Taking stock of the Rays after the first two weeks of 2024

April 12th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Adam Berry’s Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. PETERSBURG -- This time a year ago, the Rays still hadn’t lost.

Surely you remember Tampa Bay’s historic 13-game winning streak to start last season, a two-week stretch that extended from March 30-April 13, 2023. The Rays ran roughshod over teams, firing on all cylinders as they played only two games decided by three runs or fewer. For all the adversity they endured the rest of the way, that perfect start put the Rays on the fast track to a 99-win campaign and another postseason appearance.

The past two weeks haven’t gone quite so smoothly for the Rays. They’re 7-6, tying the same number of losses they had in their first 33 games last year. They’ve been outscored by 11 runs. They have a star-studded rotation on the injured list and a bullpen with a 6.43 ERA. Their lineup is waiting for a few key hitters to get healthy and a few others to get going.

But those two weeks didn’t make or break last season, and these two weeks won’t do the same now. As the Rays begin their second homestand, here are five things we’ve learned so far.

1. Injuries are still taking a toll.
Add to the list of key hitters on the shelf, as he’s set to miss time with a strained right oblique. He’s joining , , and among the hitters on the injured list, not to mention the following sidelined pitchers: , , , and .

Ideally, that means they’ll get healthier and closer to full strength as the season progresses. But these games count, too, and they’ve now lost their top three left-handed hitters. Nobody seems to be speed-running through the rehab process to get back on the field this month, either, so the Rays’ depth will continue to be tested.

2. was a big addition.
With Walls rehabbing and Wander Franco on administrative leave, the Rays needed someone to come in and play shortstop. They acquired Caballero from the Mariners in early January, giving him a long-awaited opportunity on Opening Day, and he has made the most of it.

All Caballero has done so far is hit .351 (13-for-37) with an .889 OPS, six RBIs and five stolen bases. He’s started 11 of 13 games at shortstop and been solid, occasionally spectacular. He’s found ways to contribute from the bottom of the lineup, on the bases and on defense and he brings a ton of energy to the field every day.

3. The regulars need to step up.
Caballero has done his part. has contributed at the plate, despite leading the team with 19 strikeouts, while playing every inning in center field. is back to pulling home runs on the regular. and have found ways to get on base.

But any team’s stars must carry the load, and they aren’t really getting that level of production yet from three of their most important hitters: (batting .208 with a .561 OPS), (.217, .650) and (.255, .532). The good news for the Rays? Those three have provided metronomic consistency during their time with Tampa Bay, and hitters like that tend to find their level over time.

4. The middle of the rotation has been a strength.
had a bad inning on Opening Day and a bad outing in Anaheim, with a strong performance against Texas in between. The fifth spot in the rotation has been an issue. But the middle of the rotation -- , and -- has helped calm some nerves about the group’s depth with a handful of excellent performances.

Civale, with a 2.12 ERA, looks more like the pitcher who thrived in Cleveland. Littell has continued to shine after last year’s remarkable move from the bullpen to the rotation. And Pepiot, who had a tough first inning in his season debut, is coming off a confidence-boosting gem at Coors Field.

5. The bullpen has been an issue, but should be fine.
It obviously hasn’t been pretty so far, and you never expect to see a Rays relief corps with such a high walk rate. Outs just haven’t come quickly or easily, and it might make you remember the Rays didn’t really find their bullpen identity last season until remaking it on the fly heading into June. They just had enough hitting and starting pitching then to handle those early struggles.

But this was expected to be a strength of the team for a reason, and the Rays are as good as anyone at making adjustments to get the most out of talented arms. The way they pitched the last two days in Anaheim was certainly a step in the right direction, as they covered 8 2/3 innings while allowing only two runs on six hits and three walks with 11 strikeouts in back-to-back victories.