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Fennelly: Why Rays' pitching is overrated … for now

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in a bullpen session during a Spring Training workout at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017.
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in a bullpen session during a Spring Training workout at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017.
Published Mar. 2, 2017

PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays occasional ace Chris Archer made a good point as spring training began, namely that it would take more than pitching to make this team a winner again. It hasn't been one since 2013. Last year's 68 wins were strictly Devil Rays stuff.

"People are going to have to step up in the bullpen," Archer said a few weeks ago. "We're going to have to score more runs than we did last year, because when we did pitch well, we still struggled to win games. … I think it's time for us to shift away from relying solely on starting pitching."

The Rays offense, which hit .243, worst in the American League, with more strikeouts and fewer hits than any AL club, with the second-fewest runs and second-worst on-base percentage, needs to get it together.

Here's another reason to do it:

The pitching might be overrated.

I mean it.

Yes, starting pitching is the Rays' best hope, their only chance at avoiding oblivion, with a stable of 20-something arms and more on the way. But is it really as good as its billing, consistently good?

No way.

It took a step back last season.

"Overrated?" Rays starter Alex Cobb said. "I get what you're saying. I can't argue against that if people are saying that. We haven't collectively proven anything as a group. There have been good individual years. 'Arch' had a great year in '15. (Jake Odorizzi) has been Mr. Consistent in '15 and '16. I had a good year in '13, '14, and then we have a couple of guys who are unproven. You can't argue against that."

Archer, bad luck or run support notwithstanding, is coming off a 19-loss season.

Cobb, a beast when he wasn't injured, is a wild card in terms of getting back to where he once was before Tommy John surgery.

Odorizzi, who started Wednesday in Port Charlotte against Philadelphia, is consistent, but he hasn't had that major breakthrough season. Left-hander Blake Snell is just getting his feet wet. Matt Andriese might be a good fifth starter, might not.

There are as many questions as there is upside with these starters.

I could argue there's potential for a top-10 rotation.

But they have to go do it.

I mean, David Price and James Shields were for real.

They've been gone a while.

Rays starters are riding on potential and upside at the moment. That's all.

Don't be fooled. Yes, the offense needs to kick in, as Archer rightly pointed out.

Winning, as well as avoiding the abyss, is still about one thing.

"It's all about pitching," manager Kevin Cash said. "As far as I'm concerned, we're going to win games because of our pitching. I like the offense and the capabilities of hitting the ball out of the ballpark. But we're going to be built on pitching, for sure."

It's on the pitching — and last year was a step back.

So, for now, it's overrated.

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"Until we put together a season collectively, until we all have that year as a group and we're playing in the playoffs," Cobb said. "It's about the pitching. It's on us. I've always enjoyed embracing that. Because we do get a lot of credit. With that comes pressure. It's how we deal with it."

"Just as long as we're ourselves, we're fine," Archer said. "Only time will tell. I've said that about the team in general. I can't tell you whether we're underrated or overrated until Game 162, or until I actually know where we stand."

That's always been the safety net: The Rays have the pitching. Nobody hits, but the Rays have pitching. World to end Friday. Rays to still have pitching Saturday.

Go prove it.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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