The Tampa Bay Rays made the playoffs once again in 2013, but came up short in the post season. Their recent success over the years is making it more and more difficult for players and coaches to see themselves exiting in the divisional round rather than making a World Series appearance. The Rays ultimately had a successful year in which they earned a wild-card berth, saw some top talent develop for the future, and had newcomers step up to fill voids.
3 Things That Went Right
Wil Meyers and Chris Archer were both finalists for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Meyers came out with the trophy, but either one was a viable candidate based on his individual performance throughout the year. Meyers was called up about half way through the year and became a force to be reckoned with. His first two series in the Majors were in Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium; he had no trouble there and had no trouble the rest of the year. He was atop the Rays leaderboard in many offensive categories and became a stable in the middle of the lineup.
Chris Archer could easily have been a top of the rotation guy if not for the deep staff already established on the Rays ball club. He had the presence and poise of a veteran to go with his pitching dominance. Very few teams were able to get the best of Archer as he gave up few runs and even fewer hits. He was 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA and 101 strikeouts. As the 5th man in the rotation, those are numbers any team would want from the back end of the staff.
The Rays signed a few free agents last season that made a big impact, as well as acquiring some talent down the home stretch of the season. James Loney was brought in to fill the void left by Carlos Pena, and he did just that. Loney was a finalist for the Gold Glove Award (as was the rest of the Rays infielders), and hit well enough at .299 with 75 RBIs – an average Pena could only dream about in his sleep.
David DeJesus came to the Rays before the trade deadline to help the outfield and did just that. He had an OBP of .328 with 10 doubles in the later part of the season, and he provided the Rays with a spark that other players could not. It might have been his drive to get to the post season, but regardless he was a part of the Rays offense that was vital to their post season run.
The Rays were in first place for a very limited time during the season. Then the Red Sox got red hot and the Rays were looking like they could slip into mediocrity with the rest of the American League. They then went on a tear and ended up winning every ball game that mattered. They ended the season by winning their last game of the season in Toronto to qualify for a tiebreaker with Texas, winning in Texas to qualify for the wild card play-in game, winning in Cleveland to make it to the ALDS, and then competing with Boston up until their elimination against the eventual World Series champions. It showed the poise and determination the team had to fight when the going got tough and to never give up. Hopefully in 2014 they won’t need to come from behind in the standings at the end of the year, but if they do they know that it can be done.
3 Things That Went Wrong
Rodney was a lights out all-star in 2012 and was a dominant closer that the Rays could rely on to get out of any jam. This season, he was anything but as he struggled to finish games and hold leads that he normally would get out of. Rodney may have been a one-year wonder last year, but hopefully he can return to form next season and become the go-to closer that the Rays desperately need late in games. They don’t have the offensive power to get into slugfests with teams in extra innings.
The AL East
Even though every team in the Major Leagues is a professional squad, the AL East seems ready to become a dogfight for the division winner. The Red Sox went from worst to first last season, something nobody saw coming. The Yankees were in the playoff race up until the last week of the season. They have already signed Brian McCann and may still retain the services of Robinson Cano. The Baltimore Orioles have a solid nucleus that will compete heavily in 2014, and the Toronto Blue Jays will have all their stars back and look to avoid injuries that plagued them last season. The division will be one of the toughest in baseball, and that means that the majority of games will be against dominant opponents.
The Rays are known to switch their lineup around with Joe Maddon at the helm, but the offensive production of the Rays in 2013 was just not there from night to night. There was the occasional breakout, but for the most part, it was the pitching staff that kept Tampa in the playoff hunt throughout the course of the year. Meyers, Longoria, and Zobrist were contributors during the course of the year, but the rest of the lineup was not as potent. The platoon in the outfield of Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, DeJesus, and Sean Rodriguez was less than dominant, and the rest of the lineup was not quality enough to give the staff many easy nights in terms of run support. Hitting will need to be improved in the off season in order to make things next season easier from time to time.
The Tampa Bay Rays were a team on the rise in 2013. Although there have been rumors of them trading David Price, that is not set in stone and he may return for a 2014 campaign as a Ray. That is the best case scenario for Tampa as they have one of the best 5-man rotations in baseball and can develop even more talent at the minor league level. Their lineup changes from night to night based on the match ups that they face on the mound, but their offensive production could stand to increase. With their phenomenal defense, they can afford to score less runs here and there and still remain in ball games. Come playoff time, that will have to change as evidenced by the outcome of the ALDS this past season. Keeping Price will be a big factor, but finding a way to produce more runs more consistently will be even bigger.