Health, solid pitching would be Rays' perfect storm

Health, solid pitching would be Rays' perfect storm

ST. PETERSBURG -- Every team dreams about the perfect season. If the Rays were to define the things that need to take place in order to have a perfect season, here's what they'd likely say.

To start, they would wish for health.

The 2017 season proved to be a walking-wounded ward.

Three players sustained season-ending injuries in September: Matt Duffy had left-heel surgery, Steven Souza Jr. had hip surgery and Logan Morrison had left-wrist surgery. Prior to those injuries, on Aug. 29, when right-hander Alex Cobb (Tommy John surgery) was activated, the Rays found themselves without a single player on the disabled list for the first time since July 6, 2011.

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Of all the injuries, all-world center fielder Kevin Kiermaier's broken hand proved to be the cruelest blow.

Prior to Kiermaier getting hurt, the Rays were 20-19. They went 14-35 when 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," Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

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After health, the starting pitching must live up to its billing.

Enigmatic Chris Archer heads the list here. Talk to any scout and they'll wax on about the quality of the right-hander's stuff. Archer went 9-19 with a 4.02 ERA in 33 starts and struck out 233 in 2016. He also logged a team-high 201 1/3 innings, making him the fourth Rays pitcher to record consecutive 200-inning seasons. He joined James Shields, David Price and Matt Garza.

Over the past two seasons, Archer's 485 strikeouts are tied with Giants ace Madison Bumgarner for third in the Majors. Only Max Scherzer (560) of the Nationals and Chris Sale (507), formerly of the White Sox and now with the Red Sox, have more.

His 19 losses led the American League and tied Shields of the Padres and White Sox for the most in the Majors. His combination of strikeouts and losses in one season has been reached by only three other pitchers in AL history, all Hall of Famers: Gaylord Perry (Indians, 1973), Ed Walsh (White Sox, 1916) and Rube Waddell (Philadelphia Athletics, 1904).

Under a dream-season scenario, all the cards would fall into place, and Archer's numbers would match up with his stuff.

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Also on the starting pitching front, Alex Cobb would pick up where he left off prior to having season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2015. That would give the Rays a dynamic 1-2-3 in Archer, Cobb and Jake Odorizzi.

Having above-average starting pitching would afford Cash the opportunity to use his relievers in defined roles, while allowing the group to remain rested.

In a perfect season, Evan Longoria repeats what he did in 2016, providing a solid foundation for the offense. If everything falls into place for the rest of the offense, several players in the lineup would put together career years.

Perfect seasons -- magic seasons -- are special, so it's hard for everything on the wish list to come to fruition. But in the Rays' case, it's not that far-fetched.

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