Tampa Bay Rays: One Step Forward and Two Back

For every positive move going forward, it seems that the Tampa Bay Rays take two steps back when it comes to pitching, hitting and a coach.

Even though it wasn’t hard to do, the Tampa Bay Rays have been playing better baseball from the All-Star break through August.

Television analyst Brian Anderson even said the Rays were one of the teams contenders didn’t want to face.

However, it only took a few days in September to show that this progress is fragile.

The pitching has been one area in which the Rays have made progress. The starters, for the most part, have been solid and the back end of the bullpen has been steady.

However, there are a couple of chinks in the armor and one of them has been Matt Andriese.

Andriese had been very effective in the bullpen and as a spot starter.

With the departure of Matt Moore, the Rays gave him a shot in the rotation and, while it got off to a good start, he has been terrible of late.

However, Andriese was a valuable member of the bullpen.

With Boxberger out, he stepped in to take his place in the back-end of the bullpen. Along with Erasmo Ramirez, his ability to pitch one or more innings saved a lot of abbreviated starts.

Currently, the Rays bullpen depends too much on journeymen and marginal Triple-A pitchers to keep them in the game.

The Rays need to give up the six-man rotation and return Andriese to the bullpen where he is is most effective.

The Tampa Bay Rays have finally parted ways with Derek Shelton and promoted Chad Mottola to be the hitting coach. That’s a positive move.

However, Mottola has a big job ahead of him.

Even though Evan Longoria, Logan Forsythe and Brad Miller are having career years and the Rays are hitting lots of home runs, the basic foundation of the offense is seriously flawed.

The team is 15th in the American League in hits, 14th in on base percentage, 12th in runs scored and 11th in runs batted in.

The hitting problem is more than one player. Only five players are hitting more than .250.

The team is second in the American League strikeouts with over 1200 and Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza Jr. have 258 strikeouts between them.

Situational hitting is an even bigger issue.

Power hitters Longoria, Forsythe and Miller aside, only Kevin Kiermaier and Matt Duffy seem to know how to advance runners.

The question is whether Mottola can solve this with the current players or are significant changes needed.

The realignment of the Rays infield was a very positive move

The addition of Duffy and moving Miller to first base gives the Tampa Bay Rays a talented player at each position.

All they needed was time together to learn to work as a team. Unfortunately, just as they were starting to click, it was announced that Duffy would be out for the season with minor surgery on his Achilles.

All of this throws a monkey wrench into the new look of the Ray’s infield.

It also raises questions as to whether Miller will return to shortstop causing two changes to the infield or whether Tim Beckham will be let out of the doghouse to play the position in Duffy’s absence.

And finally there is the annual September call up of minor leagues players.

This year the Rays have called up Eddie Gamboa, Steve Geltz, Justin Marks and Chase Whitley on the pitching side.

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That amounts to three Triple-A  journeymen and a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery. The odds of any of these pitchers being on the 25-man roster next April are slim to none.

On the position player side it’s Curt Casali, Mikie Mahtook and Richie Shaffer. This makes more sense as they need to know how these players fit into the roster going forward.

Mahtook should play in the outfield every day and Shaffer should DH or play first on a regular basis.

The Rays appear to be making a legitimate effort to put together a team for next year but they need to work harder to straighten out the corner outfield positions and scour the market for a decent catcher.

The bullpen is always an issue.

In the end, the 2017 season will hinge on whether the Tampa Bay Rays make half dozen smart decisions.

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