90-72, 3rd in the AL East
When a team wins 90 games with a Save-A-Lot level budget, it’s hard to be disappointed. But the Rays have turned winning with limited resources into an art form. They can’t get away with pretty good anymore, so third place is third place.
Jack of all trades Ben Zobrist led the way (5.9 WAR) and his teammates Desmond Jennings (3.5), B.J. Upton (3.3), Jeff Keppinger (2.8), and Evan Longoria (2.4 in 74 games) had his back. No other position players made it to 2.0 WAR, but darn it all, Matt Joyce (1.8) came close.
But the pitching, oh my, the pitching. Cy Young winner David Price (5.1) was obviously the staff ace, but he was flanked on all sides but one of the best support staffs around. James Shields (4.3), Matt Moore (2.3), and Alex Cobb (2.2) performed well and Jeremy Hellickson (1.0), who WAR hates, performed pretty well at a 3.10 ERA even if he shouldn’t have.
Also, the Rays had two relievers top 2.0 WAR. RELIEVERS! 2 WAR! Fernando Rodney (2.4) and Jack McGee (2.0) dominated, and Wade Davis and Joel Peralta both hit 1.0 on their own. Man, that bullpen was good.
So the Rays, if one of baseball’s toughest divisions, were really good and won 90 games. They could have used a little more production from first base and the half a year at third base that Longoria missed, but you can’t really ask for much more. Two more wins against the Orioles and they were playing in October.
And the Rays show no signs of stopping. They restocked the farm by taking everyone in the Royals farm system and they filled in holes in the lineup. Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson both have question marks, but they have high upside for low risk contracts.
I’m a big believer in the Rays formula and a full season of Longoria and more Joe Maddon magic should keep the Rays in contention. Very much in contention if you ask me. The fans might not show up and the stadium might be a dive, but they play baseball better than most.
2012 Grade: B
Early 2013 Projection: 92-70