We are not to the mid point of the season, but far enough in that we can start examining the shocking start that the Tampa Bay Rays have had this season. I predicted prior to the season that the Rays young pitching staff would have a relatively good year. I wasn't so much comparing them to the people I mentioned, although, I was simply using the trio's as examples of what the team would need.
As of today, the Rays starting rotation still ranks first in the American League, with a stellar 3.12 rotational starter ERA. The starters have been going deep into games and even after a few missteps the past week or so, the combined team ERA of 3.17 is good for third place in the Major Leagues. If you look at the pitchers' individual performances, you will see that at the moment, fifth starter (and rookie) Wade Davis has the same amount of wins (5) and a better ERA (4.04) than Yankees ace CC Sabathia (5 - 4.14).
There has been a youth movement in the AL East this year as far as pitching goes. David Price ( 8-2 - 2.29 ERA), Jeff Niemann (5-0 - 2.79 ERA), Phil Hughes (7-1 - 2.54 ERA), Clay Buchholz (7-3 - 2.73), and Davis. All pitchers are either in their first year or sophomore years as full time starters. All of these pitchers are anchoring their team's rotations and as I said before, no rotation has been better than the Rays. (In the AL)
So far everyone has expected the young Rays team to collapse, especially when their run differential was through the roof. They have slowed a bit, but have yet to suffer a terrible losing streak. Their worst is 3 losses. At the same time, they are not exactly burning things up as far as going on big tears where they break off big winning streaks. Their longest winning streak was 7 and they have gotten others of 3 to 5 in a row, before dropping one and starting another streak. It can be said this team is consistent in their pitching, but not so much in their hitting.
They started the year with timely hitting, batting over .330 with runners in scoring position. the charge was led by Evan Longoria, who has been the most consistent Ray. The team has since dropped off their production with RISP (.279) The average is still better than their team batting average (.258).
The Rays lineup has really been in a season long slump. Many of their hitters are hitting below their career averages and some have yet to really pull it around.
- Carlos Pena : Career: .247 Current: .176
- Jason Bartlett: Career: .287 Current: .231
- BJ Upton: Career: .266 Current: .225
- Dioner Navarro Career: .253 Current: .204
I could understand one pointing to different player's averages on other teams, but the significance in drop off and the amount of players on one team with this drop off is not something that is easily overlooked. Or overcome for that matter.
Consider that just last year, Bartlett seemed to have his breakout year, making the All-Star team and finishing with a .320 batting average.
Carlos Pena last year had 17 homer by the end of may, this year he has just 8. As a matter of fact, only Evan Longoria has more homers, with 10.
Ben Zobrist who had his coming out last year as one of the biggest surprises in the league, had a terrible start to his season. Prior to March 20th, Zobrist had zero home runs for the season. He has since found his hot bat and popped 4 homers since.
It's been well documented that the rays were nearly no hit by Cc Sabathia early in the year. Later, Dallas Braden pitched the second perfect game against the Rays in as many years.
After all of that, you'd expect the team to be below, if not somewhere near .500 and a few games out of first place in their division. On the contrary, the team just came off of a 20 straight game stretch in which they went 12-8 and have kept their lead of the AL East, as well as the crown of "Best Record in Baseball". They have led or been tied for the lead in their division as far back as April 14th, taking full control as of April 22nd.
Still, no one expects this team to stay on top for much longer, even after West Coast road trips, a 21-6 Road record, 12-8 in 20 straight games, and a plus .500 record at home. Even with dead bats and power outages. Even with a plus .500 record against each team they have played this year, including the 2009 World Champion Yankees.
Even if this team were to suffer a drop off in their pitching and the ERAs were to inflate, there is no reason to believe that they would rise to ridiculous numbers. Although many of the pitchers are pitching better than their career ERAs, even if they leveled off to their normal numbers, this team is bound for plenty of wins. Even if the team plays at a .500 clip for the rest of the season, they would still eclipse 90 wins.
I said it before and I'll say it again, this is a team that is destined for greatness, and if opposing fans are holding their collective breath for a collapse - be forewarned that it is never going to come. This team will be playing in October. Be it as the Division Winner or the Wildcard, the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays are not going to fall to far from grace.