A defensive advantage
The Kansas City Royals have shown how critical a great defense can be over the past two seasons. While the Rays aren’t quite at Kansas City’s level, their strong defense has been an important part of their excellent run prevention this season.
Defensive metrics aren’t perfect, but Tampa Bay ranks near the top of the league in a number of different categories. The Rays are third in the A.L. in Defensive Runs Saved and third overall in defensive value.
Leading the way is center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who should be on his way to a Gold Glove award. Kiermaier has been one of the best defensive players in all of baseball, posing a mark of 37 DRS.
Kiermaier has easily been Tampa Bay’s most valuable position player despite just being just below league average at the plate this season. The 25-year-old ranks 17th in the Majors in WAR with 4.6, just between Nelson Cruz and Miguel Cabrera, showing how valuable his defense has been.
Even with losing the versatile Zobrist, the Rays have managed to improve defensively on the infield as well. Logan Forsythe has posted better metrics than Zobrist as a second baseman, while Evan Longroia remains steady at third base.
Only aging shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is the real defensive liability among Tampa Bay’s regular starters. With great pitching and solid defense, the Rays will at least give themselves a chance to win most days.
Next: Unexpected contributions on offense