The Tampa Bay Rays are close to securing a trip to the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. They lead the Seattle mariners by 1/2 game for the second wild card spot in the American League. Tampa Bay also holds a five-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles for the third and final wild card spot. Despite having a team payroll that is consistently below league average, the Rays have managed to find success through the strength of their scouting departments, developmental system and the wizardry of the baseball operations department.
Array of Arms
The Tampa Bay Rays have won most of their games in 2022 riding the strength of their pitching staff. They rank in the top four among all MLB clubs in ERA, WHIP and the fewest earned runs allowed.
With only four starting pitchers making the bulk of the starts in 2022, Tampa Bay has had 14 different pitchers account for the other 48 starts in 2022.
Leading the way at the top and garnering significant CY Young Award consideration is left-hander Shane McClanahan. The 25-year-old is in his second season in the big leagues and has quickly turned himself into an elite starting pitcher. He has a 2.51 ERA, 3.01 FIP and 0.917 WHIP in 2022. McClanahan has also improved his hit rate, walk rate and strikeout rate from his rookie season in 2021. The first-time all-star is limiting opposing hitters to a .559 OPS in 2022 and eliciting a ground ball rate of over 50 percent.
Fellow southpaw Jeffrey Springs has also shown out in 2022. After struggling for three years prior to his arrival in Tampa Bay, Springs has pitched to the tune of a 2.56 ERA and a 3.14 FIP. He has posted a career-low walk rate and has been increasingly difficult to hit since joining the Rays. Opposing hitters have a .640 OPS against Springs in 2022, by far the lowest of any season.
Following a similar revitalization as Springs, 27-year-old Drew Rasmussen has shined since joining the Rays organization. His first two seasons in the league were spent with the Milwaukee Brewers where his ERA sat above five. After an early-season trade to Tampa Bay in 2021, he has improved his command significantly and prevented the long ball. Rasmussen has sacrificed an elite strikeout rate early in his career for more control of the strike zone with the Rays. He has allowed a .611 OPS to opposing hitters this season.
Rounding out the top four in the starting rotation is two-time CY Young Award-winner Corey Kluber. There is no doubt Kluber has looked like a shell of his former self since departing from Cleveland. Injuries plagued the right-hander from 2019 to 2021 and prevented him from finding any sustained success with his new teams. Health has not been a concern in 2022, as Kluber has pitched 159 innings across 30 starts this season. The 36-year-old has has not looked his best, however. He leads all MLB starting pitchers in walk rate, but has also posted a career-low strikeout rate at 7.6 per nine innings. Opposing hitters have collectively had the most success against Kluber in a full season in his career. They have slashed .273/.303/.422 in 2022.
The bullpen for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2022 is among the best in the American League. They rank third in ERA among AL teams and have plenty of depth that bodes well for a postseason run.
Headlining the relief corps for Tampa Bay is 30-year-old Jason Adam. Playing for his fourth team over his five-year career, Adam has burst onto the scene in 2022. He has a 1.56 ERA and 2.86 FIP with a ridiculous 0.756 WHIP. The right-hander also has 75 strikeouts in 63 innings and has only allowed five home runs on the season.
A quartet of left-handers have carried much of the load for the bullpen for Tampa Bay in 2022. Colin Poche, Brooks Raley, Jalen Beeks and Garrett Cleavinger have all been effective for the Rays this season.
In his first season since 2019, Poche has a 3.30 ERA and 1.081 WHIP in 51 appearances. He has held opposing hitters to a .196 batting average and is striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings pitched.
After struggling for two seasons following a six-year hiatus from MLB, Raley has found his groove in Tampa Bay. The 34-year-old has a 2.70 ERA and 2.63 FIP in 59 appearances. He has only given up three home runs in 53 innings and has 61 strikeouts to just 13 walks.
Although currently injured, Beeks has been terrific in a career season with the Rays. In 61 innings, the 29-year-old has a 2.80 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 2022. His strikeout rate of 10.3 per nine innings pitched is the second highest of his career. Beeks has also set a career-low in hits per nine innings pitched at 7.2, well below his career average.
Acquired from the Dodgers ahead of the trade deadline this season, it has been a tale of two seasons for Cleavinger. In just four appearances with Los Angeles, the 28-year-old allowed five earned runs in less than five innings. He has a 2.70 ERA and superb 1.68 FIP in nearly 17 innings with the Rays. Cleavinger has 23 strikeouts and has only surrendered one home run and three walks since the trade.
The standouts among right-handed pitchers along with Jason Adam for Tampa Bay in 2022 include Shawn Armstrong, Matt Wisler, Pete Fairbanks and JT Chargois.
