Looking back at the start of spring training, there optimism about this team. We knew we had an outstanding starting rotation, and the front office had gotten us some hitters who could ensure that we would no longer lose every game 2-1. The bullpen we knew would be spotty, but with aces like Archer and Smyly giving us quality starts night after night, how much would that matter?
That optimism only peaked when PECOTA, the usually flawless projection system, predicted the Rays to run away with the division.
Sadly, this has not happened and today, two weeks before the All Star break, the division leaders fading from our view. In order for the Rays to reach 85 wins (putting them somewhere close to the second wild card team), they'd have to win 53 of the final 87 -- a win percentage of 61%. That's not impossible, but it is hardly likely.
But any baseball is better than no baseball, and as Devil Rays fans can tell you, even noncompetitive seasons have some upbeat narratives.
We have good Evan Longoria back
After a sluggish April, Evan Longoria has been on a rampage that has lasted close to two months. Starting on May 9th, entering play yesterday, Longoria has slashed .301/.368/.590, with a wOBA of .396. This stretch of play for Longo may be one of the best of his career. Not bad for a guy written off by some Rays fans.
Longoria is a notoriously streaky hitter and has cooled off some this past week, but if he able to produce these same type of numbers for prolonged stretches in the future, his status as the Rays franchise player will be assured.
Brandon Guyer may have become an everyday player
Earlier this season, Brandon Guyer gave Rays fans something to look for every time he stepped up to the plate, and that was the historic rate at which he was being hit by pitches.
This chart was from earlier this season when Guyer was hit for the ninth time, and it compares it to how many plate appearances each player has and the number of times they've been hit...Guyer was in a league of his own.
But just getting routinely hit by pitches does not a starter make. A starter needs to produce against any pitcher, regardless of which hand they throw with and how they've performed on the defensive side of the ball.
Before Brandon Guyer went down with his injury, he had a 131 wRC+ on the season. He was dominating left-handed pitchers, as was expected, but was also holding his own against right handed pitching, batting just below league average against them, but still much better than those who have taken his place.
We've been painfully reminded to appreciate baseball's best center fielder
We already knew we had something special in center field with 'The Outlaw' Kevin Kiermaier on the prowl. Kiermaier dares any ball hit in the general direction of center field, be it a soft bloop that barely cleared the infielders, or a long drive headed to the wall, to elude him. It seldom does.
We have not had this the past month and it has shown...excruciatingly as the Rays have sent Desmond Jennings, Jaff Decker, and Mikie Mahtook to fill in for Kiermaier. We'll never know, of course, just how Kiermaier's absence has affected game outcomes, but there's not question that without him in center, more balls drop for hits and more runners push singles to doubles. Kiermaier, moreover, was holding his own on offense: when he went down he had a 104 wRC+ while best among his replacements is Desmond Jennings with a 71 wRC+.
I guess, strictly speaking, this is more a bad thing (our outfield is pitiful) than a good thing, however.
Colome isn't a bad closer, and Steve Pearce has put up some good numbers
Some small consolation from these performances.
If you all can think of anything else that's nice to takeaway from this season that has gone worse than the Black Knight's attack plan in Monty Python, leave it in the comments below