It’s hard to believe, but the Tampa Bay Rays haven’t finished worse than third place in the AL East since a fifth-place finish in 2007.
Since then, Rays have made the playoffs four times, won the division twice, and have become the biggest thorn in the sides of the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, who have to face three of the strongest organizations in baseball as they attempt to bring their historic franchises to postseason glory once more.
The only problem facing the Rays at this point, besides a low payroll, poor attendance, and a miserable stadium, is getting out of the ALDS. The only time the Rays advanced, in 2008, they made it all the way to the World Series, and Joe Maddon wants his club to finish what they started and bring a trophy to St. Pete.
Fernando Rodney was something of an oddity — not for his hat or arrow — but for holding the closer’s job in Tampa Bay for two years in a row. Rodney had been the eighth man in eight years to take over the ninth inning. His encore year, however, did not quite live up to the expectations he set for himself in 2012. A 3.38 ERA, 28.3% strikeout rate, and 82/36 K/BB ratio in 66.2 innings still helped Rodney pick up 37 saves, but there were some bumps along the way, such as a spike in home run to fly ball ratio: 7.1% in 2013 after just 4.4% in 2012.
Joe Maddon and a young core, supplemented by often discarded veterans has shown again and again they should not be underestimated, even in the AL East.
Veteran reliever Joel Peralta made eighty appearances in 2013, leading the league, after 76 in 2012 and 71 in 2011. With a 3.41 ERA, 25.4% strikeout rate, and 74/34 K/BB ratio, Peralta was once again a valuable setup man. Even as a 37-year-old he has the faith of the Rays that he could age well; the club holds options for the 2015-2017 seasons.
Jake McGee had two early season disasters, two 0.2 inning outings in which the southpaw surrendered five runs. He allowed 15 runs in April and May and 13 runs combined in June, July, August, and September. His 4.02 ERA is somewhat misleading in this regard (his FIP is 3.41), but his 28.9% strikeout rate and 75/22 K/BB provide a better picture of his season.
When David Price hit the disabled list after lasting just 2.1 inning against the Red Sox on May 15, it was clear something was wrong. The Tampa Bay ace had a 5.24 ERA and had allowed at least three runs six times in nine starts. After returning, Price had an ERA of just 2.53 and allowed three or more earned runs just four times in his remaining 18 starts. When all was said and done, his 20.4% strikeout rate and 151/27 K/BB ratio were as good as better than his career averages.
Matt Moore, in his second full season, had a 3.29 ERA, 22.3% strikeout rate, and 143/76 K/BB ratio. For all his promise, Moore had some trouble issuing free passes this year, but if he can cut back on the walks the Rays could have another dominant lefty at the top of their rotation.
Alex Cobb took a comebacker off the head and spent a few weeks on the DL, but around that injury pitched to a 2.76 ERA with a 23.2% strikeout rate, and 134/45 K/BB. He won’t have to worry about a rotation spot in 2014.
The latest young arm to come up through the system, Chris Archer, impressed in his time in the majors with a 3.22 ERA, 19.2% strikeout rate, and 101/38 K/BB. Like Cobb, Archer should be a fixture of the Rays rotation from this point forward.
Jeremy Hellickson (5.17 ERA) and the former Fausto Carmona, Roberto Hernandez (4.89 ERA) were less successful in 2013. Hellickson saw his BABIP leap from .267, .223, .261 during 2010-2012 to a .307 mark in 2013 while his percentage of runners left on base plummeted from the low 80s to 66.2%. He’s a candidate in line for a bit of regression in luck and should improve in 2014.
The Rays can control Evan Longoria’s future through the 2023 season and right now, it’s looks like the offense will go the way of Longoria until that time. A healthy Longoria, playing in 160 games for the first time in his career, hit .269/.343/.498 with 32 home runs and 39 doubles.
The versatile Ben Zobrist hit .275/.354/.402 with 12 home runs and 11 steals while playing second base, shortstop, and the outfield. Both his power and speed numbers fell in his age 32 season, but Zobrist has played at least 151 games per season since 2009 and provides value every time he steps on the field.
First base, like closer, has been a revolving door for the Rays the past few seasons. 2013’s first base solution, James Loney, hit .299/.348/.430 with 13 home runs and good defense to earn a three-year extension.
Yunel Escobar’s issues have been of the mind rather than the body, sending him from Atlanta to Toronto and now, to Tampa Bay, but the shortstop got the job done with the glove, and wasn’t terrible with the bat hitting .256 with a .332 OBP and .366 slugging mark.
Jose Molina is in uniform for one reason: his skill as a catcher. His defense, pitch-framing, and ability to work with pitchers got him into 99 games in 2013. His weak .233/.290/.304 triple-slash is the price to pay for his other qualities.
Desmond Jennings hit .252 with a .334 OPB and .414 slugging mark while stealing 20 bases and hitting just six home runs. After launching 10 homers and swiping 20 bases during a 63-game sample in 2011, it feels like the center fielder has stagnated rather than reaching his full potential. He doesn’t have to be Carl Crawford, but a 2014 breakout would still be welcomed.
The major piece that came back from the Kansas City Royals in return for James Shields, Wil Myers, lived up to the hype. The American League Rookie of the Year slashed .293/.354/.478 with 13 home runs in his 88 major league games and looked every bit like the top prospect the Rays acquired. With David Price on or approaching the trading block, the Rays will look for at least a Myers-type return for their ace.
Luke Scott appeared in only 91 games and hit just .241/.326/.415 with nine homers. The DH will take his skills to South Korea for the 2014 season.
Kelly Johnson was a reclamation project that didn’t work well. The utility man hit .235/.305/.410 and signed with the Yankees as part of a plan to replace Robinson Cano or a suspended Alex Rodriguez.
Matt Joyce hits righties well enough — .246/.348/.436 in 2013 (.260/.354/.481 career) — but his meager efforts against southpaws — .164/.190/.309 (.194/.270/.322 career) — leave much to be desired.
2013 was another solid year from a team that spent the first part of its existence as a punching bag. Joe Maddon and a young core, supplemented by often discarded veterans has shown again and again they should not be underestimated, even in the AL East.
One of the marks against the Rays: cheapness to a fault. Wil Myers was left in the minors to save money down the road when he hits arbitration but might have cost the Rays a shot at the division.
The offense needs to help Longoria, and Myers is the first step in doing that, which could help boost the Rays from ALDS regulars to another World Series appearance in time.
See related posts: