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Rays Tales: Reviewing a disappointing but interesting season

The Rays' first season under new management ends today in disappointment with a second straight losing record, not particularly successful but certainly interesting as they navigated a seemingly endless string of injuries, with 26 disabled list stints, and 145 roster moves. Here is a look at some of the highs and lows:

Most Valuable Ray

Kevin Kiermaier's play in centerfield was outstanding and breathtaking, and his improvements at the plate allowed him to become an everyday player. 3B Evan Longoria battled through several rough stretches to finish with solid numbers, leading the team with 21 homers and 73 RBIs. RHP Chris Archer stepped to the front of the rotation when other top starters were injured and turned into an All-Star and an ace.

But if you are wont to define most valuable as the player who provided the most when the team needed it, given injuries and inconsistencies that stripped down the lineup, 2B Logan Forsythe is that man. You could say, much to the chagrin of the computer crowd, he earned those honors the old-fashioned way, going out every day, playing hard, playing well, doing whatever he could — both at the plate and in the field — to help the team.

And if you do want to look at some numbers, consider this one: No other second baseman in the majors, not Robinson Cano of the Mariners, not Brian Dozier of the Twins, not Brandon Phillips of the Reds, not Jose Altuve of the Astros, not any of them, can match Forsythe's combination of 17 homers, 68 RBIs and an .803 on-base plus slugging percentage.

Most Disappointing Ray

There are generally two reasons players have extremely disappointing seasons — either they don't play very well, or they don't play very often due to injuries. The Rays had their share of both, with several players crossing over.

• In the healthy division, C Rene Rivera (right) is at the top of a list that would also include RHP Grant Balfour, who was ditched way back in April. Acquired from San Diego based on two-thirds of a season of success there, Rivera was handed the starting job and managed to lose it twice — first to rookie Curt Casali then, when Casali got hurt, to veteran J.P. Arencibia. Of all major-leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances through Friday, Rivera has the lowest on-base plus slugging percentage (.492) and the second-lowest average (.179). And his defense was good but not as great as billed, his 35.5 caught-stealing rate offset by an AL catcher-high 11 errors (plus six passed balls and 43 wild pitches) and an above team average catchers ERA of 3.91.

• On the injured list, RHP Alex Cobb has to be No. 1 since he was the No. 1 starter until what began as a spring training arm issue led to mid May Tommy John elbow surgery that will sideline him until next August. But the bigger issue was with OF Desmond Jennings, who was limited to 28 games due to a series of left knee issues that persisted/recurred even after arthroscopic surgery, then a severe tooth infection. This is the same knee that was a problem that sidelined him at the end of the 2014 season, meaning after today he will have played only 28 of the Rays' past 190 games. Also, DH John Jaso missed half the season with a left wrist bruise sustained opening day, and LHP Jake McGee missed 71 games between elbow and knee surgeries.

• Then there are the crossovers, players who missed time due to injuries and didn't play particularly well when healthy. That list includes 1B James Loney, who had two stints on the DL and a .680 OPS lower than all first basemen with at least 375 plate appearances; rookie OF Steven Souza Jr., who also had two DL stints and a whopping 141 strikeouts and a .227 average to go with his 16 homers; and INF Nick Franklin, who went from an early camp contender for the shortstop job to a part of a planned second base platoon to the DL after a late spring oblique strain to spending the bulk of the season at Triple A.

Most Surprising Rays

There were some good things that happened, primarily as a result of the Rays getting a look at so many young players, using 18 rookies overall. But beyond the good impressions players such as OF Mikie Mahtook and relievers Andrew Bellatti and Enny Romero made, there were some unexpected success stories.

Sitting in Port Charlotte last spring, it would have been hard to imagine one much more unexpected than RHP Brad Boxberger going to the All-Star Game as one of the AL's top closers. But after establishing himself first as a full-time major-league reliever then a potentially dominant set-up man last year, Boxberger stepped into the vacant closer's job created by LHP Jake McGee's first-month absence and, even with some rough stretches and unhappy endings, led not just the Rays but the American League with 41 saves. That was definitely a surprise.

