The Tampa Bay Rays went from Wildcard winner to AL Leader in one season, and they did it with less salary and fewer stars than their National League competitor in the World Series. Now the question ahead of the 2021 season becomes, can they do it again, but this time with even less?
The Tampa Bay Rays
2020: Record: 40 – 20
2020 Finish: 1st in the AL East, 1st in the American League
Surprises in 2020
The Rays front office has a keen eye for overlooked talent, and we saw the product of that shrewd eye in 2020. The Rays offense was led by the likes of Brandon Lowe, Willy Adames, Mike Brosseau and the ever solid Kevin Kiermaier.
Lowe was the engine that drove the Rays offense this season, leading the team in hits, home runs and RBIs. The Rays have always had a solid core of second basemen, like Joey Wendle before Lowe, but the infield was truly the star of this Rays team.
Willy Adames, the Rays shortstop and crown-jewel prospect prior to the emergence of Wander Franco, also lived up to the hype in 2020, providing the offense and defense to keep the Rays in first place.
But possibly the most astounding surprise came from Mike Brosseau, who made the most of his shortened season in more ways than one. In fewer games during the 2020 season, Brosseau outperformed his 2019 numbers. It’s been a while since the Rays had a solid bat and glove at the hot corner. It used to be their calling card until Evan Longoria was dealt to the Giants. But Brosseau wasn’t going to let the chance to put his name in the legendary Rays hat go by him.
Because it was his home run off of Aroldis Chapman in the ALDS that slammed the door on the Yankees World Series hopes and sent the Rays to the ALCS. If that’s not a surprise in 2020, I don’t know what is.
Disappointments in 2020
There’s a lot that could fit as a disappointment for the 2020 Rays, whether it’s Yoshi Tsutsugo, Hunter Renfroe or even Austin Meadows. But there’s really only one thing that truly feels like the biggest disappointment of the season.
The Dodgers had the chance to win their first World Series since 1988 heading into Game 6 of the 2020 World Series. And to make sure that didn’t happen, Kevin Cash sent Blake Snell to the mound.
The Rays looked like they were poised to force a game seven, as Blake Snell was dealing. However, after an Austin Barnes single, Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled Snell in favor of relief pitcher Tim Anderson. A Mookie Betts double, followed by a Corey Seager fielder’s choice, gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead, one they wouldn’t give back.
It has to be infuriating to be a Rays fan and see that moment unfold. After so long, to see your chances of finally winning a ring just slip through your fingers because of a matchup decision? And now Blake Snell is in San Diego? It’s a tough pill to swallow all around.
Looking Ahead to 2021
Charlie Morton and Blake Snell are gone. The Rays did receive Zack Davies, who is coming off a stellar season in San Diego. And yet, it feels like the Rays 2021 chances once again depend upon the rest of the AL East. When the Rays have all the pieces together, it feels like they’re playing with magic. When they don’t? It just makes you wanna punch a wall and ask why ownership won’t invest in the team.
The Tampa Bay Rays had a magical run to the World Series that was fueled by grit, grind, and a little bit of magic. And in order to get them back to the Fall Classic in 2021, they’ll need a little bit more help than that.
Projected 2021 Finish: 90 – 72, 2nd in the AL East
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