Memorial Day Check-In: Rays Path to a Wildcard Berth
By Tim Smart
Since we’re two months into the season and true talent level is becoming identifiable, it’s as good a time as any to break down what the Rays are and what they should be going forward.
The Rays sit at 25-26 and have settled into the middle of the pack in the AL. While the AL East title seems to be out of reach, there’s an outside chance the Rays could push for a wildcard spot. The AL isn’t especially strong this year, and this team could absolutely improve enough to contend for a spot in the play-in game.
Whether or not the Rays take that approach is dependent on the front office and taking the Alex Colome/Denard Span trade into context, it doesn’t look like they’re going for it. But they should be.
Considering the luck the Rays have had keeping their pitchers healthy, their run prevention hasn’t been bad. They’ve allowed 223 runs thus far, which is good for 7th best in the AL and puts them on pace for 708 runs allowed for the season.
Blake Snell has played a significant role in the rotation posting a 2.78 ERA in just over 64 innings. He’s been utterly dominant at the Trop; in 5 home starts, he has an 0.86 ERA with 30 strikeouts and just 6 walks. If the Rays want to contend this year, Snell will be as important to this team as anyone.
The other critical piece of the rotation is Chris Archer, who has had an up and down season so far. Archer allowed a homer in each of his first six starts and pitched to the tune of a 6.61 ERA through the end of April. He’s been much better in May, posting a 2.76 ERA but his strikeouts are down and he’s allowing over 45% hard contact, plus his .241 BABIP suggests he’s getting a bit lucky on balls in play.
The Rays are more than likely going to move Archer at some point this season. I don’t necessarily agree with that as he’s affordable through the end of his contract and he’s still a very good pitcher.
If the Rays are going to trade him though, hopefully he continues trending upward and the front office can maximize his return. If the Rays do sell Archer this year, they need to acquire someone with significant offensive upside. They can’t afford to sell low on Archer.
While the pitching has been serviceable, the offense needs a major boost.
This team has scored only 219 runs this year, tied with Cincinnati and barely better than Detroit and Kansas City. Those are not good baseball teams right now and the Rays should be better than this.
The Rays’ -4 run differential is less than ideal, their 48 homers are good for 6th worst in baseball and they’ve posted below average slugging (.403) and isolated power (.139) numbers.
In an era where teams are consistently more reliant on home-runs, the Rays are taking walks and slap-hitting their way around the bases. If there’s one thing this team needs, it’s a big bat in the middle of the order. Getting Carlos Gomez back should help, but the Rays just don’t have enough pop in the lineup.
Daniel Robertson has been a pleasant surprise showing patience at the plate and good contact skills. CJ Cron has shown decent bat-to-ball skills and there are certain things to like about this lineup. But overall, this group can only go so far.
The chances the front office adds a power bat this season are slim, but there seems to be an obvious opportunity for improvement here and the Rays need to think about adjusting the roster. If the Rays want to contend for a wildcard spot this year, the offense needs significant improvement.
Next: If the Rays trade, will it be with the Cubs?
There are certainly prospects on the way but without an impact bat in the lineup, there’s little chance this team can compete with the Mariners and Angels deep into September. This team is in a tough spot right now; they’re not good enough as-is to make a serious playoff run, and they’re too good to go into fire-sale mode and turn the roster over.
Realistically, the Rays probably need to get to 86 wins to be in the wildcard race. If this team projects to be an 81 to 82-win team right now, the wildcard may not be that far out of reach. Rays fans deserve meaningful September baseball again; with the AL as weak as it is this year, the front office should be trying to get this team there.