Friday, May 29, 2009

Underachieving in 2009 or Overachieving in 2008

Fifty games in to the season, the Tampa Bay Rays are tied with the Baltimore Orioles for last place in the American League East. It's not a place many Rays fans expected the team to be. It's probably not where the Rays management thought they'd be right now.  The defending American League Champions are finally coming back to where the rest of the league thought they'd be last year.

It was supposed to be different this year.  The team made some upgrades to shore up its lineup. A couple of new relievers were brought in.  And King David Price was waiting in the wings to make the rotation one of the most formidable in the league.  Instead, we have a broken down ace in Scott Kazmir.  A pitcher who went from dependable to painful in Scott Kazmir.  Our opening day starter can't seem to prevent one big inning from killing him every fifth day.  And, now, we have King David on a strict pitch count every fifth day.

The injuries, too, are piling up.  That's the danger of going .500 with a healthy team.  You can't afford to lose the ground you're going to lose when the injuries start coming.  

This Cleveland series was hopefully the lowest of the low for the Rays.  The question is: Did the Rays overachieve in 2008 or are they underachieving in 2009? Here are some of the differences between the 2 teams:

  • Winning at home.  Last year, the Rays owned Tropicana Field. They won 57 games with a .704 winning percentage.  Not too shabby.  And as the Rays media people liked to point out, the Rays were real solid when the Trop was sold out.  This year, the Rays are playing .500 ball at home (11-10).  If they're going to climb back in it, they have to make home games count.
  • Starting pitching. This is a big trouble spot for the Rays right now.  The starters are not getting the job done, especially Andy Sonnanstine and Kazmir.  The Rays already addressed the Kaz problem, but now they may have to address Sonnanstine's problems.  They can't keep sending him out there every fifth day.  As for the rest of the starters, Jeff Niemann's been serviceable. Matt Garza and James Shields have to lock in.  It's important for those two guys to start getting wins and giving the team good innings.
  • Bullpen Roles.  Because of the problems in the starting rotation, the bullpen's been a mess. Last year it worked like a well-oiled machine in the middle.  Joe Maddon was able to pick and choose where he got his bullpen work to maximize the match up.  This year, it's not happening.  The lack of innings from the starting pitchers is creating all kinds of problems in the bullpen.  Lance Cormier is almost become a de facto starter.  Last year, we didn't see Jason Hammel too often. The Rays need to define the rolls for team.
  • One game at a time.  Last year's team seemed to be able to put a bad game behind them and stay level headed after good games.  This year, they seem to continue one bad game into the next and after good games they get too cocky and can't do nothing the next day. It's a long season.  Keep an eye on the game in front of you.  They don't need to be playing down to their competition.  Go in, beat them, and go home.  One win will turn to two and the next thing you know they'll have a win streak.
  • Contributions from the bench.  The injuries to Jason Bartlett and Akinori Iwamura definitely put a damper on the season, but these guys that were called up have to start making contributions.  The Rays dealt with injuries all last year and never missed a beat. Now, they have to do the same thing.
  • Have fun.  This team doesn't look like it's having nearly as much fun as it did last year. Granted, we've seen flashes of it. But, we haven't seen the happy-go-lucky guys that made this team so great to watch.  I'm not sure if it's the change in veteran leadership or the team's putting too much pressure on itself to win.  Maybe after this debacle in Cleveland, they'll realize that they can just have fun.

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1 Comment:

Matty said...

I would have to say overachieved. A lot of things went right for the Rays in 2008. The Yankees had major injuries, Red Sox had Manny messing up the clubhouse, and the Rays got every timely hit possible. The bullpen also had a career year, and who knows if any bullpen could ever match that again.

That being said, there needs to be at least 3 members of the bullpen who are sure fire shutdown guys. Right now there are only 2 -- Cormier and Howell. Everyone else is questionable.

The Rays also decided to go into the season with a huge question mark at one of the most crucial positions - closer. Percy and Izzy stink and it remains the team's biggest weakness.

The Rays 2008 success was also built on solid starting pitching, and so far they have had terrible starting pitching. Of 118 starting pitchers, the Rays have TWO with the worst ERA's in the majors. Sonnanstine ranks at 115 and Kaz is at 116.

It's not rocket science -- Kaz was replaced and Sonnanstine should be replaced TODAY. Why put a starter out there who you know is going to let the team down? Joe Maddon owes it to his players to put somebody who can allow his team to compete on the mound.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. Sports is year-to-year. Sonnanstine has a career ERA of 5.33. That's terrible. It's not like this is something new. Get rid of him. Kaz has looked good in the past, so give him some time to figure it out. If not -- get rid of him.

The Rays are at a point in their franchise's history where there are enough great players in the minor league system to replace those guys in the majors if they're not performing well. It's time to see Davis, Hernandez, and Matt Joyce all up in the bigs. A chance at a playoff berth has passed this team by. The only way the Rays can even think about finishing at .500 - and more importantly, their season ticket base -- is if their minor league studs are called up NOW.

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