Things have really come together for the surging Tampa Bay Rays in the past month. With yesterday’s big win in Boston, they’ve won six straight games and a franchise-record 21 of their last 25.
Let’s take a look at how the Rays came from being last place in the AL East to just a half game out of first place and having the third best record in baseball.
Great starting pitching has propelled the Rays into the great position they’re in right now. Despite Alex Cobb’s absence, David Price’s return to ace form, Chris Archer’s impressive pitching and turnarounds from Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson have the Tampa Bay’s rotation looking like its 2012 self.
Rays starting pitching has delivered a remarkable 17 quality starts in its last 19 games.
Price has been terrific since his return from the disabled list, tossing two complete games while posting a stellar 1.97 ERA and allowing just one walk in four starts (32.0 IP). Moore is 6-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his last six starts and Archer is enjoying a very strong rookie year, posting a 5-2 record with a 2.14 ERA in his last nine outings.
It hasn’t just been the starting pitching that has improved in the Rays’ winning stretch. The bullpen, which was the team’s weak spot earlier this season, has been solid as of late, blowing just one lead during the stretch.
When you have consistent production from your offense to go along with excellent pitching you’re going to win a lot of games. The Rays have done exactly that, putting up an impressive .282/.351/.436 slash line with a 120 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) in July as a team.
Over half of the lineup has produced well offensively during the stretch, but nobody’s been as hot as Desmond Jennings (.378 wOBA in last 30 days) and Luke Scott (.448 wOBA).
The Rays’ offense, which is tied second in all of baseball by wRC+ (112) has been outstanding all season, so we can expect to see this success from the lineup continue as the season progresses. If Jennings can continue to do such a great job of getting on base at the top of the lineup, this offense could soon emerge as baseball’s best.
The Rays’ defense this year has probably been the best in team history, which is a big deal considering that it’s a franchise that prides itself on solid defense. Tampa Bay is second in the American League in UZR (26.9) and second in the MLB in fielding percentage (.990).
During the 25-game stretch, the Rays have committed just five errors. They have possibly the best fielding infield in baseball, as well as some great range in the outfield with Desmond Jennings and Sam Fuld.
The Rays are fielding to their potential, and now that they’re pitching like they can it’s clear that they’ve really hit their stride here in July.
It hasn’t been an ideal start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. With one quarter of the season already behind us, the Rays currently stand at an even 20-20.
The’ve really underachieved overall as a team, as things simply aren’t falling into place for them just yet.
With a strong offense and a struggling bullpen, it’s looked like 2009 all over again so far for Tampa Bay. They missed the playoffs and finished the season with just 84 wins that year, so Rays fans hope their team is not going down a similar path.
After the first 40 games of the 2013 season, here’s a graded evaluation of the Rays’ offense, starting rotation, bullpen and defense.
The Rays currently have the third best offense in Major League Baseball with a wRC+ of 108.
Evan Longoria and James Loney have both enjoyed red-hot starts to the season. Longoria has posted a .417 wOBA and Loney is leading the league in batting at .367.
Kelly Johnson and Sean Rodriguez have both been pleasant surprises. Johnson’s posted a 119 wRC+ and Rodriguez has looked like a much-improved hitter, putting up a .326 wOBA in 60 plate appearances.
Below’s a chart of every player’ wOBA compared to their preseason projections (Fangraphs’ ZIPS projections):
Overall Grade: A-
With statistically one of the league’s best offenses, I thought the Rays deserved a high grade here. The difference between an A- and an A+ for me was the first two weeks of the season where the offense was anemic. Since late April, however, the lineup has been scorching hot.
“Disappointing” is the best word to describe the Rays’ starting rotation at the first quarter mark. Tampa’s starters have posted a collective 4.05 ERA (16th in MLB) and a 4.22 FIP (18th in MLB).
Shockingly, the starting pitching struggles have stemmed from the rotation’s front two: David Price and Jeremy Hellickson. Price—who’s now on the 15-day DL—is 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA through nine starts and Hellickson is 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA through eight.
There has been two bright spots in the rotation, however, as youngsters Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have both shined. Moore is an impressive 7-0 with a 2.44 ERA and a 9.56 K/9, while Cobb is 4-2 with a 2.89 ERA and a rotation-leading WAR of 0.9.
Roberto Hernandez has been nothing more than decent in his first seven starts. He’s 2-4 with a 4.43 ERA, but he’s actually looked pretty encouraging. His career-high 8.65 K/9 rate, 3.43 SIERA and 3.45 xFIP are possibly signs of a comeback year for Hernandez.
