Things have really come together for the surging Tampa Bay Rays in the past month. With yesterday’s big win in Boston, they’ve won six straight games and a franchise-record 21 of their last 25.
Let’s take a look at how the Rays came from being last place in the AL East to just a half game out of first place and having the third best record in baseball.
Great starting pitching has propelled the Rays into the great position they’re in right now. Despite Alex Cobb’s absence, David Price’s return to ace form, Chris Archer’s impressive pitching and turnarounds from Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson have the Tampa Bay’s rotation looking like its 2012 self.
Rays starting pitching has delivered a remarkable 17 quality starts in its last 19 games.
Price has been terrific since his return from the disabled list, tossing two complete games while posting a stellar 1.97 ERA and allowing just one walk in four starts (32.0 IP). Moore is 6-0 with a 1.50 ERA in his last six starts and Archer is enjoying a very strong rookie year, posting a 5-2 record with a 2.14 ERA in his last nine outings.
It hasn’t just been the starting pitching that has improved in the Rays’ winning stretch. The bullpen, which was the team’s weak spot earlier this season, has been solid as of late, blowing just one lead during the stretch.
When you have consistent production from your offense to go along with excellent pitching you’re going to win a lot of games. The Rays have done exactly that, putting up an impressive .282/.351/.436 slash line with a 120 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus) in July as a team.
Over half of the lineup has produced well offensively during the stretch, but nobody’s been as hot as Desmond Jennings (.378 wOBA in last 30 days) and Luke Scott (.448 wOBA).
The Rays’ offense, which is tied second in all of baseball by wRC+ (112) has been outstanding all season, so we can expect to see this success from the lineup continue as the season progresses. If Jennings can continue to do such a great job of getting on base at the top of the lineup, this offense could soon emerge as baseball’s best.
The Rays’ defense this year has probably been the best in team history, which is a big deal considering that it’s a franchise that prides itself on solid defense. Tampa Bay is second in the American League in UZR (26.9) and second in the MLB in fielding percentage (.990).
During the 25-game stretch, the Rays have committed just five errors. They have possibly the best fielding infield in baseball, as well as some great range in the outfield with Desmond Jennings and Sam Fuld.
The Rays are fielding to their potential, and now that they’re pitching like they can it’s clear that they’ve really hit their stride here in July.
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
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 tied the Orioles Thursday night 4-4 in 10 innings.
David Price was on the mound for his final start of the spring before opening up the season against the O’s Tuesday afternoon. He was limited to just four innings, but looked great, not allowing a single run. He also struck out three batters, while giving up just one hit and one walk.
The Rays’ lineup—which was mostly regulars—collected nine hits. Desmond Jennings had a 4-5 game with a stolen base and a run, and Evan Longoria went 2-for-3 with a long solo homer and an RBI single.
Here’s a full boxscore of Thursday’s game.
Joe Maddon will make the decision on the fifth spot in the starting rotation this morning.
The Rays’ rotation order will also be announced today. Maddon has actually made up his mind on both already, but he’s not saying just yet. Roberto Hernandez appears to be the favorite for the job, despite having the worse spring.
Maddon has made it clear that he wants to get innings (preferably 7+) out of whoever wins the battle.
One big hint pointing towards the likelihood of Hernandez getting the job is that the Rays are saying he’ll pitch three innings in a minor league game of the season. This could also possibly mean that he’ll be the No. 3 starter rather than the No. 5.
Pretty interesting….we’ll see how it plays out later this morning.
Other Rays News and Notes:
The Rays’ bats came alive Saturday afternoon, compiling 15 runs on 16 hits against Philadelphia.
Jeff Niemann started on the bump for Tampa Bay and had a solid outing. He gave up one run on four hits and two runs while striking out three through 3 2/3 innings pitched.
As Niemann continues to pitch well along with competitors Roberto Hernando and Chris Archer, the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation should be a very fun one to watch.
Jeremy Hellickson also pitched in this game, but wasn’t nearly as sharp in his two-inning outing. Helly struggled, allowing three runs on five hits and a walk.
Offensively, there was really only positives from the Rays’ minor-league filled lineup.
Sean Rodriguez, Shelley Duncan, Leslie Anderson, Robinson Chirinos and Hak-Ju Lee all had two RBI apiece.
Rodriguez and Duncan both hit two-run homers.
Click here for a full boxscore of Saturday’s game.
Rays News and Notes:
- In not so light news from this ballgame, the Rays suffered an injury scare from Desmond Jennings. Jennings mildly sprained his left ankle running the bases, but luckily he’ll be returning to the lineup either Monday or Tuesday.
