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Tampa Bay Rays Proving that Preseason Favorites Can't be Counted Out
Tampa Bay Rays 2014
From last place to the playoff chase
The Tampa Bay Rays performed like contenders for the first two weeks of the season, but then experienced a long stretch of bad baseball. This stretch of bad baseball lasted well into the month of June and resulted in the Rays being 16 games below .500 after their June 10th matchup with the Cardinals. This low point in the season for the Tampa Bay Rays had them in last place in the American League East with one of the worst records in baseball through the first 66 games of the season. This was a result primarily of their starting pitching getting off to a poor start in the first half of the season despite the talent level on their staff. Other factors that contributed to this were injuries and inconsistency from both three hitter Evan Longoria and cleanup hitter Wil Myers. The Rays have ultimately been able to turn things around with the stabilizing of their pitching staff to go along with getting offense from some unexpected sources this season.
Underachieving pitching staff turns it around
The Rays started the season with one of the most intimidating pitching staffs in the American League, but they suffered their first major set back when Matt Moore was lost for the season with a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery. Alex Cobb also suffered a first half injury that limited their effectiveness, and David Price went through a very rough stretch of his own early in the season. Wildness became a factor for Chris Archer at times in the first half of the season and hurt his chances of being productive for Tampa Bay. Since June 10th however, all three of these pitchers have been excellent for the Tampa Bay Rays as they have made their way back from having the worst record in the Major Leagues to being back in the American League wildcard race. Despite the early inconsistencies, David Price was able to pitch a significant amount of innings for the Rays early on in the season and now that he has turned it around he is in the running for the American League Cy Young Award. Both Alex Cobb and Chris Archer have followed Price's lead and are on their way to putting together seasons that meet the expectations that their talent level creates for them. Tampa Bay's resurgence has largely been led by their pitching staff finding their way and they will need that to continue in order to maintain their recent success.
Inconsistency from key offensive players
Rays star third basemen Evan Longoria is having one of his worst seasons of his career to this point in the 2014 baseball season. While Longoria has been better since the teams struggles in the month of May, he still is nowhere near the numbers that have become normal for him to produce in any given season. To top that off, right fielder Wil Myers who began the season as the Rays cleanup hitter, struggled even more than Longoria during the games in which he played for the Rays this season. Wil Myers has since been put on the disabled list and the Rays have gotten strong production from his replacements in the outfield. For a team whose starting pitching was struggling to meet expectations, things really went south when key players were not performing on the offensive side. Two of the Rays secondary stars in James Loney and Ben Zobrist, were able to hold things together offensively as the led the resurgence of the Rays from the second half of June through the month of July.
Offense from surprising sources
Replacement outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer came through in a big way for the Rays this season when they needed offensive production from their corner outfielders. As a rookie for the Rays in 2014, the 24 year old Kiermaier has produced at a star level for Tampa Bay while playing in only about half of the team's games played this season. Guyer arrived at the same time and while his production for the Rays has been decent and welcomed by the team, he has not shown the flashes of stardom that has been put on display by Kiermaier. Kevin Kiermaier has earned significant playing time for the Rays by collecting 22 extra base hits in just 170 at bats for them this season, which includes eight homeruns. With Wil Myers struggling as the Rays regular right fielder to start the season, Kiermaier's production was much needed after Myers went down with an injury. Guyer has also filled in with solid effort in his plate appearances with 11 extra base hits in his 153 at bats, but with a lower walk rate and batting average his impact has not been the same as Kiermaier's. Ultimately the combination of the two breaking out for the Rays this season, has helped them to turn their season around, while redefining some offensive roles for the other players on the roster.
The biggest reason for the Rays resurgence is their pitching staff turning around early season struggles and finally living up to expectations for the season. Winning games has helped everyone on the team to play better baseball though, and the offense has turned things around with a multi-dimensional attack. Besides Kiermaier not one Rays hitter is having a career year, but they are all showing they are capable of contributing which allows the team to be efficient with their run scoring with runs being produced up and down the lineup. Desmond Jennings' defense in centerfield this season has been the one constant for the Rays and has played a huge role in helping the pitching staff to turn things around. Like many contenders before them, the Tampa Bay Rays have had devastating injuries happen to them, but like a true contender they have shown the depth necessary to right the ship and fight their way back to a point where they can reach their goals for the season. This is why preseason contenders can't be counted out until the final game has been played in the regular season and every postseason berth has been decided.