Today, we’re looking at the Tampa Bay Rays. As I write this post, they sit 2.5 games out of first place in their division, and 1.5 games out of the Wild Card. The reason I believe they are the next longest shot is because they are fighting with two other postseason contenders within their own division, and they currently are in 3rd place. But, there’s certainly no reason to count them out, as they are well within reasonable contention with 20+ games to play. So, what reasons are there for why this team can or can’t win the World Series?
3 Reasons Why:
- Pitching – it’s a bit of a broader reason than what I’ve been using, but the Rays are one of the few teams in the playoff hunt that have it figured out from top to bottom, when it comes to pitching. They have the best team ERA (3.26) and WHIP (1.19) in all of baseball, and the 2nd best Left-on-Base percentage (75.7%), as well as the 3rd best team FIP (3.65 – good enough for tops in the AL), have the 3rd highest strikeout total (1111), and have allowed fewer home runs than any team in the AL other than Oakland (who has a decided advantage in that ballpark). All this while pitching against offenses like the Yankees and Blue Jays on a regular basis. If they win it all, expect this to be the reason.
- Evan Longoria – when Longoria went on the DL at the end of April, the Rays were in first place. When he came back on August 7th, they were only 4 games over .500, and 7 games behind the Yankees. With him in the lineup, this team is 36-17. Without him, they’re 38-44 . . . and they wouldn’t be that good if it wasn’t for the excellent aforementioned pitching staff. He is clearly the heart and soul of this lineup, and they need him in order to win.
- Speed – as a team, I’m not sure there’s anyone in baseball that’s faster. Several teams have one, maybe two, big-time speedsters that steal half their team’s bases, and are an excellent spark to the offense. But, the Rays have more stolen bases than any other team in the AL (4th in baseball, behind MIA, SD, & MIL), without having a single player to reach 30 steals yet. By season’s end, they could have 4 players with 20+ steals (Upton, Jennings, Johnson & Zobrist). They rank 5th in baseball in Defensive Runs Saved, which is heavily influenced by speed. And speed shows up in a lot of places you don’t normally see in stats. I don’t know of a stat that tells you how good a team is at going first to third, but the Rays are great at it because of their speed. Speed puts pressure on the defense, and often forces them into mistakes. Speed is a potent weapon in the playoffs.
3 Why Not:
- Evan Longoria – huh? How can he be both a reason why they can and can’t win it all? While he certainly is the glue that holds this offense together, he can’t be that in name only. If he doesn’t turn things around soon, it will be obvious to every pitcher in the postseason that he’s not the typically dangerous Longoria. Since his return from the DL, he’s batting .247 with a .742 OPS. He’s had a couple big games which has resulted in a nice home run and RBI total since his return. But, overall, his game is not 100%, and if he isn’t at 100% by October, the Rays’ offense is going to struggle.
- Mistakes – the Rays have committed the 4th most errors in baseball, which has led to them being tied for the 2nd worst fielding percentage in the game. One thing playoffs of recent years has taught us is that even the smallest of mistakes can make big differences in the outcome (just ask Nelson Cruz).
- Bringing them Home – Longoria certainly makes a huge difference here. He’s batting .415 with RISP. But, even with a big bat like his, the Rays as a team have the 2nd worst average in the AL with RISP (.245), and the 2nd most strikeouts w/RISP in all of baseball (284). Someone besides Longoria is going to step up to bat with RISP at some point in the playoffs – and when that happens, there’s no guarantees this team will score.
Of the teams I’ve reviewed thus far, I would have to say the Rays have the best shot at winning it all. Primarily because their pitching is so stellar. Your thoughts?