- Luke Scott and Sam Fuld are still out with their minor hamstring injuries from last week. Scott is expected to play tomorrow and Fuld is on track to return at the end of the week.
- Fernando Rodney, who recorded his first save in the World Baseball Classic tournament for Team Dominican Republic Saturday, grabbed some attention with a picture that went viral with his cap even more tilted than usual. In the midst of this, Yahoo! Sports takes a look at the The evolution of Fernando Rodney’s crooked cap.
- Here are my 10 Bold Predictions for the 2013 MLB Season over at Bleacher Report.
- The Rays take on the Red Sox today at 1:05 in Port Charlotte. Here are lineups for the game.
MLB announced the winners of the Gold Glove award yesterday, which featured two finalists from the Rays (Desmond Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson). Hellickson would win for the pitching position, which was also won by Jake Peavy as the two tied in the voting.
Here’s a list of all the winners, which unfortunately included terrible choices for centerfield in both the AL and NL (Adam Jones and Andrew McCutchen).
In other Rays news, it looks as if the Rays will pick up the 2013 option on James Shields ($10.25 million) and Jose Molina ($1.8 million). Molina will be returning to Tampa Bay next season but Shields may not, as a blockbuster trade is still a realistic option for the Rays.
More News and Notes:
The 2012 season may not be one to remember for Tampa Bay Rays fans. Despite winning 90 games in baseball’s toughest division, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Considering the high expectations put upon the Rays coming into spring training, many look back at the season as a disappointment.
One word that could used to describe the Rays in 2012 is ‘unlucky’. Not only did they have to play through injury after injury throughout the entire season, but they also saw the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland A’s both have shockingly great seasons in the same year`, ultimately costing them a spot in the postseason.
Even with all these obstacles, Tampa Bay still could have very possibly made the playoffs. They lost a handful of games that could have been one and had their fair share of awful offensive performances as well.
Let’s take a look back at the Rays’ season as a whole; evaluating what went wrong, what went right, and which players are worthy of team awards.
Just like it has been in the previous years, offense once again was the team’s biggest weakness in 2012. The numerous injuries were obviously a huge reason for the Rays’ lack of production, but even some names in the lineups—such as Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and Desmond Jennings—underproduced causing the Rays major problems scoring runs throughout the season.
Relative to expectations and projections for Tampa coming into the season, the Rays actually only slightly underproduced offensively. A thorough article done by Jason Hanselman at the TheRaysWay.com evaluates how well the Rays hit compared to preseason projections by looking at every players wOBA and wRAA. Below is a table:
What the Rays saw this year is just how shallow their offensive depth is in their organization. Unlike in previous years, they dealt with a large amount of injuries in their lineup and constantly had to call up replacements. As you can see from the numbers, those replacements couldn’t give the Rays any kind of boost that was needed and the injuries would prove to sting as badly as feared.
Runs: 18th (697) in MLB
Batting average: T-27th (.240)
wOBA: T-16th (.311)
RBI: 17th (665)
Walks: 1st (571)
Stolen Bases: T-5th (134), T-2nd in AL
Team Leaders (500+ PA’s):
BA: Ben Zobrist (.270)
wOBA: Ben Zobrist (.365)
RBI: B.J. Upton (78)
HR: B.J. Upton (28)
wRC+: Ben Zobrist (137)
SB: Desmond Jennings/B.J. Upton (31)
* Evan Longoria and Jeff Keppinger both had under 500 PA’s this season
The Rays pitching once again was every bit as good as advertised, and more in 2012. The staff’s ridiculously good season was one of the best in modern baseball history and the best in the majors this year. Tampa’s pitching (including bullpen) led all of baseball in ERA (3.19), FIP (3.51), opponents batting average (.228) and strikeouts (set the AL record team record with 1,383).
David Price – The Cy Young hopeful enjoyed his best season yet thus far in his impressive young career, winning 20 games while posting a 2.56 ERA through 211 innings at the top of the Rays’ rotation. Justin Verlander, who also had an outstanding year, is the only pitcher that stands in the way of some hardware for Price this November. Both make great cases for the award and it should be fun to watch who prevails in the voting. The Rays saw the flame-throwing southpaw continue to develop as an ace in 2012, maturing with his pitch selection as well as with his command. The future looks extremely bright for him.
