Realistically, the Rays don't have a lot to play for over the final five weeks of this lost season. A winning record after the All-Star break would be a little something, as they went into play Saturday 20-19, and a contender-heavy schedule will give them a chance to spoil playoff plans for a few other teams. Individually, there are some jobs to be saved, or reclaimed, particularly among the corner outfielders, catchers and relievers. Though none of that measures up as particularly meaningful, that doesn't mean it won't be interesting. Here are a few accomplishments that will be topics of conversation:
Archer's record year
Chris Archer is no Tanyon Sturtze.
When Sturtze piled up a Tampa Bay-record 18 losses in 2002, he was a 31-year-old journeyman thrust into his only season as a full-time starter in the big leagues playing on a brutally bad Devil Rays team that lost a franchise-worst 106 games.
Despite being a much better, more accomplished and higher-ceilinged pitcher, Archer takes the mound today in Houston with 17 losses and the first of a half-dozen chances to match and potentially surpass Sturtze for one of the most dubious team marks.
"Archer is too good to be in this club," said Sturtze, 45, retired and living on Florida's east coast. "I hope he wins the rest of his starts."
• Archer also has an outside shot at becoming the first pitcher to lose 20 games since 2003, when Mike Maroth was 9-21, 5.73 for the Tigers. And Archer could be the first pitcher to lose 20 the season after being an All-Star since 1979, when Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro was an amazing 21-20, 3.39 in 44 starts — with 23 complete games!
• Archer could join Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers to lead the AL in losses and strikeouts, as Ryan did in 1976 for the Angels with 18 and 327. Here is how those "races" look through Friday:
Most AL losses Most AL strikeouts
Chris Archer, Rays 17 Chris Archer, Rays 192
R.A. Dickey, Jays 13 Justin Verlander, Tigers 189
Matt Shoemaker, Angels 13 David Price, Red Sox 179
Anibal Sanchez, Tigers 12 Chris Sale, White Sox 179
Dallas Keuchel, Astros 12 Corey Kluber, Indians 178
Ricky Nolasco, Angels 12 Cole Hamels, Rangers 167
3B Evan Longoria is on pace for potentially the best of his nine big-league seasons, the increased production a product of, among other things, an increased in-season weightlifting program to keep him strong and from losing weight. "I think with being a little older (30), with the change in swing and body, a lot of it factors into what I'm doing this year," he said. "I'm not heavy powerlifting but definitely trying to move around some weight and not just come in here and go on the bike for 10 minutes and get ready to play a game." Here is a look at what he has done through Friday, what his current pace projects to, and his career best in each category:
Avg. H 2B HR RBI XBH SLG OBP OPS
So far: .288 142 33 30 79 66 .550 .340 .890
Projected: .288 181 42 38 101 84 .550 .340 .890
Career best: .294 169 46 33 113 77 .531 .369 .896
This has the potential to be the most prolific home run-hitting team in Rays history, ranking seventh through Friday and on pace for 214:
Year Total Leader
2009 199 Carlos Peña, 39
2006 190 Ty Wigginton, 24
2007 187 Carlos Peña, 46
2008 180 Carlos Peña, 31
2012 175 B.J. Upton, 28
2011 172 Evan Longoria, 31
2016 168 Evan Longoria, 30
2015 167 Evan Longoria, 21
Also, Longoria and Brad Miller (who has 25) have a chance to become the third pair of Rays teammates with 30 each, joining Jose Canseco (34) and Fred McGriff (32) in 1999 and Longoria (33) and Peña (39) in 2009.
The Whiff Kids
Rays games have included a good breeze this season, as their hitters and pitchers went into play Saturday with 2,230 combined strikeouts, second most in the majors to the Astros, who had 2,276. The 1,154 by Rays hitters puts them on pace to smash the team record of 1,324, set in 2007. The 1,076 by Rays pitchers projects to be the third most in team history. It's not just the Rays, as MLB teams overall are on pace to break the total strikeout mark for a ninth straight season.
• Though he missed 17 games with injury and has been on the bench for another nine, OF Steven Souza Jr. has a shot to break Carlos Peña's team record of 182 strikeouts in a season. Souza has 139 through 101 games, and maintaining that average of 1.38 per game with 35 remaining could just about put him over the top.
• Souza has taken the second most called third strikes in the AL, and third most overall, with 48. Though he likely can't catch overall leader Chris Davis of the Orioles, who has 64, they are very close ratio-wise: Souza has gone down looking in 34.5 percent of his strikeouts, Davis in 36.6 percent of his.
The top three Rays starters have all been pitching better since the All-Star break, led by RHP Jake Odorizzi, who is 6-0, 1.59 in eight starts. Here are the best AL starters since:
Pitcher, team GS W-L ERA
Jake Odorizzi, Rays 8 6-0 1.59
Cole Hamels, Rangers 8 5-2 1.59
Corey Kluber, Indians 8 5-0 1.84
Ervin Santana, Twins 7 3-3 1.89
Jose Quintana, WSox 7 3-1 1.91
Walk if off
The Rays have not hit a walkoff homer since Sean Rodriguez beat Oakland on May 22, 2014, the longest such streak in the majors. (Next longest: Red Sox, who last did it June 18, 2014, vs. Minnesota.
• OF Desmond Jennings, released Saturday, will be remembered as a great athlete who due to injuries and other issues never fulfilled his potential. Not so memorable was his declining to comment on his release, though it wasn't as dramatic as Pat Burrell, who hung up on a Tampa Bay Times reporter then texted to "Lose my (expletive) number."
• Coincidence or pragmatic planning given the potential for offseason trades, but the "unique gift opportunities" offered to two-year renewing season-ticket holders feature Evan Longoria (cooking/eating at his Ducky's restaurant), Kevin Kiermaier (dinner cruise, memorabilia box) and Logan Forsythe (hitting lessons) but nothing with Chris Archer nor any other pitchers.
RHP Chris Archer remains "extremely" interested in playing for Team USA in next spring's World Baseball Classic. … LHP Matt Moore certainly could've made a no-hit bid with the Rays but wouldn't have gotten near the 133 pitches Giants manager Bruce Bochy allowed. … As unlikely as former Gators QB Tim Tebow's chances are to make it in baseball, there's no downside for the Rays to join the teams in taking a look at his Tuesday showcase. … If RHP James Shields were to be released by the White Sox, would the Rays see value in bringing him back for 2017? … Two things the Rays could do with C Bobby Wilson: Trade him back to the Rangers so he can help in their playoff push or sign him for 2017 before he hits the market.