How good could Rays have been if so many bad things didn’t happen?

Tales | The playoffs are ahead and a division title could still be won, but imagine the team with Wander Franco, Shane McClanahan and other stars who were sidelined.
The Rays have been without star shortstop Wander Franco in their lineup since Aug. 12.
The Rays have been without star shortstop Wander Franco in their lineup since Aug. 12. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Sept. 17

BALTIMORE — The Rays are going to end up having another good regular season despite all the issues they have had to deal with.

They already have passed the 90-win mark and have a shot at 100 for the second time in franchise history. They are going to the postseason for the fifth straight year, and nine times in 16. And they should be in the race until the final days to win the American League East for the third time in five seasons and fifth overall.

But just think what might have been.

If the stellar rotation they had assembled, one that was being discussed as potentially the game’s best, had a chance to pitch together at any point.

If their best position player, Wander Franco, hadn’t been placed on administrative leave in mid-August following allegations of inappropriate relationships with minors.

If three of their projected five starters, including two-time All-Star Shane McClanahan, hadn’t sustained season-ending elbow injuries, while two others missed some time.

The Rays will miss the energy boost, and mean bat, that Jose Siri brings to the lineup while he's out with a fractured hand.
The Rays will miss the energy boost, and mean bat, that Jose Siri brings to the lineup while he's out with a fractured hand. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

If key players such as Brandon Lowe, Jose Siri, Taylor Walls and Manuel Margot hadn’t served extended injured list stints.

If the bullpen hadn’t missed Shawn Armstrong early or Jason Adam now.

How good could they have been with just a reasonable number of injuries? Without Franco being taken off the field? With the bulk of the team they envisioned on the field?

Would the AL East title, and the first-round playoff bye, already be in the bag? Would they be challenging the Braves for the best record in the majors and tracking toward 105-plus wins?

“It’s easy to think that way and dream on the what ifs, but that’s not reality,” manager Kevin Cash said.

“Just so appreciative of the group, how they’ve kind of stuck together and made the most of the opportunities that were presented, maybe through injuries of other players, but they certainly have helped us get to this position that we’re in.”

Here’s a somewhat arbitrary ranking of the biggest losses the Rays had to deal with:

12. Margot. He was not having a great year, but his experience and defense were missed during a month recovering from elbow surgery.

11. Walls. He also wasn’t doing much at the plate, but his defense is golden and his absence due to oblique strain when Franco was sidelined caused a scramble.

10. Garrett Cleavinger, reliever. The hard-throwing lefty with swing-and-miss stuff was a solid complement to Colin Poche before a May knee injury ended his year.

9. Tyler Glasnow, starter. His two-month delay in starting the season due to an oblique strain could have been worse but it helped with his post-elbow surgery workload management that would otherwise have been an issue.

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Reliever Jason Adam is also missed this month as he spends time sidelined by an oblique injury.
Reliever Jason Adam is also missed this month as he spends time sidelined by an oblique injury. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

8. Adam. Just like when Pete Fairbanks missed time in May and June, the Rays have depth to cover, but Adam’s oblique issue is sidelining him at a crucial time.

7. Siri. Until fracturing his hand Monday, he impacted games with speed, power and defense, which are all key down stretch.

6. Armstrong. His June 4 debut after a neck issue coincided with the start of the bullpen’s extended run of success, with his 0.77 ERA through Friday a big part.

5. Lowe. He missed most of June due to back pain and was extremely limited the previous month, hitting .167 with two homers, and he still has 20 for the season.

4. Drew Rasmussen, starter. The May 8 start at New York was one of his best ever, and also his last before elbow injury and surgery.

3. Jeffrey Springs, starter. The lefty seemed positioned for a huge year, but he made only three starts before elbow injury and surgery.

2. McClanahan. Before back and elbow issues, he was doing Cy Young candidate-type things at 11-1, 2.12.

1. Franco. He hasn’t played since Aug. 12, and his 5.4 WAR is still sixth best of AL position players.

Rays rumblings

Add The Messenger to those reporting what has seemed increasingly obvious for weeks: that Franco won’t play again this season. Citing “sources familiar with” the Dominican Republic legal system, the news website said “the criminal probe will last much longer” than the early November end of the postseason. … Fast-rising top prospect Junior Caminero was the top pick by Escogido in the Dominican winter league rookie draft. … Before hanging a protective cup in the locker of Yandy Diaz the day after he had to leave a game after being hit by a fouled off pitch in a sensitive area, reliever/prankster Jake Diekman — in the culture of clubhouse humor — first sought a youth-sized version. … Ken Rosenthal confirmed for The Athletic that the Rays were close to a trade deadline deal for starter Jack Flaherty, but it fell apart “in the medical review stage,” which was on the Cardinals’ end. Flaherty instead went to the Orioles, where he is 1-3, 7.11. … MLB Network’s Chris “Mad Dog” Russo tabbed the Astros as the AL team to get to the World Series, with the Orioles a dark horse candidate: “It’s not going to be Tampa.” ... Chaim Bloom, fired last week as the Red Sox’s chief baseball officer, could likely rejoin the Rays’ front office in an advisory role if he wanted. And even better for, say, a $1 salary as Boston owes him for another year, minus anything he gets elsewhere. … Was it coincidental that 47-year-old Sox manager Alex Cora — who referred to the 40-year-old Bloom as “a good kid” — was immediately getting media mention as a potential replacement? … The Rays will catch a break this week in playing the Angels without two-way star Shohei Ohtani (whose season ended due to an oblique injury), as well as Mike Trout; but they will have Seminole native Brett Phillips, who during his Rays days referred to himself as “the American Shohei.” ... A potential postseason benefit for the Rays, especially if there is any concern about Fairbanks’ past circulation issues in his fingers, is a limited number of cold weather playoff opponents; the field could include Houston and Texas, plus there are domes in Toronto and Seattle (though open sided). ... The Tigers made official last week what seemed obvious: ex-Ray Austin Meadows, out since early April dealing with mental health issues, won’t return this season. Given Meadows, 28, would be in line to make around $4 million in 2024, he seems likely to be non-tendered this winter, giving him the chance, if he wants to play again, to become a free agent. Since being traded to Detroit for Isaac Paredes (and a draft pick), Meadows played in only 42 games.

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