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Tampa Bay Rays Mid-Season Report Card

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BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 01: Steven Souza Jr.
BALTIMORE, MD - JULY 01: Steven Souza Jr. /
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The Mid-Summer Classic is upon us, in theory the conclusion of the first half of the season and with this comes the mid-season report card for the Tampa Bay Rays.

No doubt the first half of the season has been a very interesting one for the Tampa Bay Rays, much like that of a roller coaster road or driving through the mountains with its peaks and valleys. But one thing that cannot be over looked is the success of the team, despite playing through some very challenging times.

With their win over Boston on Sunday, the Rays enter the All-Star break at 47-43 which is their best record at the break since 2013 (55-41, 2.5 GB) when they last made the post-season as the AL Wild Card team. Additionally, they have 13 more wins than they had at the 2016 break and are tied with the New York Yankees for second place in the AL East 3.5 games back, compared to 17.5 last year.

Not wasting any more time, here is my Mid-Season report card:

First base – Grade A:  If I were a betting woman, I would not have re-signed Logan Morrison nor would I have expected such a turnaround. What a difference a year makes and the Rays brain trust are looking mighty good as Morrison is having a career year. He has already surpassed his career marks in home runs (24) and is closing in on numerous other career bests.

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Second base/Shortstop – Grade C+: As a retired teacher, I’m combining the grade from both positions based on the fact that the Rays used five players at second and four at short in the first half.

From the defensive side, 27 errors have come out of the 2B/SS with Brad Miller (45 G, 40 Starts all at 2B) and Tim Beckham both committing nine errors. In Beckham’s defense, he has done an okay job as the shortstop by default, but offensively he has been a pleasing surprise hitting .274/.327/.433 (75 Games) with 11 home runs which is a career high, and 33 RBIs only four off his career high set in 2015

Third base – Grade A: Although his home run total is at 12 compared to 19 at this time last year, Evan Longoria  finished the first half with 53 RBI, his most before the All-Star break since 2010 (61). He continues to makes outstanding plays, and though he has committed seven errors in his 79 starts, he may not win a Gold Glove Award but in the eyes of the Rays he is their “Gold Glove.”

Outfield – Grade A: Last season the outfield was in shambles, no depth to speak of specifically when Kevin Kiermaier was injured and out for over two months. This off-season the front office addressed that problem by adding Mallex Smith via trade, Colby Rasmus, Peter Bourjos and Shane Peterson all via free agency and the dividends have paid off.

With Kiermaier’s hip injury and out until August at the earliest, Smith has seen the most significant playing time in center, and though he is not “Kiermaier” defensively, he is “The Mallex Effect” as his speed does kill and he makes things happen offensively.

Steven Souza Jr. is beginning to make many forget Wil Myers as his resurgence at the plate has made him a dangerous hitter – he has tied his career high in home runs (17), his 56 RBIs are a career high and he is on pace to hit 27 home runs with 86 RBIs.

Catcher – Grade B: A position that has been an enigma for years may have finally turned the page this season as the catchers Derek Norris, Jesus Sucre and Wilson Ramos have accounted for 16 home runs which is fourth in the majors and 55 RBIs for third best in the majors. Rays catchers are currently on pace to establish a couple of records – home runs (29) and RBIs (100). Not bad considering that last year the catchers produced only 18 HR and 55 RBIs in 162 games.

Ramos is getting stronger and has even caught some back-to-back games, which is a great sign but even as important is his offensive. Although he has just nine games under his belt, three of his eight hits have been home runs and has driven in 10.

Designated hitter – Grade A:  Say no more than first-time All-Star and the fourth Rays to be voted as an All-Star starter Corey Dickerson. . Splitting the first half between DH and the outfield, Dickerson in left has been pretty decent, though not great.

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However, he ranks among the league leaders in hits (107), total bases (188), multi-hit games (33), batting average (.312), and extra base-hits (44). Additionally, he is hitting .315 against left-handers.

If his second half continues like his first, Dickerson has an outstanding chance of becoming the AL Comeback Player of the Year

Starting Rotation – Grade B+:  The rotation once again in a key strength despite their 4.17 ERA which is ranked fifth in the AL and 11th in the majors. Chris Archer again has taken the reigns as the ace, ending the first half at 7-5 with a 3.95 ERA. Alex Cobb (7-6, 3.75) looks to be fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery and Jacob Faria the 23-year-old rookie has been a pleasant addition to the rotation going 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in six starts.

Bullpen – Grade D: The bullpen as a whole (16-20, 4.38) leads the AL in saves with 30, despite their problems bridging the late innings to closer Alex Colome (2-3, 2.76). Colome of late has faltered but he leads the AL in saves with 25 and ranks second in the majors to Colorado’s Greg Holland (28).

Having a healthy Brad Boxberger along with Chase Whitley, Tommy Hunter and Erasmo Ramirez as the bridge to Colome the bullpen should show a big improvement in the second half.

Manager/Overall Team Grade – Grade B-/B+:  In his third season as manager, Kevin Cash has shown improvement but not as much as I would have liked. Cash still has problems handling the pitching staff and I do not understand why he has those problems with one of the best pitching coaches in the majors in Jim Hickey.

Starting with the rotation, I would not have kept Blake Snell in the rotation as long as he did and the same for Erasmo Ramirez and now Jake Odorizzi. As for the bullpen, I would have not kept Austin Pruitt and rookie Jose Alvarado in the pen as long as he did and I still do see what he sees in Jumbo Diaz.

I do understand how important it is to have and to show confidence in your players, but the difference in waiting to remove them could become a factor when it comes down to a postseason berth.

Hopefully the All-Star break will/can shed some light on how the rotation will play out – and I sincerely hope that Cash has Snell and Odorizzi on very short leases and that the erratic bullpen issues have been left behind.

Best New Addition: Adeiny Hechavarria

Biggest Disappointments: Blake Snell, Jake Odorizzi, Brad Miller

Health Status: Kevin Kiermaier remains on target for a return sometime in August, Matt Duffy still is recovering from yet another surgery (June 23) for the removal of a small calcium deposit on his heel. As of today, there is still no timetable for his return, though speculation is that he will play at some point this season. Colby Rasmus remains out with hip tendinitis and has not begun a rehab assignment, though it is expected he will return sometime after the break and Rickie Weeks Jr. remains out with a right shoulder impingement.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Midseason Awards

How the season plays out is contingent on getting this team healthy… the return of key players will help as it could be like making a deadline trade and more importantly is getting the bullpen straightened out.

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