The Tampa Bay Rays were the unluckiest team in the majors in 2016.
Though adding nine more projected victories to their 68-win season wouldn’t have crossed the next hurdle, 77-85 appears much more competent on the surface than 68-94, doesn’t it?
Perhaps those wins are starting to trickle over into 2017 as the Rays enter Friday’s three-game homestand with the New York Yankees a shade under .500 at 21-22 in a competitive AL East.
If the Rays can stay above water and avoid the major slump, they can continue making strides, especially with Wilson Ramos well on his way to joining the roster. Tampa manager Kevin Cash noted that the first-year Rays catcher was close to returning, which will provide another offensive weapon to the lineup.
Ramos, off a breakout 2016 season with the Nationals, was a big splash for Tampa in free agency despite the torn ACL baggage he carried over from late last season.
The No. 28 offense from a season ago has found life, parking 59 home runs across the roster to parlay with a .753 team OPS. There may be more production on the way with Evan Longoria (.232/.299/.390) and Kevin Kiermaier (.229/.320/.331) slow out of the gates to start the season.
Aside from the promising Blake Snell’s blip, the pitching staff has managed to keep the ball down, allowing only 43 homers and combining for the fourth-ranked team ERA at 3.75.
Tampa Bay wasn’t viewed as a contender to start the season, so this isn’t a plea for the Rays to make a deep postseason run (or make the playoffs at all for that matter). But if not finishing in the cellar of the AL East is a goal for Tampa it’s a start, and it’s off to a good one.
The Rays have a long ways to go to even attain that in a jam-packed division, but should they avoid losing skids and stay healthy, they could be one of the most improved teams from a season ago.