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Jones: Rays' season not surprising nor disappointing

Alex Cobb, expected to be the Rays’ ace, missed the entire season, one of a cascade of injuries that sabotaged the rotation.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Alex Cobb, expected to be the Rays’ ace, missed the entire season, one of a cascade of injuries that sabotaged the rotation.

ST. PETERSBURG

The Rays are not going to make the playoffs this season, and that's not good.

They aren't going to finish with a winning record, and that's not good, either. There's a chance they will finish last, and that's definitely not good.

But when we look back on the 2015 Rays, what should we think? Well, it really wasn't all that bad.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that the Rays were a huge disappointment this season. They couldn't hit. The bullpen fell apart. Maybe manager Kevin Cash wasn't quite ready for the job.

Still, even if the Rays do finish last, even if they have a losing record, this season can't really be considered that much of a surprise. And, therefore, you can't really say it was all that much of a disappointment.

Seriously, did anyone pick this team to win 90 games? Was anyone thinking the Rays would win the American League East? Were they supposed to be a playoff team?

Aren't they pretty much what we thought they would be? A team that flirted with .500, hung around for a while yet was not really deep enough or good enough to be a true contender?

And while they weren't a legitimate threat the final month of the season, it's easy to see what went wrong. No one wants to hear excuses, but how can you not look at the wrecking ball of injuries that destroyed what had a chance to be the best starting rotation in the division?

Alex Cobb was thought to be a Cy Young contender, and he didn't throw one pitch. Drew Smyly missed more than three months. Matt Moore didn't make his season debut until July 2 and really didn't resemble the old 17-win Matt Moore until after a tuneup trip to the minors.

Suddenly, Chris Archer, who was supposed to be the No. 4 man in the rotation, had to become the ace of the staff. Suddenly, the Rays were forced to rely on pitchers who weren't even supposed to be here, such as Nathan Karns and Erasmo Ramirez. Suddenly, a kid such as Jake Odorizzi went from being a borderline major-leaguer to the No. 2 arm.

A patchwork starting rotation led to an overused bullpen, and it's no wonder that the Rays struggled to keep their heads above water.

"I don't think we can spend too much time thinking about that simply because we'll get behind the eight ball," Cash said. "The injuries are unfortunate. Every team … deals with them. … You try not to look back and say, 'What if?' "

That's what managers are supposed to say, but the rest of us can say, "What if?" What if the Rays had a healthy rotation of Cobb, Smyly, Moore, Archer and Odorizzi? You're telling me that wouldn't have made a difference?

At the plate, there's no question that the Rays didn't hit enough earlier in the season, and they severely miscalculated the production they were going to get from offseason acquisitions Rene Rivera, Steven Souza Jr. and, for the first half, Asdrubal Cabrera.

Desmond Jennings was supposed to play more than 28 games. Evan Longoria was supposed to do more than hit .270 with 20 homers and 75 RBIs. James Loney was supposed to knock in more than 30-some runs.

But subpar seasons happen. Not every team can hit like the Blue Jays. The offense did perk up in the second half. They just lacked pop. A big bat — or getting Souza and Jennings to swing bigger bats — is the offseason priority.

So if the Rays are what we thought they would be even with all the injuries, why does it feel as if the season has been such a downer?

Well, they were 10 games over .500 at one point. They spent 29 days in first place, even as recently as late June. Then came the fall. Perhaps if it were the other way around, perhaps if the Rays started cold then got hot, we would feel differently about 2015.

"We all have an appreciation for (it being) a long season," Cash said. "And you have got to play well for six full months. We've hit patches where we've played really well as a team. But I don't think anything distorts the picture. We're definitely not where we want to be at this point in the season, but we've done a lot of good things leading up to this."

That brings us to Cash. It has been a learning year, a trying year for the rookie skipper. He will get a better handle on how to handle a pitching staff. He will get better, period. But to blame him for the Rays' finish would be wrong.

Joe Maddon might be the best manager in baseball, and I seem to remember him losing 101 games in his first season as Rays manager. I also seem to remember him finishing well below .500 last year, and that was with David Price for four months and with Cobb for the entire season.

This Rays season did not go the way anyone hoped, but it went about as expected. Perhaps with the emergence of Archer and Odorizzi, Logan Forsythe and Kevin Kiermaier, and the seasoning of Souza and the arrival of youngsters such as Richie Shaffer and Mikie Mahtook, we'll ultimately see 2015 as a rebuilding year.

That wouldn't be so bad.

Jones: Rays' season not surprising nor disappointing 09/30/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2015 10:36am]
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