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One-fourth of way through season, 5 areas of concern for Rays

Manager Kevin Cash said he feels “really good” about his team’s play, but some numbers suggest otherwise.
The Rays' Mike Zunino, right, celebrates his three-run home run toward a television camera during the fifth inning of Friday's game against the Orioles in Baltimore.
The Rays' Mike Zunino, right, celebrates his three-run home run toward a television camera during the fifth inning of Friday's game against the Orioles in Baltimore. [ NICK WASS | AP ]
Published May 23

ST. PETERSBURG — A quarter of the way through their schedule, with about three-fourths of their projected pitching staff missing time due to injuries, the Rays don’t feel half bad about how their full season could play out.

“Summing it up, I feel really good about how we’ve performed,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve withstood some injuries and hung in there and found ways to win games.”

They’ve won 24 of their first 41, which puts them on pace for 95 victories, which should be enough for a fourth straight playoff appearance — especially with the field expanded to include a sixth team from each league.

Cash acknowledged the mixed results on the pitching side, due in large part to a long list of injuries that started in the spring.

He noted the bullpen “has been tremendous” — although not as much recently, with eight blown saves in the last 15 games.

He lauded how Jeffrey Springs stepped into the rotation and Drew Rasmussen stepped up his workload to address an area of concern. “The people that we’ve challenged to tack on innings, namely ‘Rass’ and Springs, have been awesome for us,” Cash said. “Not sure where we’d be without them.”

The Rays have good reason to figure they’ll get better as some key pitchers return from injuries over the next few weeks and months: starters Shane Baz, Yonny Chirinos and Luis Patino (plus maybe Tyler Glasnow in September); relievers Nick Anderson, JT Chargois, Pete Fairbanks and Andrew Kittredge.

The inconsistencies in the offense have been evident, and certainly magnified, with Brandon Lowe and Manuel Margot on the injured list (and Ji-Man Choi recently returned), Wander Franco limited by ongoing leg issues (and slumping badly, 2-for-his-last-35). Others, such as Randy Arozarena and Mike Zunino, are just now starting to show signs of warming up.

“I don’t think our offense has quite hit its stride yet,” Cash said. “But fully confident they will.”

And there are some little things that can be big problems, like the Rays’ “uncharacteristic” nights of sloppy play that are becoming more common and repeated mistakes on the bases. “I think the defense has played well,” Cash said. “If we’re going to tidy up something, that would be outs on the bases.”

Here are five numbers that illustrate and/or highlight causes for concern:

3

Baltimore Orioles players swarm Rougned Odor, center, after his game-winning single against Rays relief pitcher Dusten Knight in the 11th inning Sunday in Baltimore.
Baltimore Orioles players swarm Rougned Odor, center, after his game-winning single against Rays relief pitcher Dusten Knight in the 11th inning Sunday in Baltimore. [ TERRANCE WILLIAMS | AP ]

Walkoff losses, of their 17 defeats this season: at Seattle May 8 and at Baltimore Friday and Monday. Combined with last year’s 12, the Rays since the start of 2021 have been walked off 15 times, matching the Marlins for most in the majors. Including last year’s playoffs, 17 of their 43 road losses — 39.5 percent — came by walkoff. The Rays have won twice this season on walkoffs.

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5

Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier hits a solo home run during a game against the Detroit Tigers May 17 at Tropicana Field.
Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier hits a solo home run during a game against the Detroit Tigers May 17 at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Team-leading number of home runs by Kevin Kiermaier, the veteran speedy outfielder who hit seven combined the last two years; along with Brandon Lowe, the currently injured second baseman who had 39 last year. Related, the Rays’ overall production has been somewhat all or nothing. Before scoring 32 runs over their last five games, they totaled just 19 over the previous eight. The Rays rank 12th in the majors at 4.39 runs per game, 11th with 42 homers and 14th with a .239 average. Also of note, they are averaging nearly a full run more per game on the road.

10

Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) gives the ball to relief pitcher Ryan Thompson (81) during a game against the Minnesota Twins in April at Tropicana Field.
Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) gives the ball to relief pitcher Ryan Thompson (81) during a game against the Minnesota Twins in April at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Blown saves by Rays pitchers, matching Boston for most in the majors (through Sunday). And it’s been a team effort — Ryan Thompson has three, Kittredge and Matt Wisler two each, JP Feyereisen, Ralph Garza Jr. and Brooks Raley one each. Of further note, after playing six weeks without losing a game after blowing a multi-run lead, the Rays did so twice in their last three games.

21

Rays rightfielder Randy Arozarena (56) waits on second base during a replay review after he was called out during a game against the Boston Red Sox in April at Tropicana Field.
Rays rightfielder Randy Arozarena (56) waits on second base during a replay review after he was called out during a game against the Boston Red Sox in April at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Outs on the bases made by Rays runners (not counting pickoffs, caught stealings or force plays), per baseball-reference.com, including seven by Randy Arozarena. Both are most in the majors. They also have been caught stealing 11 times, second-most in the majors, in 45 attempts (for a 76-percent success rate that ranks 11th) and picked off twice.

29

Rays rightfielder Manuel Margot (13) misses a catch, resulting in a triple by Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suarez during a game in April at Tropicana Field.
Rays rightfielder Manuel Margot (13) misses a catch, resulting in a triple by Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suarez during a game in April at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Unearned runs allowed by the Rays, most in the majors (through Sunday) and one ahead of the non-contending Rockies and Pirates. (Unearned runs include those that are the result of runners placed on second base at the start of extra innings.) By contrast, the Rays allowed only 58 all of last season. Related, the Rays have made 25 errors, tied for ninth-most, and a .983 fielding percentage, which ranks tied for 20th.

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