Our previews of the AL East teams, part of previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2016 season, continue with the Tampa Bay Rays, who finished in fourth place in the division last season.
Since winning at least 90 games each season from 2010-2013, the Rays have struggled the last two seasons, finishing below .500 each year with consecutive fourth-place finishes in the division. As they look to get back into the mix in the AL East, they are relying on a largely young and inexperienced team to get back to their winning ways from earlier in the decade. 3B Evan Longoria continues to be the team’s leader on offense, while SP Chris Archer looks to follow up his breakout 2015 campaign with another strong season to lead the pitching staff that will see SP Alex Cobb miss the first half of the season after Tommy John surgery. The team wasn’t very active in the offseason, with its main move being a trade that sent RP Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for OF Corey Dickerson, who will slot in as the starting left fielder.
The Rays had a below-average offense last season, with a .255 team average, 167 home runs and 612 RBI, with that last number being the second-worst total in the American League. Part of the low home-run output is due to Longoria hitting just 21 home runs, down from the 32 he hit two years earlier, and his 73 RBI in 2015 were 18 fewer than he had in 2014. Rookie OF Steven Souza Jr. showed some promising power output last hitting, hitting 16 home runs in 110 games, but he hit just .225 at the plate. The pitching staff performed better and was what helped come close to finishing the season at .500, with a 80-82 record in Kevin Cash‘s first season as the team’s manager. The team ranked fourth in AL with a 3.74 ERA, thanks in large part to Archer’s 3.23 ERA. The team’s 1,355 strikeouts also ranked fourth in the league, with Archer again leading the way with 252, which was second in the league behind only White Sox SP Chris Sale. In the bullpen, closer Brad Boxberger had a good year in his first season in the closer’s role, notching an AL-best 41 saves in 47 opportunities, with a 3.71 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 63 innings.
Young players taking a step forward will be key to an improved offense for the Rays, including Souza hitting better than .225 this season. If he can do that and hit some more homem runs in his second full season in the league, that would go a long way to the team ending up with a better record this year. Likewise, Longoria getting his home run total back up would be beneficial to the team. If he can stay healthy after an injury-riddled 2015 that saw him play just 65 games, he should provide a boost for the Rays compared to the numbers OF David DeJesus put up at the position in 2015. The Rays shouldn’t expect to get much production out of Cobb, who isn’t expected back until August, but If Archer can come close to repeating his 2015 performance that would help keep the pitching staff up near the top of the league. A little help from the rest of the rotation, including SPs Jake odorizzi and Drew Smyly would take some of the pressure off of Archer’s shoulders.
As we’ve been saying with other teams in the division, the AL East is going to be tough this year, with the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Yankees likely the top teams in the division. As such, even if the Rays do have an improved team this year, it’ll be hard for them to have much success, and they’re probably looking at another fourth-place finish, though if things work out right they could find themselves in third. But the bottom line is it should be another year without playoff baseball in Tampa.