Through four games in the 2012 season, two things stood out almost immediately – the bullpen was a work in progress and the Rays were having difficulties on defense. The bullpen worked itself out during the course of the season, but defensive struggles continued to plague the Rays all year, as they committed the most errors in the American League, leading to 59 unearned runs.
Thus far in 2013, the bullpen has struggled again to start the season, posting a 7.36 ERA heading into tonight’s action. Yet, this appears to be a temporary issue, as unlike last year, the relievers are heading into the season with defined roles. After Kyle Farnsworth went down with an elbow injury to start the year, the bullpen became shuffled. Once the Rays were able to figure out the pecking order, the Rays bullpen went on to post the best ERA in the American League. Given the talent and depth of the relief corps heading into this season, it would be no surprise for the Rays to once again finish with the best relief ERA in the American League in 2013.
Defensively, the Rays of 2013 appear to be more along the lines of what has come to be expected since they have gone on their run of contention. Through four games, the Rays have yet to commit any errors, while they had committed two at this time last year. Having a healthy Evan Longoria manning third base definitely helps, as Rays third basemen committed the most errors in baseball last year, with 33 miscues. Longoria, a former Gold Glove third baseman, should help lower that amount.
It is not just third base that should improve this year. Even though he may not have the same arm as B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings has made only one career error, and has performed well when he had to play in center. Back in his natural position, he appears to have made the transition back smoothly, and is tracking the ball well. Yunel Escobar has been excellent thus far at short, and appears to be a significant defensive upgrade over the four players that started at shortstop for the Rays last year.
Escobar also appears to have great instincts at short. During the game last night, after Mike Aviles was tagged out following a short rundown, Escobar noticed that Michael Bourn had strayed from second. He fired to second, narrowly missing out on catching Bourn off guard for the double play. Even though Bourn was safe, the attempt gives the Rays an element on defense that they did not seem to have last season.
Great pitching and defense have been hallmarks for the Rays since they began their run of contention. Last season, the defense let them down, and they finished just outside of the playoffs despite their injury problems. If the defense continues to perform as well as it has thus far this season, the Rays may find themselves playing once again in October.