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Rays in prime position to make postseason push

@juanctoribio
July 10, 2019

CLEVELAND -- Despite finishing the first half with a 17-19 record in their last 36 games, the Rays enter the second half of the season in a prime spot to make the postseason for the first time since 2013. At 52-39, the Rays finished with the fourth-best record at the

CLEVELAND -- Despite finishing the first half with a 17-19 record in their last 36 games, the Rays enter the second half of the season in a prime spot to make the postseason for the first time since 2013.

At 52-39, the Rays finished with the fourth-best record at the All-Star break in franchise history behind only the 2010, 2008 and 2013 teams, which all made the playoffs. But despite a 14-4 start that heightened expectations for a young club, the Rays enter the second half holding just a half-game lead over the Indians atop the Wild Card standings.

The pitching staff, led by 2019 All-Star Charlie Morton, carried the Rays in the first half. Tampa Bay has allowed only 335 runs this season, which is the fewest allowed by a team in the Major Leagues this season. Morton has 10 wins and leads the American League in ERA with a 2.32 clip. In the second half, the Rays are going to need their highly-criticized bullpen to perform better and for Blake Snell, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, to continue to trend up on the mound.

Offensively, Brandon Lowe has led the way with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs, while Austin Meadows, Yandy Diaz, Avisail Garcia and Tommy Pham have remained steady options in the middle of the Tampa Bay lineup.

Here’s how the Rays shape up heading into the second half and some potential moves that they could make with the July 31 Trade Deadline just three weeks away.

Current status: buyer

The first eight games out of the break against Baltimore and New York will determine how active the Rays will be over the next couple of weeks. If the Rays can cut down the Yankees’ lead in the division, they’ll be much more inclined to be heavy buyers at the Deadline.

“If you look at where we were two weeks ago and where we are today, you appreciate how quickly the standings can change,” Rays general manager Erik Neander told MLB.com last week. “I think we’re likely to be [more] aggressive the more that the division is in play.”

However, if things don’t play out that way, the Rays will still be looking for ways to add to a good young core as they look to secure one of the two Wild Card spots.

What are they seeking?

Bullpen help, bullpen help, and some more bullpen help.

Coming into the season, the Rays knew they had a young bullpen, but believed that a staff led by Jose Alvarado, Diego Castillo and Chaz Roe had the ability to be one of the best late-inning combinations in the American League. But with Alvarado going on the injured list and expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with a right oblique strain and Castillo and Roe showing inconsistencies, the Rays have relied on matchups to close out games, which have led to a handful of late-inning losses over the last couple of weeks.

The Rays will also look to add another right-handed bat to the lineup, primarily someone that helps their versatility, but the main priority will be to add some bullpen arms.

What they have to offer

In any trade to add a quality Major Leaguer, the Rays will likely have to give up prospects, and they have plenty of good ones in their system. Tampa Bay comes in with the No. 2-ranked system, according to MLB Pipeline. Outfielder Jesus Sanchez, the team’s No. 3 prospect, could be a healthy trade piece for the Rays, which could land them a very good haul and clear a spot on the 40-man roster. The Rays, however, won’t deal Sanchez, as they believe he could hit in the middle of the lineup as early as 2020, unless they’re getting exactly what they want in return.

Lucius Fox, Nick Solak, Joe McCarthy, Taylor Walls and Garrett Whitley are also among the prospects that the Rays could move this month.

Possible scenario

There are many reasons why I don’t work in a front office, but here are some possible scenarios for the Rays this month. Remember, these are just possibilities.

In one scenario, the Rays would receive right-hander Shane Greene from Detroit in exchange for Sanchez and a couple of other prospects. A trade like this could accelerate the Tigers’ rebuild and would give the Rays a proven closer who’s still under team control for another year.

The Rays could also ship a similar, but less expensive, package to Toronto for closer Ken Giles. Padres closer Kirby Yates is another option, but his price tag will likely be too high.

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.