Are The Tampa Bay Rays Pretenders Or Contenders?

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The Tampa Bay Rays, the defending American League Champions, are off to a slow start.

The Rays are 4-5 on the season after taking two out of three from the New York Yankees over the weekend.

The Rays have gotten off to a slow start before under Kevin Cash. The way Kevin Cash uses his bullpen takes a while for everyone to adjust to their roles. Injuries only complicate matters.

The Rays started slowly in 2020, going 5-7 before getting hot and winning 20 of 24. During that run, the Rays grabbed hold of first place in the American League East and never relinquished it as they went on to win the division.

In 2019 the Rays got off to a 14-4 start and finished with a 96-66 record good for second in the AL East.

This 4-5 start is nothing new. The Rays have had a slow start before and bounced back to have a good season.

The Rays have been hit especially hard by the injury bug early in the season, especially to the bullpen. This is not surprising considering the 60 game season in 2020. All teams will have to overcome some injuries this season. It just seems the Rays are getting theirs out of the way early in the season.

With not even a tenth of the season complete, starter Chris Archer and relievers Pete Fairbanks, Chaz Roe, and Nick Anderson are all on the DL.

Roe is out until mid-summer, and Anderson will not be back after the All-Star break.

Ryan Sherriff is on the restricted list for personal reasons, and no one knows when he will be back with the Rays.

Also, Jalen Beeks, Oliver Drake, and Yonny Chirinos are all out for the 2021 season.

The Rays bullpen has been a mess to start the season; Cody Reed, Chris Mazza, Jeffrey Springs, Hunter Strickland, and Andrew Kittredge were not on MLB rosters before spring training.

They are now being counted on to be critical players in a bullpen decimated by injuries.

The Rays bullpen has a 6.35 ERA and was the main factor in the Rays getting swept by the Red Sox last week.

It has not been all doom and gloom for the Rays pitchers this season. Starter Tyler Glasnow has been outstanding. In 12 innings of work, Glasnow has walked two, struck out 15, and given up one run on five hits.

Glasnow has a 0.75 ERA and will be making his third start of the season Monday night against the Texas Rangers.

Brent Honeywell JR, who has not pitched in a game since 2017, threw two shutout innings Sunday in his Major League debut against the New York Yankees.

The Rays also have some good arms in the minor leagues ready to get that call. Josh Fleming, Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino, and Joe Ryan have all pitched in the big leagues.

Offensively there have been bright spots. The Rays offense started slowly but came alive this weekend in their home-opening series against the Yankees.

Outfielder Randy Arozarena, last year’s playoff Herero and MVP for the Rays, proved that it was no fluke as he has started 2021 hitting .314 with two homers and five runs batted in.

Arozarena is also a candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Austin Meadows is hitting the ball well. After a disappointing 2020 season, Meadows has started 2021 hitting .242 but has three home runs.

Manuel Margot and Francisco Meija are also hitting the ball well to start the season.

The Rays rolled the dice when they signed Japanese star Yoshi Tsutsugo in the 2019 off-season. Tsutsugo was signed to a two-year 12 million dollar contract and has yet to live up to those lofty expectations.

Tsutsugo averaged 30 home runs a season in Japan, but in 2020 his first year in America, Tsutsugo hit .197 with eight homers and 24 runs batted in.

This season, Tsutsugo is off to another slow start hitting .185 in 27 at-bats with just one run batted in.

Tsutsugo is getting plenty of opportunities right now to show what he can do as the Rays have him playing at first base in place of the injured Ji-Man Choi.

The Rays will be OK. With Choi due back at the end of this month, adding him to a lineup with Meadows, Arozarena, Margot, Joey Wendle, and Willy Adames, the Rays will be OK offensively.

One thing that the Rays cannot afford to do is get too far behind in the standings. The games you lose now will come back to hurt you in September.

The Red Sox look to be the surprise team of the division. The Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles all are 4-5, and trail Boston by two games in the division.

Everyone has doubted this team for years. It’s a Tampa thing.

The Rays will be contenders in October.

Kevin Cash is one of the best managers at handling a pitching staff, and the Rays have the number one farm system in baseball.

It’s a long season.

The Rays are one of the teams that will be playing October baseball.

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