Overall Grade: C-
What was expected to be one of the better bullpens in baseball as turned out to be somewhat of a disaster. Tampa’s ‘pen ranks fourth worst in the league in ERA (4.67) and sixth worst in FIP (4.04).
Closer Fernando Rodney has been suprisingly lousy so far, blowing three saves in 10 opportunities to go along with a 5.28 ERA and a pair of losses. Jake McGee (8.80 ERA), Kyle Farnsworth (6.52 ERA), Jamey Wright (4.24 ERA) and Brandon Gomes (5.40 ERA) have all struggled as well.
The Rays have held leads in 34 of their 40 games this season, and have blown countless leads late in games. The bullpen is simply going to have to improve if the Rays want a shot at competing in October.
Overall Grade: D
They have the best defensive corner-infield combo in the game with Evan Longoria and James Loney, Longoria, as usual, has been nothing short of amazing this season, leading the team with a 3.8 UZR as he continues to play like a Gold Glove caliber third baseman.
In the outfield, Desmond Jennings has done a fine job adjusting to centerfield, posting a 3.2 UZR. Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce haven’t done a very good job in the corners, but Fuld still covers plenty of ground and Kelly Johnson has bolstered the outfield defense a bit.
Johnson’s also played very well at second base thus far, owning a 0.8 UZR at the position.
At shortstop, Yunel Escobar has proven to be the defensive upgrade he was signed for. He gives the Rays the adequate-fielding everyday shortstop they haven’t had since Jason Bartlett in 2010.
As for the Rays’ catching tandem, both Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton have been below average in terms of throwing out runners and blocking pitching. It’s obviously a big minus for the overall defense, but it doesn’t erase the fact that Molina is the best framing catcher in the game.
Overall Grade: B
We have a while to go before the MLB Hot Stove begins to heat up, but it’s never too early for Tampa Bay Rays GM Andrew Friedman to start thinking of potential trade options for later this summer.
Despite trading away James Shields this past offseason, the Rays organization is still stacked with young pitching talent that could come in handy once the deadline approaches.
Let’s take a look at possible Rays trade chips with the most value.
There are many teams that could use a pitching prospect like hard-throwing right-hander Alex Colome more than the Rays. Colome, who is one of the top arms in the Rays farm system, probably would have already made his Major League debut with most other teams in the league.
The 24-year-old has a high ceiling for potential, which should make him an attractive trade piece if the Rays’ were to put him on the block. Colome has electric, frontline-starter type stuff including an excellent fastball and a good feel for his secondary pitches. Once he improves his command, he’ll definitely be MLB rotation worthy.
Colome is currently playing with Triple-A Durham, and is enjoying a solid start to the season. His numbers after six starts include a 2.84 ERA, 30 strikeouts and 15 walks over 31.2 innings pitched.
With already great pitching depth and a bright future starting pitching wise, dealing Colome while his value is pretty high may be a good idea for the Rays.
Enny Romero is another hard-throwing, high-upside pitching prospect in the Rays minor league system. The 22-year-old southpaw, like Alex Colome, also has very exciting stuff.
He should be an effective Major League starter once he refines his mechanics and command.
Being one of the better pitching prospects in the game, he’ll likely be able to reel in a decent amount of offensive talent if he were traded. Romero, who’s off to a slow start to the year with Double-A Montgomery, seems to be at least a full year away from making a big league impact as he continues to develop in the minors.
Chances are, of course, that the Rays will hang on to Romero, but trading him is definitely an interesting thought.
Jeremy Hellickson drew a lot of interest last winter, and there’s no question that a handful of teams would still love to have a consistent and solid starter like him in their rotation
After a shaky start to the season (4.79 ERA in seven starts), his value has gone down a bit, but the Rays still may look into trading Hellickson before the deadline or possibly even after the season. He hasn’t been somebody bouncing around trade rumors lately, but he could be a potential trade target in the future.
One reason for this is the fact that the 2011 Rookie of the Year and 2012 Gold Glove award-winner is a client of Scott Boras. Therefore, signing Hellickson to a long-term deal will be challenge for Tampa Bay and their small budget. Also worth noting is that he’ll be eligible for arbitration after the 2013 season.
A Hellickson deal should be able to draw some quality bats and/or an impressive prospect package. Don’t expect to see another Wil Myers-James Shields type blockbuster obviously, but nonetheless a swap that can make a large impact on two organizations.
