78 wins–the Toronto Blue Jays reached that total on September 6th. Back in June, when the Tampa Bay Rays were in first place and had fans dreaming of a return to glory, no one in their right mind would have called 78 wins on October 1st an acceptable total just because it was more than the Rays had recorded in 2014. Before the season, some people were expecting the worst–especially after the injuries in spring training–but then the season began and things changed. The Rays gave everyone reason to believe before letting it all slip away, and that’s undeniably frustrating.
The Rays were hoping for so much more than this, but between bad luck, poor relief pitching, and the starting staff coming back down to earth in the second half, this is where they have ended up. That being said, let’s attempt to put this in perspective. Last offseason, people accused the Rays of pulling off a fire sale. Gone were Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers, Yunel Escobar, and Matt Joyce after David Price had been dealt the previous July. The Rays were set for a transitional year–but they actually ended up winning more games. There is something to be said for that.
In some ways, this season has been like 2014 in a different order. Instead of the Rays falling to the worst record in baseball before looking like a playoff team the rest of the year, they got off to a great start and then they had their collapse. The Rays’ 3-15 stretch in July of this year paralleled their 1-14 skid from May to June of last season. One interesting thing to note, though, is how much more consistent the Rays have been in 2015.
The Rays did eventually turn themselves around in Joe Maddon‘s last year at their helm, but they really only had one great streak, going 29-12 (.707) from June 11th to July 29th. In fact, they had just one month with a winning record all season–their 17-6 July–and it isn’t as though they just missed being .500 in any other month. Not once did they post a winning percentage of even .450, finishing at least three games under .500 in each month.
This season, in contrast, the Rays had a disastrous July, going 9-16 (.360), but they have been above .500 in three different months with a chance to make it four if they somehow sweep the Blue Jays to end the season. If they win two games, it would make July their only month of the entire season where they were more than one game below .500. Obviously the Rays can’t afford to take a month off again, but it is remarkable how consistent they have been otherwise despite their flaws. That is the type of thing that should make fans optimistic for next year.
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This offseason, Matt Silverman will look to reorient the bullpen and work with Kevin Cash to refine the strategy of pulling starters early. Asdrubal Cabrera and John Jaso will be free agents, but Jaso could be brought back and top prospect Daniel Robertson may not be far away from becoming the new starting shortstop. Steven Souza Jr. will have another year of development under his belt and we can hope for continued improvement from Evan Longoria after his moderate rebound this year. Add in hopefully improved health and the possibility of trading an extra starting pitcher like Nate Karns for a bat, and the Rays seemed primed to build on their progress from this season.
We can say a lot of things about the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays just got to 78 wins. It could be extremely disappointing or a pleasant surprise depending on whether we’re talking about expectations from June or from prior to the season. What we can say with less uncertainty, though, is that the way that the Rays have gotten to that total provides reason for encouragement. Next year could very well mark the season where the Rays return to the postseason and start their franchise’s second run of success after the exhilarating streak from 2008 to 2013.