Injuries And Poor Performance Strike Rays Again
The 2016 season was a nightmare for the Rays. They finished with a record of 68-94, last place in the AL East, and their fewest wins since 2007. All the positive momentum that the team had been building after the departure of Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon seemed to collapse.
The lack of quality personnel to fill in when injuries hit led to questions as to whether the current front office knew what they were doing. The Rays had just a -41 run differential, yet lost 94 games. The other fifth place teams averaged a run differential of -125. With that, it seemed fair to ask if Kevin Cash was the right hire for the job?
The Rays never were able to recover after going through a 3-24 streak from June 16 to July 16. It was the worst 27-game stretch in club history and worst by an AL club in a season since the 2003 Tigers began the season 3-25. To be fair, no team could recover from that type of streak.
April Much Like 2015, Snell Debut Highlights Month:
The Rays spent the 2015 season going a few games above and below the .500 mark. In April they dropped to four games below .500 but rebounded to get to 11-12 by months end. Unlike 2015, injuries hadn’t decimated the lineup or pitching staff. During the month of April, the Rays did not add anyone to the disabled list. The highlight of the month was Blake Snell‘s debut at Yankee Stadium on April 23rd.
Snell opened the season ranked the Rays number one prospect by MLB Pipeline and the games 12th best overall. He worked five innings and departed with the Rays up 2-1. Unfortunately, the bullpen wasn’t able to hold the lead and the Rays fell 3-2.
Rays Lose Forsythe, Kiermaier In May:
The Rays finished the month of May with an 11-16 record. On a more positive note, they did hit 44 homers (3rd in MLB), tying the franchise mark for any month (September 2012).
The Rays did not use the disabled list in April but their luck ran out in May after Logan Forsythe was hit by Felix Hernandez. He remained in the game to run the bases but was uncomfortable fielding in between innings and departed the game. He was diagnosed with a hairline fracture of the left scapula. At the time of the injury Forsythe was hitting .308 and lead the Rays in hits (33), walks (14), and slugging percentage (.523).
The Rays entered play on May 21st a game over the .500 mark. In the bottom of the fifth inning James McCann sent a low line drive to center field. Kevin Kiermaier raced in, dove to make the catch, and broke two bones in his left hand in the process.
Near the end of May, the Rays placed reliever Ryan Webb (strained pectoral muscle) on the disabled list and activated Brad Boxberger. Boxberger became the first player the Rays had activated off the disabled list all season.
Boxberger wouldn’t remain healthy for long. On May 31st he threw 16 pitches before departing the game with a left oblique injury.
The injuries were piling up as were the losses. Steve Pearce was also out of action the final few games of May with right elbow inflammation.
June Only Gets Worse:
The Rays finished June with an 11-17 mark. They lost 13 of their final 15 games. It was more than fitting then that the month ended with the Rays blowing a 5-run 9th inning lead against the Detroit Tigers. Over the final 15 games of June the Rays’ ‘pen had an ERA of 9.43 (44-ER/42-IP).
Early in the month the Rays placed Brandon Guyer on the disabled list becoming the fifth player added in a 24-day span. This after the team had not placed a player on the DL in the seasons first 41 days.
In mid-June Steven Souza Jr. was placed on the disabled list with a hip strain. On June 21st the Rays outfield was in tatters. Souza, Kiermaier, Pearce, Guyer, and Mahtook were all out of action. To add some depth the Rays traded a player to be named later to the Minnesota Twins for Oswaldo Arcia. At the end of June, the Rays placed closer Alex Colome on the disabled list.
Looking At 2016 Draft:
The Rays entered the 2016 season ranked by Baseball America as the 13th best farm system in the game. This was up from 20th entering the 2014 season. With their first selection (13th overall), the Rays selected infielder Josh Lowe from Pope High School in Georgia. Lowe currently ranks as the organizations 9th best prospect by MLB.com.
They had two picks in the second round. With them they selected Ryan Boltd out of the University of Nebraska and Jake Fraley out of Louisiana State University.
Boltd is currently ranked by MLB.com as the organizations 26th best prospect. Fraley, injured most of the season, just completed a dominant winter playing in Australia where he hit .361/.449/.660 with 13 homers and 39 SB’s in 40 games.
Austin Franklin was drafted in the 3rd round out of Paxton High School in Paxton Florida. He currently ranks as the Rays 13th best prospect by MLB.com.
Losing Continues In July, Kiermaier Returns:
The Rays limped into the All-Star break losers of 22-of-25 games and 20-games under .500 with a 34-54 mark. It was their worst record at the All-Star break since 2005 (also 34-54). Coming out of the break they activated Kevin Kiermaier from the disabled list. They were 20-20 when he was injured and went 14-34 without him.
