Posted on: August 7, 2012 4:32 pm

Evan Longoria Returns to TB

                Tampa Bay Rays 2011 hero and face of the franchise Evan Longoria is due back for the Tampa Bay Rays tonight after being out for nearly 2 months with a hamstring injury. If there was ever a player who is most valuable to his team, Longoria would be it. The Rays, who have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball have been fortunate to be hanging around the playoff chase with their terrible hitting. Prior to Longoria being injured the team was posting 4.6 runs per game with him in the lineup. Since then, they have scored just 3.8. That's ALMOST a run per game and when your pitching staff is under 4.00 for their ERA, that ONE run is the difference in third place in the standings (and 7 games out of first) to first place and leading the division.                                                                                                  When Longoria went down early in the season, Joe Maddon said the team's mentality would be to 'stay afloat' and try to 'hold down the fort' until Longo's return. A few weeks later, after the Rays dropped nearly 10 games behind the first place Yankees, Maddon changed his tune, claiming the team needed to start putting together wins and winning out series. It hasn't helped that free agent acquisitions Carlos Pena (.sub .200 batting average) and Luke Scott ( 0-40 something before going back on the disabled list) haven't filled the void. The team as a whole is batting WELL under the Mendoza line and Carlos Pen'as 46 RBIs are the team lead. It is obvious that Evan Longoria's impact goes well beyond his bat. The former Gold Glove winner has created a hole at 3rd base that is likely to remain there for a few more weeks. Longoria is expected to return to the lineup, primarily as the designated hitter, but I can assure you his presence in the lineup alone will make a big difference for Pena and the middle of the lineup.                                                    The Rays are expected to tread lightly with Longoria as his DL stay and subsequent rehab stints had a few bumps. Just last week, Longoria took a day off because of soreness in his hamstrings. Longoria can afford to drop even .30 to .40 points on his batting average AND STILL lead the team in that category. Hits, translate to runs, and with Desmond Jennings and BJ Upton on base, Longoria's batting average is more than enough to drag some runs across the board. Should Longoria be fully healthy, you can expect to see the Tampa Bay Rays on top of the WIldcard standings within a few weeks. If he were to STAY healthy for the remainder of the season, I would not be surprised to see Longoria and the Rays' pitching staff carry the team back to the top of the AL East. Even if it takes all 162 games.
Posted on: June 4, 2010 3:00 pm

Waiting for the Fall?

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.
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