The First Half Ends | The Process Report

The First Half Ends

The All-Star Break is here. The Rays are 55-41, 2 1/2 games back of the division lead, and sit atop the American League’s Wild Card standings by half a game.

Perhaps the easiest takeaway is to default to the tried and true explanation for the Rays’ success: Every Andrew Friedman or Joe Maddon move and non-move seems to work. Sure enough, a once-panned offseason has seen James Loney, Luke Scott, Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, and Jamey Wright perform as well as could be hoped. Management stuck by players—including many of those previously mentioned, though also a few incumbents—and doesn’t look silly for their patience. But summing up the first half by saying Friedman and Maddon did well is painting with a spray can: It’s not as precise, nor as delicate as this team deserves.

The record should not fool anyone: This team struggled. Most of the struggle seems contained to June, a month in which the Rays lost David Price, a month in which Matt Moore allowed 48 percent of his seasonal run total over a three-start span, and a month in which Alex Cobb was struck on the head by a line drive. There were other struggles, of course. Jeremy Hellickson didn’t pitched like himself, Roberto Hernandez pitched too much like himself, the bullpen didn’t meet an April lead it wanted to hold through the night, and the Durham rotation took turns taking the big-league mound.

That’s just on the pitching side of things. There were valleys for the offensive, too. Remember when the Rays opened the season with a poor offense; one that failed to cash in with runners on base? Those are distant times now. The Rays enter the break with Evan Longoria, Scott, and Loney owning OPS+ of 130 or better; Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, and Johnson are above 110; Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers, and Jose Lobaton are at 100 or better; and Sean Rodriguez and Yunel Escobar are above 90. That’s 11 hitters with 100-plus plate appearances who have been at least 90 percent of the league-average batter. Add in Ryan Roberts and the Rays have 12 such players, tied for the most in the league with the Indians and Padres.

To state the obvious: The offense has been good—very good. By some of the advanced metrics, like True Average (which is park-adjusted), the Rays have the third-best offense in the league, trailing the moneybags-fueled lineups of the Red Sox and Angels. Neither of those teams, by the way, are as skilled defensively as the Rays, who rank fifth in defensive efficiency and third when those numbers are park-adjusted. (The Angels are middle of the pack while the Red Sox are near the bottom.) There’s a case to be made, and perhaps accepted, that the Rays have had the best all-around group of position players in the league, at least from a first-half production standpoint.

So what’s next? Wil Myers is already up and Chris Archer and Alex Torres are earning long-term spots on the roster. That leaves few players in Durham who could make an impact. There aren’t many players available on the trade market who could impact this roster, either. Maybe another middle reliever, should the Rays feel Kyle Farnsworth is unfit going forward, and maybe another bat if they want to buttress against a possible second-half letdown from one of the seeming overperformers. Otherwise, this is the group going forward. Sure, they’ll have to tinker a bit when Cobb returns, but that’s no worry.

And so what we’ve learned in the first half is this is a quality team, a playoff-worthy team, and a team that’s overcome more obstacles than they expected on their way to setting up an important second half. The Rays haven’t missed consecutive playoffs since becoming the Rays, and while that appears trivial—after all, merely five years ago making the playoffs once was a huge deal—it’s become a threat: Make the playoffs or be forgotten.

You hope this group can make the playoffs—and push beyond the play-in game, or the first round—because it would be too bad to forget about the kind of character and resiliency this team has shown when faced with struggle.

One Comment

  1. […] On July 15, after the first half concluded, I wrote: […]

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