It hasn’t been an ideal start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. With one quarter of the season already behind us, the Rays currently stand at an even 20-20.
The’ve really underachieved overall as a team, as things simply aren’t falling into place for them just yet.
With a strong offense and a struggling bullpen, it’s looked like 2009 all over again so far for Tampa Bay. They missed the playoffs and finished the season with just 84 wins that year, so Rays fans hope their team is not going down a similar path.
After the first 40 games of the 2013 season, here’s a graded evaluation of the Rays’ offense, starting rotation, bullpen and defense.
The Rays currently have the third best offense in Major League Baseball with a wRC+ of 108.
Evan Longoria and James Loney have both enjoyed red-hot starts to the season. Longoria has posted a .417 wOBA and Loney is leading the league in batting at .367.
Kelly Johnson and Sean Rodriguez have both been pleasant surprises. Johnson’s posted a 119 wRC+ and Rodriguez has looked like a much-improved hitter, putting up a .326 wOBA in 60 plate appearances.
Below’s a chart of every player’ wOBA compared to their preseason projections (Fangraphs’ ZIPS projections):
Overall Grade: A-
With statistically one of the league’s best offenses, I thought the Rays deserved a high grade here. The difference between an A- and an A+ for me was the first two weeks of the season where the offense was anemic. Since late April, however, the lineup has been scorching hot.
“Disappointing” is the best word to describe the Rays’ starting rotation at the first quarter mark. Tampa’s starters have posted a collective 4.05 ERA (16th in MLB) and a 4.22 FIP (18th in MLB).
Shockingly, the starting pitching struggles have stemmed from the rotation’s front two: David Price and Jeremy Hellickson. Price—who’s now on the 15-day DL—is 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA through nine starts and Hellickson is 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA through eight.
There has been two bright spots in the rotation, however, as youngsters Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have both shined. Moore is an impressive 7-0 with a 2.44 ERA and a 9.56 K/9, while Cobb is 4-2 with a 2.89 ERA and a rotation-leading WAR of 0.9.
Roberto Hernandez has been nothing more than decent in his first seven starts. He’s 2-4 with a 4.43 ERA, but he’s actually looked pretty encouraging. His career-high 8.65 K/9 rate, 3.43 SIERA and 3.45 xFIP are possibly signs of a comeback year for Hernandez.
Overall Grade: C-
What was expected to be one of the better bullpens in baseball as turned out to be somewhat of a disaster. Tampa’s ‘pen ranks fourth worst in the league in ERA (4.67) and sixth worst in FIP (4.04).
Closer Fernando Rodney has been suprisingly lousy so far, blowing three saves in 10 opportunities to go along with a 5.28 ERA and a pair of losses. Jake McGee (8.80 ERA), Kyle Farnsworth (6.52 ERA), Jamey Wright (4.24 ERA) and Brandon Gomes (5.40 ERA) have all struggled as well.
The Rays have held leads in 34 of their 40 games this season, and have blown countless leads late in games. The bullpen is simply going to have to improve if the Rays want a shot at competing in October.
Overall Grade: D
They have the best defensive corner-infield combo in the game with Evan Longoria and James Loney, Longoria, as usual, has been nothing short of amazing this season, leading the team with a 3.8 UZR as he continues to play like a Gold Glove caliber third baseman.
In the outfield, Desmond Jennings has done a fine job adjusting to centerfield, posting a 3.2 UZR. Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce haven’t done a very good job in the corners, but Fuld still covers plenty of ground and Kelly Johnson has bolstered the outfield defense a bit.
Johnson’s also played very well at second base thus far, owning a 0.8 UZR at the position.
At shortstop, Yunel Escobar has proven to be the defensive upgrade he was signed for. He gives the Rays the adequate-fielding everyday shortstop they haven’t had since Jason Bartlett in 2010.
As for the Rays’ catching tandem, both Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton have been below average in terms of throwing out runners and blocking pitching. It’s obviously a big minus for the overall defense, but it doesn’t erase the fact that Molina is the best framing catcher in the game.
