The Tampa Bay Rays did not have a good season in 2016. In fact, the Rays have not made the American League playoffs since 2013. They did make it to the AL Division series that year, losing to the eventual World Series champions the Boston Red Sox.
Since that time it has been some lean years for the Rays with three consecutive losing seasons, culminating in 2016’s record of 68 wins and 94 losses, their worst record since 2007.
This year the Rays have rebounded from last years debacle and are playing decent baseball again. Their record of 59 wins and 61 losses as of August 14th is a big improvement over last year’s 47 and 69 on the same date. They are currently only 2.5 games behind qualifying for a wild card playoff berth and have a legitimate shot at making it to the playoffs for the first time in 4 years. They bolstered their roster at the trading deadline, making some moves that they hoped may help in the stretch drive to the end of the season.
While it is too soon to tell if these moves will pay off, the fact that the team is in a position to trade for players in an attempt to win this year is a testament to the team they fielded at the start of the season. Third baseman Evan Longoria and starting pitcher Chris Archer are having serviceable years but several Rays that were on the opening day roster have improved their performance over last year. In some cases they are having the best season of their Major League careers. Let’s take a look at some players that have been instrumental in the Rays’ return to competitiveness.
Corey Dickerson – Left Fielder
Corey Dickerson was obtained by the Rays in trade with the Colorado Rockies prior to the 2016 season. He was coming off an injury plagued 2015 season in which he only appeared in 65 games. He had a decent year in his first with the Rays, hitting .245 with 24 home runs and 70 RBI. Determined to improve on that performance and fulfill his high self-expectations, Dickerson changed his diet and cut his weight down to 200 pounds for the first time since being drafted in 2010. He believe this gives him a better jump on chasing fly balls and allows him to stretch more singles into doubles on the base paths.
The formula seems to have worked for the left fielder and designated hitter. He has played well as the Rays’ leadoff hitter and earned the fan’s votes to become the starting AL designated hitter in the 2017 All-Star Game. He is on his way to a career best season in the power department already accumulating 22 homers and 27 doubles. His previous high for home runs was 24 in 2014 and 2016 and he should easily surpass those numbers if he remains healthy. Dickerson is also on pace to shatter his previous record for hits in a season which stood at 136. He currently has 131 hits and has raised his batting average from .245 last year to .285 in 2017. Corey is definitely one of the reasons that Tampa is in the playoff hunt this year.
Logan Morrison – First Base
Morrison was also obtained by the Rays in the 2015 off-season. It was hoped he would be the starting first baseman but Logan was hampered by arm and wrist injuries in 2016 limiting his productivity. Fully recovered from those ailments, Morrison is on pace to have his best hitting year since becoming a Major Leaguer. His 28 home runs blows by his previous best of 23 in 2011 when he was with Florida. That was also his most effective RBI season with 71 and he already has 67 this year with over 40 games left to play. Logan’s slugging percentage currently stands at .512, more than 50 points higher than in any previous season.
Morrison has also played a part in the Rays’ resurgence by his base running prowess. Though the first baseman will never be thought of as a stolen base threat, the Rays are one of the best teams in baseball when it comes to taking an extra base on a hit. He leads the team in the statistic called ultimate base running. This stat calculates the value of taking an extra base versus getting thrown out in the attempt. Morrison has the best numbers here, getting good reads on fielders and hustling for the extra base. These kinds of plays can be instrumental in a team’s success and Morrison is leading by example.
Steven Souza Jr. – Right Field
Steven Souza Jr. has been on the Rays since 2015. He is the starting right fielder and pre-season expectations were that he would have an average year. His offensive production has exploded this season. Souza Jr. has already accumulated 25 home runs, 18 doubles, 62 walks and 71 RBI. With about a quarter of the season left to play, numbers all exceed Steven’s previous best totals. His batting average of 259, OBP of .365 and slugging percentage over .500 are all career bests.
Remaining on his current pace, Souza Jr. projects to hit 34 home runs and drive in 96 this year. Considering the fact that his previous highs in the categories were 17 homers and 49 RBI you have to put him up near the top of the list when reflecting on the Rays’ improved team performance this season.
Tommy Hunter – Relief Pitcher
Journeyman reliever Tommy Hunter signed a minor league contract with the Rays before the start of the 2017 season. His work in spring training earned him a spot on the big league roster for the start of the season. Despite missing a month with a calf injury early in the season he has been a bright spot in the Rays’ bullpen. He is not the closer and has only one save this year but has contributed 14 holds keeping his team in the lead and setting it up for closer Alex Colome.
Hunter has accomplished this with some startling numbers compared with his previous season in MLB. His strikeout per 9 innings is at all time high of 9.66, almost a full strikeout per 9 better than his 2015 campaign. Tommy is sporting the fourth best ERA among American League relievers at 1.76 which is a tremendous improvement on his career numbers which stand at 4.12. The 9 years veteran of the Major Leagues may well have found a home in Tampa.
It All Adds Up
Combining the great years being put up by these 4 players, the steady work of Longoria and their starting pitching has given Rays fans hope for both this year and the future. Pre-season projections had the Rays finishing out of the playoffs for another year. They have shown once again that projections are often not worth the paper they are printed on as they make a late season drive to secure a wild card spot and play well into October.
Author Bio: I’m David, the editor/co-founder of The Planet Of Baseball. Being a software engineer by day and a baseball blogger by night, I also participated in the training activities of a youth baseball team at my hometown. I have a huge passion for baseball, it pertains to my life from childhood until now. So, I’m here to share with you all things about this passion. Hope you find this helpful.