The Rays went on to finish July with an overall record of 9-16 but won their last four in a row and 8-7 over the final 15. At the end of the month they lost Oswaldo Arcia to a right elbow strain and Logan Morrison to a right forearm strain. On a more positive note, the Rays winning ways could be attributed to getting their players back from the disabled list.
Trade Deadline Moves:
The biggest deal sent Matt Moore to the San Francisco Giants for infielder Matt Duffy and minor leaguers RHP Michael Santos and SS Lucius Fox. MBL.com currently ranks Fox as the Rays 12th best prospect.
Finally, the Rays sent Steve Pearce to the Baltimore Orioles for catcher Jonah Heim.
August Near Break Even Month, Jennings Released:
Normally finishing a month a game under .500 (14-15) would not be considered an achievement, but in a season full of losses, it was a welcome respite. They even finished the month winning 10 of 17. They hit 42 homers in August, tied for fourth most in any month in franchise history. In addition, they led all of MLB with extra-base hits for the month and were fifth in runs scored.
Desmond Jennings was placed on the disabled list in early August. On August 27, he was taken off the teams disabled list and designated for assignment.
“It was time, best for him, best for us going forward,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Wish him the best with his career going forward. It was just unfortunate it didn’t work out. Couldn’t quite get him on the field as much as we’d have liked. We had to make a decision.”
In 65 games, Jennings slashed .200/.281/.350 with seven homers and just two stolen bases. Injuries had limited him to just 93 games the past two seasons.
Alex Cobb was activated off the disabled list on August 29th. It was the first time the Rays did not have a player on the disabled list since July 6, 2011.
September Marks Cobb’s Return, Season Ends For Others:
Alex Cobb made his season debut on September 2nd against the Toronto Blue Jays and logged five innings allowing just two earned runs while striking out seven and walking one. He’d end up making five September starts. In his first three he allowed six earned runs in 17.2-IP. In his final two starts he allowed 15-earned runs in 4.1-innings of work.
While Cobb returned from the disabled list, a trio of Rays had season ending surgeries in September.
Matt Duffy underwent heel surgery on September 9th. Steven Souza Jr. had a hip surgery on September 21. Logan Morrison sustained a season ending wrist injury on September 11th which required surgery on October 4th.
The month of September was painful for the Rays and their fans as the team limped to the finish with a mark of 12-18 (including 2-0 mark in October). Finishing the nightmare of a season 68-94. They finished in last place in the AL East, 25-games behind the Boston Red Sox.
The Season’s Positives:
- The Rays improved from 34-54 in the first half to 34-40 after the break.
- They set a then club record clubbing 216 homers.
- Brad Miller enjoyed a breakout season belting 30 home runs.
- Evan Longoria rebounded from a disappointing 2015 to hit .273/.318/.521 including 36 homers.
- Despite missing 48 games, Kevin Kiermaier finished second in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved with 25.
- Jake Odorizzi went 10-6 with a 3.39 ERA and made 33 starts.
- Chris Archer finished the year with 19 losses but struck out 233 batters in just 201.1-innings of work.
- Blake Snell made 19 starts, finishing the season with a 6-8 mark and a 3.54 ERA.
- Alex Colome took over as the team’s closer and saved 37 games. He struck out an impressive 11.3 batters per nine innings.
- Between June 16 and July 16, the Rays went 3-24. It’s was the worst 27-game stretch in franchise history. The worst for any AL club since the 2003 Detroit Tigers who opened the year 3-25.
- The Rays were one of three major league clubs to go winless in games they trailed after 8 innings going 0-83. They joined the Minnesota Twins (0-87) and the San Francisco Giants (0-62).
- The Rays (672 runs) and New York Mets (671 runs) became the first two teams in ML History to hit at least 200 home runs but score fewer than 700 runs.
- Tampa Bay hit 136 solo home runs (tied for third in all of MLB).
- They finished 13-27 in one-run games, the worst one-run record of any team since the 2008 Braves (11-30) and the worst mark in franchise history (17-28). They were 3-25 in one-run games on the road, the fewest one-runs wins on the road since the 2012 Cubs also won only three.
After finishing the season (68-94) with the clubs worst record since 2007 (69-96), Matt Silverman and company knew they had work to do in the offseason. At the same time, both Silverman and Cash realized that there were a lot of extraneous factors that led to the poor record and a knee jerk reaction wouldn’t be prudent at this time.
The front office’s job was to get the ship pointed back in the right direction and hopefully set the stage for the talent that has been marching through the farm system to be ready to contribute sooner rather than later.