No organization in baseball, maybe in all of American professional sports, succeeds with less than the Tampa Bay Rays. In a division with historic powerhouses with deep pockets like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay plays with an under $70 million payroll, yet always seems to compete.
The Rays rely on developing top-notch talent from the Minor League system, trading older stars for younger prospects, and finding diamonds in the rough that other organizations have cast off.
They also try unique strategies and pioneer trends like the opener or two-way players. A shortened season may benefit the Rays more than anyone as they can use their flexible roster and rotation to take chances and return to the playoffs.
Sportsbooks have the Rays in the top five in the American League in terms of odds to win the World Series at +1600 but are also in the same division as one of the overall World Series favorites, the New York Yankees.
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Tampa Bay Rays 2019 Results
In his fifth season in charge, manager Kevin Cash steered the Rays to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 with their second-straight 90-win season. The Rays finished 96-76, seven games behind the Yankees, and claimed the second Wild-Card position.
In the playoffs, they went to Oakland and won the Wild-Card Game behind Charlie Morton. In the American League Divisional Series, they pushed the mighty Houston Astros to the brink, losing Game 5 in Texas 6-1 to Gerrit Cole.
The Rays were in first place in the AL East for 44 days. After June 14, they settled into second the rest of the way as the Yankees pulled away. Tampa Bay started strong, going 16-8 in April and 16-11 in May, while also finishing strong at 17-10 in August and 17-8 in September.
Tampa Bay was amazingly consistent on the season with identical 48-33 road and home records. They were only 7-12 against the Yankees but dominated the rest of the division, going a combined 37-20 against Boston, Toronto, and Baltimore.
The Rays had three All-Stars in 2019 with Morton, outfielder Austin Meadows, and infielder Brandon Lowe. Meadows finished the season in the top 10 in the AL in slugging, OPS and triples, while Morton was top five in the league in ERA and wins.
Tampa Bay Rays Key Additions
The Rays made most of their additions this offseason via trades, two with San Diego and one with St. Louis. In December, they traded outfielder Tommy Pham to San Diego for outfielder Hunter Renfroe and prospect Xavier Edwards.
With the Padres last season, Renfroe had a career-high 33 home runs but batted just .216/.289/.489. He drove in 64 runs, scored 64 runs, and added 19 doubles while playing home games in a notorious pitchers’ park.
In January, they acquired Jose Martinez and prospect Randy Arozarena from the Cardinals in exchange for top pitching prospect Matt Liberatore and catching prospect Edgardo Rodriguez.
Martinez is best-suited to be a designated hitter but played 128 games in various duties for the Cardinals last season. When given a chance, he produced a .269/.340/.410 line with 10 homers, 42 RBI and 13 doubles. Martinez hit 17 homers and drove in 83 runs while batting .305/.264/.457 in an everyday role in 2018.
In February, the Rays sent pitcher Emilio Pagan to San Diego for Manuel Margot and prospect Logan Driscoll. Margot, a 25-year-old centerfielder, hit .234/.304/.387 last season with the Padres. He had 12 homers, 19 doubles, 20 steals and scored 59 runs while driving in 37.
The only free-agent signing the Rays made in the offseason was acquiring Yoshitomo Tsutsugo from the Yokohama Bay Stars in Japan. The 28-year-old hit .272/.388/.511 with 29 homers, 79 RBI, 24 doubles and 74 runs scored in 131 games. The Rays paid a combined $14.4 million to acquire Tsutsugo, including the posting fee.
Tampa Bay Rays Big Losses
The Rays traded one of their most productive players in Pham. The 32-year-old hit .273/.369/.450 last season with 21 homers, 33 doubles, 25 steals, 68 RBI and 77 runs scored.
Another outfielder, Avisail Garcia, left via free agency as he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers. Garcia hit .282/.332/.464 last year with 20 homers, 25 doubles, 72 RBI and 61 runs scored.
Catcher Travis d’Arnaud signed with the Atlanta Braves. Last year, he played in 92 games batting .263/.323/.459 with 16 homers, 16 doubles, 67 RBI and 50 runs scored.
Pagan, the Rays’ closer in 2019, was traded to San Diego in the Margot deal. He was 4-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 66 appearances with 20 saves. The 29-year-old struck out 96 and walked 13 over 70 innings for an impressive 0.83 WHIP.
Tampa Bay Rays Pitching
The Rays don’t always use a traditional five-man starting rotation, as last season seven different pitchers made at least 11 starts, and overall, 14 started games.
The ace of the staff is Morton, who went 16-6 last season with a 3.05 ERA. Morton also won two postseason games, including the win-or-go-home Wild Card Game in Oakland. The 36-year-old struck out 240 batters over 194 2/3 innings.
Blake Snell, who won the 2018 AL Cy Young Award after going 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA slumped in 2019. In 23 starts, the right-hander was 6-8 with a 4.29 ERA while striking out 147 batters in just 107 innings.
Tyler Glasnow should be ready to go in the third slot in the rotation after missing most of last season. The 26-year-old started 6-0 before a loss on May 10 to the Yankees. He didn’t pitch again until September. The Rays went 10-2 in the games he started as he posted a 1.78 ERA.
