Takeaways from the Rays' first-half play

July 1st, 2021

WASHINGTON -- With 81 games under their belt, and a 15-6 loss to the Nats in Wednesday’s series finale at Nationals Park, the Rays stand at 47-34 at the midway point of the season.

The Rays were hot at the end of May, riding an 11-game winning streak. They were not so hot this month, finally snapping a seven-game skid on June 23. The good news: the roller coaster that’s been the Rays’ first half of the season has plenty of time to even out. Here are the things that have been working for Tampa Bay, and what needs improvement.

What’s working:
The bullpen

Entering Wednesday, the Rays' bullpen owned an AL-best 3.03 ERA -- which ranked third in the Majors behind the Padres (2.87) and the Cubs (2.91). The ‘pen has been called upon plenty this season -- 341 1/3 innings, the second-most in MLB to be exact heading into Wednesday. Manager Kevin Cash feels comfortable sending out any one of his pitchers when needed, even using an opener when necessary.

In the series finale in Washington, the bullpen had a rare “off” day -- starting after made his first start of the season. Reliever took over in the top of the third, allowing four earned runs before exiting the game after just one-third of an inning. From there, the runs kept scoring -- Tampa Bay allowed 15 runs, the most all season, eclipsing the previous season high of 12 runs allowed to the Marlins on April 3.

Run scoring
Putting up runs hasn’t been an issue for the Rays thus far. The offense put up 391 runs since the start of the season prior to Wednesday -- the fifth most in MLB. At this point in the year, the 391 runs were the fourth most in franchise history. Tampa Bay ranked among the top six teams in runs scored per game, with an average of 4.89.

The Rays scored five or more runs in 38 games, including Wednesday at Nationals Park, producing a double-digit effort in seven of those. Tampa Bay's offense put up six runs in the loss on Wednesday, including a homer from -- his 18th of the season.

“In some ways, the first half [saw] us at our best, and then us at our worst,” said . “In the first half, we've competed and put ourselves in a good spot. Obviously, we'd like to be in that top spot in the AL East. I feel like we really competed and showed what we're capable of. It feels like we are really jelling and meshing as a group in the clubhouse and stuff like that.”

What’s not working:
Hitting with runners in scoring position -- or in general

This team has had a problem hitting the ball, owning the 25th worst batting average in the Majors (.229) heading into Wednesday. When the Rays have runners in scoring position their average actually increases -- but not by a lot (.231). Since the start of June, Tampa Bay batted .221 with runners in scoring position.

But there's a bright spot for the Rays: they smack a lot of homers with runners on base. Fifty-three of their 99 homers have come with at least one runner on base, which is the highest rate so far this season.

“That's just hitting,” Cash said when asked about the offense hitting 1-for-10 on Tuesday and 3-for-10 on Wednesday with runners in scoring position. “That's the way it goes sometimes. For as hot as we got [earlier this season], the offense was just a huge part of that. Overall, I’m very pleased where we're at offensively.”

Staying healthy
Keeping pitchers healthy has been the Achilles' heel for the Rays. Currently, 12 pitchers are on the injured list, nine of whom are on the 60-day IL. This includes starter , who has a partially torn elbow ligament -- there is no timetable for his return.

As previously noted, the ‘pen has mostly delivered for the Rays this year, and so have the starters. With all the injuries, you can’t help but be impressed by the starters’ ninth-best ERA (3.71) in the bigs they took into Wednesday. Tampa Bay’s pitching staff had allowed three or fewer runs 45 times -- the most in the AL. While this is all good, Cash and the Rays organization wants to see the team get healthy.

“I think we're doing a great job,” said , one of the Rays’ most reliable relievers, who was placed on the 10-day IL prior to Wednesday’s game. “I think if we could cut down on some of the streaks that we've had where we kind of fall off, I think we would be in a really commanding position right now. I think that's going to be huge for us. We've been exceptional the entire season from both sides.”