hurt. This team has never gotten in rhythm and that, more than anything, is the reason this team is where it is. Had they greater health and a bit better luck, who knows what they could’ve been.
2. Kevin Kiermaier is the man
Sometimes adversity brings clarity. Had the Rays not experienced so many injuries would Kiermaier have been given the chance to show the Rays what he is? Kiermaier’s defense has never been in question. We have seen it on display and still been amazed at his ability. What we didn’t know is how his bat would translate to the majors, but the results have been impressive in that category as well. Fifteen of his 31 hits this year have been of the extra base variety, suggesting Kiermaier may have more power than scouts first thought. His dogged determination tells you that he doesn’t know the meaning of the word can’t, making Rays fans and management feel comfortable he can overcome any slump that might befall him. He still has to prove it over a long period of time, but the early returns on Kiermaier have been great.
3. David Price is a world class pitcher
No one will ever debate David Price‘s class as a pitcher, but sometimes we have to be reminded of things we take for granted. If this is his last year as a Rays player, then that is too bad. This year, there have been questions about Price. His velocity was down and he struggled to start off the season. Instead, he has come back with a good season that has, for the most part, been the victim of lack of run support. While his velocity isn’t as high as it was in his 2012 Cy Young year, Price is registering a ridiculous 10.45 K/9 and a 10.29 K/BB ratio. David Price has learned to pitch and is continuing to transition himself from a thrower to a pitcher. The fact that he has done this for a losing team despite going through a tough start and the adversity that comes with trade rumors is incredible. Clearly, he has quite a bit more left in his arm. It is too bad that the vast majority of his remaining pitches will not come in a Rays uniform.
4. The Rays pitching staff will survive without David Price
Chris Archer is maturing further and further with each pitch thrown. He has had his bumps in the road, but is another potential ace on a good pitching staff. After a May 11th start against the Cleveland Indians, Archer’s ERA stood at a season high 5.16. From that point until his last start against the Pirates on June 24th, Archer had lowered his ERA two full runs. As well, in 93 innings this year, Archer has only surrendered three home runs. Archer’s staff mate Jake Odorizzi has a higher than expected ceiling. On May 3rd, after a loss to the Yankees, his ERA stood at 6.83. Since then, he has cut it down to 4.14. He ranks second on the Rays in strikeouts with 97 and leads major league rookies in strikeouts per 9 innings. Alex Cobb is an ace in the making who has gotten off track thanks to some injuries. Also, Alex Colome, Mike Montgomery, Enny Romero, Nate Karns, and Matt Andriese lurk in the minors waiting to strike. The Rays will be fine without Price with these names alone, and they could very well acquire more young arms via trade this summer.
5. The Rays cannot sit back and wait for the three-run home run
Until the last couple of years, the Rays were among the best in the league at stealing bases. The Rays found ways to manufacture runs rather than sit back and wait on the offense. A return to that needs to happen. Kevin Kiermaier could start that move, as his all-out play and speed will be great at manufacturing runs once he figures out how to read pitchers better. The Rays as a whole need to turn their philosophies back to what they were a couple of years ago.
Sometimes you have to lose the path to find it again. The Rays are positioned to continue to be players in the AL East for a long time to come. They just need to learn from this season’s struggles and use it to make themselves even better in the future.