Rays will go where frontline arms take them

September 29th, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays accomplished a lot over the course of the 60-game season. They won the American League East, they’re the top-seeded team in the AL and they were one of two teams (Dodgers) to win 40 or more games this season.

But all of that gets pushed aside as the team gets ready to host the Blue Jays in the Wild Card Series. The only goal for the Rays now is simple: Win the first World Series in franchise history.

Let’s take a look at how Tampa Bay can achieve that goal.

How do they advance out of the Wild Card Series?

The Rays are built on pitching, and that’s exactly what they’ll rely on against the Blue Jays. At the beginning of Spring Training, Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton had the potential to be the best trio of starters in the Majors, but it hasn’t quite come together yet this season.

Snell and Glasnow had slow innings build-ups, and Morton has been inconsistent this season, particularly with his fastball velocity, which has also affected his ability to record swings and misses on his signature curveball. However, the trio showed signs of peaking at the right time over the past two weeks.

What does the blueprint for a championship run look like?

Not to be repetitive, but it all starts with the staff. Snell, Glasnow and Morton will lead the way, but Ryan Yarbrough and Josh Fleming will also play big roles if the Rays are able to get past the Wild Card Series.

After the starting staff, the Rays turn it over to one of the best bullpens in the Majors. Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo and Pete Fairbanks will have to lead the way. When that trio is clicking, the Rays have the ability to shorten the game in the later innings. Anderson was one of, if not the best, reliever in the Majors this season, posting a 0.55 ERA in 19 appearances.

The Rays also have options in the 40-man player pool. Shane McClanahan and Brent Honeywell could be options at some point during the postseason. Neither has made his big league debut, but they both impressed the Rays in their time at the alternate training site. Tampa Bay has shown it’s not afraid to utilize young pitchers in key situations.

Overall, the Rays’ pitching staff has been so key to the team’s success that despite losing five pitchers to season-ending injuries and having 12 pitchers on the IL at one point, the club finished second in the AL with a 3.56 ERA.

What is one reason for concern?

In order for the Rays to make a deep postseason run, they’re going to need the offense to be better in October. Tampa Bay’s offense was middle-of-the-pack in the American League, but the strikeouts were concerning during the regular season.

The Rays led the Majors with 608 strikeouts this season and punchouts are magnified during the postseason. With an elite pitching staff, they won’t need to put up a large number of runs, but they’ll have to cut down on the strikeouts in order to piece things together.

Aside from the strikeouts, the Rays also need to improve with runners in scoring position. Since Aug. 24, they are batting a Majors-low .207 (52-for-251) with RISP, compared to .284 (65-for-229) through Aug. 23. But for the Rays, the most encouraging sign heading into the postseason is that the team went 11-for-26 with RISP over the last weekend against the Phillies.

If they’re able to hit anywhere near that clip, the Rays could make a lot of noise this October.