Jul 11, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third basemanEvan Longoria
(3) hits a sacrifice RBI during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Tampa Bay Rays wrapped up the “first half” of the season with a sub-par 44-53 record, well under expectations heading into 2014. This marks only the third time in Joe Maddon‘s tenure as manager that the team enters the break with a losing record and the first since 2007 (34-43).
Talking heads have pointed to a variety of reasons as to why the team has underachieved this season, blaming injuries, in-game decisions, and poor individual performances. The most obvious low point for the Rays was when they proceeded to lose 14 of 15 games, dropping to 18 games under .500.
The team has since rebounded, winning 20 of their last 31 games, to the tune of a .645 winning percentage. Yet even with the hot streak heading into the All-Star break, the Rays find themselves 9.5 games back of the AL East leading Baltimore Orioles and 8 games behind the Seattle Mariners for the second Wild Card spot.
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If the Rays continue their late first half success throughout the remaining 65 games (which is highly unlikely), they’ll finish the season with 86 wins. This could potentially be enough to sneak into the playoffs, given the weak performance throughout the AL East this season, though their current playoff odds sit at 4.8% per Baseball Prospectus. Winning at a rate of almost 65% is extremely difficult to maintain over the course of 60+ games, and the best case scenario at this point would appear to be a .500 season. Let’s take a look at how the Tampa Bay Rays ended up in this predicament…
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Offensively, the Rays have failed to live up to preseason projections. Per Fangraphs, Tampa Bay only has 6 qualified offensive starters (!!!), which speaks to some of the injuries that have plagued this team throughout the first half of the season. Evan Longoria stands out as the major outlier in the table above. He is almost single-handedly accounting for the 40 point difference between what was projected by Steamer, and what has actually occurred thus far. If the Rays hope to rebound from a dreadful first half, they’ll need their star player to light the world on fire–something he has yet to do this season.
Wil Myers was drastically under-performing compared to expectations before he suffered a stress fracture in his wrist in late May that will sideline him until August. And let’s not even waste our time discussing Jose Molina…
All negatives aside, there have been some bright spots offensively for the Rays, including Kevin Kiermaier (0.398 wOBA), Sean Rodriguez (0.338 wOBA, 0.267 ISO), and David DeJesus (0.358 wOBA before fracturing his hand in early June). While it is unrealistic to expect these players to maintain this level of production (Kiermaier is currently benefiting from a 0.345 BABIP), things could’ve been much worse for the Rays in the first half without this type of performance from these contributors.
Jun 22, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcherJake McGee
(57) throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Houston Astros 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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The Tampa Bay Rays have lacked the stability in their pitching staff that the team has grown accustomed to over the past few years. The season began with Jeremy Hellickson on the disabled list, and Matt Moore‘s season ended after just 10 innings. Nine different pitchers have started games this season, and only three Rays starters have thrown over 100 innings thus far: David Price, Chris Archer, & Jake Odorizzi.
Overall, the Tampa Bay Rays’ pitching staff has underwhelmed, falling short of preseason expectations. Not included on the list above is the performance of Brandon Gomes, who has since been demoted to AAA Durham. Jake McGee has been a bright spot in the bullpen, and Brad Boxberger has impressed. Ultimately, the success of the Rays moving forward will be dependent upon their starting pitching. Alex Cobb needs to continue to find his groove and improve upon his performance to date, while Price, Archer, and Odorizzi need to maintain their current form.
With that said, please note the elephant sitting in the corner of the room. David Price has been continuously mentioned in trade rumors throughout the season, and the Rays first half performance has simply poured gasoline on the fire. Andrew Friedman will need to make a decision soon about whether or not Tampa Bay becomes buyers or sellers at the deadline, and this decision will directly impact Price’s future with the organization. There has already been one major deal this season, with the Oakland Athletics acquiring Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs. Samardzija netted Chicago a very nice return, and the same should be expected of any deal involving Price. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, and Cleveland Indians have all expressed interest in the left-hander, but it still remains to be seen if Friedman will make a move.
What do you think went wrong in the first half? How can the Rays improve throughout the remainder of the season? Will they finish .500 or better? Playoffs? Let us know what you think in the comments below.