Tampa Bay Rays: Despite the hype questions remain on offense

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - JULY 10: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo #25 of the Tampa Bay Rays connects with the ball during a summer workout at Tropicana Field on July 10, 2020 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - JULY 10: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo #25 of the Tampa Bay Rays connects with the ball during a summer workout at Tropicana Field on July 10, 2020 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Rays are surging in popularity as pundits pick them as World Series favorites. We take a look at where the team needs to improve.

For Tampa Bay Rays fans, it’s satisfying to see Buster Olney, Tom Verducci and others gush over the team’s pitching depth as a reason why they could celebrate this shortened 2020 season with a World Series Championship. However, Sports Insider still has them ranked with the ninth-best odds of winning it all.

Buster may be on board, but the bettors aren’t quite buying in yet. While it is wonderful to bask in all of this national attention on the Rays’ attention to details – like spin rates, their ability to pick guys up at flea markets and sprinkle them with magic dust so they instantly become above-average to star-level players in the major leagues- there are some real reasons standing in the way of toppling the titans of the game.

The Yankees and Dodgers remain atop the list as the favorites to take it all, and rightfully so. This doesn’t mean the Rays DON’T have a chance. It means that while the world focuses on how great the pitching staff is top to bottom (and it is), we need to see improvement with the bats this season in order to compete.

Once you hit the postseason, each team will be putting their best feet forward. Pitching rotations get shortened and offensive firepower becomes necessary.

Tampa Bay Rays – The Offense

We recently documented how the Rays performed from each spot in the lineup last season in another article. The results were above average from the first two spots and then below league average from every spot but the ninth. Keep in mind, the last spot included the National League, which a large majority of the at-bats come from pitchers.

The two stalwarts at the top of the lineup last season were Tommy Pham and Austin Meadows, and Pham is now in San Diego.

In order to truly make a case this season, beyond health, the team will need some guys to step up and breakout with the bats.

The excitement continues to grow over Yoshitomo Tsutsugo‘s moon shots and his sweet swing. We still don’t know how he’ll adapt in his first season facing the best pitchers in the world. How many times do we see guys like the Atlanta Braves’ Austin Riley dominate in Triple-A, then get owned by major league talent?

Riley was figured out in a matter of a few weeks and in the second half of 2019, he posted a 41% strikeout rate and an OPS lower than Braves’ pitcher Max Fried…Fried wasn’t good either.

There’s no denying the team added solid bats this offseason in Jose Martinez, Tsutsugo, and Hunter Renfroe, but they need some impact bats to rise to the surface. No, it’s more like they need them to breach the surface and spin in the air like a giant whale posing for a boat full of tourists, eliciting “oohs and ahhs” from the amateur photographers in raincoats and life jackets.

Tampa Bay Rays – Offensive Questions

Renfroe smashed 33 homers but only finished with an OPS+ of 102. There’s work to be done. Manuel Margot is a rangy outfielder with a lower career OPS+ than Kevin Kiermaier.

Will Renfroe be able to reduce his strikeout rate from 2019’s 31 percent? Can he improve on his career .294 OBP? He actually finished below that with a .289 last season.

Will Tsutsugo’s defense be strong enough to get him enough at-bats to find his rhythm? Will he adapt to the majors or will he need more time than a platoon role, crowded roster, and a shortened season might allow him in 2020?

Will Willy Adames break through and break out like we all hope? Keep in mind, he was below league average with a 95 OPS+ last season. Granted, he led all AL shortstops in defensive runs saved. He’s a really good shortstop for any team, but Tampa Bay needs to replace Pham’s production and improve in other spots.

We haven’t even mentioned the loss of Travis d’Arnaud at the catcher position. Will they be able to work the same magic with a journeyman like Kevan Smith, who profiles similarly to TDA prior to his arrival in Tampa? Will Michael Perez reach the potential the Diamondbacks saw in him several years ago? Will Mike Zunino hit .200?

This isn’t an article about doom and gloom. If anything, this is what will make the Rays so entertaining this year. We know somebody has to step up. Rooting for all of these guys to lift this team-up, and hopefully, watching some of them grab that brass ring will be a part of what makes it so fun.

Tampa Bay Rays – Ending on a Positive Note

The combination of Ji-Man Choi, Jose Martinez, and Yandy Diaz has the potential to equate to 30+ homers at first base this season. Nate Lowe should be a consistent fixture for the team this season as he came to the original spring training 20 pounds slimmer and has been working at third base.

A fully healthy season from Brandon Lowe could help solve some of these issues. Austin Meadows is a stud. It’s going to be a fun season and the Rays are depending on some break out performances.

Window of Opportunity Staying Open. dark. Next

Strap in and enjoy the ride.