Overall Grade: B
It’s been a rough start to the year for the Tampa Bay Rays. Anemic offense has been the theme of the first two weeks of the season, which shows in the Rays’ 5-9 last-place record.
But of course, it’s still very early, and anything can happen in the next 149 games. Life in the AL East is never easy, however, as the Rays have plenty obstacles to overcome in duration of the season if they want to be crowned division champs in October.
Without further adieu, here are the four biggest barriers for the Rays standing in the way of a division title.
The Rays have their work cut out for them this year, as they compete in what is maybe the toughest divisions in all of sports.
The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles are all potential playoff teams in 2013. Each one of them is a definite threat to a division title, but the Rays have a good enough team to compete with all four of these talented clubs.
There are a few things we’ve learned about Tampa Bay’s competitors after the first two weeks of the season. If one thing’s for sure, the Yankees are no team to overlook. Despite having a huge chunk of their roster out with injury, the Yanks stand at a surprising 8-5, as they’ve been finding ways to win ballgames while on the mend.
Once they get the rest of their team back—which includes Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Michael Pineda—they should be very dangerous.
The Red Sox didn’t come into the season with high expectations at all, but have started off the season very strongly with a first-place 10-4 record. Boston’s rotation was supposed to be the team’s main weak spot, but has shockingly been outstanding thus far. Their rotation has been by far the best in the division and probably the best in the American League, posting a 2.30 ERA and a 3.45 FIP.
The Orioles have began to prove that their 2012 success was not a fluke. They’ve played solid baseball and appear to have a pretty well-rounded team. The O’s are a team to watch out for if Chris Davis continues to put up big-time numbers at the DH spot.
As for Blue Jays, it’s been a disappointing start for them. As bad as they look right now, they’re a team that can turn things around quickly with that star-studded roster. Jose Reyes’ ankle injury, however, will be a big blow for them until he returns after the All-Star break.
The Rays’ offense has been flat-out awful in the first two weeks of the regular season. With a wOBA of .277 and a wRC+ of 77, they are currently the worst hitting team in the American League.
Outside of Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Kelly Johnson, who’ve all had solid starts to the year, nobody in the lineup has given the Rays any kind of significant production offensively.
Lack of power is one of the main issues for Tampa Bay, as they’ve posted just a .113 ISO. Another major concern is the how much runners the Rays are stranding on base. They’ve had a very tough time getting the man in, hitting just .192 with RISP.
Although the offense is very worrying for Rays fans at the moment, there is an optimistic way of looking at it: It will more than likely only get better from here.
Designated hitter Luke Scott has been out with a calf injury since spring training and has yet to play this season. Once he gets back, the lineup will surely be more potent with Scott in and Sam Fuld out.
As the season progresses, the Rays will also get a boost from their minor league system. Wil Myers should be terrific addition later in the year, and Brandon Guyer could also contribute.
In 2012, the injury bug was the largest barrier that stood in the way of a third division title for the Rays. Evan Longoria’s hamstring tear highlighted a plethora of injuries suffered by a very banged-up ball club.
So far this season, the Rays have done a pretty good job avoiding the DL. Luke Scott is the only player who has missed any time at all this year due to injury.
For this team to function properly, the entire team is going to have to stay relatively healthy throughout the season. I don’t see the Rays winning the division as a possibility if they’re hit with injury issues again.
Tampa Bay has a handful of prospects who could be a key part of the team later this season.
Wil Myers, who is arguably baseball’s top hitting prospect, may be the Rays’ X-factor once he’s called up to the majors. He appears to be about ready for The Show, but it’s possible he won’t make his MLB debut until July due to financial reasons.
Whenever he is called up, his immediate impact will be crucial, especially with the lineup as weak as it is.
Outfielder Brandon Guyer and middle infielders Hak-Ju Lee and Tim Beckham are other position player prospects who could all see big league action this year. All three have the potential to bolster both the Rays’ offensive and defensive depth down the stretch.
the Rays have probably more pitchers on the verge of breaking into the majors this season than they do hitters. Chris Archer—the organization’s top upper-level pitching prospect—looks to be ready to take over a spot in the rotation once the time comes. This time, he’ll likely stay there for good.
