The Tampa Bay Rays walked out of the Mall of America, urm… New Yankee Stadium Saturday with their first loss of May. The Yankees came from behind to beat the Rays by a score of 9-3, after Jake Odorizzi, in not so surprising fashion, couldn’t make it past the fifth inning, while the tandem of Heath Bell and Josh Lueke practically handed the Evil Empire a six run lead. Hey, at least they’re 3-1 in May, right?
I’m pretty sure I’m not the first to ask this, but did anyone really think Tampa Bay would beat Masahiro Tanaka… At least in this, their first go around against the wonder kid?That they were able to tag him for two homers almost seems like a miracle in and of itself. I say almost, because opposing hitters have tagged Tanaka with a +.300 BA in their first at-bats, while he’s come back to post a sub .200 OBA in the second and third times through the order. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I cannot wait for Sunday’s contest with Bedard on the mound, if only to see if he can improve upon his last start.
I’m going to do something a little different. Instead of a game recap, I’ve decided to compare of the first month of play this season, with that of the season prior. Some things are pleasantly surprising, while others are par for the course — especially considering the state of the pitching staff.
Of note: this is obviously a pretty general breakdown of the season thus far. My intent is to continue putting pieces like this together as the season progresses.
Starting with the pitching, all of the numbers you’d assume would have increased, have — that is, with the exceptions of the relievers’ combined batting average against, BABIP, fly-ball percentage, home run/fly-ball percentage, and walks per nine innings. To be honest, I’m a bit surprised home run percentage is down across the board — especially since the Rays have relinquished 19 more runs this season. However, the starters’ increased BABIP, fly-ball percentage, and walks per nine innings, along with a decreased left on base percentage, and strikeouts per nine innings speaks to the increase in runs. It’s safe to say the injured (beleaguered, and somewhat impaired) starting rotation, paired with their inability to pitch deeply in games, is having a drastic effect on the entire team.
Heath Bell (DAF’d as of 5/4/14) and Josh Lueke were never meant to be innings eaters, they were slated to be match-up pitchers, while Cesar Ramos and Brandon Gomes were the presumed long relievers; tasked with cleaning up the starters’ messes. This isn’t a knock on Ramos by any means. However, Maddon has had to rely more on the pen, especially since there’s one less quality arm among the relievers.
Whatever the case, one roster move to bolster the pitching staff with a fresh arm (the addition of Nate Karns to the ‘pen) may not be enough. Because of it, the onus is still on the the staff to step up to the challenge, and stop the bleeding. Joe Maddon mentioned as much, tweeting, “…We just need more length out of our starters.” To an extent that’s true, especially when talking about Ramos and Bedard. However, it’s not a question of “length” with Odorizzi, it’s a question of whether he’s able to make adjustments the second and third time through the order or not. If he’s going to be in the rotation for the long haul (again, there’s no reason to believe otherwise), however long that may be, those adjustments need to be made; lest we’re left with an outcome like that of Saturday’s game.
While the pitching staff has underperformed, the 2014 offense has outperformed that of 2013 model — and that’s even taking a slight decrease in power production into consideration. The Rays have hit five fewer homers, however they’ve hit 19 more doubles. Ben Zobrist, James Loney, Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria, and Desmond Jennings have carried the team, while the addition of Ryan Hanigan, and the recent hot hitting of Sean Rodriguez have bolstered the lineup over the last two weeks or so. What’s more, David DeJesus, Yunel Escobar, and Wil Myers seem to be slipping out of their funk, and none too soon.
However, their propensity to ground into double plays (25 in 2014 vs. 17 in 2013), and the inconsistent run production are worrisome. It’s well and great that Tampa Bay has averaged more than four runs per game in the first month of the season. Yet, that average is predicated on the 15 times Tampa Bay scored four or more runs in any given game. Of those 15 games, they scored more than five runs nine times. That is, the Rays are scoring a serviceable number of runs only half the time. If Longo and company can’t score four or more runs at any given time, they’re putting themselves at huge disadvantage. Mind you, seven of their first month losses came by three runs or fewer — losses that shouldn’t have been.
If the Rays hope to go at least .500 until Alex Cobb returns from the DL, the offense needs to continue carrying the team. I’d imagine that Ramos and Bedard will continue to progress in the injury filled interim. Sure, we’re a month past Spring Training, and they should be properly stretched out by now. On the contrary, they weren’t stretched out, yet the two of them have shown continual growth, especially Ramos. His ERA continues to drop, and if his excellent high leverage outing Saturday is indicative of anything, it’s that he’s ready for, and capable of handling the task set before him. Dare I say it, he’s proving his worth as the fifth starter when Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb return. Now, if only he and Bedard could work deeper into games.
*Not including Moore, who won’t be back this season.