With baseball’s All-Star break beginning Monday, the unofficial first half of the season is now over with. We can now sit back and take a look at what all transpired in the first half and what that means for the second half. Here’s a look at how the Tampa Bay Rays fared in the first half.
Looking at the team as a whole
The Rays came into the season as favorites in the AL East and possibly favorites to win the World Series. However, they have only disappointed. The Rays are nine games under .500 at 44-53 which puts them on pace for their first losing season since 2007 and their first under 90-win season since 2009. Part of the struggles have been out of the Rays hands, as injuries to the likes of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Wil Myers, David DeJesus, Ryan Hanigan, and Yunel Escobar have plagued the Rays throughout the season. But injuries haven’t been the only problem for the Rays.
The offense, which was supposed to be upgraded with Hanigan and full seasons from Myers and DeJesus, sits at 20th in the league in runs scored. They actually sit 12th in OPS, but they are hitting just .239 with runners in scoring position. The bullpen has also been a problem, throwing to a 3.88 ERA (23rd in the league). Some of that blame is to fall on the starters, however, because the bullpen has been forced to throw the 2nd most bullpen innings in all of baseball. But, guys like Josh Lueke and Heath Bell failed until they found themselves off the roster, and the Grant Balfour signing has only been a disaster thus far.
With all that negativity, the Rays have been playing much better lately. They have gone 13-5 in their last 18 games and have now found themselves just 9.0 games back in the AL East after being as far as 15 out at one point. The team has scored 4.8 runs per game over that stretch after averaging just 3.7 per game before then. The pitching has also done a good job over that period, posting a 3.48 ERA. The team still has a ton of work to do if they want to get back into competition, but they have been finally showing signs of life lately.
Forced into duty because of injuries, Kiermaier has been a pleasant surprise. Coming into the year everyone knew that Kiermaier played plus defense, but his bat remained a big question. Kiermaier has begun to answer those questions, posting a .310/.346/.576 line with 8 homers, 4 triples, and 10 doubles in 48 games. Most surprising has been his pop, as Kiermaier’s power was more of the gap-to-gap variety in the big leagues. It is likely a bit too good to be true, but needless to say Kiermaier has quieted anyone who doubted his bat. His defense has also remained outstanding, as he’s posted a 47.2 UZR/150 (small sample size does apply). Kiermaier has transformed himself from fringe-starter into outfielder of the future, and he has been the Rays biggest surprise this year.
Not even on the Rays opening day roster, Boxberger has dominated in relief for the Rays, posting a 2.45 ERA and 53 strikeouts in just 36.2 innings. It was known that Boxberger had the stuff to dominate like this, however his command was still a work in progress, and thus it was thought that it might take a year or two for him to put everything together. But Boxberger has turned into the Rays 2nd best reliever behind Jake McGee, and he has provided reason to be excited about his future in the bullpen.
Always expected to be the Rays best hitter, Longoria has slumped to a .257/.333/.386 line (.719 OPS). That is his worst OPS as a big leaguer by a whopping .123 points, and is also the first time he has ever posted an OPS below .800. At times he has looked completely lost at the plate, and when he looks to finally be figuring things out he goes right back into his slump. The Rays offense has missed Longo all season, and if they are going to get back into contention then he has to find his old form.
2. Wil Myers
Myers was following up a rookie of the year season in 2013, and he was expected to form a deadly combo with Longoria this season. However, Myers slumped to a .227/.313/.354 line before going down with a stress fracture in his wrist. Pitchers had been exposing a big hole in Myers swing, and because of that he seemed unable to hit the ball with any authority whatsoever. Myers remains the Rays right fielder of the future, but he is going to have to learn how to adjust as big league pitching continues to learn his strengths and weaknesses. Myers just recently started rehab for his wrist, and is expected back in a month or so.
Looking to the second half
The Rays enter a crucial couple of weeks in their season. If they go on another losing streak, then we could see the likes of David Price, Ben Zobrist, and Matt Joyce dealt at the trade deadline. But if they continue to win and find themselves 5 or 6 games back as the trade deadline approaches, then the team might actually go out and acquire a useful piece or two. This team still has the talent that cause some to pick them as World Series favorites. However, they need to get healthy and stay healthy, and their underperforming players have to turn things around quickly if they want to get anywhere close to there.