The development of these Triple-A prospects will definitely come to play in this year’s pennant race. They Rays might need as many minor league contributions as they can get in order to win the AL East.
A tough loss spoiled what was great Opening Day atmosphere at a sold-out Tropicana Field Tuesday afternoon.
Cy Young award winner David Price took the mound against former Ray Jason Hammel. It wasn’t one of Price’s better starts, as he struggled with command throughout the game.
Matt Wieters—who was one of three Orioles hitters to have big games offensively—started the scoring with a two-run homer in the first inning.
Although those were the only two runs Price would allow, he didn’t exactly settle in after the first. He managed to get through only six innings (100 pitches), and finished the day with 7 hits, 2 walks and 4 strikeouts. Great defense behind him, most notably from Evan Longoria who made three outstanding plays at third, helped out Price a lot in this ballgame.
Overall, it was a pretty solid start from Price, who kept his team in the game throughout. The three issues he had were with efficiency, some mislocation—which led to a handful of hard-hit balls—and velocity. It shouldn’t be a concern, though, as it was his first start of the season.
Offensively, the Tampa’s bats were worryingly quiet in the first three innings. They put together only one single, which was the only runner to reach until the fourth.
Ben Zobrist, who had that only hit, opened up the scoring for the Rays with a solo dinger to right, making it a one-run ballgame. All the way up until the sixth, Hammel was still flying through frames, on pace for a complete game in terms of pitch count.
The Rays were able to get to Hammel in the sixth. Kelly Johnson started off the rally with a leadoff walk, and then Desmond Jennings—who looked great all day at the plate—followed with an game-tying double down the third base line. After a Sam Fuld bunt, the Rays took the lead with a sac fly off the bat of Zobrist.
Jake McGee entered the game in relief of Price in seventh, looking to keep it a 3-2 game in Tampa’s favor. Unfortunately, it was the turning point in this game as things would unfold for McGee and the Rays.
McGee found himself in a jam: Two runners on with two outs and Adam Jones up to bat. Two high-velocity fastballs got him ahead in the count 0-2, leaving Jones—who hadn’t had success at all in the past against McGee—in a bad position. But McGee, who was struggling with command from the beginning of his outing, missed location very badly, giving Jones a fastball right down the middle:
He took advantage, and raked the pitch into the left-center field gap for a two-run double, giving Baltimore a 4-3 lead.
After intentionally walking Matt Wieters, the lefty swinging Chris Davis was next to face McGee. With two men on, Davis crushed the first pitch he saw for a three-run blast, blowing the Orioles’ lead open to 7-3. He was served with a slow 91 MPH pitch in a terrible location:
It was a day to forget for McGee, who is one of baseball’s best up-and-coming relievers, but simply didn’t have it Tuesday. He gave up five earned runs on four hits while recording just two outs in what was the worst performance of his big-league career. He allowed just 12 runs in the entire 2012 season (55.1 IP).
There wasn’t much action in this game after the seventh. Jamey Wright, who relieved McGee, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth without any damage. Cesar Ramos had a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
The Rays tacked on one more run via a Sam Fuld RBI groundout in the eighth, but weren’t able to get any kind of rally going against Baltimore’s strong bullpen.
Here’s some notable stat lines from Tuesday’s game:
- D. Jennings: 2-4, 2 R, RBI, SB
- B. Zobrist: 2-3, R, 2 RBI, HR
- E. Longoria: 1-4
- A. Jones: 3-5, 2 R, 2 RBI
- M. Wieters: 2-3, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB
- Here’s a full boxscore
The Rays return to action tonight against the Orioles for Game 2 of this three-game series. Jeremy Hellickson will start against right-hander Wei-Yin Chen.
The Rays were on the losing side of a 9-2 rout Saturday afternoon, dropping their eighth Grapefruit League game of the spring to the Red Sox.
Roberto Hernandez got the start, and obviously a crucial one for him as he battles Jeff Niemann for the fifth spot in the rotation. Hernandez allowed 2 [earned] runs on 6 hits, a walk and 5 strikeouts.
