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What's next for the Rays following disappointing postseason elimination?

With a season full of highs and lows behind them, the focus for the Rays is now on next year.
Credit: AP
Tampa Bay Rays players greet Jordan Luplow (25) as he crosses home plate after hitting a grand slam against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning of Game 2 of a baseball American League Division Series, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros are currently duking it out in a best of seven American League Championship Series. But, baseball fans here in Tampa Bay can't help but feel something - or some team - is missing.

The Tampa Bay Rays captured the best record in the American League during the regular season, but the team was unable to translate that success in the playoffs.

Despite a dominant Game 1 performance in the ALDS against the division rival Red Sox, the Rays were unable to keep up with Boston's offense in three straight games. On a cold night in Fenway Park, the team was sent packing on another walk-off loss. 

With a season full of highs and lows behind them, the focus for the Rays is now on next year. So, what needs to be addressed in order for the team to make another run at the World Series?

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The boy Wander

Let's start with the good. The great even. Wander Franco.

The future is bright for Tampa Bay if the talented Dominican-born player can keep building on his historic rookie year. Despite only playing 70 games, Franco was able to tie the major league record for the longest on-base streak for a player 20 years or younger. For 43 games, Franco was on base, giving the team a chance to bring him in. He'd end his rookie campaign slashing .288/.347/.463.

And, Franco didn't cool off in the postseason. He and Randy Arozarena were the team's much-needed 1-2 punch, slashing .368/.368/.789 with two home runs. 

Wake up the bats

But, the same can't be said for the other seven men in the lineup. If there's one thing their playoff series against the Red Sox proved, it was that Tampa Bay needed to retool its offense. 

The Rays were never really at the bottom of any offensive category this season, but they never were at the top either. The lesson learned during the ALDS is that middle of the road offense doesn't cut it.

Nelson Cruz and All-Star Mike Zunino (club option) will be free agents at the conclusion of this season. The Rays gave up quite a lot for Cruz's offensive services, but he never lived up to the hype. His on-base and power abilities both dipped in the Bay area, batting .226/.283/.442 in his 55 games with the team. With explosive bats like Carlos Correa, Trevor Story and Kris Bryant hitting the market this offseason, the team has a chance to fork up some cash and reignite the offense.

Save those arms

Let's face it. The Rays made the best of a bad situation when it came to their pitching. 

After trading past aces, Charlie Morton and Blake Snell, the Rays had two large holes in their pitching rotation. But, it seemed like one man was focused on single-handedly pitching the team to the playoffs. Tyler Glasnow was having a CY-Young caliber season before he suffered a season-ending injury in August. The injury bug didn't let up, forcing Tampa Bay to start relievers in many games. And, for the majority of the season, it worked.

Kevin Cash and the team's pitching staff excelled at implementing the right arms at the right times. But, that strategy ended up being their undoing in the end. By the time the Rays made it to the playoffs, it seemed much of their bullpen was exhausted, unable to contain Boston's bats. 

There were some bright spots. Rookies Shane McClanahan and Shane Baz proved they had the potential to be part of the rotation next season. However, the Rays will have to focus on getting more starting pitching in order to prevent their relievers from being overworked next year. 

Should I stay or should I go? 

This isn't something the team will be able to address anytime soon. But, for the past three years, it's been a cloud hanging over the heads of the Tampa Bay Rays. 

Will the Rays find a way to work with the city of St. Petersburg to build a new stadium? Will they hop across the bay and call Tampa their new home? Or, will Tampa Bay baseball fans have to share custody of their team with Montreal? Stay tuned to find out.