Lefty Ryan Yarbrough pitched 28 times with 14 starts going 11-6 with a 4.13 ERA. In 141 2/3 innings, he struck out 117 batters and walked just 20 for a 0.99 WHIP.
The fifth starter could be a variety of pitchers, especially since lefty Brendan McKay has been absent from camp for most of July, and righty Yonny Chirinos missed time as well. Reliever Ryne Stanek made 27 starts as an opener last season but totaled just 55 2/3 innings in his 41 appearances. Right-hander Trevor Richards is another candidate.
Right-hander Nick Anderson is touted as the expected new closer for the Rays with Pagan in San Diego. He was 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 23 games while striking out 41 and walking just two over 21 1/3 innings.
The Rays will also count on righties Diego Castillo and Chaz Roe in the bullpen. Last season Castillo was 5-8 with a 3.41 ERA and eight saves, while Roe was 1-3 with a 4.70 ERA in 51 games.
Lefty reliever Colin Poche was 5-5 last year with two saves and a 4.70 ERA. He struck out 72 and walked 19 over 51 2/3 innings.
Tampa Bay Rays Offense
Cash’s lineup will likely see a variety of changes during the season with flexible bench options and a variety of players who play multiple positions. At the beginning of the season with Meadows injured, expect it to look something like this: DH Tsutsugo, 3B Yandy Diaz, 1B Ji-Man Choi, RF Hunter Renfroe, 2B Brandon Lowe, SS Willy Adames, LF Manuel Margot, CF Kevin Kiermaier, and C Mike Zunino.
Diaz played in 79 games last season, batting .267/.340/.476 with 14 homers, 20 doubles and 53 runs scored. Due to a foot fracture, Diaz was out of the lineup from July 22-Sept. 29 but started three of the five playoff games and hit two homers in the Wild-Card Game against Oakland.
Choi gave the middle of the Rays’ lineup some thump in 2019 with 19 homers and 63 RBI. He hit .261/.363/.459 with 63 RBI and 54 runs scored.
Lowe was a 2019 All-Star but had to miss the game due to injury. He played six regular-season games after July 2 and finished with a .270/.336/.514 line in 82 games while adding 17 homers, 17 doubles, 51 RBI and 42 runs scored.
Adames played in a team-high 152 games last season as a 23-year-old and hit .254/.317/.418. The shortstop added 20 homers, 25 doubles and 52 RBI while scoring 69 runs.
Kiermaier won a Gold Glove in centerfield and contributed to the offense as well with 14 homers, 20 doubles and 55 RBI. His slash line was down with a .228/.278/.398 season and 19 stolen base.
Zunino struggled at the plate in his 90 games with a .165/.232/.312 season. The former Seattle Mariners catcher had nine homers, 10 doubles and 32 RBI and could be pushed by left-handed-hitting backup Michael Perez.
Cash has options off the bench, including Martinez, Nate Lowe and Joey Wendle. All play multiple positions, and Lowe hit .263/.325./.454 in 60 games last season with seven homers. Wendle played in 75 games in 2019 batting .231/.293/.340 with three homers and 13 doubles.
Tampa Bay Rays Three Key Players
A big key for the Rays competing in 2020 is getting a few players back from injury and 100%. At the top of that list is Meadows, who is not expected to be ready for Opening Day after a positive coronavirus test.
Depending on how much time he misses, it will be tough for the Rays to replicate Meadows’ stat line. As a 24-year-old, he hit 33 homers with 89 RBI and 29 doubles while scoring 83 runs in 138 games. The left-handed-hitting outfielder batted .291/.364/.558 with seven triples and picked up some MVP votes.
Tsutsugo put up some tremendous numbers in Japan, but those power numbers don’t always translate to the MLB game. Tampa Bay needs production out of Tsutsugo and Renfroe to match the 57 homers, 74 doubles and 207 RBI that left the team this offseason with Pham, Garcia and d’Arnaud no longer in the lineup.
On the mound, the Rays are looking for a bounce-back season from Snell. The lefty had a rough season as far as surface numbers go in 2019, way down from his historic 2018 campaign.
If you look at some of the other stats, his numbers weren’t all that bad, as his K/9 went up from 11 to 12.36, and he got more swings and missed than any other starter in 2019. The key for his success in 2020 will be the long ball as Snell’s HR% on fly balls nearly doubled from 2018 to 2019.
Tampa Bay Rays Schedule Breakdown
The Rays will play 40 games against AL East opponents and 20 interleague games against NL East opponents.
Tampa Bay opened at home against Toronto and Atlanta. In the division, they play six of 10 games against the Yankees in New York and six of 10 against the Red Sox at home.
The Rays do not go to Philadelphia, and they don’t play host to the Mets. Their interleague rivals are the Miami Marlins, with three games in each stadium.
The end of the schedule sees Tampa play six games against the NL East, with three at the Mets and three at home against the Phillies.
As far as regular-season wins go, the over/under for the Rays is 33.5 wins, which projects out to a 90-win season. The last two seasons, the Rays have won 90 and 96 games.
The Rays’ success and model is no longer a surprise. They’ve shown the willingness and ability to adapt and create new strategies, so expect them to compete deep into September and likely Octobe