Tampa Bay Rays: Appreciating This Flawed Rays Team


Five consecutive losses–you take a surprising start and wipe it away with one sorry stretch. Is this the beginning of the end for the Tampa Bay Rays? Is this when their lack of offense catches up to them, especially as we realize that their pitching isn’t perfect either? The Rays’ record stands at 24-24 and people continue to wonder whether they can manage such a .500 mark at the conclusion of the season. The critics who predicted the Rays to finish last in the AL East are just waiting for the team’s collapse to continue and prove them right.

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Yet no team is as good at its best hot streak or as bad as its worst slump. And here we are, after the Rays’ worst stretch of baseball this season, and they stand at .500, one game behind the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East. This team is struggling to find its form. The injuries never seem to end, and some of the players who are still around lose their form far too often. This Rays have their worst defense in years, especially on the middle infield, and there is no scenario where that will change. In a flawed AL East, however, they certainly have a chance.

Just a touch under three-tenths of the season is gone for the Rays. We have learned a lot about this Rays team. We know that Alex Cobb is out for the year, and the pitching depth that was always in the background for the Rays has finally needed to be used. Nate Karns has pitched well while Alex Colome and Erasmo Ramirez have shown flashes but not consistency. Drew Smyly may return later in the season, but in the meantime, Matt Silverman has to think about making a trade. At least for right now, this is not one of the best rotations in baseball.

In the bullpen, now we have seen Brad Boxberger, Jake McGee, and Kevin Jepsen all show chinks in their armors. For Jepsen, it was problems with command that lasted for several appearances–for Boxberger and McGee, hopefully the last two games will be all they need to wake up. This bullpen is good, but not enough to forgive a weak offense or consistently short outings from starters. It can blow teams away, but it isn’t reason to take out starters unnecessarily or forgive failures with runners in scoring position.

Offensively, Evan Longoria has rebounded and he hasn’t been alone. Logan Forsythe has gone from hated to beloved in the eyes of Rays fans while David DeJesus has continued hitting spectacularly when healthy. Brandon Guyer has stepped up in extended playing time, Kevin Kiermaier has hit enough given his defense, and Steven Souza Jr. has been good as a rookie, although certainly with his growing pains. If this is a middle-of-the-pack offense, that could be enough. However, it still has plenty more to prove before it can get there.

John Jaso and Desmond Jennings remain far away. Given the play of DeJesus and Guyer, though, will they really be upgrades when they return? James Loney may be the worst player of the three next season, but right now, he is the injured position player who is most sorely missed. Forsythe hast struggled defensively at first base and while hitting with runners in scoring position is mostly luck, Loney has made it into a skill. No one on this team and few players in baseball are better are serving pitches to the opposite field to score critical runs late in games.

Asdrubal Cabrera will hopefully return from his groin injury to stay on Friday, but what can he provide this team? He has been the best defensive shortstop so far, but where is the bat that was solid the last eight years? Cabrera entered free agency looked for a multi-year deal and settled for one year and $7.5 million with the Rays–in the wake of Grant Balfour‘s departure from the Durham Bulls, we have to wonder whether the rest of baseball knew something about Cabrera that the Rays didn’t. Or maybe this is just a slump, something that Cabrera will be able to work past.

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Rene Rivera hasn’t hit at all–is that something that the Rays can tolerate? The only standard that he is beating is the Jose Molina standard from last season, and he is not even beating it by much. We know how great he is and working with pitchers, and he is even a Molina-esque pitch-framer. Unlike Molina, though, he tantalizes us at the plate. We see the long doubles and his pair of home runs. Can he hit the ball with such authority more consistently? Can he be half the hitter that he was in his breakout 2014? The Rays could survive without him hitting, but anything he could provide would certainly help.

The last week has shown us how badly this team can fall apart. This team can lose often by failing to hit, faltering in the field, getting a poor start from one of its back-of-the-rotation starters, or watching its usually good bullpen give a few runs away. There isn’t enough offense to make up for the other weaknesses, and there isn’t enough pitching to win every time the Rays take a 2-1 or 3-2 lead into the fifth inning. This team will frustrate us to no end because problems will surface in all directions–we won’t be able to blame just the offense like we have so often done.

However, the Tampa Bay Rays’ problems may not be worse than those of the rest of this division. This Rays team doesn’t have to be perfect–it just needs to be better than its weak competition in the AL East. It can lose five in a row if it can recompose itself and get back to playing reasonably well afterwards. It can be an 83- or 84-win team and compete until the end in what looks like baseball’s worst division. Maybe it could even be better than that.

Whenever this team struggles, look around and ask yourself whether any team in the division is much better. Pending a drastic turnaround, they never will be. Maybe a playoff berth isn’t probable for the Tampa Bay Rays, but it is certainly possible. “Meaningful games in September” is always the Rays’ goal, and the standard to get there will be so low this season. Complain about this team’s flaws, but don’t overstate their importance. An up-and-down Rays team rife with weaknesses may just be enough to win the AL East and make the postseason.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: Casey Gillaspie Still on Fire