Relievers Jake McGee and Jamey Wright also made appearances in this game, both giving up a run in one inning each.
Not much to talk about offensively from this ballgame. Leslie Anderson, who’s now hitting .425, continued his red-hot spring with a 3-3 day.
Sean Rodriguez went 2-2, hitting a homer to provide Tampa with their two only runs.
Speaking of S-Rod, the Rays’ utility man was involved in what nearly led to a bench-clearing brawl. After being hit by a pitch by Alfredo Aceves and then being barked at, tempers flared. Here’s Rodriguez’s take on the incident.
Here’s a full boxscore of Saturday’s game.
Rays News and Notes:
- Wil Myers, Brandon Guyer, Tim Beckham, Robinson Chirinos, Hak-Ju Lee, Josh Lueke, Juan Sandoval, Wil Inman and J.D. Martin were all optioned back down to the minor leagues in the Rays’ latest rounds of cuts.
- Matt Moore was much improved in his start during the Rays’ 3-1 win over the Phillies Friday. Moore didn’t give up a single earned run on 3 hits, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts through 5 innings. Stephen Vogt gave the Rays the victory with a walk-off homer in the 10th inning.
- World Baseball Classic news: The United States were eliminated from the tournament by Puerto Rico Friday night after a heart-breaking 4-3 loss. Ben Zobrist went 0-2 in the game with an RBI walk, finishing the Classic 3-for-11. The Dominican Republic clinched the top seed Saturday afternoon with a 2-0 win over Puerto Rico, and Fernando Rodney picked up his fifth save of the tournament. Puerto Rico advances to face Japan in the semifinals while D.R. will square off against the Netherlands.
- After being rejected by both Chipper Jones and Derek Lee, the New York Yankees have signed outfielder Brennan Boesch.
- Before Friday’s game against Philadelphia, 65 members of the Rays organization shaved their head in an annual event to raise awareness and funds for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. The Phillies’ Michael Young also participated in the event.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports Sam Fuld (hamstring) won’t be returning for another 4-5 days.
The Rays improved their Grapefruit League record to 12-7 Thursday afternoon, defeating the Baltimore Orioles by a score of 4-3.
Jeff Niemann was pretty sharp in his outing, allowing just one run on four hits and three walks in his 4 1/3 innings of work.
His velocity was down (didn’t throw a single pitch over 88 MPH), but it was nothing to be concerned about. Both Joe Maddon and Niemann said after the game that he was just working on movement.
Juan Sandoval and Josh Lueke came on in relief following Niemann. Sandoval continued to struggle, allowing two runs (off a Matt Wieters) home run in 1 2/3 inning. Lueke, on the other hand, continued his excellent spring tossing two scoreless innings.
The Rays’ four runs were scored an Evan Longoria RBI double, a Luke Scott two-run homer and a Tim Beckham RBI single. Wil Myers also had a double Thursday in his only at bat.
On the injury front, Beckham (face) returned yesterday but Sam Fuld (hamstring) remains out. He could return in the next few days.
Here’s a complete boxscore of Thursday’s game.
Rays News and Notes:
- The Rays optioned down Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Torres to Triple-A Durham in their latest round of cuts Tuesday.
- David Price pitched five scoreless inning in a minor-league spring training game against the Orioles’ Class A squad Wednesday. He allowed just four singles while striking out six and walking none.
- Jeremy Hellickson also had a minor-league start this week, but it didn’t go nearly as well for him. He gave up two runs on four hits, four walks (and a HBP) and three strikeouts through 3 1/3 innings pitched. He pitched 70 pitches, just 41 of them strikes.
- Here’s Price on being named the Opening Day starter earlier this week.
- More David Price: could special K-9 seating when Price starts be a thing this year for the Rays?
- The United States lost 3-1 to the Dominican Republic Thursday night and are now on the brink of elimination. Fernando Rodney collected his fourth save (out of four opportunities) of the World Baseball Classic, continuing what has been a terrific tournament for him thus far. Ben Zobrist also appeared in this game, striking out in his only at bat.