David Price has been the center of both Rays and MLB trade rumors since spring training. It’s become clear that the Rays aren’t going to be able to afford the reigning Cy Young award-winner long term, and the league anticipates to see Price on the market when his value’s at its peak.
If one thing’s for sure, his trade value’s not where it was before the season started. He’s suffered an awful start to the year, posting a 6.25 ERA over his first seven starts. He simply doesn’t look like the same pitcher; velocity has dropped significantly and opposing batters are hitting him hard.
Hopefully it’s nothing more than some early season rust, and Price will maintain his status amongst baseball’s top trade candidates. Assuming that Price bounces back, the Rays will be receiving a talent-packed haul of prospects whenever they decide to pull the trigger on dealing their 27-year-old ace.
Last month, I proposed a few possible trade packages that I thought were good enough to pry Price away from Tampa Bay.
The Rays lost their fifth straight Grapefruit Game Sunday afternoon in Tampa, falling to the Yankees 7-6 in 10 innings.
Jeremy Hellickson worked seven innings (95 pitches), allowing 4 runs on 8 hits while walking two and striking out just one batter. Although he was knocked around a bit, it was nice to see some good efficiency in this outing and him being able to get through seven innings.
It hasn’t been a good spring for Helly, who currently owns a 5.03 ERA in 19.2 IP, but it shouldn’t be too much of a concern, especially considering what an awful spring he had in 2012 (9.00 ERA in 20 IP).
Reliever Jamey Wright followed Hellickson with two innings. Wright gave up two runs—a two-run homer to Kevin Youkilis (his second of the day)—and also walked two.
The best performances at the plate came from Desmond Jennings (2-4, 2 2B, 2 R, 2 RBI), Ben Zobrist (4-5, RBI) and Matt Joyce (2-4, RBI and SB).
Low-level minor league prospects Drew Vettleson and Jake Hager both made their Grapefruit League debuts in this game. Vettleson went 0-2, but Hager hit a game-tying RBI double in his only at bat, down to his last strike with two outs in the ninth.
Right-hander Josh Lueke came on for the Rays in the bottom of the tenth. The first batter he faced was Ronnier Mustelier, who belted a walk-off dinger to left field.
Here’s a full boxscore of Sunday’s game.
Rays News and Notes:
- The deadline for the Rays to decide whether or not to keep Jamey Wright on the 25-man roster or not is Tuesday. It looks like Joe Maddon will keep him, and Wright will be in the Tampa’s bullpen for Opening Day. The 38-year-old right-hander says he just needs a bit more time to get his sinker down. The sinkerball, of course, is the groundball specialist’s bread and butter.
- Sam Fuld (hamstring tightness) went 2-6 in a minor-league spring training game Sunday. Fuld said he felt “100 percent” and is ready to return. He should be rejoining the Rays in the Grapefruit League within the next few days.
- Also down in minor league camp, Wil Myers has been sidelined for a few days with a minor right wrist injury, said to be just soreness. Tim Beckham has also been experiencing wrist soreness, and is scheduled to return soon.
- The Yankees, who have a decent-sized portion of their team on the DL, are reportedly on the verge of acquiring Vernon Wells in a trade from the Los Angeles Angels.
The Rays improved their Grapefruit League record to 14-9, routing Detroit 11-5 Tuesday afternoon in Lakeland.
Bats were on fire all day long for Tampa Bay, as the Rays compiled 11 runs on 12 hits.
Luke Scott had the most impressive game, going 2-4 with a grand slam, a double and a walk. He also played four innings in right field, and fared well there.
Other notable performances offensively included Shelley Duncan (two-run homer) and Chris Gimenez (2-3 with RBI).
Jeremy Hellickson took the mound for the Rays against what was a preview of Detroit’s Opening Day lineup. Helly had a strong outing—definitely the strongest one of the spring. He gave up 3 runs on 8 hits and no walks in 6 innings pitched (83 pitches). All three runs came in the first two innings, but then Hellickson found his groove and settled in.
Brandon Gomes also made an appearance in this ballgame. Gomes allowed his first two runs of the spring after giving up a two-run blast during his one inning of work.
Here’s a full boxscore of Tuesday’s game.
The Rays travel to Fort Myers Wednesday to take on the Twins.
Rays News and Notes:
- The World Baseball Classic is over, and the Dominican Republic have been crowned champions, beating Puerto Rico by a score of 3-0. D.R. finished the tournament 8-0 (first team ever to finish the WBC undefeated), Fernando Rodney saving seven of the eight victories. With the help of his lucky plantain, which he had in both the semifinal and final in San Francisco, Rodney was able to close out what was a scoreless tournament for him last night. The conclusion of the Classic is a relief for Rays fans. Tampa’s star closer didn’t get much rest and pitched a lot (most for any reliever in WBC history) in such an early point in the year, which concerned Joe Maddon. It’s just nice that it’s finally over.
