Covering the Bases: Looking back at the 2018 Rays

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FOX Sports Florida's Janelle Johnston takes a deep dive into the Tampa Bay Rays' 2018 season, a campaign that featured The Opener, a slew of new faces, and perhaps the finest pitching season in franchise history.

[WHOOSH] - What's up, Rays fans? I'm Janelle Johnson for FOX Sports Florida here with the final episode of "Covering the Bases" for the season. Let's take a look back at 2018, starting with what's trending.

[WHOOSH]

[POP MUSIC]

The Tampa Bay Rays won their final two games of the year and reached 90 wins for the first time since 2013. They're just the third team in the two wildcard era to reach the 90-win mark and not make the playoffs, with the other being the 2013 Rangers and the 2012 Rays. The Rays are 41 and 25 in the second half, the fourth best in the majors and third best in the American League in that span.

They were also tied for the third best home record in baseball with the Brewers, behind the Red Sox and the Yankees. Rays fans, this is a team that began in the year four and 13 and was able to finish 18 games over 500.

[WHOOSH]

The team set a franchise record by using 54 players in 2018, with 23 of them being rookies. 12 players made their MLB debut for the Rays this year, which was also a franchise record. The Rays used 17 starting pitchers, a number bolstered by the opener initiative. For comparison, they used eight starting pitchers last year. Tampa Bay set an MLB record with 824 and 1/3 innings pitched in relief, shattering the previous record, the 2012 Colorado Rockies, who had 657 relief innings pitched.

[WHOOSH]

One of this year's players to watch all-season long was left-handed pitcher Blake Snell. How about this for a second half for Blake Snell? 61 and 2/3 innings pitched with a 1.17 ERA, the best among starting pitchers post all-star break. He struck out 38.5% of batters after the break, which was second best in the majors among starters. Snell's full season looks like this. 21 wins, most in the MLB, 1.89 ERA, second in the MLB, and a strikeout percentage of 31.6, fifth in the MLB, and 7.5 WAR, fifth in the MLB.

Snell has officially reached ace status. He put together one of the finest seasons in baseball this season, one worth of Cy Young contention. Beyond that, this was by most measures the single greatest pitching season in Rays history, besting some of the best campaigns from David Price, James Shields, and Scott Kazmir.

Another player to watch all season was Mallex Smith, who was a bit of a throwback in 2018. He didn't walk much, his strikeout rate wasn't too high, and he hit just two home runs, which was somewhat of a theme for the 2018 Rays. Smith, however, was a force all the same. His elite speed helped him to the tune of 40 steals, the third most in baseball, and a 367 on-base percentage. He was a 3.5 win player with 27 doubles and 10 triples, while spending time at all three outfield spots, adding to the list of versatile Rays making their mark.

And finally, Joey Wendle. Wendle was not your typical rookie. The 28-year-old had a cup of coffee with Oakland in 2016 and '17, but 2018 was a breakout. He led all MLB rookies with a 300 batting average, and was third with 146 hits.

He didn't strike out a lot, he didn't walk all that much, and he hit just seven homers, again, a theme for the 2018 Rays. But he hit and he hit a lot. He added 16 steals and he played second, third, and short, as well as left and right field. He's someone you can expect to see all over the field in 2019.

[WHOOSH]

Now that the season is officially over, the countdown to the winter meetings has begun. This year, they will take place from December 9th through the 13th in Las Vegas. What do you get for a team coming off of 90 wins? Expect the Rays to continue to work the margins, with deals to be made to switch up the outskirts of the roster. There is plenty of talent in a lineup that could feature Willy Adames, Jack Bauers, Austin Meadows, Mallex Smith, and Joey Wendle. And that is before getting to the pitching. Can Blake Snell get even better? And how good can Tyler Glasnow be?

Does the opener last in the 2019 when pitchers such as Ryan Yarborough, Jalen Beeks, and Yonny Chirinos might be ready for bigger roles? We'll just have to wait until 2019 to find out. Until next season, Rays fans, I'm Janelle Johnston, and I've got your bases covered.

[WHOOSH]