When reporters asked the legendary football coach Bill Parcells after a tough loss if his team was “better than its record,” he usually answered “you are what your record says you are.” Winning teams win and losing teams lose. The Tampa Bay Rays’ record after another close loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, is 15 wins and 20 losses. They’re in last place in the AL East, 4.5 games behind the first-place Orioles.
What’s particularly frustrating for Rays fans is that each game in the series was close. With some timely hitting, the Rays could easily have won each game. Thursday’s game was typical of how the Rays have played this season. Their ace, David Price, gave up 3 runs in less than 6 innings. The Rays had several chances, and had the tying runs on with no outs in the bottom of the 9th inning. Desmond Jennings, last week’s AL Player of the Week, hit into a double play, and Matt Joyce continued his cold hitting and grounded out for the final out.
Of course it’s too early in the season to count the Rays out. They still have plenty of time to turn things around. Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson will return to the starting rotation. But that still can’t erase the disappointing performance of both David Price and Chris Archer, who should be leading the rest of the Rays pitching staff by example instead of digging holes that the team can’t climb out of. The Rays are, and probably will remain, an average offensive team. They need strong pitching and defense to contend, and so far this season, those areas of the team have disappointed everyone.
The question is: are the Rays actually a mediocre team, or are they just playing below average right now? For the Rays to win 95 games in 2014, they would have to go 80-47 for the rest of the year. A great team, which is what we all thought the Rays could be this year, would be able to do that. But in order to do that, the Rays’ stars need to step up. David Price needs to throw some shutouts, Chris Archer needs to attack the strike zone, and the bullpen needs to start striking batters out. Evan Longoria, Wil Myers, James Loney, and Ben Zobrist need to start hitting better. We’ve talked on this site about replacing some of the bullpen and part of the bench, with better performers from Durham. But even if Wilson Betemit and Jerry Sands) contribute more to the offense than Logan Forsythe and Brandon Guyer, they won’t play enough to make a significant improvement in team performance. That’s up to the starters and front line pitchers.
I certainly hope the Tampa Bay Rays start to play better. But until they do, they will have to live with the way their record defines them.