After destroying the Phillies for 15 runs with a minor-league filled lineup Saturday, the Rays had a hard time hitting Boston’s bullpen with a better lineup Sunday afternoon.
The offense compiled a total of just five hits and two runs.
Tampa Bay jumped out to an early lead in this game, scoring a pair of runs off a Yunel Escobar RBI single and an Evan Longoria sacrifice fly.
Matt Moore started the game for the Rays, hoping to get on track after having rough outings in his first two appearances. Moore pitched 3 2/3 inning, and gave up three runs thanks to one bad pitch: a three-run homer off the bat of David Ross.
The other three Boston runs were given up by Juan Sandoval, who hasn’t made a good case for a spot in the ‘pen thus far.
Here’s a full boxscore of yesterday’s ballgame.
Rays News and Notes:
- Ben Zobrist went 3-5 yesterday in the United States’ do-or-die victory over Canada in World Baseball Classic. Team USA now advances to the championship round of the tournament.
- Fernando Rodney collected his second save of the tournament Sunday with the Dominan Republic, who also advanced to the championship round.
With spring training now in full swing and the first games nearing, the Rays’ 2013 roster appears to be coming together.
Tampa Bay has made their share of roster moves and put their final touches on signings this month. Now all that remains are spring training battles that will take place next month before Opening Day.
If one thing’s for sure, skipper Joe Maddon will likely have some tough choices to make when deciding who makes the cut.
Without further delay, here’s my prediction of what the Rays’ Opening Day roster will look like.
C: Jose Molina
1B: James Loney
2B: Kelly Johnson
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Yunel Escobar
LF: Matt Joyce
CF: Desmond Jennings
RF: Ben Zobrist
DH: Luke Scott
Barring any injuries, this will more than likely be the Rays’ starting nine for Opening Day. There aren’t really any battles for starting spots in the lineup.
The 2013 lineup will feature a few changes. James Loney will be replacing Carlos Pena at first, and recently-signed Kelly Johnson will take over second instead of Ben Zobrist who will start in right field. Also, the Rays will finally have an everyday shortstop with Yunel Escobar in lineup.
Another thing worth noting is key loss of B.J. Upton, who will be replaced in centerfield by Desmond Jennings.
C Jose Lobaton
INF Sean Rodriguez
UTIL Ryan Roberts
OF Sam Fuld
Ryan Roberts, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Lobaton making the roster seem to be sure locks for the Opening Day lineup, but it will be interesting to see who wins the battle for the backup outfielder spot.
Sam Fuld, prospect Brandon Guyer and veteran slugger Shelley Duncan will all vie for the job this spring.
I predict Fuld edges out Guyer and Duncan, and there are a couple reasons. He has the most experience with the Rays out of the three, and Maddon likes the plus speed and defense he brings to the team—two things Guyer and Duncan can’t offer.
1. LHP David Price
2. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
3. LHP Matt Moore
4. RHP Alex Cobb
5. RHP Jeff Niemann
Joe Maddon has already made it clear that David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will all be in the rotation to start the season.
The battle for the fifth spot in the rotation will without a doubt be the fiercest spring training competition in Port Charlotte. Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi will all fight for the spot.
It’ll be a difficult decision for Maddon, and it’s really going to come down to spring training performance.
Closer: RHP Fernando Rodney
Set-Up Man: RHP Joel Peralta
Middle Relief: LHP Jake McGee
Middle Relief: RHP Kyle Farnsworth
Long/Middle Reliever: RHP Roberto Hernandez
Lefty Specialist: LHP Cesar Ramos
Groundball Specialist: RHP Jamey Wright
Besides for Jamey Wright, we can expect to see all the names above in the ‘pen for Opening Day.
With right-handers Josh Lueke and Brandon Gomes also looking for a spot on the roster, Wright will likely have to pitch pretty well this spring to make the cut.
Another notable name in my bullpen projection is Roberto Hernadez. The 32-year-old veteran, formerly known as Fausto Carmona, would serve as a long/middle reliever if he were to lose the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.