Acquired from the Marlins earlier this season, Armstrong has posted a 3.42 ERA and 3.36 FIP in 41 appearances with Tampa Bay. He averages nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings and has only allowed six home runs in 53 innings.
Since joining the Rays mid-season in 2021, Wisler has been dominant. He has a 2.25 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP in 44 innings pitched in 2022. He has seen a dip in strikeout rate this season at 7.2 per nine innings, his lowest since 2018, but has limited opposing hitters to a career-best .189 batting average.
Breaking out in a big way in 2022 has been Fairbanks. The 28-year-old has a phenomenal ERA and FIP, currently at 1.13 and 0.87, respectively. He has struck out 38 batters in 24 innings and has only allowed three walks and one home run on the season.
Like most others, Chargois has greatly benefited from pitching in Tampa Bay. His two best seasons have been with the Rays, posting a 2.30 ERA in 44 games since being traded from Seattle during the 2021 season. This year, Chargois has a 2.79 ERA and a 1.034 WHIP in 19 innings pitched.
Injuries to Andrew Kittredge and JP Feyereisen have been a brutal blow to the bullpen in 2022. Kittredge had a 3.15 ERA and a 0.850 WHIP in 20 innings pitched. Feyereisen had been nearly unhittable in 2022, not allowing a single earned run in over 24 innings pitched. Opponents were hitting a putrid .086/.140/.086 against him on the season. Neither are expected to return in 2022.
Despite these key injuries among others, the bullpen has held its ground this season. Several other pitchers not listed have contributed on a smaller scale to the success of the pitching staff.
Enough Pop in the Lineup?
The Tampa Bay Rays’ lineup has not been a top-tier group compared to other offenses in baseball. They rank fourth in doubles across MLB, but rank 20th in runs, 21st in OPS and 25th in home runs.
The best hitter for Tampa Bay in 2022 has been third baseman Yandy Diaz. The veteran slugger has hit .292/.398/.418 with nine home runs, 32 doubles and 54 RBIs. He has had an elite eye at the plate, striking out just 58 times and walking 77 times this season. Diaz has been an above-average hitter for most of his career, with a 119 OPS+ across six seasons. This year his OPS+ of 141 is a career-high.
Reigning AL Rookie of the Year Randy Arozarena has followed his outstanding 2021 season with another impressive year. He has hit .269/.330/.454 with 20 home runs, 41 doubles and 32 stolen bases. The 27-year-old flashes the best all-around-talent in the lineup and has often been the spark plug for the Rays in key situations. Arozarena elevates his game in the postseason, hitting .354/.436/.760 with 11 home runs in 29 career playoff games.
In his first season with the Rays, Harold Ramirez has had a breakout campaign in 2022. He has hit .311/.353/.420 with 30 extra-base hits and 57 RBIs. Ramirez had struggled with Miami and Cleveland before being traded to Tampa Bay just before the season began.
Infielder Isaac Paredes has been a major contributor in limited playing time with Tampa Bay in 2022. After not making an appearance until May, the 23-year-old has hit .217/.311/.459 in 360 plate appearances. He has shown an advanced approach at the plate for his age with an 11 percent walk rate and 17 percent strikeout rate. He has also hit for decent power, with a team-high 20 home runs and 16 doubles on the season
The trio of Ji-Man Choi, Manuel Margot and Brandon Lowe (before his season-ending back injury) have all been slightly above league-average hitters in 2022. None of the three have hit for power, similar to almost every player in the Rays lineup.
Replacing Wander Franco at shortstop for Tampa Bay following his right wrist injury was Taylor Walls. While the offensive side of the ball has been a major problem for Walls, posting a 62 OPS+ in 449 plate appearances, he has dazzled in the field. According to Baseball Reference, his value on the defensive side of the ball alone has been worth 2.6 WAR in 2022. Franco returned in early September, but has struggled to pick up from where he left off in 2021 and early 2022.
Postseason Trouble in Tampa
The Tampa Bay Rays will be making their eighth postseason in franchise history. They have still yet to win a World Series championship. The Rays recently won their second AL pennant in the shortened 2020 season before falling to the Dodgers in a 4-2 series. A dozen years prior to that they won their first pennant before falling to a loaded Philadelphia Phillies team in the 2008 World Series, losing in five games.
The Rays should have enough depth within the pitching staff to compete against any team in the playoffs. The offense, however, might not have enough thunder to go up against some of the best arms in baseball come postseason time. There are limitations at several spots in the lineup that might hinder the ability for the Rays to score runs. In his eighth year at the helm for Tampa Bay, manager Kevin Cash might need to pull out all the cards in order for the Rays to get a taste of the Fall Classic again in 2022, and possibly win the franchise’s first title.