Unfortunately, the Rays are still trying to overcome a stretch at the end of June that saw them drop five in a row. That dropped them from seven games over .500 to two. They followed with losing records in July and August, and suddenly they're on the outside looking in. I think all facets of the team are responsible for where it now finds itself. Stranger things have happened in terms of late-September runs, and Tampa Bay is certainly capable of that. However, if the Rays don't, I think reaching .500 would be a really nice accomplishment given the way they finished last season. A record of 81-81 would represent quite an improvement.
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The Rays needed to take their series in Boston last weekend and they needed to follow that up by returning home and beating the Yankees. Thanks to Hurricane Irma, that Yanks series got relocated to Citi Field, where the Rays lost two of three after dropping two of three to the Red Sox. Good teams rev up for big series, or when it's must-win time. This team seems to be missing that gene. Your thoughts, please?
-- Jonathan D., Lakeland, Fla.
I think the circumstances the Rays were forced to deal with were particularly unusual and difficult. Yes, they flew family members on the team flight to avoid the incoming storm, but you can't fly entire families away, so I'm sure everybody in Tampa Bay's clubhouse carried an ample load of anxiety with them onto the field -- even though they didn't show it. While some might say that's not being professional, I'd choose to say it was human. The added dose of anxiety came served in the fact they were trying to win baseball games. Dealing with life-and-death circumstances trumps playing a baseball game any day, even if you are a professional. Personally, I think Rays players did a nice job of dealing with the high level of stress, even though the end result wasn't good.
I'm disappointed that the Rays have stalled out. I thought they were legitimate contenders this season. What do they have to do in the offseason to become true contenders next season?
-- Justin T., Atlanta
You always look at the free agents a team is likely to lose, and Alex Cobb, Logan Morrison, Steve Cishek, Tommy Hunter and Lucas Duda highlight the Rays' crop. I don't foresee any of them returning, save for Hunter, maybe. Cobb will be tough to replace, but they've got a solid group of starters already in place, and right-hander Brent Honeywell will likely be given a shot, plus Nathan Eovaldi will be returning from Tommy John surgery, as well. In addition, I think Jake Bauers will replace Morrison and Duda at first base. Looking around the rest of the field, Tampa Bay has a solid outfield in Corey Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr. and Mallex Smith.
The infield looks solid with Evan Longoria at third, Adeiny Hechavarria at short and Brad Miller at second (though Miller and the Rays would both like to see more from him next season). Wilson Ramos and Jesus Sucre will both return, and that's about as solid a catching pair as the team has had in a while. And the bullpen has been strong. So I think Tampa Bay will head into the offseason with a solid foundation. I'd be interested to see if they opt to trade one of their marquee players to try to land a difference maker.
Did any news ever come out about why Colby Rasmus decided to leave baseball? We had to wait a while to see him, but once he started playing, he showed me that he still had a lot left in the tank. Do you think he'll play again?
-- George G., Tampa, Fla.
When Rasmus abruptly left the team, the vibe most everyone got was that he had to tend to his family in some shape or form. Nobody ever said what the problem was or really even said that there was a problem, but the general opinion was he had to deal with something with his family. Since he never addressed the media prior to leaving, I don't have a definitive answer about why he left. As for the question of will he return, I certainly think that remains a possibility since he is a talented player. If he does decide to return, he will be a free agent. The Rays signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal.
Hechavarria can play shortstop. Having him has really helped the team in my opinion. Do you think the Rays will pencil him in to be their shortstop next season?
-- Craig N., Tampa, Fla.
The Rays acquired Hechavarria from the Marlins on June 26 for Minor Leaguers Ethan Clark and Braxton Lee. Everybody knew that Hechavarria could play defense, but I think what he's shown has gone above expectations. And he has been decent on offense, which is a bonus. Tampa Bay's front office never tips its hand, but I would expect him to be the starter next season. He made $4.35 million this season and has two more seasons of arbitration before reaching free agency. Willy Adames is coming on strong from the farm and Matt Duffy might finally be healthy next spring after missing all of 2017 (thus far), so either of the pair might change the Rays' outlook where Hechavarria is concerned. Having too many good shortstops is a nice problem to have.