In 2017, the Tampa Bay Rays will make the playoffs. Yes, you read that right. While it may seem crazy to think a team that made no notable offseason additions and has not made the playoffs in three years will reach October is crazy, there are many sound reasons why the Rays will shock the baseball world this season.
Why the Tampa Bay Rays Will Make the Playoffs
An Overrated and Frankly Weak AL East
The AL East is considered one of the best divisions in baseball, but it is actually much weaker than many believe. Out of 162, 76 of Tampa’s games are against the either the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, or New York Yankees. While that appears daunting, those teams are really not that impressive.
The Orioles did nothing to improve their already lackluster team. They were able to retain Mark Trumbo on a relatively team-friendly deal, but Trumbo is a one-dimensional hitter and adds only power to the team. While every ball hit by the Orioles has the potential to leave the yard, their offense lacks on-base threats and speed. Couple that with the fact that the Orioles have one of the worst rotations in baseball, and you get a team that will finish under .500.
The Blue Jays have talent, but their offseason moves weakened the core of the team. The Jays did not address their weak pitching staff and moved on from franchise cornerstone Edwin Encarnacion. The Jays are left with a mediocre and aging team.
There is a lot of hype surrounding the Yankees this year, with many fans excited for the young Bronx Bombers Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier, and Gleyber Torres. While these players have bright futures, they are not ready to carry a team to the playoffs. With young players comes learning curves and inconsistency, which a team in a playoff race simply can’t afford. Add in the inconsistent play of Michael Pineda and Luis Severino, and the aging of Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley, and Brett Gardner, and New York is left with a team that will show flashes of brilliance while struggling.
The only team left in the division, the Red Sox, are by far the best team in the division. The Red Sox are not without question marks (Pablo Sandoval, Mitch Moreland, injuries), but they have the most talent in the division. No AL East team will be able to beat the Sox’s core of young stars. The Rays will make the playoffs as a Wild Card, unless the aforementioned injuries take their toll.
The Rays had the best offseason of any team in the division. The Rays missed out on Jose Bautista, but added many solid contributors on team-friendly deals. The Rays acquired All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos, Colby Rasmus, Derek Norris, Jumbo Diaz, Mallex Smith, and the injured Shawn Tolleson.
Ramos is expected back in June, and will provide above-average power for a catcher. Rasmus had a down year in 2016, batting a paltry .206. However, Rasmus is a legit power hitter who will threaten 30+ homers. Norris is a solid starting catcher while Ramos is hurt, providing good defense and above-average power, albeit with poor plate skills.
Diaz and Tolleson are under the radar signings who provide some stability and upside to an already reasonably strong bullpen. Lastly, Smith is an exciting player who was acquired for Drew Smyly. Mallex has already flashed his tantalizing speed, stealing three bases in the first week of the season. These solid offseason additions will help propel the Rays into the playoffs.
Surprisingly, the Rays were close to the top of the league in homers last season. Every player is a threat to hit 15+ dingers, making every at-bat dangerous for opposing pitchers. Last year, Evan Longoria hit 36, Rasmus hit 15, Brad Miller 30, Steven Souza hit 17, Kevin Kiermaier hit 12, and Corey Dickerson hit 24. Being reliant on power leads to hot and cold streaks, but the Rays will be more hot than cold this year.
The Rays boast one of the best rotations in the AL, thanks to ace Chris Archer and their other reliable rotation members. The Rays rotation is composed of Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Matt Andriese, and Blake Snell.
Archer is one of the best pitchers in the game. He uses a high 90s fastball and a wipeout slider to fool opposing hitters. He is an artist at making hitters miss, which led to a 27% strikeout rate last year. Archer will benefit from positive regression in 2017 and improve on his numbers from last year.
Odorizzi and Cobb are both solid starters. They generate from weak contact and good walk rates. When healthy, they are consistent starters who have career ERAs between three and four.
Many fans are excited to see Snell pitch this year. He is a young pitcher with tantalizing stuff, but he struggles to go deep into games because of a lack of command. This is a big year for Snell. If he can regain control of his pitches, he could become an ace.
The Rays are full of potential breakout players. Kiermaier, Logan Morrison, Smith, and Dickerson are all candidates.
Kiermaier is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. However, he also hit 12 homers and steal 20 bags last year. Kiermaier actually under-performed his peripherals last year, as he had a 31% hard hit rate and a 38% fly ball rate, signaling that he should have hit far more than his 12 long-balls. Kiermaier has the speed and the power to have a 20-20 season.
Morrison and Dickerson started last year terribly, but finished the year strong and consistently hit the ball hard. If they bounce back this year, they both have powerful bats that can drive in runs and rack up extra-base hits.
Finally, Smith has proven he is a legit speed threat and a reliable fielder in the outfield. He has the speed and the plate skills to steal 40+ bases and lead the Rays in runs scored.
Don’t sleep on the Rays this year, as they have plenty of talent and the chemistry to make a surprising run.