Evan Longoria obviously has a flare for the dramatic. We all know what happened on the final day of the season last year and although the Tampa Bay Rays had been eliminated from the playoffs, Longoria smacked three home runs and Ryan Roberts added one of his own to give the Rays their 90th win on the final day of the regular season. B.J. Upton singled in the 8th inning and was given a standing ovation by the 18,000 fans in attendance; he was visibly emotional as he shed a few tears in most likely his last game in a Rays’ uniform. The season has ended and even though the Rays and their fans will be watching the playoffs from home, it was still a great year, especially for the pitching staff.
The Rays offense came alive at the very end of the season as the team won 12 of their last 14 games. Although it was not good enough to get them into the playoffs the Rays fought all year and were forced to deal with a plethora of injuries to some very key players. Evan Longoria and Jeff Keppinger both missed a significant amount of time and were both two of the biggest contributors to the Tampa Bay offense in the second half of the season. Keppinger was third in average among A.L. hitters after the All-Star break with a .332 batting average and finished the season as the Rays leading hitter posting a .325 average for the entire season. Longoria played in only 74 games but still managed to knock out 17 home runs and drive in 55 runs for the year. Longoria has missed time in every season he has played, but when healthy he is one of the most dangerous players in the league. Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings and Sam Fuld were some of the other key players to also miss games due to injuries.
The Tampa Bay pitching staff was the class of the baseball world this season as they mowed down opposing batters all year long. Every Rays’ starter finished the season with at least 10 wins and for the first time in their short history Tampa Bay had a 20-game winner. David Price finished the season with a 20-5 record and is an almost certain lock for the Cy Young Award. Price finished the season ranked first in the American League in ERA (2.56) and third in WHIP (1.10). One player who might steal a few votes from him is closer and teammate Fernando Rodney.
Rodney was signed to be a middle reliever, but because of an injury to Kyle Farnsworth, became the closer. All Rodney did was go out and have the greatest season in the history of relief pitching, posting an incredible 0.60 ERA. Comparably in 1990 Dennis Eckersley had a season that many considered the best relief season ever as he posted a 0.61 ERA in 73.1 innings pitched, he had 73 strikeouts and gave up 9 total runs and only 2 home runs all season. Fernando Rodney may have surpassed that season if only by a hair. Rodney had a 0.60 ERA in 74.2 innings pitched and struck out 76 batters; he also only gave up 9 total runs and 2 dingers. As a whole, Tampa Bay had the lowest team ERA and lowest WHIP in the American League. The Rays bullpen also led the league in lowest relief ERA.
The Tampa Bay offense was obviously the biggest issue for the team, no everyday player, other than Keppinger, hit above .270. Carlos Pena was brought back to the Rays to drive in runs and play solid defense, he did neither. His most memorable at-bat of the season was his first, a three-run home run off C.C. Sabathia. Pena once again batted below .200 for the Rays and broke his own personal record for strikeouts in a season with 182 K’s, that’s 1.1 whiffs per game. His frequency of striking out even prompted some fans to start calling him Karlos Kena, in reference to the K used as a sign for a strikeout. His usually steady glove was nowhere to be found and if the Rays want to be a legitimate World Series contender then they must find a replacement at first base.
The other glaring weaknesses for Tampa Bay were the shortstop and catcher positions. Ben Zobrist filled in admirably at shortstop during the stretch run but truly isn’t a natural shortstop; the Rays need to make a similar deal that brought Jason Bartlett to the team in 2008. Historically, Tampa Bay has never had a solid catcher. Jose Molina was brought in as a free agent but he seemed overworked at times and missed the last two weeks of the season with an injury. He played in over 100 games, something he hasn’t done since 2008 and it showed. Molina batted .223 and drove in only 32 runs. Shortstop, catcher and first base are the three biggest necessities for the Rays front office to address in the winter.
An uncharacteristic problem for Tampa Bay this season was a bad defense. The usually sure-handed Rays defense led the American League in errors this season with 114. The team fielding percentage finished ranked second-to-last, above only the Kansas City Royals.
The almost certain loss of B.J. Upton will be a huge hit to the Rays in all three aspects of the game and hopefully the vaunted Rays minor league system will produce another gem in the mold of Upton and Desmond Jennings. The window may be closing on this current Rays’ roster as both David Price and Evan Longoria near the end of their contracts, both players will certainly command big paydays in the open market and if the Rays want to win (and keep their fan base happy) then keeping those two players long-term has to be the teams’ biggest concern.
Overall, the season was the fourth-best in Rays’ history and reaching the 90-win plateau is no small feat for any team. But if Tampa Bay wants to continue to contend in the ever-evolving A.L. East they must make big changes to their offense. The pitching staff is World Series ready, but the bats are still in spring training.
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