NEW YORK — The overall disappointment of 2016 will take a while to get past for the top Ray, no matter what little victories they score the rest of this season, such as Sunday's 4-2 sweep-averting win over the contending Yankees.
"It's hard," principal owner Stuart Sternberg said an hour or so before first pitch. "I've already been thinking about next season, but it's hard. It's hard to see the promise given the kind of year we've had.
"Coming off of last year, I thought we overperformed relative to the number of games we had our guys on the field. That clearly wasn't the case this year. …
"I think if we reran this season now, we'd be better. But are we good enough? Tough to say."
That question is one they will address in earnest throughout the offseason, deciding which moves need to be made, which holes need to be filled, what changes, if any, in training, management, philosophy, leadership, strategy, payroll reliance on statistical data need to be made.
What they do know now is that they have lost 82 of their first 142 games, and though they (probably) won't cross the line of desolate demarcation to 100 losses, they seem headed to the mid 90s, perhaps pushing the 96 by the 2007 team.
Also, for record-keeping purposes, that with their next loss (or Red Sox win), they will be officially eliminated from the American League East race, and within the next day or two also from the wild-card race they expected to be very much a factor in.
"That's the shame of it," Sternberg said. "While there are a lot of teams that are playing really good baseball, it's not like we've had to deal with a team winning 103 games."
Though this team, at the least, will have the worst record of the nine seasons in the "Rays" era and second or third worst among his 11 in charge, Sternberg said it won't be their most disappointing.
That's because the way this season unfolded, the rapid way their hopes to contend disappeared, actually has made it easier to accept now.
The Rays were basically a .500 team through mid June, showing some spunk in playing through injuries to centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier and second baseman Logan Forsythe, which stripped them up the middle.
But then they quickly went into a stunning freefall, losing 11 straight, 16 of 18 and 22 of 25 going into the All-Star break.
"It happened so quickly, we were basically (out) by July 4," Sternberg said. "I wouldn't think (it's the most disappointing).
"The most disappointing time I've had was when we lost to the Rangers the first time in the playoffs (in 2010), because I know we were a much better team than that."
From Sternberg's view at the top, the failure was for many of the reasons as it looked from the press box, the stands and the couch.
"I think our run prevention at the end of the day," he said. "And our ability to get baserunners on a little more consistently. A lot of teams have gone through that in baseball, so I think it's not as dramatic, but just a bit more. A bit more consistency."
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Run prevention is a combination of pitching and defense, and the Rays certainly lacked for both at times this season.
The good news is that both look to be better in 2017.
With the return of Alex Cobb and development of Blake Snell (as a replacement for Matt Moore) in addition to Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly, plus having Matt Andriese, Chase Whitley (who made his return from Tommy John surgery Sunday) and Erasmo Ramirez as depth, they could have one of the best rotations.
(Then again, trading Archer or one of the others could be the key to improving elsewhere, but that is for those offseason strategy sessions.)
Also, the infield defense should be tidier with the new arrangement that has Brad Miller at first and Matt Duffy (with his left heel surgically repaired) at short, flanked by Forsythe and Evan Longoria at third.
Improvement in the team's on-base percentage, a paltry .310, and the overall offense is harder to predict, though the decision to replace hitting coach Derek Shelton with Chad Mottola was a step toward addressing that.
Fixing the team isn't the only project for this offseason as Sternberg also expects significant development — one way or another — in the effort to get a new stadium built.
"I'd like to get a real good sense of things between November and before opening day," he said. "So somewhere in that period, while there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, we're going to have to have some real progress.
"It's got to be the right spot, that's what makes it so challenging. Is it there? And if it is, we've got to make sure we can land there.
"We've done a lot. We've been out talking to people, we've been working, everything we could possibly do at this point."
There is a lot to get done this offseason. Or there could be more disappointment ahead.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.