Ace, defense highlight year marred by injuries

Archer steps into spotlight; Forsythe, Kiermaier emerge for Rays

Ace, defense highlight year marred by injuries

ST. PETERSBURG -- Once the 2015 season concluded, Kevin Cash did not take solace in the fact the Rays finished with 80 wins, even though they came under extremely difficult circumstances.

"Ultimately, we didn't get where we wanted to get," Tampa Bay's rookie manager said.

Matt Silverman, the Rays' president of baseball operations, noted that the club reported to Spring Training last season "believing we had a team that would compete for the playoffs and possibly extend our season deep into the playoffs."

"And that didn't happen," Silverman said. "There are a number of reasons for that."

For starters, Silverman cited that the Rays "don't really have the luxury for bad breaks." Bad breaks included 23 players on the disabled list serving a Major League-most 27 stints.

"We build this team without much margin for error," Silverman said. "In fact, we probably need some good breaks along the way for us to get into the postseason. We didn't get those breaks [in 2015].

"[We] certainly didn't have the type of health we wanted on the club. And we fell short. But if you take a step back -- and that's what we get to do in the immediate days after the season ... you take a step back and reflect what's taken place -- there's a really good foundation going forward."

The 2015 season is in the books, so let's look back at the top five moments:

5. Archer's emergence
Chris Archer moved into an elite class in 2015, even if his won-loss record did not reflect that.

Archer became the seventh pitcher in team history to reach 200 innings, the blue-collar goal that says so much about a starter. He became the first pitcher to accomplish the feat for the Rays since 2012, when David Price and James Shields both exceeded the mark. In addition, Archer became the fourth Tampa Bay pitcher to record a 200-inning, 200-strikeout season, joining Price, Shields and Scott Kazmir.

Archer reaches 200 innings

4. Strong bullpen
The Rays' bullpen had some lapses down the stretch, but it got strong performances from Brad Boxberger closing and a host of other reliable arms on whom Cash could call.

Tampa Bay relievers recorded 60 saves, establishing a high mark for a team with a losing record, and they tied the 1991 Blue Jays for the most ever by an American League East club.

In addition, they led the AL in decisions with 65. Unfortunately, the 'pen also led the Major Leagues in losses with 37 and blown saves with 27.

Rays relievers made a combined 531 appearances, tops in the AL, and their 538 2/3 innings ranked second in the AL to the Royals (539 1/3). According to Baseball Reference, members of Tampa Bay's bullpen made 208 appearances in high-leverage situations to tie the Cubs for the most in the Major Leagues.

Boxberger tops AL in saves

3. Forsythe takes advantage of opportunity
Players getting injured created opportunities for others. Logan Forsythe can be counted among the latter.

Out of the chaos created by many players sustaining injuries, Forsythe emerged as an everyday player in 2015.

"We found out, even with injuries as negative as they can be, we found out a lot of positive things about some of our young players," Cash said. "... Like Logan Forsythe to kind of have a breakout year. A ton of positives in regard to him."

Forsythe led the club with a .281 average, including 39 multihit efforts in 153 games. He hit 17 home runs (tied for third in the AL among second basemen) and posted a .359 OBP (tied for second).

The Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America selected him as the winner of the Don Zimmer Award as the team's most valuable player.

Best Breakout Player: Forsythe

2. Strong offense at the end
The bats trended in a positive direction, with numbers improving across the board starting Aug. 1.

The Rays hit .239 through July 31, which ranked 28th in the Major Leagues. But from Aug. 1 to the end of the regular season, their .275 mark ranked third in the Majors behind Boston (.281) and Toronto (.276).

Tampa Bay batters crushed 50 more homers in 2015 than they did in '14. Through July 31, they hit 92 home runs in 104 games. From Aug. 1 on, they hit 75 home runs in 58 games.

1. Kevin Kiermaier's defense
Kiermaier became a household name for his defense in 2015. The Rays' center fielder ranked third in the AL with 7.4 Wins Above Replacement, trailing only Mike Trout of the Angels (9.4) and Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays (8.8).

Kiermaier led all Major League center fielders with 15 assists, leaving him one shy of Melvin Upton Jr.'s 2008 club record for the position. And along the way, Kiermaier tallied 10 Web Gems on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight," including the one that took place on Aug. 31 at Baltimore when he robbed Manny Machado of a leadoff homer in the first inning.

Statcast: Kiermaier robs homer

After the season was over, Kiermaier won Gold and Platinum Glove Awards and received the Esurance Defensive Player of the Year Award. He plans more of the same for 2016.

Kiermaier wins Esurance MLB Award for Best Defensive Player

"I'm in the best shape of my life right now," Kiermaier said. "... I plan on continuing to work hard right up until Spring Training. And I think a lot of my teammates and people are going to notice that I really got after it this offseason. That's something that I take a lot of pride in."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.