The story of the 2018 Tampa Bay Rays is one out of a movie. It had its ups, it had its down and finished with a furious push which came up just short. In many ways, the Rays got screwed over. Usually, if a team finishes the regular season with 90 wins to their name, they will most likely be assured at least a trip to the postseason. Sometimes, 90 wins will be good enough to win a division. However, the Rays were stuck in one of the hardest divisions in baseball history as both the Yankees and Red Sox won 100+ games, leaving the Rays out of the postseason altogether. The Rays now come into 2019 with a realistic goal. Win a wild card spot and settle for nothing else. Although every teams goal at the beginning of the season is to compete for a division title, it is unrealistic to think that the Rays can beat both the Yankees and the Red Sox. However, there are steps that they can take as a team, to make sure they are the one’s playing in October, rather than hitting the links.
If the Rays want to experience success in 2019, they are going to have to rely on the production of their newly acquired left fielder, Tommy Pham. Pham, a 31-year-old from Las Vegas was acquired by the Rays last summer via trade. When the Rays acquired Pham, he was playing some of the worst baseball of his career, so this second chance was a blessing in disguise. In just 39 games played with the Rays to close out the 2018 season, Pham had managed to hit for a .343 BA, had a staggering 1.071 OPS and a .448 OBP. These numbers are huge for not only Pham’s confidence heading into the 2019 season, but for the Rays offense who has lacked a productive OF for quite sometime. I feel that Pham has found his new home here in Tampa and is going to have a huge impact for this team all summer long.
Another fresh face that is going to make waves at Tropicana Field this summer is veteran catcher, Mike Zunino. When the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays made a trade in November that sent Zunino to Tampa Bay, many fans just didn’t care. It was a trade that was widely underappreciated and frankly, did not get talked about what so ever. But the fact of the matter is, Zunino is a solid major league catcher who is going to help this Rays offense in 2019. In the last 2 seasons alone, Zunino has hit 45 home runs, has averaged a .295 OBP and has driven in a total of 108 runs. These numbers are not going to jump out at you and make you drool, but for a catcher, they are quite solid. Zunino also has an above average arm and will not fray away from gunning a base runner down. All and all, I feel like this was a very well executed trade for the Rays and feel that Zunino will be a nice addition to this already stable, Rays offense.
Let’s now talk about the most important piece of this Rays team coming into the 2019 season. I am, of course talking about the 1-2 punch of Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. If Blake Snell and Charlie Morton don’t produce in major ways this summer, the Rays may fall to fourth place in the division. If they do produce, we could be seeing a potential Wild Card game being held at Tropicana Field this fall. This is how crucial and how impactful these guys are going to be for this team this year. Starting with Blake Snell, the Rays are going to need their ace to repeat what was a magical season in 2018. Snell, a 26-year-old from Seattle, had the year of his life in 2018, pitching for a league best 1.89 ERA, accumulating a 21-5 record and struck out a total of 221 batters. As a reward for his dominant season, Snell was given the 2018 AL Cy Young Award, making him the first Ray to win this honor since David Price, who did so in 2012. Snell is the type of pitcher who almost makes you laugh, because his stuff is so damn nasty. I feel like the Rays should get out their checkbooks now, because they do not want to let a talent like Snell go, come next offseason. As for Charlie Morton, the Rays feel that they have picked up the steal of free agency with this 11 year major league vet. Charlie Morton is one of those guys you just can’t seem to figure out. He can’t really settle down as this is the 5th team he is pitching for in his career and has yet to find stable consistency with his stuff. Morton is coming off of the best year of his career, in which he pitched for a 15-3 record with the Astros, accumulated a 3.13 ERA and struck out a career best, 201 batters. Morton was also selected to his first all-star game in July and was even mentioned in the Cy Young conversation come season’s end. The one problem I have with Morton is that he is 35 and you can almost assure, age will start to become a factor. Never the less, this is a great pick up for the Rays and Morton is one of the more solid 2’s in all of baseball.
So where can we expect the Rays to fall come late September. Well, this is a tricky one. I think it is safe to say that the Rays are not talented enough to compete for an AL East title this season, but are talented enough to grab a wild card spot. A counter point to that however, is that there is really, only one wild card spot available, as the Yankees, or Red Sox pretty much have the first wild card spot locked up. Due to the fact that the Rays have a rather weak lineup from top to bottom, I have them finishing the 2019 regular season with a 84-78 record and have them missing the postseason by the tiniest of margins. Unless Major League Baseball goes through a drastic division realignment soon, which I don’t think they will, the Rays will be left on the outside looking in, for quite some time.