For years, the Rays have shed talent as a low revenue club, only to restock their cupboard with younger, cheaper talent. They famously sent James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City, but were able to get a Rookie of the Year campaign out of Wil Myers in return, as well as a promising pitching career out of Jake Odorizzi. This past winter, they lost perhaps their most irreplaceable talent - General Manager Andrew Friedman, who bolted to Dodgertown. Manager Joe Maddon followed him out the door to Wrigley Field, but the Rays continue to chug along with competitive team despite the third-lowest Opening Day payroll in baseball.
Without much star power aside from third baseman Evan Longoria, the Rays have managed a record of 43-41, good enough to contend an American League Eastern Division filled with parity. The Rays have been a terrific road team, going 22-14 away from the greater Tampa-St. Petersburg area. The Rays have been decimated by injuries this season. Catcher John Jaso, outfielder Desmond Jennings, infielder Tim Beckham, and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly are just some of the players out for this series on the disabled list. The team is reeling lately, having just snapped a seven-game losing streak on Sunday. They've won just three of their last fourteen games, a stretch that includes three extra-inning losses and a walk-off loss.
The strength of the Rays is pitching. Only the Royals have allowed fewer runs per game than Tampa Bay, and opponents have been shutout seven times against Rays pitching, tied for third most in the league. Rays starters have the second-best ERA in the league, with Chris Archer stepping up to become the team ace. Archer has been phenomenal this year, with the fourth-most fWAR out of all pitchers. He is dominating with a nasty slider that he throws a lot, that ranks as the most effective slider in the game.
Nate Karns was picked up from the Nationals last year for three players and has been a good find for the Rays with the fifth-best curveball in baseball this year. Alex Colome has struggled this year after recovering from pneumonia earlier this spring. He has a solid fastball that sits at 93 to go with a good cutter and curveball. Former All-Star pitcher Matt Moore will make his second start since recovering from Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss almost the entire 2014 season.
The Rays bullpen has been far less reliable than the rotation, with the fourth-worst ERA in the league at 3.92 and the highest walk-rate at 3.66 per-nine-innings. Brad Boxberger has emerged as a solid closer with a 2.48 ERA and 12.4 strikeouts-per-nine innings, a season after hitting the 100 strikeout threshold as a reliever. Middle relievers Brandon Gomes and Xavier Cedeno have shiny ERAs, but have not performed as well as their FIP would suggest. Steve Geltz recently set a franchise record by retiring 32 consecutive hitters, but gave up four runs in his last outing on Friday. Kevin Jepsen, who you last saw giving up a home run to Eric Hosmer in the ALDS, has struggled with his walk rate this year. Former Royals farmhand Everett Teaford was recently promoted to the Rays bullpen despite a 5.56 ERA in AAA Durham.
The Rays offense has struggled, scoring the third-fewest runs in the league. They strike out a lot, and don't get on base much, putting up the fourth-worst on-base percentage. Infielder Logan Forsythe has enjoyed a career season with a power surge, and the Rays were able to find use out of journeyman outfielder Joey Butler, who is putting up a 129wRC+ at age 29 after just 14 games in the big leagues prior to this season. Stephen Souza, acquired last winter from Washington, has been the Rays' best power source, but has already struck out over 100 times.
Former Royals outfielder David DeJesus effectively serves as a starter, splitting time with Butler and Souza. Grady Sizemore recently joined the mix after being released by the Phillies, and has gotten off to a good start. The Rays are the second-best defensive team in baseball, according to Fangraphs. It may be blasphemy to say with Lorenzo Cain in the stadium, but Kevin Kiermaier may be the best defensive outfielder in baseball this year. The Rays don't run the bases particularly well, with -5.2 Baserunning Runs and the second-fewest steals in the league.
The Royals were able to take two of three against the Rays both in Tampa Bay and Kansas City last year. Like the Royals, they have been struggling to score runs lately, with Sunday being the first time they have topped five runs in a game since June 15. Their low-average, high-strikeout lineup should struggle in spacious Kauffman Stadium. Both teams limp into the All-Star break nursing a variety of injuries, but the crowded disabled list may finally be catching up to the Rays.