Remember when preseason predictions pegged the Rays as being playoff contenders or even said the Rays were going to win the AL pennant? Remember how this would be the year the Rays returned to the playoffs with Cy Young winner David Price leading a stellar rotation and a healthy Evan Longoria back in the lineup daily? Well, with the Rays barely staying alive above .500 right now, the glorious days of the playoffs seem like a distant dream.
For once, the Rays’ offense is being consistent and productive, with Longoria’s recent career-high 16 game hitting streak and James Loney having one of the best batting averages in the major leagues at .347. As promising as the lineup looks many nights, there’s still one problem that’s keeping the Rays from the top of the standings: the bullpen.
Night after night fans continue to see how the bullpen gives up runs late in games to blow the Rays’ lead. While having a shaky bullpen is no stranger to Tampa Bay, it certainly is unacceptable when the team is hoping to be playoff contenders.
During the franchise’s inaugural season, 1998, the Devil Rays’ bullpen averaged an ERA of 3.84. Only two of the relievers in the D-Rays’ bullpen had winning records, Albie Lopez and Jim Mecir. The D-Rays finished with a record of 63-99 for the season, but no one expected them to make it to the playoffs. The Tampa Bay area was just happy to finally have a professional baseball team.
In 2002, the worst season in franchise history, the D-Rays bullpen finished with an ERA of 5.25, and were ranked 29th in baseball. Not a single starting pitcher or reliever had a winning record that season, and the best reliever, closer Esteban Yan, had a 4.80 ERA and 53 strikeouts. In recent past years, the Rays’ bullpen would put Yan to shame.
Only two years later, the D-Rays would have their best bullpen yet as they were ranked 9th in baseball with a 3.90 ERA in 2004. Trever Miller had the lowest ERA in the bullpen at 3.12, but he had only 43 K’s and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.87. On the other hand, reliever Jorge Sosa had the bullpen’s highest ERA of 5.53 but lead them in strikeouts, 94, and strikeout-to-walk ratio, 1.74. While the bullpen’s success in 2004 was a huge turn around for the D-Rays, their pitching would still suffer for a couple of more seasons.
Although the D-Rays suffered their worst win-loss record in 2002, the bullpen would only continue to bring the team down as the Rays’ 2007 bullpen ranked last in all of the MLB. The Rays, playing under new ownership and with a new name and logo, still finished with a record of 66-96. Starting pitchers James Shields and Scott Kazmir shone on the mound, as Shields gave up only 36 walks with a 3.83 ERA and Kazmir finished with 239 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.48. But once again, the bullpen brought much disappointment to the team as 3 of their relievers had ERAs over 7.00, and the bullpen only had 28 saves for the entire season. But, the many changes within the organization that year brought hope that things would soon be looking bright in Tampa Bay.
The 2008 season is still remembered as perhaps the best season in Rays history so far. Rookies Evan Longoria and David Price made their mark on the Rays’ historic season as the team went from worst to first in the standings. While all five starting pitchers posted winning records and carried the team to many victories, the bullpen also brought their “A” game many nights. Ranked as the 5th best bullpen in all of baseball, the relievers reminded everyone why pitching was the Rays’ best weapon, like Grant Balfour‘s 1.54 ERA and 82 K’s and J.P. Howell‘s 2.22 ERA and 92 K’s. The bullpen had 50 saves total that season and an ERA of 3.22. The Rays went on to face the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, and the Phillies had the second best bullpen in all of baseball during 2008.
Last season was the best season for the Rays’ bullpen as closer Fernando Rodney made major league history by posting a slim 0.60 ERA and became a fan favorite by shooting the moon. Rodney also had 48 saves during the season, only two less than the bullpen as a whole did in 2008. The Rays’ 2012 bullpen earned their best ranking yet, as the 3rd best bullpen in baseball. Relievers like Jake McGee and Wade Davis were very successful for the Rays. McGee posted a 1.95 ERA in 69 games, while Davis had a ERA of 2.43 but lead the bullpen in strikeouts with 87 in 54 games. The bullpen averaged an ERA of 2.88 during 2012.
Currently, the 2013 Rays bullpen has an ERA of 4.80 and is ranked 29th in baseball. While the franchise’s bullpen has fared worse in years past, the franchise did not always have playoff expectations. The Rays never expected Rodney to duplicate his historic 2012 season, but they certainly did not expect him having a 5.40 ERA this year either. While not all of the blame for the bullpen’s woes can be placed on Rodney’s shoulders, he certainly is creating some of the biggest concerns for the bullpen. Another reliever, Kyle Farnsworth, is experiencing troubles of his own with a 7.71 ERA and no saves this season. In 2011, Farnsworth was the Rays closer and had a 2.18 ERA with 25 saves. Considering how the Rays now anticipate making it to the playoffs every season, the bullpen needs a makeover to stop blowing games when the Rays are in the lead and need to help inflate the team’s meager .511 winning percentage.
We learned last year that it takes more than 90 wins to earn a playoff spot, as the Rays fell just shy of a playoff appearance. The Rays currently have a long climb from 4th place in their division to clinch a postseason appearance, but the Rays always say pitching and defense is how they win games. While the starters are looking good, like Matt Moore’s 7-0 record, the bullpen is bringing everyone else down. Unless the bullpen improves, can this season’s playoff hopes stay alive?