Swinging for the fences: 2019 Rays season Overview

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Swinging for the fences: 2019 Rays season Overview

The Rays celebrate their valiant efforts throughout the eason.

The Rays celebrate their valiant efforts throughout the eason.

The Rays celebrate their valiant efforts throughout the eason.

The Rays celebrate their valiant efforts throughout the eason.

Lilyann Belcher, Staff Writer

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The 2019 MLB season found the Rays in a familiar spot: a few new faces, a few returning players, and fewer fans in the stands in St. Pete’s Tropicana Field. Little did 2019 AL Manager of the Year Kevin Cash know that 2019 would be the first time the 22-year-old Rays would make it to the postseason since 2013.

The Rays season began on an optimistic note with a series win against eventual 2019 World Series runner up, the Houston Astros.  However, a rash of injuries swept through the Rays’ clubhouse mid-April, sending Blake Snell (fractured right toe), Austin Meadows (right thumb sprain), Joey Wendle (hamstring sprain), fan-favorite Ji-Man Choi (calf tightness), and veteran Matt Duffy (pulled hamstring) to the Injured List (IL). Surprisingly, Kevin Kiermaier, known for his extended annual stints on the IL, avoided getting injured, but did miss games in the middle of the season with a variety of injuries. The Rays ended April with a 19-12 record, including a sweep against the Red Sox.

The Rays won 16 of their 27 games in May, including two series against the New York Yankees and a series against the Cleveland Indians.  Riley Brown, a sophomore at Durant High School, says that the Yankees were the toughest opponent for the Rays to face this year, alluding to the few games the Rays won against their division opponents.  Tampa Bay also led sweeps against cross-state rivals, the Miami Marlins, and international opponents, the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Rays avoided their common summer slump, winning more than half of their games in June.  However, behind the scenes, Rays’ ownership was exploring a future deal with Montreal (who lost their MLB Franchise when the Expos became the current Washington Nationals), due to low profit from low attendance at Tropicana Field.  Stadium deal rumors, such as this, have become a common headline in Tampa for many years, so much that Rays’ fans are accustomed to the threats to draw baseball away from the west coast of Florida.  The rumors have yet to amount to any action. 

Grant Greenwell, a sophomore at Durant says “[the Rays] are probably gonna move pretty soon or are gonna be a two-city team at least.”  Rays fans have mixed opinions on the matter.  Austin Haley, a Durant Chemistry teacher, says that he hopes the rumors will result in reopening talks to keep the Rays in Florida, but at a better location.  However, the Rays need a lot more than a few passionate fans to keep them in Tampa Bay.

Despite the stadium drama, Rays’ players remained focused on the game and managed to get three players elected to the AL All-Star game on July 9: utility player, Brandon Lowe, Charlie Morton, and rookie sensation, Austin Meadows.  Lowe and Morton were unable to play in the game due to an injury and the pitching schedule, but Meadows represented the Ray, entering the game in the 4th inning playing outfield for three innings and an at bat. 

Facing the second half of the season, the Rays had one thing in mind: the playoffs.  Rays ended July playing the Red Sox for the fourth time in 2019.  Tampa Bay swept the Olde Towne Team at Fenway Park in four games, leading them into August on another high note, being the first team to win eight games at Boston in one season since 1966.  Catcher Travis D’Arnaud had an outstanding July, batting .304 and hitting 25 RBIs.

With a pitching staff largely on the IL, the Rays managed an impressive performance in the post season push.  The Rays relied on an innovative pitching approach with an “opener”, but without many of their starters, their approach was limited.  The offense managed to drive the Rays to 17 wins in 27 games.  Rays’ shortstop Willy Adames continued his stellar sophomore year, hitting .304 with 28 hits. 

Rays’ fans, players, and coaches were watching the Wild Card standings, knowing their performance in September would control their post season fate.  Their pitchers were finally getting healthy and batters were swinging for the fences.  September began by completing a sweep against the Cleveland Indians, followed by 15 more wins.  Left fielder Tommy Pham closed out the season setting five 2019 team records, including 25 stolen bases and 33 doubles.  The last win in the regular season came against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 27.  Not only did the Rays beat the Blue Jays 6-2, they clinched one of the two Wild Card spots, followed by an extensive champagne celebration in Toronto’s visitor’s locker room.  The Rays would be playing in October for the first time since 2013. 

Austin Haley, “[the Rays’] run differential was great this year,” and contributes that to their offensive success.  Throughout regular season, the Rays were only outscored in the month of August and outscored opponents 796-656 overall.

The Rays faced the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card game on October 2nd, sending Charlie Morton to lead the defense for the first five innings, but they didn’t have to rely on their pitching and defense alone.  Yandy Diaz, returning third baseman, had an excellent performance hitting two back to back homers.  Avisail Garcia and Tommy Pham contributed to the offensive assault leading the Rays to a 5-1 victory over the Athletics, taking them to the American League Divisional Series.

After one day off, the Rays flew to Houston for the first two games of the series.  Rays fans weren’t giving up hope, even after dropping the first two games to Houston, being outscored 9-3.  Back on their home turf, the Rays challenged the Astros in a spectacular offensive show.  Kevin Kiermaier, who had had a rather quiet bat in the regular season, matched Altuve’s solo homerun with a three-run homer in the bottom of the second.  Aces Ji-Man Choi, Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham, Brandon Lowe, and Willy Adames contributed seven more runs bring the final score to 10-3.  The Rays were making a comeback. 

The fourth game was just as exciting for Rays’ fans.  Justin Verlander would be pitching on three days’ rest for the first time in his career-a major mistake by Astro’s management.  Started by Diego Castillo, the Rays pitched a shutout through eight innings spoiled by a solo homerun by Houston catcher Robinson Chirinos.

Unfortunately, a sharp eye from the Astros’ dug out ended the Rays’ post season battle.  The Astros decoded Tyler Glasnow’s pitching positions, allowing them to read the pitch before it was thrown.  The Astros’ beat the Rays 6-1 in the decisive game 5 of the ALDS.  The Rays would be heading home after an impressive and unexpected fight with the Houston Astros.

Nevertheless, the Rays saw their regular and post season performance as a team victory.  In an interview with ABC, Eric Sogard voiced his praise for the 2019 Rays saying, “I think we surprised a lot of people. We believed in ourselves the whole way, we believed we could have done it. We went up against the best team, we gave them a fight in five games.” 

The Rays performance this year was not about winning the World Series; it was about perseverance, fighting, and impressing every baseball fan.