The start of the 2013 season marked the 16th year of professional baseball in Tampa Bay, Florida, and in that short amount of time the franchise has been many different things. Back in 1998, the Devil Rays were a cause for excitement even with the losses piling up. In the 5 years that followed the Devil Rays became something worse, something almost sad, finishing dead last in the AL East year after year. Lou Piniella came to Tampa and was able to end the streak, finally finishing in 4th in 2004, but the Rays were still a pitching-starved, meager hitting, lousy fielding team content to win 70 games.
By 2005 the franchise was in such a state of disarray that original owner Vince Naimoli was eager to sell of the team, pawning the Devil Rays off onto Stu Sternberg. That’s when things began to change. in 2006, Joe Maddon, Andrew Friedman, and an army of forward thinking baseball minds were brought in to turn the tide. 2007 saw the removal of the word devil from team’s nickname, in the hopes that the new name, simply Rays, would conjure up hope.
In 2008, everything finally clicked as the Rays tallied up 97 wins and their first ever World Series appearance thanks to a vastly improved defense and a pitching staff that finally had some teeth. The following seasons would be marked with more good fortune. The Rays were quickly becoming Major League Baseball’s premier pitching factory, putting together elite starting staffs year in and year out. Tampa Bay churned out more arms in a couple of seasons than some franchises do in two decades.
However, even with all that success on the mound, Tampa still had yet to put together a powerhouse offensive ball club. Sure the 2010 Rays knew how to put up runs, but that was more a product of that particular team’s speed more than anything else. They still finished 8th in the AL in OPS (.736) and were barely above league average in OPS+ (105). But that’s changing in 2013 because, for the first time in franchise history, Tampa Bay can finally smash the baseball.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a quick rundown of where previous incarnations of the Rays and Devil Rays have ranked in some key offensive categories, starting with their inaugural season:
|Year||AL Rank in Runs Scored||AL Rank in OPS||AL Rank in HR||Team OPS+|
That’s a fairly large collection of terrible offensive ball clubs and that’s what makes this Tampa team so different. In years past, the Rays have had maybe one or two difference makers at the plate. Sure, you had a 40 homer year out of Carlos Pena here and a 50 steal season from Carl Crawford there, but for the msot part those types of season-long performances were few and far between. Over it’s 16 year history the Rays’ managers have penciled in more Jason Bartlett and Ty Wiggington types than they would have preferred.
But this year’s Tampa Bay squad can hit you from every angle. Evan Longoria is hitting .305/.361/.538 and with every swing he’s turning into the hurricane in the middle of Tampa’s lineup he was forecast to be. New 1st baseman James Loney is the latest in a long line of successful Rays’ reclamation projects thanks to his .332/.385/.512 line. Matt Joyce and Kelly Johnson, and Desmond Jennings provide plenty of depth and Ben Zobrist continues to do Ben Zobristy things, which is why he’s got 31 walks compared to only 38 strikeouts. Each of these hitters is an important cog an offensive machine that’s averaging 5.05 runs per game, a mark that would be the best in franchise history if they can keep it up through the hot summer months into October.
And there’s no real reason Tampa Bay shouldn’t just keep on hitting. Other than James Loney, nearly every member of the regular lineup is hitting right around his career average, so don’t expect the runs to just disappear. In fact, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a hair of improvement, especially if Joe Maddon can get the DH situation sorted out. Tampa Bay has gotten a .626 OPS and just 6 homers out of their designated hitters through the first 60 games, good for the 2nd worst mark in the American League on both accounts.
Tampa also has the best offensive prospect in baseball, Wil Myers, waiting down in Triple-A Durham where he’s currently wreaking havoc. The offensive boost Myers could provide (should Tampa call him up, which is looking increasingly unlikely) would probably outdo anything Tampa could find on their bench or on the trade market this July and it could make the Rays the best hitting team in the league. Now, if they could only figure out that pesky pitching staff.
Big thanks to Baseball-Reference for the statistical help!