Tampa Bay Rays 2017 Team Preview

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Tampa Bay Rays struggled to perform in 2016 in their second year under manager Kevin Cash. Can they improve enough in 2017 to compete?

The post-Joe Maddon Tampa Bay Rays have been far from impressive, and their 2016 season was no different. Their 68-94 record under manager Kevin Cash is a far cry from the playoff appearances that became a regular thing under Maddon. This season, the Rays look to bounce back from their last place finish in the AL East.

They have a few offensive weapons.

Last season, two Rays hit 30-plus home runs, Evan Longoria and Brad Miller. Both will look to continue to mash in 2017. Look for another stellar year out of Longoria, arguably the best player in franchise history. Miller will try to match his breakout power numbers from 2016. Before hitting 30 home runs last season, he only had 29 in his career. This season, he will need to prove he can do it again.

Corey Dickerson also showed some power last season, hitting 24 home runs and driving in 70 runs. After him, the power dips. Steven Souza hit the next most home runs, 17, but only batted .247. The problem the Rays had last season was their team’s inability to hit for average. They ranked 28th in the league with a .243 team batting average. If they want to generate any sort of reliable offense this coming season, they need to find a way to get hits. When your team leader in average bats .273 you are going to struggle to win games.

Longoria is not the only player the Rays are investing in.

Kevin Kiermaier, the two-time Gold Glove-winning outfielder, just signed a six-year extension worth $53.5 million. Kiermaier set career highs in home runs and stolen bases, while putting up another stellar year in the field. The extension he signed is club-friendly, so the Rays will have him locked up for his prime years. He is the guy they are looking to build with, so hopefully he can keep improving his production at the plate while staying elite in the field.

Their pitching staff will look to rebound, although there are bright spots.

The Rays’ ace Chris Archer had a down year last season, posting a 4.02 earned run average while going 9-19 in 201.1 innings. The Rays’ offense had a hard time generating runs, which made Archer’s record worse than it should have been, but his earned run average itself wasn’t pretty.

Jake Odorizzi pitched well for the Rays, putting up a 10-6 record with a 3.69 ERA in nearly 200 innings. Blake Snell contributed the best starter’s ERA, a 3.54 mark. Matt Andriese rounded out the rotation with a record of 8-8 and a 4.37 earned run average. Snell and Andriese did not pitch full seasons, so it will be intriguing to see what they can do over a full campaign.

The Rays’ bullpen was nothing special last season, but Alex Colome was a reliable closer. Colome converted 37 saves and struck out 71 batters in 56.2 innings. It was a breakout year for a player who had no career saves before the start of 2016. He made the All-Star team and it can be argued he was the brightest spot the Rays had on their roster during their less than impressive 2016 season.

Heading into 2017, the Rays will look to improve in many areas. If they can increase run production and give their pitchers some support, they could be around the middle of the pack in the AL East.