It is the beginning of June and the Rays are solidly locked in last place in the AL East. You would think by looking at the standings that Joe Maddon had a line up that included Tomas Perez, Aubry Huff, Jorge Cantu, and Julio Lugo. The Rays have the worst record in the American League. Yes the ENTIRE AL including, wait for it, The Houston Astros. If it weren’t for 100 years of failure in Chicago with the Cubs and the Arizona Dbacks imploding under the pressure of the NL West Tampa Bay would have the worst record in baseball.
The biggest question being asked around town is, WHAT THE HECK is going on with these guys? Well I am sure that question is being asked around town with some other spicier language. So what happened to the team that many had picked to go to the World Series? Here are 5 reasons why I think the Rays have the worst record in the AL.
1) Injuries: Every team has them, that is why we have a Disabled List. When you put a team together in the off-season, you know you will use the DL but aren’t really sure how often. For the Rays, losing Moore, Cobb, and Hellickson had a ripple effect through the entire pitching staff. Replacing them with Odorizzi, Bedard, and Ramos, caused the Rays to over use the bullpen. With too many early exits from Rays starters it has taken in’s toll. Now with this beat up staff, it has taken what was supposed to be the best bullpen in the AL East, and overworked them to the point that once untouchable pen is now questionable every night.
2) Depth: While everyone was singing the praises of the Rays and getting ready to print playoff tickets, I cautioned Rays fans that the one thing that will derail the Rays is a severe lack of depth on this team. The Rays farm system that has produced so many players, has been tapped out dry at the higher levels of the organization. In past years the Bulls had a pitching staff that was better than some of the staffs in the Big Leagues. Cobb, Moore, Archer, were all ready to step into action from Durham if the Rays ever needed any help. Now the Rays call ups are not what we are accustomed to.
3) Longoria and the Bats: The Rays have never been an offensive machine. Rays baseball even in winning games was never designed to put up more than 6 runs a game. Rays rely on just a few key hits strung together to create just enough offense to win games. Tampa Bay just doesn’t have the fire power to out slug anyone in baseball. With that being said, this struggling offense looks even worse with the lack of dominating pitching. Longoria has not been driving the ball, and Zobrist had expanded his strike zone and was chasing too many pitches before he got hurt. Wil Myers has 18 homers since he was called up last year. James Loney is hitting almost .300 but his slugging percentage is under .400 which ranks him 21st in baseball for 1st basemen. He has s 15 extra base hits in 55 games. Mark Teixeira, who has been hurt banged up, has 12 extra base hits in 18 fewer games including 9 homers versus Loney’s 2 homers. With Myers struggling and the rest of the bats quiet, teams are going after Longoria and challenging him. Teams know he is the only legit power threat on the Rays right now, but they also know he is prone to striking out as well.
4) DeJesus and Balfour: The Rays have a long history of signing free agents or making trades and having them pay off. Carlos Pena, Casey Kotchman, Rafeal Soriano, and Fernando Rodney are the good ones we remember. But the Rays have had some that have not paid off as well. Pat Burrell, Luke Scott are names that always pop up when people complain about bad Rays signings. There have been some bad signings, but that is not always the thing that can sink a team. With the Rays limited resources they have one chance to make the right signing and if they don’t hit it out of the park, they have to wear it around their necks for seasons to come. DeJesus has been ok this season hitting .267 below his .278 lifetime average. He hit a loud .260 with some big RBI last season when he came over the Rays. This year playing everyday for the Rays he is hitting pretty close to what he hit last when he played full-time for the Cubs in 2011 and 2012. Balfour has been fighting himself all season long with his mechanics. So this years free agents are what they are.
5) Joe Maddon: Joe is the best manager in baseball. Walk into his office and you will see a couple of awards that will tell you that fact. He is great at bringing the best out of his players, giving them confidence. and keeping things loose. Players love playing for him, and players on other teams want to come play for him. He changed the Rays culture and turned on it’s head, when he remade the Rays into a winner. He gives rookies confidence and helps veterans trust their stuff again. This season is the biggest challenge for Maddon. He has to live with expectations of winning with a team that is struggling. He is great at keeping things loose when a team is battling for a playoff spot. This year we will see if he can light a fire under a team that is not stocked with rookies and vets just happy to be here. This year he has to motivate in a way he has never had to in past seasons. He has his work cut out for him.