James Shields – In what could be his last year with the Rays, Shields had himself another successful season with Tampa Bay. He again proved to be one of the most efficient and consistent starters in the league, posting a 15-10 record with a 3.52 ERA through 227.2 innings pitched. He also recorded the most strikeouts of anybody in the rotation (223) while walking the least batters out of the four starters with 150+ IP. Even with all the great pitching talent in the organization, the Rays will no doubt miss Shields next year if he doesn’t return.
Jeremy Hellickson – After taking home the AL Rookie of the Year award last year, Hellickson did a nice job avoiding a sophomore slump in 2012. He hit some rough patches during the season but overall had himself a fine year, posting a 3.10 ERA through 177 innings pitched.
Matt Moore – After a sensational first impression in the big leagues last year as a mid-season call-up at the young age of 22, the top prospect phenom experienced a bumpy roller coaster ride in 2012. As Moore has done in his past years in the minors, he struggled early in the season, posting an ERA in the high 4’s for the first two months and then struggling again late in the season posting an ERA north of 5 in the last month. As expected, fastball command was his biggest issue throughout the year. Overall it wasn’t a bad season at all though, and he’ll likely become a ace-type pitcher very soon with some minor adjustments.
Jeff Niemann – Unfortunately injuries absolutely ruined Niemann’s 2012 season, and it wasn’t the first time in his career either. As he started to heat up in the month of May, he was hit hard by Tampa’s injury plague, taking a hard liner to the leg sidelining the big right-hander for months. He wouldn’t even pitch as much as four innings after that, as a shoulder injury in his first start back in September ended his season for good. Niemann would end the year with a 3.08 ERA through eight starts (38 innings pitched).
Alex Cobb – Just as he did in 2011, Cobb was called up to replace the injured Niemann and did a fine job doing so. He would pitch as much as 136.1 innings by the end of year, posting an 11-9 record with a solid 4.03 ERA. We’ll likely see Cobb continue to contribute to the back end of the Rays’ rotation in the years to come.
Chris Archer – Another top prospect arm, Archer experiences his first taste in the big leagues in 2012. He made four starts for the Rays and posted a 3.80 ERA, showing off his high potential with some impressive major league caliber stuff.
The Rays’ top-notch rotation was followed up by a bullpen that was one of baseball’s best as well. The ‘pen posted an AL-best ERA of 2.88, a MLB-best FIP of 3.19, AL-best K/9 of 9.33 and an MLB-best opponent’s average of .205. Featured in Tampa’s bullpen was baseball’s best reliever: Fernando Rodney. The flamethrowing closer set the all-time MLB record among relief pitchers for ERA with a 0.60 mark while recording 48 saves out of 50 opportunities (although only one BS was his fault). The ‘pen was also strengthened by Wade Davis, who did a nice job in his transition from starter to long-reliever. Jake McGee is another name worth mentioning. The young fireballer displayed his sky-high potential by posting a 1.95 ERA with an 11.87 K/9 as a middle reliever.
- Jeff Keppinger – When signed by the Rays as somewhat of an extra infielder, nobody thought Keppinger would put the impressive offensive numbers that he did. The 32-year-old veteran hit .325 with a .352 wOBA and 128 wRC+ in 418 plate appearances.
- Fernando Rodney – Not only was Rodney the most pleasant surprise with the Rays this year, but he was also the most pleasant surprise in all of baseball. After struggling in the past couple of seasons with the Angels, Rodney revived himself in Tampa Bay in 2012, earning him the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award. His historical season also earned him a much-deserved Deliverman Award (acknowledging the league’s best reliever).
- Carlos Pena – Pena was brought back to Tampa Bay in order to give the Rays consistent run production in the middle of the lineup, but miserably failed to do so this season. The veteran first baseman hit .197 (an MLB low) while knocking in a career-low (for full seasons) RBI total 62 and a career-low home run total of 19.
- Luke Scott – Like Pena, Scott was acquired in the offseason for the same reasons except for DH duties. He too failed to put up the offensive numbers expected from him, posting a .229/.285/.439 line with just 55 RBI. Injuries were issue as well, and caused him to play just 96 games all season.
- Sean Rodriguez – Sadly, Rodriguez was the Rays’ best choice for the starting shortstop role at the beginning of the season, and he proved to be probably the worst overall in the league. Offensively he struggled mightily, ending the year with a wOBA of .269 and a wRC+ of 71. Defensively he wasn’t much better either, as he committed a team-high 11 errors.
Team MVP: Ben Zobrist
Best Pitcher: David Price
Best Offensive Player: Ben Zobrist