It was quite clear at the end of last season that the Tampa Bay Rays’ bullpen was showing signs of fatigue and one of the main tasks for the franchise in the offseason was to try and get this starting rotation capable of pitching deeper into games.
The new season is still in its infancy but we have been able to see the fruit of some of the work that has gone on during the winter, not least in terms of relief pitchers. All eight of the Rays’ relievers have already made their first appearances of the season, with Xavier Cedeno being the most recent member of the bullpen thrown into the fray.
On the back of a disappointing 2015 campaign in which they finished with an 80-82 record to fall to their second successive losing season, the Rays have experienced a mixed start to the new campaign. After a solid 2-2 series with last season’s highest scorers, the Toronto Blue Jays, a dismal 1-6 hammering at the hands of the Orioles highlighted just how much work there is still to do for this Tampa Bay team to become genuine playoff contenders. In the franchise’s first 13 2/3 combined innings, the Rays’ relief rotation recorded a 1.32 earned-run average. They limited hitters to just a .188 batting average and struck out 13 with just three Toronto batters walking.
Both Alex Colome and Erasmo Ramirez were rightly singled out in Tampa Bay’s opening two wins of the season against the Blue Jays but, in truth, the whole rotation has looked a significant improvement on the one that finished last year. The relief pitchers combined to throw sixth in the MLB for most innings thrown last season. They were called into action in 161 of the franchise’s 162 games while averaging just over 3 1/3 innings per contest and it’s clear that this is an area that is going to be key to the Rays this season. At odds of around 15/2 with the baseball odds at the time of writing to top the AL East this year, Tampa Bay will have to surprise a few people if they are going to make the postseason.
In their first four games of the season against Toronto, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi and Matt Moore combined to go 0-2 during that period with a 4.43 ERA over 22 1/3 innings. They did, however, hold an intimidating Blue Jays batting line-up to a .227 batting average, walking eight and striking out 33. With Archer, Smyly, Moore and Odorizzi – who has already shown what he is capable of this season – all doing their part as starting pitchers, the eight relief pitchers included in the 25-man Tampa Bay rotation will be important to any hope the team have of making the postseason for the first time since 2013.
The loss to the Baltimore Orioles, in which Archer conceded four home runs in a comprehensive defeat, only backed up the argument that it could be a couple of years before we really see Tampa Bay back challenging again. While the Rays have come up against two of the league’s strongest offensive teams, the pitching rotation as a whole would have wanted to perform better than they have done. However, there is still a long way to go and the Floridians have plenty of time to find their feet, and hopefully the sort of consistency they are going to need if they are going to be contenders this season.