With the Home Run Derby and MLB All-Star game over, the second half of the regular season is officially under way. Teams have a semblance of where they may end up at the end of the year, and adjust their rosters accordingly. As the trade deadline approaches, teams are either trading for, or trading away players, depending on their end of season outlook. Teams typically sell players, if they are nowhere near playoff contention, and they have expensive contracts they’d like to unload. Other organizations that are already in rebuilding mode will continue to develop players within their organization, and occasionally trade for more future assets. The teams that seem to make a majority of moves tend to be teams in the midst of a playoff push. Some of these teams will unload top prospects, so they can fill any holes their team might have. When these types of transactions start to occur, the race for the playoffs has officially begun.
After a slow start to the season, the Tampa Bay Rays ended the first half of the year with a strong ten game stretch; they finished with a 6-4 record. The stretch ended with a three games to one series victory against the Boston Reds Sox. With a struggling New York Yankees and Red Sox, the Rays found themselves 3.5 games behind Boston at the All-Star break, in the hunt for the division race.
Tampa recently completed a series with the Los Angeles Angels, and have started the second half of the season in a positive way. The Rays were able to win the first two games of the series and then lost a close game in the final match-up.
Tampa currently stands 2.5 games behind the Red Sox for first place in the AL East, tied with the Yankees for second place in the division, and are tied for the top Wild Card spot. The Rays find themselves in a position to make the playoffs, and have already made several moves to strengthen their roster, and are likely bolstering for a playoff push. Though the team has been decimated by injuries up to this point in the season (have had 20 different players on the DL, and at one point 13 at once), they have been able to survive them so far. As these players return from injury, Tampa will finally be at full strength and also have improved depth. Although Tampa Bay is in a solid position to make the postseason, they’ll have to continue to win games if they want to make the playoffs. Here are three things that the Rays will need to improve upon, if they want to make the postseason.
1. Strengthen their bullpen.
The Rays have had an extremely talented starting rotation this season, but have not had as much success later in games. From the sixth inning and on, the Rays have been outscored by 64 runs (240-104). Many of the team’s struggles can be placed on their lackluster bullpen, as well as some of the injuries they have accumulated. Even with Brad Boxberger returning from injury, his presence will likely not be enough.
There have recently been rumors of the Rays interest in Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland. If these rumors are true, the Rays are already taking a step in the right direction. Strickland is 1-2, with a 1.91 ERA this season, through 33 innings pitched. While he hasn’t been the most efficient pitcher (1.46 WHIP), he has been able to limit the amount of earned runs he has surrendered. The Rays could use an experienced reliever in their bullpen, and Strickland gives them that.
2. Growth from Blake Snell
One of the biggest disappointments for the Rays this season has been the sub-par performance of Blake Snell. Snell entered the season as one of the Rays top prospects, but has not lived up to expectations. Snell is 0-5 with a 4.85 ERA, through 10 games this season. His struggles led to a brief stint in the minors, where he seemed to regather himself. He started seven games, and finished with a 5-0 record, 2.66 ERA, and 61 strikeouts. Through two starts since, however, Snell continues to struggle.
Snell’s biggest issues this season has been his lack of command. Snell has been unable to find the strike zone, and has seen a dip in his strikeout total because of it. His 7.79 K/9 has been surprisingly low for Snell, who has consistently averaged over 10 K/9, throughout his minor league career (averaged 12.48 during his seven game minor league stint). Snell has also walked a substantial amount of batters, with an alarming 5.88 BB/9 rate. Snell needs to regain his composure, and find the command he had while he was in the minors.
3. Allow Jacob Faria to become the team’s ace.
After Matt Andriese was placed on the 60-day DL, the Rays were forced to promote an unproven rookie to their roster. Not many had heard the name Jacob Faria, but they certainly have now. Faria has been dominant since his promotion, and has turned into one of the team’s best pitchers. Through seven games this season, Faria is 4-0, with a 2.00 ERA, and a respectable 8.56 K/9 rate. Faria has been an incredibly efficient pitcher. He has a low 2.20 BB/9 rate and a 6.1 walk percentage. Opposing batters haven’t fared well against him, and have a combined .200 batting average, and a .242 BABIP, which is extremely low for a pitcher his age. Faria’s growth and success is one of the main reasons the Rays are in the position they are now. In order for them to remain on the winning path, Tampa needs to allow Faria to become the leader of their rotation. If the Rays find themselves in a must win scenario, the Rays should let Jacob Faria, their most dominant pitcher, start.