The expectations for a very successful season were high as the Tampa Bay Rays were the odds on favorite to win the American League East and as well advance not just to the post-season but to the World Series as well when they left spring training.
On paper they had it all – a returning infield in which all five members (James Loney, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Evan Longoria) were 2013 Gold Glove finalists, a solid outfield that included the 2013 Rookie of the Year (Wil Myers), five dependable and durable starters (Hellickson, Cobb, Moore and Archer) that still included David Price, a bullpen solidified with a named closer (Grant Balfour) and utility personal that were versatile.
It didn’t matter how good the team looked paper, the true test of course would be on the field where it counted. Unfortunately, the 2014 Tampa Bay Rays on the field didn’t look anything like on the paper where they finished with a 77-85 record for a fourth place finish.
Disappointing is an understatement to say the least and it’s all in the books now. It will go down as one of the worst showings that this franchise has ever had, and the very first since the team lost the “Devil” following the 2007 season.
For starters, the Rays scored just 612 runs, an American League low and also the fewest in franchise history. Once leaders in the stolen base department now became basement dwellers netting just 63, another franchise low.
They led the majors with 1,183 runners left on base, one more than the post-season bound Pittsburgh Pirates and turned 96 double plays – the fewest in the majors since the season expanded to 163 games. The pitching staff threw 22 shutouts, one behind the St. Louis Cardinals, however the flip side saw the Rays getting shut out 18 times.
On June 10, the Rays were 24-42 owning the worst record in the majors which included the 28th worse offense scoring just 3.58 runs per game with a .242 batting average not so good for 23rd. The pitching staff had a 4.10 ERA (22nd in the majors) and the bullpen had logged 220.1 innings to lead the majors.
From June 11 thru August 15 the bats came alive and the pitching staff looked like Clayton Kershaw. The Rays record of 37-19 was the majors best and the ERA of 2.74 was the third best. The offense ranked among the leaders scoring 4.5 runs per game, their average jumped to .266 and their on-base percentage was tops at .337.
On the night of August 15th, the Rays became the fourth team in history to return to .500 after being at least 18 games under .500 earlier in the season joining three other teams that accomplished the same feat; the 1899 Louisville Colonels (22 under), 2006 Florida Marlins (20 under) and the 2004 Devil Rays (18 under).
However the last third of this spiral, from August 16 thru Sunday’s final against Cleveland reverted to a dismal 16-24 record to conclude a season in which the Rays will finish as the only team in baseball with a winning road record (41-40) and a losing overall record.
Additionally, their final record of 77-85 was their first losing record since 2007, their final season as the Devil Rays. Prior to this year, the Rays had six consecutive winning seasons, a streak matched by only two other teams: the Yankees (extended to 22) and Cardinals (extended to 7).
“It’s not good,” said Joe Maddon of the 85 losses. “We don’t like it at all. It’s been an awkward year. We had a lot of really good things happen. The bad thing is we lost 85 games. There’s been some wonderful individual performances. There’s been a lot of growth with different players. But there are different things we need to iron out before next season.”
On the upside to this disappointing season, Evan Longoria played in all 162 games, joining Freddie Freeman (Atlanta), Alcides Escobar (Kansas City) and Hunter Pence (San Francisco) as the only players to play in every game this season. Longo also became the third Rays player to play in every game, joining Delmon Young (162 in 2007) and Aubrey Huff (162 in 2003). He also took over as the franchise’s all-time home run (184) and RBI (634) leader.
Kevin Kiermaier showed his speed as evident with his eight triples and his hard play, Sean Rodriguez despite hitting .211, registered career highs in home runs (12) and RBIs (41) and Brad Boxberger went 5-2 with a 2.37 ERA in 63 games after his May call up finding a nice home as the set-up man for Jake McGee in the “Jake and the Box” tandem and Logan Forsythe showed his versatility.
On a side note, Major League Baseball and MLB Advanced Media announced that Evan Longoria was named the Tampa Bay Rays nominee for the 2014 Hank Aaron Award.
Fans can vote exclusively online at MLB.com and the 30 Club sites. For the fifth straight year, a special panel of Hall of Fame players led by Hank Aaron will join fans in voting for the award, which is officially sanctioned by Major League Baseball and has recognized the most outstanding offensive performer in each League since it was established in 1999.
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