Could this be the season that the Rays _____?
Most people would give an emphatic no before the sentence is even finished. Mostly due to the realities of playing in the same division as the Red Sox (who have the best projected pitching staff in the league) and after being projected to be a 72-90 team by mainstream sites like Bleacher Report (dead last in the AL East) and the middle ground of the division by more advanced sites.
But after a club best 5-2 start, the Rays are back in the conversation for playoff teams.
Now maybe it might be a stretch to say this could be the year the Rays win it all, but right now the Rays have shown that they should not be a “sell” team by the trade deadline, and that in and of itself is an accomplishment.
Series wins and importance
The Rays have seemed to click on offense. Not only that, they are clicking against the good competition in the division.
The Rays roughed up Masahiro Tanaka on opening day, jumping on him in the first inning, and this set the tone for the year so far. They ended up winning their series with the division rival Yankees, beating Pineda, and only losing to a vintage performance from Sabathia.
Two very important notes coming out of this series were Souza and Morrison, who started this season better than any other they have had. This was a joy given their previous struggles.
The Rays next series was against the runner up in the American League last season. The Blue Jays series was hard fought, but won by the Rays. They only lost the first game to the 2017 WBC MVP Marcus Stroman, who again looks like a front-line starter for this staff. Other than that one loss, they out-hit the high powered Jays in all three of their wins.
Every hitter on the Rays roster found success in one of the games. After the loss to Stroman the Rays were locked in at the plate. The Jays sent Francisco Liriano to the hill, and he only faced eight batters while the Rays pounded him for five runs. Rays hitters like Souza and Morrison continued their extremely hot start, while Evan Longoria kept producing as well, even against lefty pitchers.
Two games were a little closer, one requiring extra innings, but the Rays kept getting on base, winning the extra innings affair with a walk off walk. That was Archer’s second start of the year, and it was the only game so far that didn’t have plenty of run support.
Steven Souza and Logan Morrison
Right now, Souza is my MVP of the team. He is versatile in the way that he can hit in the middle of the order or hit leadoff and be a threat to get on base. Souza has a .417 batting average and 6 RBIs, while having a higher BB% than K% (which he has struggled with in the past). On top of that, he has a 258 wRC+ early on. Small sample sizes are the best!
Clearly this number will normalize, but he truly has been a valuable piece to this team and could finally have that breakout year.
Morrison has been another surprise. He starts all games against righties and has produced nicely. The Rays needed production at first base this year, so they brought in Rickie Weeks to hit against lefties. But, although he does not start against lefties, Morrison’s come in to pinch hit against righties later in the game. So far as a pinch hitter, Morrison is 2-for-3 off the bench (this alone matches his ice cold April in 2016).
Morrison hasn’t been a slacker as a starter though. Morrison has a .333 average, overall, while having a great 133 wRC+. Morrison has also produced 5 RBIs (same as Longoria, one behind Souza) and has a homerun on the year.
The Rays also have some other players like Dickerson, Smith, and Robertson (congrats on the first hit!) who have been excellent so far. Dickerson has a .360 average and 2 homeruns already. Smith has shown he is a speed demon on the base path while walking more than he is striking out. Robertson has a .300 average and has scored a run. It is always nice to see two DH’s that produce well, and what was supposed to be a backup outfielder play like a starter. They are worthy of noting too in this hitting frenzy the Rays have put on so far.
It is early on, but this team looks really good, a breath of fresh air when seven players hit the DL for April. Notably, the chemistry on this team seems to be much better than years past, something noted in Rays Radio broadcasts and interviews this week past.
This team isn’t yet what the Rays would even look like when they are at full-strength. Players like Duffy, Rasmus, and Ramos will return to and be great additions to an already producing lineup.
I am highly optimistic that if this team continues to play at this high of a level, they will break the Bleacher Report low projection and snag a playoff spot.
Which Ray is going to have a surprisingly good season?
This poll is closed