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In Memorium: The 2016 Tampa Bay Rays

The 2015 off-season was one of the more active for the Tampa Bay Rays. They brought in some big bats in Brad Miller, Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison, and Steve Pearce who were supposed to take the offense to the next level and finally compliment one of the best rotations in baseball. That formula was supposed to get the Rays back into contention in the American League. That formula was supposed to create a more exciting product on the field and maybe…just maybe…translate to a few more ticket sales at Tropicana Field.

That formula turned out to be a failure.

Kind of.

If you’re looking at the overall record at the close of the 2016 season, the 68-94 mark is ugly. It’s also the third straight losing season for a team that was among the best in baseball for the better part of the nine year Joe Maddon era. If you’re looking at the 672 runs scored, while it’s the most since 2013 for the Rays, they still finished second worst in the AL behind the Athletics 653. How about looking at just one 10-game winner this season (Jake Odorizzi) and a 19-game loser (Chris Archer). Remember that “best rotation in baseball” comment above? The Rays pitching staff combined gave up 713 runs, the most since 2009 when they gave up 754 but still managed to win 84 games while scoring what stands today as a franchise-best 803 runs. While the bullpen was responsible for a heavy load of those runs, the rotation was inconsistent most of the first half of the season and even though most turned it around after the All Star break, the offense far too often let them down.

Case and point – Chris Archer’s 9-19, finish and Jake Odorizzi’s 10-6 finish.

The unfortunate part about both these pitcher’s seasons isn’t so much the record they finished with but what might have been…and probably should have been.

Chris Archer (pre-All Star): 4-12, 4.66 ERA (post-All Star): 5-7, 3.25 ERA

If you had pegged Archer to lose 19 games this season and aren’t making money as an MLB analyst somewhere – you’re living your life the wrong way.

Jake Odorizzi turned out to be the most consistent arm in 2016. The unfortunate case for him was that in 22 of his 33 starts the Rays were trailing or tied when he left the game. However, the team was 17-16 in his starts overall. “Odo” is entering his first year of arbitration making him the most interesting story of the off-season to keep a close eye on.

Once again the Rays were “11th hour” dealers at the trade deadline, parting ways with LHP Matt Moore, Brandon Guyer, and sending Steve Pearce back to the Orioles. Wouldn’t you know it? All three are in the post-season with their new teams. Moore will, no doubt, be a big part of the post-season rotation for the San Francisco Giants while Guyer is a division champion with the Cleveland Indians and Pearce returns to the playoffs with the O’s.

The bullpen was a mess from the get go. With the exception of All Star closer, Alex Colome, who was thrust into the role after the team traded Jake McGee to the Rockies and Brad Boxberger recovering from injury, there were few bright spots throughout the year from this group. Erasmo Ramirez started the year on fire being moved to the bullpen when the Rays decided to go with a four-man rotation early. He finished the season leading the team in appearances and innings pitched by a reliever but came back down to earth statistically. The unit showed signs of improving and coming together in the second half with guys like Danny Farquhar, Xavier Cedeno, and even Steve Geltz improving on the mound post-break. Prospects like knuckler Eddie Gamboa and Justin Marks gave the team hope for a stronger, in-house bullpen in 2017. Then there was the dominance of Chase Whitley after he came back from Tommy John surgery in early September.

Offensively – the Rays were an enigma.

It’s great to set records. It’s even better when you set records that translate into success. The Rays shattered a club record for home runs in a season, finishing with 216 bombs to break the previous mark of 199. A key contributor to all those long balls – Evan Longoria. The cornerstone of the franchise set a career-high with 36 dingers, one more than the personal mark he’d set for himself before the season began. He also finished with 98 RBI marking the fifth time in his career he’d driven in 90+ in a season. Safe to say – Longo’s still got it.

Then there was Brad Miller. Coming over from the Mariners to be the starting shortstop for the Rays, Miller hadn’t hit more than 11 HR in a season. Fast forward to the end of the 2016 season – he’d exploded for 30 bombs and 80 RBI after a really rough April that saw him hit .185/.254/.354 and just two home runs. By season’s end, the Rays had transitioned Miller to first base and based on everything manager Kevin Cash has said – he’ll be there come Opening Day 2017.

But you saw that coming, right?

Corey Dickerson also had his frustrating stretches in 2016 but settled in over the last six weeks to finish with a career-tying 24 home runs and a career-best 36 doubles to go along with 70 RBI, his most since driving in a career-high 76 for the Rockies back in 2014.

Steve Pearce was traded back to the Orioles at the deadline and Logan Morrison didn’t hit his first home run until May 18th against Toronto – 38 games into the season. “LoMo” would finish the 2016 with a modest 14 home runs and a much more normal .238/.319/.414 line before being put on the 60-day DL with a couple weeks left in the season.

Logan Forsythe could be one of the top three lead off men in baseball. Arguably the best decision Cash has made in his two years at the helm was moving “LoFo” into that top spot in Spring Training. The second basemen, for the second year in a row, set a new career-high in home runs hitting 20 in 2016 and playing in 26 fewer games than the previous season. Despite seeing a significant hit in his on-base % he still managed to finish with an impressive .333 down from .359 in ’15.

“The Outlaw” put together his best year offensively with the Rays, most notably thanks to being moved into the #2 spot in the order for most of the second half of the season where he absolutely thrived. Kevin Kiermaier finished his 2016 campaign with career-highs in home runs (12), stolen bases (21), and an on-base % of .331 behind Forsythe making the 1-2 punch of those two pretty deadly looking ahead to 2017. Did I mention he could well be on his way to a second consecutive Gold/Platinum?

For yet another season, the Rays dealt with injuries throughout. Not including awaiting the return of Alex Cobb from rehabbing Tommy John surgery, losing Kiermaier in June didn’t help their historic 3-24 collapse from mid-June through mid-July. The season was all but lost at that point as the Rays struggled to make up any ground lost not just in the AL East that all of a sudden became a powerhouse again but in the wild card hunt, as well. With a farm system still lush with talent either on the verge of cracking an Opening Day roster or a year or two out – the future is still bright for this team. Kevin Cash won’t make excuses. Neither will the front office, ownership, or players.

In the meantime, it’s October. The Rays season is over but there is still plenty of baseball left to enjoy with plenty of former Rays looking for championships with new teams. Before you know it – the freshly cut grass of Port Charlotte fill our nostrils again.

Hang in there, Rays fans.

Enjoy baseball. Because there’s nothing like October.

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