Longoria's rebound not enough for Rays in '16

Despite bright spots, homer-happy Tampa Bay fell short of expectations

December 28th, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG -- A 2016 season that the Rays expected to be promising turned sour in the first half, resulting in 12 fewer wins than the previous season.

Between June 16 and July 16, the Rays went 3-24. They finished the season at 68-94, marking their fewest wins since 2007.

Yes, the Rays experienced a serious rash of injuries, but Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman didn't use that as an excuse for the outcome.

:: 2015 Year in Review | 2016 Outlook ::

"Winning teams find ways to overcome injuries," Silverman said. "We weren't able to do that this year, especially in June, when our depth was most tested. We also didn't convert outs and limit damage like we've grown accustomed to."

Aside from injuries, a large part of the Rays' problems stemmed from their overall defense, which ranked 20th in the Major Leagues in the first half (55 errors in 88 games, .983 percentage). In the second half, they were the 13th-best fielding team in the Majors.

"Coming out of the All-Star break, the guys got on a really good run, collectively as a group, and that's where we had the success," Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Silverman acknowledged that the team showed improvement in the second half.

"Especially on the defensive side of the ball, but it was too little and way too late," Silverman said.

While the end result was disappointment to Rays fans, there were a number of bright spots. had a tremendous season, had a breakout year at the plate, put together another solid season, established himself as the team's closer and , when healthy, continued his excellence in the field.

With the 2016 season in the books, let's take a look at the Rays' top five trends.

5. Archer's disappointing season

moved into an elite classification in 2015, so more was expected of the right-hander in 2016. Unfortunately, those expectations resulted in a 19-loss season.

Those 19 losses led the American League and tied Padres/White Sox starter for the most in the Major Leagues.

Despite the negatives derived from his loss total, Archer became the fourth Rays pitcher to record back-to-back seasons of 200 innings, joining Shields, and . In addition, his 233 strikeouts tied him with of the White Sox for second in the American League.

4. Colome nails down the back end of the bullpen

Colome emerged as the Rays' closer, while incumbent closer battled injuries. Dominican native Colome took advantage of his opportunity to earn a spot on the All-Star team. The right-hander converted 37 of 40 save opportunities (92.5 percent), ranking in a tie for fourth in the AL in saves and fifth in the Major Leagues in save percentage.

Colome did not allow a run in his 37 appearances that ended with a save, the first pitcher to record that many saves without yielding a run in those outings since (46) for Atlanta in 2001.

How reliable was Colome? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Colome was the first pitcher to save four straight team games three times in a season since Eric Gagne did so with the Dodgers in 2003.

3. Kiermaier continued to excel -- when healthy

Kiermaier continued to show the excellence in the field he displayed in 2015.

"We talk about it -- we feel like if he's in the starting lineup, he's going to save us at least one run every game," starter said. "He just catches everything. It's crazy how much ground he can cover. … He's a complete game-changer."

The single-most impactful event of the season came when Kiermaier broke his hand in a game at Detroit.

Prior to Kiermaier getting hurt, the Rays were 20-19. They went 14-35 while he was on the disabled list, including a 3-22 stretch prior to the All-Star break.

"It's very tough to quantify what KK does for us," Cash said.

2. Home runs are us

Home runs came in bunches for the Rays, who hit more round-trippers in the 2016 season than they did in any season in team history. Their 210 homers ranked sixth in the Major Leagues.

Unfortunately, most of them were of the solo variety. So despite the rise in home runs, the team had a problem scoring runs.

Much of that came down to the team, as a whole, striking out a lot, and many of the hitters did not have a good approach at the plate.

No team has ever matched the Rays' losses and home runs in a season.

1. Longoria bounces back big

Longoria turned in one of the best offensive seasons in Rays history, establishing career highs with 173 hits, 36 home runs, 81 extra-base hits and 330 total bases.

In doing so, the Rays longest-tenured player put away any talk about his best days being behind him.

Mostly, Longoria seemed to get comfortable in his skin, understanding more about his swing than ever before. He also made some early mechanical changes to his swing and held true to those adjustments.

Longoria's numbers had taken a dive in recent years, relative to the work he'd done earlier in his career. Among his 2016 accomplishments was the ability to put together "a good plan of attack day to day with pitchers."

"I think mentally, I kind of set those intentions at the beginning of the year," Longoria said. "Whatever happened in the past offensively wasn't going to happen this year. And if I started to struggle, that I wasn't going to let those thoughts creep in and those negative thoughts impact me the next day. And it's really helped me this year."