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The Bad Guys: Getting To Know The 2017 Tampa Bay ‘Uhhhhh’ Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays seem to be the early favourites to finish at the bottom of the division largely because, well, they’re bad, and because they were there last year. The team has some good pieces, like a lineup that can mash with anybody and a formidable starting rotation, but the front office is concerned about the long-term future of the organization, so a fire-sale mid-season is likely to unravel any success the team has.

Starting rotation:

As of right now, it seems like the pitching rotation is this team’s strength. But will that actually be a thing all season?

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Chris Archer is the team’s ace, and along with Evan Longoria and the freshly-signed Kevin Kiermaier, appears to be part of the organization’s trio of leadership moving forward. He was given a six-year contract extension back in 2014, and despite having sort of a down year last season, is an electrifying talent capable of dicing up any big league lineup. Alex Cobb is still around, and appears to be fully healthy after being limited to just 22 innings of action the past two seasons. Jake Odorizzi has been under-the-radar good for a few years now, while Matt Andriese in effective as a back-of-the-rotation swing man.

So overall, this is a pretty solid group. Archer is excellent, Odorizzi has been very effective, Alex Cobb was the ace of the future before having Tommy John, and Andriese is solid. But when July rolls around and teams come knocking for an above average starter, who are they going to call? The trigger happy Rays, of course.

It seems like we’ve been through so many developments and subsequent fire-sales that it’s difficult to keep track of who’s actually still pitching for the Rays. In the past decade, they’ve trotted out Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir, Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields, David Price, Matt Moore, and Drew Smyly, all of whom have been traded before the end of their service years. Now we’re into the Chris Archer years — wait, let me check to make sure they didn’t trade him this winter — and working their way up behind him is Blake Snell, Jose De Leon, and whoever else they inevitably acquire this summer.

Last July, they shipped Moore to the San Fransisco Giants, and over the offseason, they sold on Smyly. If the Rays don’t hit the ground running, it’s hard to imagine all of the aforementioned starters not named Chris Archer finishing the season with the club. So with that in mind, we’ll say this rotation is a strength, but unless things going unexpectedly well for the Rays, it probably won’t be after the trade deadline rolls around.

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Part of the reason it’s hard to imagine the Rays season going particularly well is their underwhelming bullpen. The relievers made life difficult on the team last season, and nothing really changed over the offseason, so they probably will again.

Alex Colome emerged as the team’s closer last season in the wake of the departure of Jake McGee in a trade to Colorado. Colome excelled in the role, posting far and away the best season of his career, converting 37 of 40 save opportunities while averaging 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. His walk numbers could drop a bit, in a perfect world, but still, Colome is a bright spot in an otherwise bad bullpen.

After him, it kind of goes to hell. Brad Boxberger spent the majority of the 2016 season on the disabled list, and struggled mightily because of it. Both his strikeout numbers and velocity were down last year from careers norms, and injuries are a concern again this season. Tommy Hunter, Xavier Cedeno, Danny Farquhar, Jumbo Diaz, and whoever the hell else they can find appear to be the options the Rays will have this year to try to piece the back-end of games together. But, uh, yikes. It isn’t very good.

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I think we can say with near certainty that the Rays starting pitching will be quite good while their bullpen will give a lot of it back. Fair enough?

The difference, then, between this team surprising and actually competing for a playoff spot and falling on its face en route to another basement finish is the lineup, which, in typical Rays fashion, features a handful of buy-low, high risk, high reward types from this winter’s bargain bin.

Tampa Bay lived and died by the long ball last season. That seems odd for a Rays team, which had traditionally been one that kind of kills you with a million light jabs, as they would, like, have a guy get hit by a pitch, steal second, advance to third on a groundout, and then score on a sacrifice. You know, real riveting shit. Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller, Steve Souza, and Logan Morrison form the core of a lineup that can absolutely mash, but the team ranked dead last in the American League in batting average and finished ahead of Oakland in on base percentage. They also struck out an absurd 1,482 times, which helps indicate why their run production numbers didn’t match their power numbers.

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This year, some of their best on base guys — Logan Forsythe, Brandon Guyer, and Steve Pearce — are gone, and they’ve been replaced with Colby Rasmus, Rickie Weeks, Wilson Ramos, and Derek Norris, all of whom, as I said earlier, are low-key buys who are either old, injured, or coming off awful seasons. The Rays also have a few potential impact prospects ready to roll, like Matt Duffy and Mallex Smith, acquired in the Moore and Smyly deals, who could be major additions to the lineup.

If it all clicks, this could be a potent lineup. If it doesn’t, and guys swing and miss at everything like they did last year, the Rays will be selling at deadline time.

Why you should hate them:

Uhhhhhhhhh… How could you hate the Rays? Honestly, how could you feel anything other than indifference towards them?

The Rays had a nice little stretch of success between 2008 and 2013 in which they, after being so so sooooooo bad for their entire existence, reached the World Series and made three other playoff appearances. The years of being total junk resulted in them developing excellent players like B.J. Upton (remember when he was amazing?), Evan Longoria, David Price, and Carl Crawford, who were surrounded by a rag-tag group of moneyball type overachievers like Rocco Baldelli, Jason Bartlett, and Dan Johnson. But otherwise? They haven’t been good enough to hate.

Their stadium looks like a Costco that was emptied out and lined with two different kinds of artificial turf. I don’t know if they actually have fans or not. Some people like to suggest they should move to Montreal. They made up throwback jerseys for a Turn Back the Clock to 1979 night even though the team didn’t exist in 1979. They took the Devil out of their name in an attempt to move away from the look the team had during its startup years when they would perennially lose like 100 games. Now it just sounds like they’re a gang of people from Tampa Bay named Ray. It’s dumb. The old jerseys and logo were much better, and having a pool of sting rays in the outfield is weeeeeeeird.

Still, though, there’s no reason to hate them really. I guess they’re pesky and frustrating? And Tropicana Field has always been a house of horrors for the Blue Jays. But meh!

Sort of objective prediction:

The Rays good starting pitching will likely be undone by poor relief and massive dry spells where the offence doesn’t produce anything. If not for the strength of the division Tampa Bay is a team that could bullshit its way to a playoff appearance, but with the Moneyball front office ready to sell where it can and the future being the priority, it’s hard to imagine the Rays being good enough to sway from the long-term plan this year. They’ll finish last in the division, but will be a fun team to follow with an influx of young players and LOTS AND LOTS OF DINGGGEEERRRRS!