Tampa Bay Rays second-half preview: Difficult schedule ahead brings challenges

93rd MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard
93rd MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

With the 2023 MLB All-Star Game now in the rearview mirror, the Tampa Bay Rays are back in action tonight to kick off the second half on the season. The Rays have boasted a 58-35 record thus far that has kept them atop the daunting AL East division, but they limped to the break after dropping seven of their previous 10 games. These next few months will certainly be a big test for the team as they continue on their quest to capture their first world title in franchise history.

The months ahead present somewhat of a rollercoaster of opponents for the Rays as they currently have the sixth-hardest remaining schedule. With the exception of a three-game set starting tonight at 8:10 p.m. ET against the Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay will be tasked with facing some surging teams for the remainder of July that includes the likes of the Rangers, Orioles, Marlins, and Astros. However, the month of August looks to be a little lighter in terms of opponent strength with series against teams such as the Tigers, Angels, Cardinals, and Rockies. From there, September will likely be tense as Tampa Bay faces a litany of division opponents that could certainly shape the outcome of the AL East.

Tampa Bay Rays offense in the second half

In terms of offense, All-Star starters Yandy Diaz and Randy Arozarena were big catalysts for Tampa Bay in the first half and they'll certainly be called upon to continue that production down the stretch. Yandy's .323 average is among the best in the entire league while Randy leads the Rays with 58 RBI and currently ties Jose Siri and Isaac Paredes for the most HRs on the team with 16. Wander Franco has been another key this season, staying healthy thus far and swiping 28 bags for the Rays. His 4.4 WAR is also among the best in the MLB, so his consistent production at the plate will definitely be needed as one of the cornerstones of the franchise.

Players such as Brandon Lowe, Jose Siri, and Taylor Walls are the likely candidates poised for an offensive breakout in this second half. Lowe has dealt with back injuries for most of the season and hasn't quite been able to find his groove at the plate, but the Rays are hoping the slugging second baseman will return to his 2021 form when he clobbered a career-high 39 home runs.

Jose Siri has been a pleasant surprise in the power department this season and he never ceases to amaze with his sharp defensive work in CF. However, his average and on-base percentage have dropped to .216 and .266 respectively which are both among the lowest on the roster. Like Siri, Taylor Walls has been everything you could ask for on the defensive side but his .211 average is nothing to write home about. If he's able to put together quality at-bats and provide more consistent production similar to his first month of the season, he could become much more than just a base-stealing threat.

Tampa Rays pitching in the second half

As for pitching, the Rays have maintained a strong presence despite injuries taking a toll on the staff. Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen are both done for the year and ace Shane McClanahan is currently dealing with a back issue that's landed him on the 15-day IL, though manager Kevin Cash believes he'll be ready to go this weekend.

Tyler Glasnow and rookie Taj Bradley have posted impressive K/9 numbers thus far (13.8 & 11.7, respectively), but their main focus going into the second half of the season will have to be to cut down on the number of earned runs allowed in their starts. As for Zach Eflin, he appears to be a fantastic offseason signing for Tampa Bay with his team-leading 105 strikeouts and 0.99 WHIP as he hopes to maintain his high level of quality starts down the stretch. While the bullpen has had its ups-and-downs this season, the Rays are hoping to fortify the back end with the return of Andrew Kittredge in the near future.

It's still up in the air as to what the Rays will do before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, but it's possible that more arms will be a top target. Additional bullpen help is always welcome in Tampa Bay, but another starter to add to the rotation could make a huge difference in the coming months. Only time will tell how the remainder of the season shakes out for the Rays, but if the first half is any indicator, we're in for a wild ride.