Tampa Bay Rays: Turnaround Season Needed from Archer

Feb 26, 2017; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 26, 2017; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Tampa Bay Rays success this season will be contingent on timely hitting, solid pitching and a turnaround season from Chris Archer who could lead the team back into contention.

At the conclusion of the 2016 season, Tampa Bay Rays President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman and manager Kevin Cash both concurred that they were hellbent on getting the team back into playing meaningful games in September and beyond.

Those meaningful games were not only meant for the 2017 season, but for the future as well and the work to make that happen needed to start during this offseason. Being cost-conscious, the Rays needed to find ways to improve at that would come at a price, meaning trades would be necessary that could include a starting pitcher or two, or a positional player.

Playing in the American League East is one of the toughest divisions in all of baseball – not necessarily because of the teams that make up the division, but because those teams have large wallets and can go out and sign the major players to major contracts.

However, the Rays always seem to find the way – Silverman and his baseball staff led by Senior VPs/GM Erik Neander and Chaim Bloom had to show their creative ways, by taking risks with the signing of Wilson Ramos, Rickie Weeks Jr. and Nathan Eovaldi and also trading veteran starter Drew Smyly and second baseman Logan Forsythe.

"“We expect to be playing games in October.,” Cash said. “That’s the goal. We’re confident with what we’ve done this off-season. We’re confident with the core guys we had finishing the year.”"

While some of the returns should be beneficial for the Rays success this season and in the future, the biggest return needs to come from starter/ace Chris Archer. The Rays need a turnaround season from Archer – the Archer the Rays had in 2015, the Archer that earned his first All-Star selection, and the Archer that finished fifth in the Cy Young Award voting.

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Last season was nothing but a catastrophe on all fronts for Archer, who went 9-19 with a 4.02 ERA in 201.1 innings pitched. He led all of baseball in losses, while striking out 233, which was fifth best in the majors and second best in the American League behind leader Detroit’s Justin Verlander (254).

However, he gave up 30 home runs, which was a career high. He also had career highs in hits allowed (183), runs (100), and earned runs (90). Looking back career wise, in the four prior seasons Archer was 32-32, with a 3.33 ERA in 93 starts and during this span, he gave up just 49 home runs in 564.2 innings pitched.

No doubt, the long ball was one of Archer’s nemesis, but high pitch counts from falling behind early in the games was another blow – as Archer made it through eight innings only once, in 33 starts throwing 113 pitches.

While Archer seemed to be his own worst enemy, so were his teammates swinging the bats as provided by Baseball-Reference as run support just was not there. In his 33 starts, the Rays scored two or fewer runs 14 times, they scored between three and five runs 14 times and six or more runs five times. How did the team do in these games for Archer… they were 2-11 (0-2 runs), 2-8 (3-5 runs) and the 5-0 (+6 runs).

This spring, Archer will be leaving the team to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. Archer told Bill Chastain of MLB.com that his spring regimen will not be affected by his participation.

"“I’ve known I was going to play for six months now. When I initially got asked, I said, ‘I’m going to play, but we’re going to have to make it work.’ Just because the pitch count is 65, I don’t have to throw 65 pitches. It’s just wherever I’m at. However, I’m feeling, we’ll get close to that, maybe not all the way to [that count].”"

Rays manager Kevin Cash is happy for Archer’s opportunity, but is realistic about the impact that it could have.

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"“You just worry that they’re competing against All-Stars all over the country, all over the world. And it’s very tough to tell committed pitchers or athletes to control yourself in those settings. Because that [World Baseball Classic] will be talked about. It will probably take away from Spring Training because it’s such a hyped event. So you worry about that.”"

In the interim, Archer will go about his routine as specified by Cash and the coaches and in doing so, he took to the mound on Sunday against the Red Sox in his first start of the spring, pitching two solid innings in the Rays 7-3 win. He allowed no runs on one hit, with two strikeouts and just one walk throwing 28 pitches, 15 for strikes.

“I felt good. I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish,” Archer said. “Just out there having fun, it was really fun to be out there in the spectrum with the umpire, the fans, the batter. It was fun.”

As of now, Archer along with Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell, and Alex Cobb will comprise four fifths of the rotation. The fifth pitcher is yet to be determined, as is the actual rotation flow – though speculation is that Archer will once again take the lead to be followed by Cobb, Odorizzi and Snell.

Archer will make his next start on Saturday against the Orioles and then leave to join Team USA to start the March 10 opener.

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No matter how you look at things, the Rays success this season is contingent on Archer’s success – a turnaround season from Archer can and could put the Rays back into contention. Take those 19 losses, turn them into wins and the Rays could take a Wild Card spot.