Inbox: Do the Rays have postseason magic?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers questions from fans

July 20th, 2017

We're past the halfway point of the season, and the Rays are still in this thing. I'm starting to get excited about this team going to the postseason. Please tell me this isn't some kind of mirage.
-- Michael S., Clearwater, Fla.

You're asking me if the Rays have a chance to make the postseason, and I'd say they have an excellent chance. The way this team thinks is more like, "Let's go out and win the division" rather than, "Let's hope we can make the playoffs." I'm impressed with the chemistry in the clubhouse, and the team has overcome a lot of obstacles along the way. So in theory, their best should be in front of them.
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I was hardly a fan after last season, so I wasn't really happy that the Rays decided to bring him back. Now I'm ecstatic they decided to do so. What has happened with him this season? And were you on board with bringing him back?
-- Jim T., St. Petersburg

Yes, it is funny how things work out sometimes. After the year Morrison had in 2016, I didn't think Tampa Bay would bring him back -- particularly after it moved Brad Miller to first base. I couldn't see how things were going to work out, so I will confess, I didn't think re-signing Morrison was the best move. Looks like he's proved both of us wrong, huh?

Miller is still sloppy in the field. It doesn't matter what position they put him at, he makes me a nervous wreck, so I can't imagine what seeing him out there does for Kevin Cash. Why do the Rays continue sending Miller out there when he's clearly a liability in the field?
-- Bob H., Tampa, Fla.

I'll agree with you that Miller doesn't exactly look sure of himself in the field at times. But let's not forget, this guy hit 30 home runs in 2016, he can play several positions and he's a good teammate. Also, he got winning hits in back-to-back games, with a two-run homer against the Red Sox and an RBI double against the Angels. If Miller's bat gets going, he'll be another weapon in an already potent offense.
has been fun to watch, and he seems to bring an element to the Rays' offense that this team has been missing since the days when and B.J. Upton ran wild. If and when returns, will he have a hard time getting back his starting position in center field?
-- Bill D., Tampa, Fla.

I agree with you that Smith does bring a different kind of game to the Rays' lineup. He's always a threat to bunt. He's got a good eye. And when Smith is on base, he's a threat to run. But let's not get carried away. Kiermaier is an impact player. Just look at the numbers from last season, when he won his second consecutive American League Gold Glove Award. Kiermaier's 25 defensive runs saved led all Major League center fielders and ranked second among all players, according to FanGraphs. This was despite missing 48 games with a fractured left hand. Tampa Bay went 14-34 in his absence. It was 48-54 in his 102 starts compared to 20-40 otherwise.
I wasn't that keen on the Rays bumping from shortstop in favor of . But now that I've seen what Hechavarria can do, I've reversed fields. Hechy is a real Major League shortstop. I would imagine the pitchers are pretty darn happy about his arrival.
-- Bill B., Lakeland, Fla.

I can tell you this: I haven't heard any of the team's pitchers complaining about Hechavarria's defense. Cash even noted the other day that Hechavarria's defense was even better than anticipated. From my view, he's the best shortstop the Rays have had since , and he might be the top defensive shortstop Tampa Bay has had in my years of covering the team.
In your look ahead to the second half, you mentioned the road trip to Anaheim and Oakland facing the Rays after the All-Star Game. I agreed with you, it looked like a dangerous trip, even though the Angels and A's aren't having a good season. Now that the team went 4-2 on that trip, how do you think that will help shape the rest of the season?
-- Bob B., Lakeland, Fla.

First, any trip to the West Coast always has the potential to be dangerous. The travel involved and the time change just adds another dimension. Next, I believe this trip will indeed serve as a boost for the team. Good teams take care of business against teams that aren't having a good season. While 4-2 isn't 6-0, I think the Rays would gladly have taken 4-2 and two series wins prior to the trip. Everything is looking good for Tampa Bay at this point.