Rays have the makings of postseason team

Rays have the makings of postseason team

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Pencil in the 2016 Rays for the postseason.

After surviving an injury-riddled 2015 campaign, the "Little Team that Could" appears ready to reach the postseason for the first time since '13.

Why should anything be different this season? For starters, the starters.

Led by staff ace Chris Archer at the top of the rotation, the Rays have one of the best group of starters in the game. Drew Smyly will begin the season in the No. 2 spot, and he'll be followed in order by Jake Odorizzi and Matt Moore as the Rays will go with a four-man rotation for the first month of the season.

If something goes wrong, the Rays have the necessary depth at Triple-A Durham that could come up and fill the gap with Blake Snell -- who is the team's No. 1-ranked prospect -- Taylor Guerrieri (No. 6), Jacob Faria (No. 9) and Jaime Schultz (No. 19).

But pitching is old hat for Rays fans. The biggest difference for this year's squad will be the offense.

Last season, the Rays scored just two more runs than they allowed. While that difference represented a plus 13-run turnaround from the previous season, it paled in comparison to 2013, when the team was plus 54, and 2012, when they had a plus 120 differential. The Rays' all-time best run differential came in '12, when the team posted a plus 153.

Given the Rays' prevention side of the equation in 2015, the run differential should have been greater.

Going back to 1984, the two AL teams that have allowed the fewest runs in a full season and finished below .500 are the 2014 and '15 Rays. Tampa Bay was one of 13 Major League teams to allow fewer than four runs per game in 2015, but it was the only one of the 13 to finish with a losing record.

Thus, the Rays found themselves in familiar territory heading into the offseason: They needed more offense.

Based on the players brought in and the way the team finished 2015, there's reason to believe the Rays can hang some better numbers on the scoreboard this season.

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Quality newcomers include Corey Dickerson, Steve Pearce, Logan Morrison, and Brad Miller. Their additions should allow Evan Longoria to see better pitches, which should add a spark to the offense as well.

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Looking in the rearview mirror, the offense finished strong last season.

In the Rays' first 104 games last season, they hit .239 with a .304 OBP with a .380 OPS. The team averaged 3.58 runs per game while hitting 92 home runs and .226 with runners in scoring position.

In the final 58 games, Rays hitters went .275/.333/.449, scoring 4.69 runs per game while hitting 75 home runs and .274 with runners in scoring position. If some of that carries over, watch out.

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