The Rays reach the 90-win plateau for the fourth straight season and returned to the playoffs in 2013.
By ANDREW ASTLEFORD FS Florida
Record: 92-71, 2nd place in the American League East
After missing the playoffs last season, the
Tampa Bay Rays made a return to October in their eighth campaign under manager Joe Maddon. The 92 victories marked the fourth consecutive season in which they won at least 90 games, a notable feat for a franchise that used to be one of baseball’s weakest.
In July, when they went a major league best 21-5, the Rays looked capable of winning the American League East and completing a long playoff run. A September slump kept them from catching the
Boston Red Sox in the division. But they won nine of 11 games to close the regular season, including a victory over the Texas Rangers in the AL wild-card tiebreaker, to reach the Division Series.
This team included the emergence of
Alex Cobb and
Matt Moore as strong, young rotation members, as well as Alex Torres proving to be an impressive middle reliever. The promotion of hyped prospect Wil Myers provided a burst, and
James Loney complemented
Evan Longoria throughout the year to provide production.
Let’s take a closer look at the 2013 Rays:
MVP: Evan Longoria. There's little surprise with this choice. He led the Rays in homers (32) and RBI (88) in the regular season and added one homer and three RBI in the AL Division Series.
MVP runner-up: James Loney. A consistent offensive presence throughout the year, he led the Rays in batting average (.299) and finished second in RBI (75) in the regular season. He hit .417 with two RBI in the AL Division Series.
Most shocking moment I: David Price's Twitter rant after his loss to Boston in Game 2 of the AL Division Series was unfortunate. Credit him for apologizing, though.
Most shocking moment II: Detroit Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello plunked Ben Zobrist on June 30 -- likely in retaliation for Fernando Rodney brushing back Miguel Cabrera the night before. Porcello was later suspended six games.
Most surprising performance: Yunel Escobar. He owned a .089 batting average after play April 16, but he steadily improved at the plate and provided a defensive spark with his skilled play at shortstop.
Game of the Year: This one's easy. The 5-4 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in 18 innings at Tropicana Field on Sept. 20 became a lift the Rays needed. They don’t make the playoffs without this win.
The good -- Longoria was the Rays' most reliable offensive threat. He played 160 games, and without him, they don't reach the playoffs. There's a reason he's the face of the franchise. It's as simple as that.
Loney was a pleasant surprise. His final regular-season batting average was the highest it had been since he posted a .331 with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007. He and Longoria were dangerous most of the year.
The bad -- Luke Scott's role became diminished after mid-August. He played 91 games, five fewer than in his debut season with the Rays last year. He never appeared in the postseason.
It was difficult to watch Matt Joyce toward the end. He hit .235 with 18 homers and 47 RBI. He hit .089 in September, and he was 0 for 8 in the ALDS.
Overall, the Rays lacked the depth to overtake the Red Sox for the AL East title and beat them in the ALDS. Tampa Bay only mustered 12 runs against Boston in the series.
The good -- Alex Cobb emerged as the Rays' most reliable starter by the end. He won five of six decisions in the regular season after returning Aug. 15 from a mild concussion, which kept him out two months. The right-hander came up big in the AL wild-card game, limiting the Cleveland Indians to no runs and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Matt Moore was a bright spot. He finished 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 27 regular-season starts. He was named to his first All-Star team in July, a deserving honor given his consistency, especially in the season’s first half.
After a rough start to the season, David Price looked stronger than ever following his return in July from a strained left triceps. He went 5-1 with a 1.68 ERA in six appearances that month. He finished 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA in the regular season.
The bad -- The Roberto Hernandez experiment didn't go as well as the Rays had hoped. He was the weak link in the rotation for much of the year until he was moved to the bullpen in September. He went 6-13 with a 4.89 ERA in the regular season, and he never appeared in the playoffs.
What happened to Jeremy Hellickson? He left spring training holding the second spot in the Rays' rotation, but he went 12-10 with a 5.17 ERA in the regular season. He was demoted to the minors for a short time in late August. He lost seven of his last nine decisions dating back to July 31, and he received a quick hook (after facing six batters) in the Rays’ ALDS Game 4 loss to the Red Sox.
Wil Myers showed hints of becoming a star in the majors for years to come. He hit .293 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI in the regular season after his promotion in June, though he cooled in the playoffs by going 2 for 20 with seven strikeouts. Parting with James Shields in the blockbuster offseason trade was difficult, but Myers has big upside.
Chris Archer had some high moments after entering the rotation in June. He went 9-7 with a 3.22 ERA, with his best month happening in July, when he went 4-0 with a 0.73 ERA in five starts. With more experience, he could be a dependable rotation member for many seasons ahead.
Alex Torres established himself as a dependable middle reliever after he stayed in the majors for good starting in June. He had a 1.71 ERA in 58 innings, which spanned over 39 appearances.
Price isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season, but it will be curious to see if the Rays choose to place the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner on the trade block in the offseason. Outside of Price, Loney will be an interesting name to watch, as will veteran reliever Jamey Wright and closer Fernando Rodney. Price, however, will command most of the attention.
This season included many twists, from the Rays' hot July to hanging on for their postseason lives in late September. They went about as far as they could, considering they ran into the deep Red Sox when they did. Myers, Archer, Cobb and Moore are among a core group of young players that give Tampa Bay reason to anticipate the future.