The first half of any MLB season is mostly for assembling the respective All-Star rosters, thereby making the second half the one that really counts; a second season if you will. There has been much recent speculation about how the Tampa Bay Rays will perform beginning on Friday night versus the Minnesota Twins and now it’s time to consider the impossibles, improbables and intangibles.
2014 marks the 25th anniversary of two baseball movies filled with those three “I’s”, “Major League” and “Field Of Dreams”. Granted they are fictional stories based on no fact whatsoever, but they both inspired audiences via comedy and drama to remember the journey to prevail over seemingly insurmountable obstacles. By adding a rose tint to our Rays Colored Glasses, there are good things appearing in the Rays second half. Most importantly is David Price, who has been lights out since rebounding from some early season struggles. If Chris Archer and Alex Cobb can rise to that level, there’s a formidable rotation, and that’s not forgetting that Jake Odorizzi has been great lately and that Jeremy Hellickson struck out 11 in 6 innings in a recent start at Double-A Montgomery. This pitching staff has what it takes to win.
Tampa Bay’s offense has also been under constant attack with Evan Longoria struggling but improving and Desmond Jennings and with Matt Joyce performing inconsistently. Injuries to Wil Myers and David DeJesus haven’t helped, but they are both making progress in their rehab and could provide both average and power with their bats. Then there’s the surprise emergence of Kevin Kiermaier. My fellow colleague at Rays Colored Glasses. Peter Gordon, has already provided the information regarding the miracle comeback of the 1951 New York Giants, who started the Hall Of Fame career of rookie Willie Mays on May 25th of that year. Although Peter noted that Kiermaier’s probability of becoming a HOFer is “…extremely unlikely…”, and this writer is mostly in agreement, let’s remember that a Hall Of Fame career is built one year at a time. In 1951’s regular season, Willie Mays at age twenty batted .274 in 121 games with 20 HR’s, 68 RBI’s and a WAR of 3.9. By comparison, Kevin Kiermaier, age 24, has batted .310 in 48 games with 8 HR’s, 24RBI’s and a 2.3 WAR. A strong second half offensive performance by Kevin would put him close to Willie Mays’ stats in his Rookie Of The Year 1951 season. That Kiermaier is already being considered for a ROY season is no secret at this time.
The next bullseye is fixed upon the almost comical defense. The most recent surprise has been the overall performance of Yunel Escobar since his return to the regular lineup last week. His defense has shown the signs of a return to the 2013 form that manager Joe Maddon was seeking and his at-bats were also solid. If Escobar’s play can provide some new adhesive to reform Tampa Bay’s almost Gold Glove defense of 2013 and if management doesn’t trade Ben Zobrist, that defensive hole could be plugged. The defense has been a plus in the past, and it should be moving forward.
While it’s quite obvious that pitcher Grant Balfour‘s performance has been one of the season’s biggest disappointment and that naming him team closer suggested seasonal suicide, Jake McGee has become the blessing in disguise, pitching to a 1.52 ERA in his 45 relief appearances. Joe Maddon must appoint McGee closer and reduce tension in the bullpen. The bullpen has all the talent to succeed, and the All-Star break might just be the rest they need to get firing on all cylinders.
The Tampa Bay Rays still have the talent to make a run, and the second half could put them right back into the middle of the playoff run. To recall the immortal words of Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw, “Ya gotta believe!”.