Defense holding Rays back from success

Despite showing more power, Tampa Bay underperformed in 1st half

Defense holding Rays back from success

ST. PETERSBURG -- Figuring they had a splendid corps of starting pitchers and solid defense, the Rays went all in to add more offense to the 2016 team.

Best-laid plans ...

Unfortunately, the starting rotation struggled, injuries entered the fray, and though Tampa Bay has produced power like never before, the defense took a plunge. That translated to a disappointing first half and lessened hopes for making a move after the All-Star break.

WHAT WENT RIGHT
After adding the likes of Steve Pearce, Corey Dickerson, Brad Miller and Logan Morrison, the Rays became a team that could score a lot of runs fast via the long ball. Evan Longoria has found his groove and looks settled at the plate, and the results have shown in his return to prominence. Logan Forsythe has continued to be a steady force in the lineup, even though he missed significant time with a shoulder problem that put him on the disabled list.

Miller has hit home runs like no shortstop in team history, and Pearce has proved to be a nice piece to bring more offense -- right up until he went on the DL.

Miller's early solo homer

Matt Moore found his stride, looking like he did prior to his season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2014. The left-hander finished the first half with seven starts of six-plus innings.

When Brad Boxberger started the season on the DL, Alex Colome stepped in to serve as the team's closer, and he has thrived. And Matt Andriese gave the rotation a boost, rolling to a 5-0 mark before getting relegated to the bullpen in favor of top prospect Blake Snell, who has shown well since joining the club.

WHAT WENT WRONG
For a team built on pitching and defense, the Rays struggled on both fronts. Beginning with No. 1 starter Chris Archer, Tampa Bay's highly touted group of starters has underperformed.

Other than Moore, none of the group has been able to pitch deep into the games with any regularity, which finally took its toll on the bullpen. Erasmo Ramirez, who was moved from the rotation at the beginning of the season when the Rays used a four-man rotation, could do no wrong in the early going. But he seemed to be the one guy who most showed the wear of having to clean up extra innings when the team's starters did not go deep.

Miller has brought offense to the shortstop position, but his defense has been shaky at times. Meanwhile, catcher Hank Conger's ineffectiveness when trying to throw out runners has carried over from 2015, when he had the same problem with the Astros.

On top of performance issues, the Rays fought the injury bug, with Kevin Kiermaier leading the parade. Playing without their AL Gold Glove and Platinum Glove-winning center fielder hurt the most.

Betts reaches on error

WHAT WE LEARNED
While they added much-needed power, the Rays can look in the rearview mirror and see they were a better team when they struggled to score runs but played solid defense and pitched well. In essence, Tampa Bay has learned that if the team doesn't pitch as well as it has in the past, it is not going to win games.

FIRST HALF TOP POSITION PLAYER
Longoria has had a rebirth. While his numbers have not been bad the past several years, they have been less than Longoria-type numbers. The Rays veteran tinkered with his mechanics after the first month of the season and he has been seeing the ball better ever since. The results have been evident.

Longoria's 19 homers from 2016

FIRST HALF TOP PITCHER
After transitioning to the bullpen last season, Colome arrived to camp this season expecting to be the setup man for Boxberger, the team's incumbent closer and the 2015 AL saves leader. But Boxberger started the season on the disabled list and Colome was thrust into closing duties. When Boxberger returned from the DL on May 30, Colome was expected to relinquish his role. Instead, Boxberger suffered a left oblique injury in his first outing back and returned to the DL, leaving Colome in the closing role. And Colome's success has continued.

FIRST HALF TOP ROOKIE
Snell has pitched well enough to have a better record than 1-4. He has shown a command of all of his pitches and an ability to adjust when one pitch or the other is not working for him. Snell definitely has displayed the poise a Major League starter needs, particularly the way he's maintained his composure when he's had shoddy defense behind him.

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