- David Price made his scheduled minor-league start Monday, but had the outing cut short due to bad conditions. He ended up throwing just 37 pitches and then 34 more in an indoor cage. Price was frustrated by the weather, claiming that the conditions were dangerous for pitching.
- DRaysBay.com has a great piece explaining why Wil Myers likely won’t be called up before July.
- The Rays have a new ad campaign to get fans to the ballpark in 2013 built around the slogan ‘Welcome Home.’
The Rays improved their Grapefruit League record to 12-7 Thursday afternoon, defeating the Baltimore Orioles by a score of 4-3.
Jeff Niemann was pretty sharp in his outing, allowing just one run on four hits and three walks in his 4 1/3 innings of work.
His velocity was down (didn’t throw a single pitch over 88 MPH), but it was nothing to be concerned about. Both Joe Maddon and Niemann said after the game that he was just working on movement.
Juan Sandoval and Josh Lueke came on in relief following Niemann. Sandoval continued to struggle, allowing two runs (off a Matt Wieters) home run in 1 2/3 inning. Lueke, on the other hand, continued his excellent spring tossing two scoreless innings.
The Rays’ four runs were scored an Evan Longoria RBI double, a Luke Scott two-run homer and a Tim Beckham RBI single. Wil Myers also had a double Thursday in his only at bat.
On the injury front, Beckham (face) returned yesterday but Sam Fuld (hamstring) remains out. He could return in the next few days.
Here’s a complete boxscore of Thursday’s game.
Rays News and Notes:
- The Rays optioned down Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Torres to Triple-A Durham in their latest round of cuts Tuesday.
- David Price pitched five scoreless inning in a minor-league spring training game against the Orioles’ Class A squad Wednesday. He allowed just four singles while striking out six and walking none.
- Jeremy Hellickson also had a minor-league start this week, but it didn’t go nearly as well for him. He gave up two runs on four hits, four walks (and a HBP) and three strikeouts through 3 1/3 innings pitched. He pitched 70 pitches, just 41 of them strikes.
- Here’s Price on being named the Opening Day starter earlier this week.
- More David Price: could special K-9 seating when Price starts be a thing this year for the Rays?
- The United States lost 3-1 to the Dominican Republic Thursday night and are now on the brink of elimination. Fernando Rodney collected his fourth save (out of four opportunities) of the World Baseball Classic, continuing what has been a terrific tournament for him thus far. Ben Zobrist also appeared in this game, striking out in his only at bat.
The Rays’ bats came alive Saturday afternoon, compiling 15 runs on 16 hits against Philadelphia.
Jeff Niemann started on the bump for Tampa Bay and had a solid outing. He gave up one run on four hits and two runs while striking out three through 3 2/3 innings pitched.
As Niemann continues to pitch well along with competitors Roberto Hernando and Chris Archer, the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation should be a very fun one to watch.
Jeremy Hellickson also pitched in this game, but wasn’t nearly as sharp in his two-inning outing. Helly struggled, allowing three runs on five hits and a walk.
Offensively, there was really only positives from the Rays’ minor-league filled lineup.
Sean Rodriguez, Shelley Duncan, Leslie Anderson, Robinson Chirinos and Hak-Ju Lee all had two RBI apiece.
Rodriguez and Duncan both hit two-run homers.
Click here for a full boxscore of Saturday’s game.
Rays News and Notes:
- In not so light news from this ballgame, the Rays suffered an injury scare from Desmond Jennings. Jennings mildly sprained his left ankle running the bases, but luckily he’ll be returning to the lineup either Monday or Tuesday.
- Luke Scott and Sam Fuld are still out with their minor hamstring injuries from last week. Scott is expected to play tomorrow and Fuld is on track to return at the end of the week.
- Fernando Rodney, who recorded his first save in the World Baseball Classic tournament for Team Dominican Republic Saturday, grabbed some attention with a picture that went viral with his cap even more tilted than usual. In the midst of this, Yahoo! Sports takes a look at the The evolution of Fernando Rodney’s crooked cap.
- Here are my 10 Bold Predictions for the 2013 MLB Season over at Bleacher Report.
- The Rays take on the Red Sox today at 1:05 in Port Charlotte. Here are lineups for the game.