And also consider, in relative order of importance:

• 2B Logan Forsythe: He had never played more than 110 games in a big-league season, or 132 at any level, and was slated again for part-time duty at second base until Franklin got hurt at the end of the spring. Then, to borrow a phrase, he sieged the opportunity to become not just the Rays' starter but one of the AL's best.

• RHP Erasmo Ramirez: Acquired at the end of spring training to add some experience to the injury-ravaged staff, Ramirez's first two outings were so bad he looked like a mistake. Then he made some adjustments and since moving into the rotation in mid May went 11-5, 3.13.

• C Curt Casali: Didn't make the team out of spring, due in part to some roster manipulation, and didn't do much when he first came up in mid June. But given a chance to play regularly for a little more than a month before a hamstring strain, he showed enough — specifically 10 homers in 101 at-bats, a ratio of one per 10.1 that surpasses MLB leader Chris Davis' 12.51 — to be considered the starter going into spring.

• RHP Steve Geltz: The last reliever to make the team, and with little to show from previous big-league time, the 27-year-old rookie led the AL in appearances through August, showed he could handle multi-inning work and proved an impressive escape artist, allowing only three of 26 inherited runners to score.

• LHP Xavier Cedeno. Picked up essentially as a waiver clam in late April after being let go by Washington and churned through L.A., he stepped into a void created by LHP Jeff Beliveau's injury and emerged as one of their top relievers, posting a 2.09 ERA through 61 appearances.

Penning the tale

Nothing may have been a better reflection of the Rays' 2015 season than the performance of the bullpen, which arguably was the biggest key to their success and reason for their failures.

On the plus side, their AL-leading 60 saves (through Friday) match the seventh most in major-league history, are the most ever for a team without a winning record and factored into an MLB-record 76.9 percent of their victories, as their bullpen made an AL-most 523 appearances over 5312/3 innings (second most in the AL) while using 23 relievers (including two position players), with eight logging saves.

But on the other side, their 27 blown saves are the most in the majors (and their 68.97 conversion rate middling); their 13 walkoff losses and 37 overall by relievers are the most in the majors; their 2-13 record in extra innings is the worst in the majors (including 11 straight losses); and their 30 one-run losses are a team record and match the second most in the AL. Boxberger's 10 losses (six on walkoffs) were the most by a reliever in 10 years, and RHP Alex Colome (left) was the first pitcher in eight years to blow five in one month.

Farewell performances?

Five players who may be making their final appearances as Rays today:

SS Asdrubal Cabrera, DH John Jaso, 1B James Loney, OF Grady Sizemore and RHP Kirby Yates

And that happened

• C Curt Casali hit a pair of homers in consecutive games, making him just the second rookie catcher in MLB history with multiple homers in back-to-back games.

• Four times in a seven-game span, opposing starters had perfect games through five innings against the Rays.

• OF Brandon Guyer was hit by pitches a team-record 24 times, including three in the same game, by the same pitcher (Toronto's Mark Buehrle) on Friday.

Nathan Karns became the first rookie pitcher to homer in a 1-0 victory in 136 years (Syracuse's Harry McCormick in 1879).

• 3B Evan Longoria became the first third baseman in MLB history to have 200 homers and 250 RBIs in his first eight seasons.

• CF Kevin Kiermaier made a 233-foot throw home clocked at 100.4 mph. The fastest throw to the plate by a Rays pitcher was 99.3 mph by LHP Enny Romero.

• RHP Kirby Yates became the first reliever to give up a homer in six straight appearances in more than 50 years.

• In pitching INFs Jake Elmore and Nick Franklin vs. the Nats on June 16, the Rays were the first to use two position players in a nine-inning game since 1990.

By the numbers

4 Runs scored by Rays in the extra innings of their 15 "overtime" games

11 Unsuccessful replay challenges by Rays to start season; 16-for-54 overall

15 Rays with at least five homers, tying the major-league record

22 Homers from the No. 9 spot in the ordehe order, most in the majors

23 Rays players who have been on the DL, serving MLB-most 27 stints

31 Scoreless starts by Rays pitchers, most in the majors

32 Team record consecutive batters retired by Geltz, inspired by a Paula Abdul kiss

Rays Tales: Reviewing a disappointing but interesting season 10/03/15 [Last modified: Saturday, October 3, 2015 8:55pm]
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