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Inbox: Has Archer cemented himself as elite?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers Rays fans' questions
MLB.com @wwchastain

Do you think Chris Archer is finally moving into the "elite" category? He's always been the guy with the great stuff who somehow can't get the results that his stuff suggests he should. Your thoughts?
-- Jim G., St. Petersburg

Good question, Jim, and I think you're on to something. I've watched how Archer has pitched his past seven or eight starts. His strikeouts are up even more than normal, and his walks are down. I think the fact that Archer is becoming more comfortable with his changeup is making him even tougher to deal with than in the past. His slider is one of the best pitches in baseball.

Do you think Chris Archer is finally moving into the "elite" category? He's always been the guy with the great stuff who somehow can't get the results that his stuff suggests he should. Your thoughts?
-- Jim G., St. Petersburg

Good question, Jim, and I think you're on to something. I've watched how Archer has pitched his past seven or eight starts. His strikeouts are up even more than normal, and his walks are down. I think the fact that Archer is becoming more comfortable with his changeup is making him even tougher to deal with than in the past. His slider is one of the best pitches in baseball.

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I don't understand why the Rays optioned Daniel Robertson back to Triple-A Durham to make room for a guy like Danny Espinosa. I thought Robertson played solid defense, and he's hit in the past. Espinosa has not played well this year. What do you suppose the Rays were thinking?
-- Charlie B., Tampa, Fla.

I'm in agreement with you that Robertson has played well in the field. Heading into this season, I thought his hitting was his strongest quality. For whatever reason, Robertson has struggled at the plate, but I saw a quality fielder. As for Espinosa, yes, he's not having a great season. But he's a switch-hitter, and he has eight Major League seasons under his belt. I figure the Rays liked Espinosa's versatility and experience. And giving Robertson some at-bats in the Minors surely won't hurt.

I'm pretty excited about some of the pitching depth the Rays have, particularly at the back of their rotation. Austin Pruitt, Blake Snell and Matt Andriese are all nice pieces to round out a rotation. With all of the pitchers the Rays have at the Major League level, along with the ones pushing from below, how do you see them sorting things out?
-- Robert K., Sarasota, Fla.

First, there's an old adage in baseball that you never can have enough pitching. Right now, the Rays have Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, Jacob Faria, Snell, Pruitt and Andriese pitching at the Major League level. Brent Honeywell is pushing up from the Minors. It's possible that Cobb will leave the team as a free agent, but that still leaves a lot of arms in the stable. How will it all work out? Well, it's equally as cliche as "you can never have enough pitching," but this is true, too: "These things have a way of sorting themselves out."

Video: TB@KC: Odorizzi fans Moustakas in the 2nd inning

Is there one player that has surprised you this season, or maybe a player that you think has pushed his game to a different level? I think Steven Souza Jr. has been that guy this season. He's finally playing like the player we thought we were getting in the trade prior to the 2015 season. That's my pick, how about you?
-- Sam G., Tampa, Fla.

In another answer during this Inbox, I speak about the elevated place that Archer now seems to reside. But I like your mention of Souza. In the past, he's been injury prone, and his lack of contact has cost him any semblance of consistency. This season, Souza seems to have found himself on offense and defense. He is quite athletic. Souza can run, hit and throw. That's a pretty good combination. If Souza continues to show improvement between seasons as he did between 2016-17, the finished product could be really good.

Video: TB@KC: Souza Jr. drills a solo homer to left field

Do you think Snell has turned the corner? He's looked awfully good in his past few starts.
-- Bob A., St. Petersburg

From what I've seen of Snell lately, I'd have to say yes. He's throwing more strikes, and he seems to trust his stuff enough to put it in the strike zone. I think that in itself is a big step. Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Snell finishes out the year, beginning with his Friday night start against the White Sox in Chicago.

I saw your story regarding whether or not the Rays can get on a run, and I find it interesting that they have not had a better stretch this season than four consecutive wins. Based on the number of teams they're competing with, I think they will have to go on a sizeable run in order to make the playoffs.
-- Sam A., Tampa, Fla.

I think the Rays will need to get to at least 85 wins to sniff the postseason. Given the players this team has, I'm also surprised that they haven't had a longer run than four in a row this season. But I'm sure they would take four in a row several more times before the end of the season. Like I mentioned in the story you pointed out, this team's chemistry seems to be really good. so if that has anything to do with the way a team plays, fans can expect Tampa Bay to make a legitimate run at the postseason.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.

Tampa Bay Rays, Chris Archer