Posted on March 10, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
Rather quietly, the Tampa Bay Rays finished the 2018 season with 90 wins. Of course, it wasn’t enough to keep pace with either the Yankees or Red Sox, nor was it enough to reach the Wild Card Game. However, a 90-win season last year certainly sets them up to be a potential threat in 2019. Can the Rays improve further and reach the postseason in 2019 or will they ultimately flounder behind their high-spending division rivals?
The Rays redefined what a starting rotation is last year. They used some of their better relievers to “open” games before turning the game over to traditional starters. There were also plenty of occasions when Tampa Bay used only relievers to get through nine innings. With 90 wins to their name, such a method clearly has some merit, so manager Kevin Cash is likely to implore a similar strategy this season.
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Of course, the Rays do have a few traditional starters who will actually start games. That list includes reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell, who posted a 1.89 ERA in his 31 starts last season. The Rays also signed veteran Charlie Morton, who has been outstanding in Houston the last two seasons. If he can pitch at the same level he has the past two seasons, he’ll be starting games like a traditional starter and give Snell an experienced rotation partner.
However, the Rays don’t have much rotation depth behind those two. Not only did they trade Chris Archer last summer, but many of their top pitching prospects are coming back from injuries that kept them sidelined last year, most notably Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon. One name to watch closely is Tyler Glasnow, who came to Tampa Bay in the Archer trade. He has plenty of talent and potential but is yet to put everything together. How he develops this year could have a big impact on Tampa’s pitching staff.
Naturally, the Rays will have a roster that’s loaded with relievers. However, they won’t have an established closer after Sergio Romo signed elsewhere this winter. If Tampa employs a full-time closer, it could be lefty Jose Alvarado, who saved eight games last season. The likes of Chaz Roe, Ryan Yarbrough, Ryne Stanek, Diego Castillo, and Adam Kolarek were all reliable relievers last season and should have important roles to play this season, either as “openers” or traditional relievers.
Tampa is also hopeful that Jake Faria can contribute as either a starter or reliever after an injury-plagued 2018 season. The Rays have also added Emilio Pagan and Ryan Merritt to the mix this winter. Less experienced pitchers like Yonny Chirinos, Wilmer Font, and Ian Gibaut will also have a chance to contribute this season. If nothing else, the Rays have a lot of options in terms of relief pitchers, giving them the kind of depth they will undoubtedly need if they plan to use “openers” and only have two or three traditional starters.
Scoring runs is still an area where the Rays can stand to improve, and so they’ve made several moves this winter in an effort to improve. Of course, the outfield is still focused on defense with the likes of Kevin Kiermaier and Tommy Pham. To be fair, Pham has come on strong offensively the past two seasons while youngster Austin Meadows showed plenty of promise with the bat the second half of last season. The Rays also added Avisail Garcia this winter to give them a little more depth in case the 23-year-old Meadows gets off to a slow start.
On the infield, there appears to be a profound lack of power. Third baseman Matt Duffy hit just four home runs last season despite hitting .294. On the other side of the diamond, Yandy Diaz has just one career home run in 265 big league at-bats. He’ll also be an everyday player in the majors for the first time this year. Meanwhile, the trio of Willy Adames, Joey Wendle, and Daniel Robertson will handle the two middle infield spots. All are young hitters with potential, but they may not add much power to Tampa’s lineup. New catcher Mike Zunino should supply some power, but he also hit just .201 last season.
Ultimately, the Rays will need to use their speed while stringing together a lot of base hits if they want to score runs this season. The development of young players like Meadows, Diaz, and Adames will also have a meaningful impact on how potent their lineup is and how good of a team they are.
As you’d expect from a small-market club, the Rays simply didn’t have the resources to address all of their needs this offseason. As a result, they will be relying on a lot of young, unproven players in 2019. Much like last season, the potential is certainly there for this team to be in the mix for a playoff spot, especially if using “openers” continues to work out for them. But there’s also a lot that could go wrong for them. Look for the Rays to finish 85-77 in 2019. They’ll be better than .500 but still not good enough to keep pace with the Yankees and Red Sox or make the playoffs.