Rays persevere through a tough 2016 campaign

Longoria, Miller, Colome among those who stepped forward in a season of struggles

Rays persevere through a tough 2016 campaign

ST. PETERSBURG -- Maybe the Rays would have done better in 2016 if ...

Kevin Kiermaier had been on the field more.

Chris Archer had better results.

• The bullpen had performed up to expectations.

That's a lot of maybes, but it's still tough to quantify why the 2016 Rays didn't have a better season.

"Winning teams find ways to overcome injuries," said Matt Silverman, Rays president of baseball operations. "We weren't able to do that this year -- especially in June, when our depth was most tested. We also didn't convert outs and limit damage like we've grown accustomed to."

Rays have pieces in place to bounce back in 2017

Silverman allowed that the team showed improvement in the second half.

"[We got better], especially on the defensive side of the ball," Silverman said. "But it was too little and way too late."

Silverman did manage to find a few positives from this season.

"There certainly were a number of bright spots ... headlined by [Evan] Longoria's tremendous year," Silverman said. "We saw [Alex] Colome establish himself as one of the game's best relievers, [Jake] Odorizzi put together another solid season, and Brad Miller had a breakout year at the plate, to name a few. Our power numbers exceeded expectations -- but we still didn't get on base often enough, and we didn't score as many runs as needed."

Odorizzi's six strong innings

Manager Kevin Cash cited the Rays' first-half struggles for digging a hole the club could not escape.

"You look at the rough patch of the season, where it was a really rough month," Cash said. "We had five starters who scuffled. When that happens to all five, you're going to have a rough month. You can probably manage when two or three are scuffling at one time, but that wasn't the case."

Cash pointed out that the team was able to right the ship to a certain extent.

"Coming out of the All-Star break, the guys got on a really good run, collectively as a group, and that's where we had the success," Cash said.

Despite the disappointment of how they finished, the Rays were able to find out a lot about the players who did play -- some of whom would not have accomplished what they did had openings not been created.

The Rays appear to be positioned to turn the corner in 2017, and once again be a factor in the American League East.

Record: 68-94, fifth place, American League East

What went right: Longoria, Miller, Colome, Odorizzi, and Kiermaier.

Longoria put to rest any talk about having his best days behind him, en route to establishing a new career high for home runs, while having perhaps his best offensive season.

Mostly, Longoria seemed to get comfortable in his skin, understanding more about his swing than ever before. He also made some early mechanical changes to his swing and held true to those changes.

Longoria's numbers had taken a dive in recent years, compared to the work he'd done earlier in his career. Among the things he did this season was put together "a good plan of attack, day to day" with pitchers.

"I think mentally, I kind of set those intentions at the beginning of the year," Longoria said. "Whatever happened in the past, offensively, wasn't going to happen this year. And if I started to struggle, [I was determined] that I wasn't going to let those thoughts creep in and those negative thoughts impact me the next day. And it's really helped me this year."

Longo flashes some leather

The Rays acquired Miller from the Mariners to be the team's everyday shortstop. While shortstop didn't work out for Miller, he worked out for the Rays.

Miller's bat enabled the team to move him to first base after they acquired Matt Duffy at the Trade Deadline to play shortstop.

Miller started off slowly, hitting just .185 with two home runs and five RBIs in April, before coming on strong.

"You look at how he started the year," Cash said. "To get where [he got] is very impressive. ... And just the transition that he's made from shortstop to first base. How he's picked up on that position. The little things that he's learned while doing that."

Colome stepped into the closer's role without a hitch, and Odorizzi put together one of the best second halves of any starter in the AL.

Meanwhile, Kiermaier continued to show the excellence in the field he displayed in 2015.

Kiermaier's leaping catch

"We talk about it -- we feel like if he's in the starting lineup, he's going to save us at least one run every game," said pitcher Drew Smyly. "He just catches everything. It's crazy how much ground he can cover. ... He's a complete game-changer."

What went wrong: The soloists, Kiermaier's injury, and Archer's results.

Home runs came in bunches in 2016, as the Rays hit more round-trippers than they did in any season in team history. Unfortunately, most of them were of the solo variety. So, despite the rise in home runs, the team had problems scoring runs.

Much of that came down to the fact the team, as a whole, struck out a lot -- and many of the hitters needed to develop better approaches at the plate.

The most impactful event of the season came when Kiermaier broke his hand in a game at Detroit.

Prior to Kiermaier getting hurt, the Rays were 20-19. They went 14-35 while he was out -- including a 3-22 stretch prior to the All-Star break.

"It's very tough to quantify what KK does for us," Cash said.

Archer was projected to be a contender for the AL Cy Young Award. While the right-hander has electric stuff, he just hasn't figured out how to win.

Archer fans 10 in seven innings

He got off to a particularly slow start, posting a 1-4 mark with a 5.01 ERA in six starts in April. He finished the first half at 4-12 with a 4.66 ERA in 19 starts before the All-Star game.

Biggest surprise: Miller. The Rays thought they were getting an everyday shortstop. Instead, what they got was a middle-of-the-order power hitter. Who would have thought Miller's homer total would have exceeded 30? The most he'd ever hit was 11 in 2015, while playing for the Mariners.

Miller's two-homer game

Hitter of the Year: Longoria. The veteran Rays slugger had mediocre numbers the previous few seasons, but he managed to turn it on in 2016. He was consistent throughout the season, which saw him establish a career high for home runs.

Longoria's solo homer

Pitcher of the Year: Colome. The right-hander had never earned a save until this season, but he had no trouble stepping into the closer's role when incumbent closer Brad Boxberger started the season on the disabled list. He thrived in the role.

Colome earns the save

Rookie of the Year: It has to be Blake Snell, as the southpaw showed promise in his initial season in the Major Leagues. Though he struggled with control at times, Snell appears headed in the right direction to become a fixture in the Rays' rotation.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.