In part four of this five-part series, we take a look at the Tampa Bay Rays and their chances to reach the postseason.
The Tampa Bay Rays most potent bat was silenced when third baseman Evan Longoria tore his left hamstring and will be on the bench for a long time to come. The batting average and power numbers of Carlos Pena and Luke Scott have been declining ever since both went on hot streaks to begin the season. The Rays relief corp also suffered a key injury as Kyle Farnsworth, who enjoyed an all-around excellent season in 2011, in which he saved 25 games, has not been able to retake the mound. Another dominant reliever from last year, Joel Peralta, has been unable to duplicate past success and has already given up over half as many homers as he did all of last year. And starting pitcher Matt Moore, who last year was thought of as a quickly rising superstar, has been pummeled by opposing lineups for much of the already short season. Moore has also been unable to work into the later innings, putting even more pressure on the bullpen.
The Rays have been fortunate that, when some of their players begin to slump at the plate, others have begun to pick up the slack. Outfielder Ben Zobrist has, despite a low batting average, kept control at the plate. He has quietly helped Tampa score, both as a homerun hitter and as the team leader in walks. Jeff Keppinger, who has replaced Longoria at third, leads all everyday players on Tampa with his average. Another Rays hitter who is starting to heat up is Matt Joyce, who is tied for the team lead, with seven dingers. The bread and butter, aka, their pitching, has remained for the most part solid, at times bordering on spectacular. Starters David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and James Shields have been piling up wins, though Shields has been roughed up in his couple of starts. The team’s relievers have, for the most part, been a strong factor in the victories. Fernando Rodney has been especially spectacular, as he has closed out 10 games without blowing a single save opportunity.
The Rays can beat the Red Sox with their pitching and Blue Jays with both their bats and throwing arms. The Orioles are a tougher test, though once Longoria returns, they become more likely to eke out victories against Baltimore. The Yankees, have been able to make the Rays pitchers look hittable and will look to continue that trend as they battle Tampa for the American League East Division title.
Tampa Bay has a great shot to at least come away with the first wildcard spot. This should make the three fans that show up to their games very happy.