Rays Rotation Must Bounce Back in Key Homestand

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 31: Chris Archer #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 31, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Rays Rotation Must Bounce Back in Key Homestand

Just last week, we were discussing how good the Tampa Bay Rays rotation had been lately. Naturally, things immediately took a turn for the worst during their recent nine-game road trip.

The Road Trip

The Rays gave up at least five runs in each of the final eight games. They gave up a total of 61 runs in those games, an average of almost eight per game. Granted, that’s on the bullpen as well, but we knew the bullpen wasn’t good. That’s why the Rays rotation must perform at a high level. Yet, no starter other than Chris Archer was able to get through six innings on the road trip. Here are some stats from the starting pitching on the trip:

ERA: 6.79

WHIP: 1.85

Innings per start: 4.2

That innings per start figure, by the way, excludes Matt Andriese leaving his May 30th start in Texas with a groin strain after 1.2 innings. Even without counting that, though, Rays starters still averaged fewer than five innings per start on the trip.

The Upcoming Homestand and the Rays Rotation

The Rays returned home from their grueling road trip and had a day off Monday, and will need to hope their pitching is back on track when they begin a seven-game homestand on Tuesday. The Rays will play those seven games against two of the American League’s worst teams, the Chicago White Sox and the Oakland Athletics. The White Sox have lost five straight games to fall to 24-31. They’re 12-20 on the road. They’re just a half game up on the 24-32 A’s for the AL’s worst record. The Athletics own a ghastly minus-62 run differential, so they’ve earned the title of the AL’s worst team this year. They’ve been particularly abominable on the road, where they’re 8-20.

The Rays had been on a good roll for a couple weeks, winning 10 of their last 15 games of May. That came crashing to an end in Seattle, where the Mariners outscored them 28-7 in a three-game sweep. The Rays now find themselves back under .500 at 29-30, and tied for last in the typically strong AL East with the surging Toronto Blue Jays. However, they’re still just two games out of the AL’s second Wild Card, and this homestand will prove crucial in determining the direction of this season for Tampa Bay.

The Rays can take advantage of seven home games against very beatable opponents. They can win five or six of them to show Seattle was a blip on the radar and reestablish themselves as Wild Card contenders. Or, they can carry their play from Seattle over and enter one of their patented death spirals that has sunk them in recent years.

Death Spirals

On June 16 last year, the Rays had won eight of their last 10 games to improve their record to 31-32. Dreams of a Wild Card run danced in Rays fans’ heads. What happened next was a “remarkable” 3-24 run that started with an 11-game losing streak and finished with an eight-game losing streak (ominously enough, that stretch started with a loss to the Mariners). Just like that, the Rays were toast by the All-Star break. They finished the season 68-94.

We can next go back to June 21, 2015, when the Rays had won eight of nine games to improve to 40-30. In their first season since the depatures of Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman, the Rays seemed to showing they could continue the success they’d had since 2008 even without the manager and general manager who oversaw all of it. Then, a 3-15 run knocked the Rays down to 43-45, two games below .500, which is how they’d finish the season, at 80-82.

The Rays entered the 2014 season with big expectations, but got off to a rough 23-28 start. Then they lost 14 of their next 15 games, including a 10-game losing streak, dropping them to 24-42. It was only June 10, and a team that had entered the season thinking they could win the World Series was clearly finished. The Rays actually played pretty well the rest of the way, going 53-43. They even clawed their way back to .500 at one point after being as many as 18 games under. The hole still proved much too deep, as they finished at 77-85.

It’s now June of 2017, and the Rays have started the month by playing some absolutely brutal baseball. If the Rays are unable to take advantage of playing some bad teams on this homestand, it could signal the start of the kind of death spiral that has ruined each season since Tampa Bay’s last playoff berth in 2013.

If they’re going to stop the ship from sinking this time, it will have to start with the same thing that defined the Rays success from 2008-2013: starting pitching.

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