The American League East has dominated baseball headlines at times this year. However, the teams that have grabbed the headlines have been the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The third most likely team to have grabbed your attention would probably have been the woeful Baltimore Orioles. Rightly the Toronto Blue Jays have gone mostly unnoticed with their middling year. However, the team who have been almost completely ignored but who have been sneakily good in 2018 are the Tampa Bay Rays.

Their Record

The Rays are more than likely going to win 90-games this year. They currently sit at 87-wins with six games remaining, three of which are against the Blue Jays. However, the Rays are going to finish somewhere in the region of 20-games behind the division winners. Normally when a team finishes 20-games behind you expect them to be a .500 or worse team, not a 90-win team. If they had managed to go better than 26-30 in one run games then they might be in playoff contention.

Bad Luck

If the Rays do win 90-games it will be the second time they have done so and missed the playoffs since the implementation of the new playoff system. The thing is that only three times has a 90-win team missed the playoffs in this system. The other team, the Texas Rangers, lost to the Rays in a game 163 the year it happened to them.

The other part of bad the bad luck for the Rays is their divisional opponents. The Rays are not only going to be 20-games behind the Red Sox, but they might end up 10-games behind the Yankees as well! To put this in context, three teams have a shot to win 100-games this year and the AL East has two of them.

In fact, in every division other than the AL East and AL West, the Rays would still have a playoff shot right now. They would be one game behind the division leading Braves, Dodgers and Indians and four games behind the Cubs. It doesn’t really get much more unlucky than that.

Could Things Have Been Different?

As you might expect the Rays have made a lot of moves in the last 12-months. Could any of the players they traded away have made a difference?

Here is a list of some of the players they have traded away since the end of last season.

  • Brad Boxberger
  • Evan Longoria
  • Jake Odorizzi
  • Corey Dickerson
  • Steven Souza
  • Ryan Schrimpf
  • Alex Colome
  • Denard Span
  • Brad Miller
  • Matt Andriese
  • Nathan Eovaldi
  • Jonny Venters
  • Chris Archer
  • Wilson Ramos
  • Adeiny Hechavarria

To sum up that is an entire hitting lineup, four starting pitchers and two pitchers who have previously closed for them. That is a lot of good players who have gone out of the door. However, none of the hitters are absolute slam dunk stars. Ramos was probably the biggest drop off at the position he vacated. Evan Longoria has had his worst year in a long time in 2018.

Among the pitchers Chris Archer is the biggest name. However, he had an ERA over four with the Rays prior to being traded. Since he went to the Pittsburgh Pirates he has actually been worse. To get back Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows for a seemingly fading player is a huge win.

Restocking For The Future

The Rays seemingly saw the way this was going. The Yankees and Red Sox never looked like they would not be dominating forces really. So the Rays committed to restocking their team with young players. Among their current hitters, 10 out of 16 were acquired by a trade at some point and five have arrived this season. That does not include Christian Arroyo who they got in return for Evan Longoria. Their oldest starter on offense is Tommy Pham at 30-years old and they have half-a-dozen players who are aged below 25.

Their current rotation consists of two 25-year old starters and then they handle the rest of their pitching out of the bullpen.

The Opener

The most amazing thing the Rays have done this year is the introduction of “The Opener”. That is where they use a relief pitcher to start the game to try and neutralize the top of a opposing lineup. It has had mixed success but ultimately it has been an interesting experiment which the entire league has watched keenly.

The main reason they like this is because this allows them to have a ton of cost controlled guys. “The Openers” are never going to be able to command big money on the market and neither are the pitchers who come in after they are finished. It is the ultimate way to squeeze every inch of value out of otherwise relatively meh pitchers. It will be interesting to see if they commit to the same tactic in 2019.

The Final Word

The Rays never expected to make the playoffs this season, therefore this will not be a disappointment for them. Even if they had committed to an all-in tactic they would have struggled to top the Red Sox and Yankees. However, that does not mean they should not be commended for squeezing every inch of value out of a team no one gave a prayer to do anything at the start of the season.

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