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As surprise contender, Rays showing depth

Despite injuries, club in thick of race thanks to bats, starting pitching
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- First and foremost, the Rays are very much a contender. After three consecutive losing campaigns, they have righted ship in 2017. Despite not having any real sustained winning streaks, Tampa Bay has remained in the race by way of a potent offense, quality starting pitching and a healthy dose of pixie dust.

In addition to having a lot of the breaks fall their way in the first half, the Rays have shown resiliency. Tampa Bay has played without the likes of Kevin Kiermaier, Brad Boxberger, Brad Miller, Tim Beckham, Jake Odorizzi, Wilson Ramos, Matt Duffy, Matt Andriese, Colby Rasmus and others -- and the club is still dealing with injured players. Unlike 2016, when the Rays were a 68-win team, they've had the depth to absorb the injuries.

ST. PETERSBURG -- First and foremost, the Rays are very much a contender. After three consecutive losing campaigns, they have righted ship in 2017. Despite not having any real sustained winning streaks, Tampa Bay has remained in the race by way of a potent offense, quality starting pitching and a healthy dose of pixie dust.

In addition to having a lot of the breaks fall their way in the first half, the Rays have shown resiliency. Tampa Bay has played without the likes of Kevin Kiermaier, Brad Boxberger, Brad Miller, Tim Beckham, Jake Odorizzi, Wilson Ramos, Matt Duffy, Matt Andriese, Colby Rasmus and others -- and the club is still dealing with injured players. Unlike 2016, when the Rays were a 68-win team, they've had the depth to absorb the injuries.

Given the Rays' talent and chemistry, they appear to have the look of a team that will still be playing significant games in September.

Video: BOS@TB: Cash on Miller's homer in key victory

What went right
Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison, each in his second year with the team, have played an integral role in fueling a group of thumpers capable of going deep from the Nos. 1 through 9 spots. Jacob Faria's arrival gave the starting pitching a nice boost, while the mainstays in the rotation have been good but not great, leaving the hopes that they will step it up to lead a second-half run.

:: 2017 Midterm Report: Complete coverage ::

What went wrong
Injuries haunted the Rays. Most notable among those was Kiermaier, who is a force on defense. He fractured his right hip sliding into first base on June 8, and it is not yet known when he'll return. The bullpen has struggled a lot. Not having Boxberger until late in the half made matters worse. If Tampa Bay is to be a serious contender, the bullpen will have to be more consistent.

What we learned
The Rays' front office addressed the team's depth in the offseason, and they augmented that depth accordingly with the additions of Mallex Smith, Peter Bourjos, Rasmus, Ramos and Jesus Sucre. And they have continued to plug holes where needed with additions like Shane Peterson, Trevor Plouffe and Taylor Featherston. It's likely Tampa Bay will continue tweak its roster in the second half, if the club remains in contention.

First half top everyday player
Dickerson began the year healthy -- and lighter -- than 2016, and the results have been major. The American League's All-Star starting designated hitter, Dickerson hit for power, hit for average and hit in the clutch, giving the Rays' offense a huge boost.

First half top pitcher
Though he hasn't fully reached expectations, Chris Archer has been really good. The right-hander's stuff continues to make opposing scouts gawk. He's been the team's best starter by a whisker over Odorizzi.

First half top rookie
Faria wasn't with Tampa Bay for much of the first half, but the way he has pitched has not been rookie-like. The right-hander has shown composure and a "Here it is, try to hit it" approach that has challenged opposing hitters and led to wins.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays