Rays Hope Houston Series Isn’t High Point Of Season
The Tampa Bay Rays have been a surprise team in 2018. After 84-games they find themselves at break even with a 42-42 mark. To get back to, and briefly over, the .500 mark, took a remarkable 8-1 homestand. During the homestand they swept the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and put an exclamation point by taking 3-of-4 from the Houston Astros.
The Houston series also finished a 28-game stretch in which the Rays played seven against Yankees (4-3). They didn’t fare so well in the seven against the Seattle Mariners (1-6). They also played seven against the Astros (4-3), split a four game series with the Nationals, and swept a 3-game series from Toronto. All together the Rays finished the 28-game set 14-14 and avoided the June Swoon (more here).
Taking three of four from the World Champions Astros was a cause for celebration, but it also brought back a bad period of baseball in 2017. Last season, the Rays took three out of four from Houston from July 31 through August 3. The series win pulled the Rays to within 3.5-games back in the AL East and 1/2-game out of the Wild Card.
2017 Reinforcements Arrive:
The team had also just made a series of trades to reinforce their bullpen, which had been a source of despair all season. They added veteran reliever Sergio Romo, who had struggled with the Dodgers. Traded for veteran Steve Cishek who was in the middle of a dominant stretch of relief with Seattle. They dealt former first round pick Casey Gillaspie to the White Sox for Dan Jennings. In addition to the relief arms they also added another power bat to the lineup in Lucas Duda from the Mets.
With the bullpen solidified, the Rays looked to make their move in August and opening the month winning the first three against the Astros seemed to set the stage for an exciting finish. Except, the floor caved in on the 2017 Rays, faster than could have been predicted.
While the pitching remained solid the bats went silent. In the 15 games following the Astros series the Rays went just 3-12 and were outscored 57-30. That’s not a typo! The Rays offense managed just 30 runs in the 15 games. They were shutout five times and added a pair of 1, 2, and 3 run scored games.
The offense not only wasn’t scoring runs, they weren’t generating opportunities. During the stretch they hit just .196/.273/.301 spanning 538 plate appearances. They struck out in 27.3-percent of their plate appearances and hit just 11 home runs. In 107 plate appearances with runners in scoring position they hit just .102/.259/.148.
At the end of the 15 game stretch the Rays were five games under .500 at 60-65. They were 11.5-games out of the AL East lead and 4 games back in the Wild Card race. Four games doesn’t seem like season ending but when there are six teams ahead of you, the climb is very difficult.
Avoid The Houston Hangover:
The 2017 schedule included home series against the Milwaukee Brewers, Boston Red Sox Cleveland Indians, and Seattle Mariners. The only road series was a trip up North to Canada to take on the Blue Jays. The only sub-.500 team in the group was the Blue Jays. The combined record of the five teams on August 19, 2017 (end of the 15 game stretch) was 324-290 (.528 win percentage).
This year, the Rays schedule is much less daunting. Looking at a their schedule following the Astros series and leading up to the All-Star break the Rays play 13 games. They’ll play 10 of the 13 on the road with three against the Marlins and New York Mets and four against the Minnesota Twins. They also host the Detroit Tigers for three at Tropicana Field.
The combined record for those teams entering play on July 3rd is 140-193 (.420 win percentage). None of the teams are above .500 which bodes well for Tampa Bay which has posted a 21-10 mark against sub-.500 teams this season.
Despite the success against sub-.500 teams, the games still have to be played on the field. The Rays are a young team, they are a team that plays close nearly every night (37 1-run games [16-21]).
While the Rays aren’t chasing a playoff spot, they are 14 games out AL East and 11.5 out of the Wild Card, they are trying to build confidence and cohesiveness for 2019. Winning games against teams you’re supposed to beat is a trademark of all playoff contending teams. In many ways, a letdown here will spoil a lot of the good vibes the Rays have created with their play thus far in 2018.