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Tampa Bay Rays: 2016 the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Sep 20, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA;Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Brad Miller (13) at bat against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 20, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA;Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Brad Miller (13) at bat against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Underachieving rotation, inconsistent bullpen, injuries and an early collapse saw the 2016 Tampa Bay Rays fall faster than a roller coaster from its highest peak.

The season was not supposed to go as it did for the Tampa Bay Rays. They made their offense more powerful, had a strong rotation and the bullpen was as strong as could be. However, despite the changes along with some individual and team successes, the Rays could not put runners across the plate and the strong rotation fed home run balls to opposing batters at an alarming rate.

It was on June 15, that the Rays were sitting just one game under .500 at 31-32, and only 5-1/2 games out of first place – the roller coaster was almost at the top of the peak where the Rays could meet up with Baltimore and Boston, before it all went awry.

From this point forward, the Rays would lose 19 of their next 22 games to drop 17-1/2 games out of first place and that was it – season over in under a month’s period of time. When it was all said and done, the Tampa Bay Rays season ended at 68-94, 26 games under .500 and 25 games back of first place.

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For the third year in a row the Rays finished under .500 and failed to make the postseason, not what you expected after they had a six-year run of winning seasons in which five came with 90 or more wins.

Despite knowing that Alex Cobb would not return until mid-summer after his Tommy John surgery a year before, the Rays were poised to have Matt Moore back in what would be his first full season back after his Tommy John surgery.

Moore would join the rotation headed up by Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and Erasmo Ramirez (to start the season) taking their turns every fifth day on the hill. In supporting roles, the bullpen would be led by the back-end with set-up man Alex Colome and closer Brad Boxberger, the AL saves leader of 2015. Stability and a balanced pen with Matt Andriese, Xavier Cedeno, Enny Romero, Erasmo Ramirez (eventually), Steve Geltz, Ryan Webb, Danny Farquhar and Dana Eveland completed the pitching staff.

The infield would have a new look with the additions of Logan Morrison at first and Brad Miller at shortstop and DH/INF Steve Pearce. In a trade with the Mariners, the Rays sent pitchers Nathan Karns, C.J. Riefenhauser and outfielder Boog Powell for Morrison and Miller and as well reliever Danny Farquhar. Pearce was signed as a free agent after spending the previous two seasons with the Orioles. In the outfield, power hitting Corey Dickerson, was acquired from the Rockies for pitchers Jake McGee and German Marquez in a late January trade.

On the Down Side

So much went wrong that it became impossible to turn things around. The Tampa Bay Rays did not win at home or on the road, they did not have a single winning month and they played poorly within their own division to make matters worse.

Pitching has always been one of the Rays strengths and it was looking very good knowing that the rotation would once again lead the way, however that was not the case.

Many predicted that Archer would be a Cy Young candidate after his 2015 performance, but instead he struggled and was inconsistent all season. Despite striking out batters, averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings, he gave up a career high 28 four-baggers, and his 4.05 ERA and 9-19 record posted the worst showing in his professional career.

However, the long ball problems were not just Archer’s – despite a strong season from Odorizzi (10-6, 3.69), he gave up 29 in 187-2/3 IP. Prior to his trade Moore (7-7, 4.08) showed signs of improvement in his first full season following Tommy John surgery, but allowed 20 HR in 120-IP and finally Smyly (7-12, 4.88) who was the next biggest disappointment behind Archer. Smyly did not smile as he allowed 32 dingers in 175-1/3 IP in a season in which the southpaw saw his career numbers rise to unexplained territories and his development take a step or two the wrong way.

Okay, it was great that the Rays added lots of punch to their lineup, but that extra punch that set a new franchise high with 216 home runs did not produce the runs as 136 were solo shots. Hitting the home run when it matters the most, that is with runners on base just did not happen.

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Overall, the Rays hit 49 more home runs than they did in 2015 but scored just 38 more runs – their 672  runs scored were second to last in the AL, all this while posting a franchise worst .307 OBP with a combined team batting average of .243, which was last in the AL.

Expectations were high on Dickerson and the jury was out as to whether or not he could hit outside the confines of Coors Field… well, he had mega problems as he posted career lows in batting (.243), and on-base percentage (.288). However, he did manage to tie his career high in home runs (24).

Signed following his trade to the Tampa Bay Rays for just one year, Morrison kindheartedly known as LoMo was SloMo, which was so vividly apparent beginning with a horrendous opening to the 2016 season in which he .100 (6-for-60) with 25 SO, and no RBI in April. It was not until May 17 when he had his first multi-hit game and first RBI of the season (30 games). Morrison would hit .238 with 14 HR and 43 RBI before a wrist injury prematurely ended his season.

The Up Side

The Tampa Bay Rays had four players in Evan Longoria, Brad Miller, Corey Dickerson and Logan Forsythe who hit 20 or more home runs. Kevin Kiermaier won his second consecutive Gold Glove Award and Alex Colome slid into the closers role without a flaw.

Longoria had his best year since 2012; hitting 36 HR (the first time in three years) while posting a .279/.324/.533 slash line with a .840 OPS.

Despite missing a month due to a hairline fracture of the shoulder, Forsythe quietly put up another productive season hitting 20 HR (a career high), while posting .263/.333/.444 slash line with a .778 OPS.

When the Tampa Bay Rays acquired Miller, they never expected the production that he provided which turned out to be a career year for the 26-year-old shortstop turned first baseman. The Rays skinny on Miller was that he could hit the ball and hit it hard – but 30 homers, never, in a million years considering that in his career he had hit just 29. In 144 games (105-SS, 39-1B) Miller hit 30 HR, with 80 RBI while posting a slash line of .243/.304/.482 with a .786 OPS.

The 64,000-dollar question I have is where and what would the Tampa Bay Rays have done without Colome to close out their games. There is no doubt in my mind that Colome was the brightest spot in the bullpen and for that matter from the entire staff.

Colome became the closer by default (spring training injury to Boxberger) and turned in a sensational career year registering 37 saves with a 1.91 ERA, with 71 K’s in 56-1/2 IP, with a first-half performance (1.69 ERA, 19 SV) that earned him his first All-Star selection.

Lastly is Kevin Kiermaier, who posted career highs in stolen bases (21), walks (40), on-base percentage (.331), and home runs (12) despite missing two months. More importantly though is what Kiermaier’s defense means to the Rays.

Earning a Gold Glove as the best centerfielder in the American League, he led all center fielders with 25 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) despite playing in almost 400 innings less than Kevin Pillar who was next on the list. Kiermaier also paced all major leaguers with a 2.95 dWAR (defensive wins above replacement).

Looking Ahead

The bottom line is that the Rays have a good core of players already in place. However, they still need another big batter and additional help in the bullpen to be competitive not only in the AL, but in their own division.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Rumors: In Pursuit of Free Agent Hitters

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There will be many more decisions to be made before and during spring training, however the biggest issue is that the Rays do not have the money to go out and get that big bat that could essentially make them contenders in 2017.

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