The Tampa Bay Rays entered the All-Star break holding the American League’s first Wild Card with a record of 52-39. Baseball Reference’s playoff odds currently give them an 81% chance of reaching the postseason as they head into the second half. That’s a long way from 100%, though, and that projection seems somewhat optimistic given that right now they’re one of five teams separated by just three games that are battling for the two Wild Cards, a group that also includes the Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers.
If the Rays are going to be successful in their quest to reach the postseason for the first time since 2013 — and perhaps even climb their way back into the AL East race, in which they currently trail the New York Yankees by 6.5 games — there are players they’re going to need more from. As we get ready to begin the second half of the 2019 season, let’s take a look at four of them.
Four Players the Tampa Bay Rays Need More From in the Second Half
The reigning Cy Young Award winner in the American League was missing from the All-Star festivities in Cleveland. Not because he was injured, but because he wasn’t invited. Through 19 starts this season, Blake Snell is 5-7 with a 4.70 ERA. It’s true that he’s striking batters out at an even higher rate than last season. His K/9 is 12.20, which would be the fourth highest rate in MLB if he had enough innings to qualify. It is also up from his 11.01 mark last year. His walk rate is also slightly down, from 3.19 to 3.10.
It’s probably fair to say Snell’s been a bit unlucky. His BABIP is .351, way up from his .241 mark a year ago. He’s stranded just 68.8% of base runners, way down from his 88% clip in 2018. His FIP is 3.44, not that much worse than his 2.95 mark from last year. His disappointing season thus far can’t entirely be blamed on bad luck, though. Snell is allowing more line drives and home runs than he did last year. Whatever the cause of his struggles, a return to form would go a long way for the Rays.
Early in the season, Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado looked to be forming a fearsome duo at the back end of Tampa Bay’s bullpen. Both have since gone through struggles and absences. Alvarado was away from the team for almost the entire month of June to be in Venezuela with his mother, who was dealing with a health issue. He’s now dealing with an oblique strain that sounds like it could sideline him into September.
As for Castillo, in 15.1 innings of work in March and April, he posted a 2.35 ERA as batters hit .222/.288/.407 against him. In May, he was even better, posting a 1.93 ERA over 14 innings as batter slashed just .146/.276/.229.
Castillo then pitched just five innings in June before being placed on the injured list with shoulder inflammation. Not to mention they were disastrous innings. He allowed 10 hits, two home runs, four walks, hit a batter, and allowed eight earned runs. Castillo is ready to be activated to begin the second half. The Rays will still be looking to acquire bullpen help at the July 31st deadline. Regardless, they need to hope that Castillo’s shoulder issue was causing his struggles and that it’s been resolved. The team badly need him to return to his early-season form.
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) July 11, 2019
Yes, the Rays do need more from the very same Austin Meadows who’s just getting back from representing them at the All-Star Game in his first full MLB season. Yes, his numbers are pretty impressive. In 71 games he’s slashing .289/.364/.502 with 12 home runs, 41 RBI and a 128 OPS+.
Meadows has been stuck in a deep slump for a while now, though. In 100 plate appearances over 24 games since June 10, Meadows is slashing .176/.250/.253. He hasn’t homered since May 28. That he was still named an All Star and his overall numbers are still pretty strong is a testament to how impressive his first two months of the season were, when he was looking like a potential MVP candidate. Whether he can get back to that level in the second half, the Rays certainly need more from him than they’ve gotten over the last month.
The Rays are still waiting for Mike Zunino to show them, well, anything with a bat in his hands. In 182 plate appearances over 50 games this season, Zunino’s slashing .182/.236/.324 with four home runs, 19 RBI and an OPS+ of just 47. Hopefully the second half brings better results.
The good news is that Travis d’Arnaud has been solid since being acquired him from the Los Angeles Dodgers following injuries to Zunino and Michael Perez. In 131 plate appearances over 36 games with the Rays, d’Arnaud is slashing .254/.313/.458. He has also thrown in six homers, 20 RBI and a 102 OPS+. The Rays love Zunino’s work behind the plate, but if he doesn’t start showing some signs of life offensively, they may have little choice but to start giving d’Arnaud the lion’s share of the playing time.
Main photo: Embed from Getty Images