Perhaps as the real game is concerned -- they're 8-9 since, to drop seven games back in the wild-card hunt -- but in fantasy terms, there's still plenty to like about these Rays.
The Rays remain a team built around pitching, their 2.60 team ERA and 1.19 WHIP in the month of August ranking third and 11th in the majors, and their 11 quality starts ranking sixth (fifth if you rank by their 64.7 quality start percentage). Their five current starters, meanwhile, rate among the top 35 on our Player Rater's "Last 15" splits, with each sporting an ERA of 3.14 or better since the All-Star break.
This week, two of them moved up by substantial margins, despite a schedule that, on paper at least, looks like one of the more challenging ones ahead:
Jake Odorizzi (up 59 spots to 122nd, No. 36 starting pitcher): He's now effectively matchup-proof, but even if you planned to avoid his most challenging ones (like his Aug. 3 game against the Los Angeles Angels), there aren't that many left anyway. Only the Sept. 9-11 series at New York's Yankee Stadium and Sept. 12-14 series at Toronto's Rogers Centre stand out as high-risk, and even then, he won behind a 44 Game Score at the former on July 2, and he tossed a 57 Game Score quality start versus the Toronto Blue Jays on July 12. Odorizzi's substantial gains with his fastball -- .211/.284/.395 rates allowed with a 23 percent swing-and-miss rate since June 1, improved upon his .233/.340/.378 numbers and 19 percent swing-and-miss rate from the beginning of 2013 through May 31, 2014 -- coupled with his quality changeup have vastly boosted his stock, especially in terms of strikeouts, beneath the radar in fantasy. He'll surely capture his owners a fair share of titles.
Chris Archer (up 19 spots to 111th, No. 31 starting pitcher): Like Odorizzi, Archer has made skills improvements that explain his 2014 gains. Most notably, he has narrowed his righty/lefty splits: Left-handers have .217/.307/.289 rates against him this season, improved upon his .261/.329/.471 numbers from 2013, which were the most reasonable argument against his breakout candidacy entering this year. Most of that is the product of Archer's two-seamer, giving him a more effective pitch against that side, and he has introduced it more despite no loss in terms of strikeouts; he has whiffed 22.1 percent of batters he has faced this year, up from 19.2 percent last year. Archer has thrown quality starts at New York's Yankee Stadium (June 30), at the Detroit Tigers (July 5), versus the Angels (Aug. 2) and at Texas' Globe Life Park (Aug. 13), so there's no question that he belongs in any fantasy lineup every time out now.
It's the hitting side, though, that could take fantasy owners by surprise.
Rays hitters face a relatively easy schedule the remainder of the season, especially in the month of September, when the team will play mostly intradivision games (19 of their 25 in the month). Chris Tillman (52nd) is the highest-ranked active AL East starting pitcher on our Player Rater, and the Rays' four division rivals rank 13th (Baltimore Orioles, 3.61), 20th (New York Yankees, 3.89), 21st (Boston Red Sox, 3.89) and 24th (Toronto Blue Jays, 4.17) in terms of team ERA this season.
Wil Myers' impending return warrants the most attention. After a two-plus-month absence due to a right wrist fracture, he has batted .250/.419/.542 with two home runs and three stolen bases during a seven-game rehabilitation stint with Triple-A Durham. The Rays plan to have him back within the week, and he'd be a welcome source of power for a team that ranks third-worst in home runs since the All-Star break (18).
Myers re-enters the top 250 this week, and he is the No. 68 outfielder, his rank somewhat conservative mainly because of his risky nature in terms of batting average. After all, he was batting .227 before he got hurt, and his 24.0 percent strikeout rate through his first 141 career big league games makes him seem like, at best, a .260 hitter. Myers should receive regular at-bats in left field and designated hitter upon his return, and in the Rays' final 37 games, he could still hit as many as eight home runs.
Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 250 "going-forward" rankings
For a detailed rankings breakdown by position, click here.