Despite Issues Rays Have Talent To Win AL East
The Tampa Bay Rays (74-56) dropped their 3rd straight game to the Los Angeles Angels by a final score of 6-5 and now trail the Boston Red Sox by 2.5 games in the AL East.
Prior to this mini losing streak the Rays had won 8 out of 10 games but now find themselves with a 10-12 record in the month of August. August has typically been the month the Rays made their move in the standings posting a combined record of 84-57 from 2008-2012.
August Record By Year: 2008 (17-12), 2009 (15-12), 2010 (17-12), 2011 (18-10), & 2012 (17-11)
After today and tomorrow's games against the Angels at Tropicana Field the Rays will head out west for a 10-game 3-city road trip through Oakland (3), Los Angeles (4) and Seattle (3). They return home and after their final off day of the year match up with the Boston Red Sox for the final time in the regular season.
Improve the Offense
In August the Rays have averaged only 3.68 runs per game. For the month their offense is tied for 9th in the American League in batting average (.258), 7th in on-base percentage (.327), and 10th in slugging percentage (.397). One big problem has been their inability to hit the ball out of the park as they have hit the fewest home runs (20) of any AL team.
Entering August the Rays had the highest batting average in the American League with runners in scoring position at .281. Their slash line (batting average/on-base%/slugging%) was an impressive .281/.353/.413 and they had hit 22 home runs. In August they have hit only .253 with runners in scoring position with a slash line of .253/.336/.371 with only 4 home runs.
Two struggling players that will be counted on to ignite the Rays offense and push runs across the plate are Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers. Another player the Rays offense will need is Luke Scott who is currently on the disabled list. The bench will receive a boost with the addition of Delmon Young.
Since returning from the disabled list Jennings is hitting .080 (2 for 25) but has 6 walks to only 5 strike outs. Currently he is mired in an 0 for 17 streak and to compound matters he made a crucial error in the 9th inning of last nights loss. It was only his 2nd error this season and only the second since the beginning of 2012. Throughout his young career Jennings has been a streaky hitter and finding his stride as the Rays head down the stretch will be a big part of where the club ultimately finishes.
Myers has hit resistance of late. From the time of his call up on June 18th through August 15th he hit .326 (59 for 181) with 18 extra base hits including 9 doubles and 9 homers. Since August 15th he has cooled off considerably hitting just .132 (5 for 38) with 0 extra base hits and 14 strikeouts and only 3 non intentional walks. Rays fans have been waiting to see what the lineup would look like if both Myers and Longoria were hot at the same time. Maybe this will happen down the stretch and help the offense out of its current slump.
Scott's tenure with the Rays has been an up and down ride with injuries mixed in between. He will start a rehabilitation assignment with Triple A Durham today and should be ready to re-join the Rays when rosters expand on September 1st. On the year he is hitting .249/.336/.430 with 9 home runs and 39 RBI.
Young was brought to Tampa to be a designated hitter against left-handed pitching and to provide power off the bench. It is expected that he will be activated when rosters expand on September 1st. With the Philadelphia Phillies this year he hit .261 with 8 homers and 31 RBI in 291 plate appearances. Most of his power came against right-handed pitching (7 home runs in 219 PAs) but he hit left handed pitching better posting a .286 average (18 for 72) as opposed to .254 (53 for 209) versus right-handed pitchers. Overall, his OPS (on-base% + slugging%) was .758 versus left handed pitching and only .680 versus right handed pitching.
The Rays have other issues to smooth out as well. The starting rotation will get a boost with the return of Matt Moore (making start for Triple A Durham on Thursday) but the performance of Jeremy Hellickson over his last 6 starts (0-5, 9.00 ERA) has earned him a temporary break with the Charlotte Stone Crabs. Either Hellickson, Jake Odorizzi, or Roberto Hernandez is going to have to step up and take control of the 5th spot in the rotation and provide quality innings down the stretch.
Roberto Hernandez, after a 10-day rest from the rotation, responded with a crisp outing last night delivering 6+ innings and allowing 3R/ER on 8 hits striking out 6 and walking 3.
The Rays could surprise everyone and turn the ball over to J.D. Martin who was just named the International League MVP posting a record of 15-4 with a 2.84 ERA. He is not on the current 40-man roster so a move would have to be made. He has major league experience posting a 6-9 record with a 4.24 ERA in 24 starts with the Washington Nationals in 2009-2010.
The bullpen has been fire and ice this season. Fernando Rodney has blown 8 saves this season including 3 of his last 6 opportunities. This is the second highest number of blown saves in the majors behind the Orioles Jim Johnson (9).
Last year the Rays blew a lead in the 7th inning or later just 10 times resulting in 9 losses. This season the pen has already blown 15 leads in the 7th inning or later which has resulted in a loss 12 times. Last nights loss marked the 30th time this season that the opponent has come from behind to register a victory.
On July 29th the Rays acquired reliever Jesse Crain from the Chicago White Sox for a player to be named later or cash. At the time he was on the disabled list but was apparently close to making his return. His recovery has taken longer than expected and according to Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey who was a guest on MLB Network Radio last week:
"Crain is about ready to get on the mound. It is an uncertain timetable, but in my experience, we are probably not looking at him being ready until around the 10th of September."
Prior to landing on the disabled list Crain was having a stellar season that earned him a spot on the AL All-Star team (did not play due to injury). On the year he has a 2-3 record but an ERA of 0.74 and has struck out 46 batters in just 36.1 innings of work.
The Rays need help with the back end of their bullpen and a healthy Jess Crain, even if only for the final 20+ games of the season would be big boost.
End With Fun Note:
Jose Molina has spent parts of 14 seasons in the major leagues and has only registered 542 base hits. After collecting 3 hits in last nights game his hit total for the season stands at 56 which ties his hit total from last season which was the 2nd most hits he gathered in a single season in his career. He stands just 2 hits shy of tying his all time single season hit total of 58 gathered in 2008 as a member of the New York Yankees.