Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

10 things we learned about Rays this season

ARLINGTON, Texas — As the Rays wrapped up their disappointing season 68-94 with Sunday's 6-4, 10-inning win over the Rangers, here are 10 things we learned:

1 Evan Longoria is still good.

At age 30, after back-to-back years of pedestrian production, he responded with one of the best of his nine seasons and re-established himself among the game's best. He posted career highs in homers (36), hits (173), extra-base hits (81) and total bases (330), fell just shy of 100 RBIs and played his usual stellar defense.

2 Run prevention matters most.

The attempt to juice the offense sounded good in theory, but it wasn't nearly enough. The key to the Rays' success remains run prevention, which requires dominant pitching and dazzling defense. Their worst record since the Devil Rays days of 2007 doesn't just coincide with their worst run differential since then, at minus-41. Over their six straight winning seasons, and four trips to the playoffs, the Rays averaged plus-95. Over these three straight losing seasons, minus-17.

3 CF Kevin Kiermaier is indispensable.

Longoria is the Rays' most valuable player but Kiermaier their most invaluable. The void of his 48-game DL stint made it blatantly obvious not only how many plays he makes that impact every game but how much better he makes the overall defense. And he is turning into an offensive spark plug.

4 Home runs are not always good.

The Rays turned up the power and hit a team-record 216 homers, which ranked sixth in the majors, but they finished 24th with 672 runs, in part because 136 were solo. That made them, and the Mets, the first teams in major-league history to hit more than 200 and not score at least 700. And there has never been a team to hit as many homers as the Rays and lose as many games.

5 RHP Alex Colome is one cool cat.

For a guy who had never saved a game in the majors or minors, Colome not only rescued the Rays by converting 37 in 40 chances but impressed with how cool, calm and collected he was in taking over the gig. "I didn't realize he was going to be that poised,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "That surprised me a little bit.''

6 Small things are big.

Baserunning mistakes. Not making routine plays. Baserunning mistakes. Failing to advance runners. Baserunning mistakes. Not executing pitches. Baserunning mistakes. Throwing to the wrong base. Baserunning mistakes. Two-out walks. Base­running mistakes. Spring training should be quite busy.

7 Corey Dickerson could be a beast.

The Rays have missed on their share of trades, but Dickerson, acquired from Colorado in the Jake McGee trade, might be a big hit. If you buy into the narrative that he just needed time to adjust to AL pitching, the DH role and not playing in Coors Field, his second half has been encouraging, as is the ratio of 50.4 percent of his hits going for extra bases.

8 Winning isn't done only on the field.

The Rays took some good steps in weeding out players with attitude issues and stressing accountability for others. More work needs to be done to improve the clubhouse culture, and that starts with acquiring players who are gamers, committed to putting the team first and knowing how to win.

9 Principal owner Stuart Sternberg was prescient — and optimistic.

On opening day, Sternberg said his confidence for this season was tempered "because there is a wider range of outcomes" than before: "We have thought in all of those years, including 2008 (when they won the AL East), that we were an 80-something to 90-something win team. I don't know (this year). We could win 72, we could win 97 games.''

10 The hard work starts today.

The grind of a third straight losing season should be a clarion call throughout the organization to take whatever actions necessary to return to the seemingly long-ago good old days of 2008-13. Even more so if the Rays truly want to get a stadium deal done, as having good vibes about the team would only build necessary community support.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

 
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