There is a popular retro baseball tee shirt on the market today with the words “If You Hear Any Noise, It’s Just Me And The Boys Boppin” on the front. The shirt was first introduced in the mid 1970’s by Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Dave Parker. The Cobra, his nickname, could bop. For a 16-year stretch from 1975 to 1990, he hit .293 with an average of 20 home runs and 87 RBI per season That’s what the Tampa Bay Rays need and need right now: a couple of guys who can bop day in and day out. Yes, they have problems with the pitching being inconsistent and their defense seems to botch a double play at the wrong time. However, in the end, they are in last place because they lose too many close games and leave too many runners on base.
Surprisingly, one of the main villains in this tragedy is Evan Longoria. Somehow, Longoria has gone from one of the most feared hitters in baseball in 2009 and 2010 to just another .270 hitter in 2013. In the former two years, Longoria averaged 28 home runs and 109 RBI to go long with .884 ops. His numbers started to go down in 2011 as he posted a .244 average and an .850 OPS. At least he drilled 31 home runs and drove in 99. Then, after he was injured much of 2012, he continued his slide in 2013 with only 88 RBI and a whooping 162 strikeouts. This year he is on track for a .272 average, 16 home runs, 83 RBI, and a .736 OPS. Those are not terrible numbers, but the Rays need a lot more from him. Too often his at bats have been awful. Terrible swing-and miss-strikeouts on breaking balls out of the zone lead to him doing his best B.J. Upton “how did that happen” imitation. Don’t get me wrong, Evan Longoria is a good ballplayer and he can play third base with the best of them, but on this Rays team, he has to be more than just a good ballplayer for the offense to live up to expectations. He is not playing terribly right now, and hopefully his breakout will coming. Until he does, however, the Rays need an offense that knows how to manufacture runs.
In Sunday’s game, the Indians outfielder Nyjer Morgan beat out an infield single, went to second on a balk, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly. Maybe it was a fluke, but ask yourself how many times you have seen the Rays not sacrifice, not move up the runner with an out, and not steal a base. Contrast that with how many times you have seen them put runners on second and third with less than two out and leave them there. It’s not that the Rays don’t have decent hitters. When they face a right-hander and Ryan Hanigan catches, everyone in the lineup has a career batting average of .250 or better–no Jose Molina automatic outs in that bunch. What they don’t have, though, are boppers and clutch hitters. Only James Loney and Hanigan seem to be able to hit in the clutch. Hanigan was brought over for his defense, but him and Loney still have more RBI than Longoria! In addition, no one in the Rays lineup has more than four home runs, making them one of just two such teams in baseball. That is simply not going to get it done.
I’m not sure what the answer is for this Tampa Bay Rays Rays offense, but somebody has to find one soon. Maybe they should lock the whole offense in a room for a morning and force them to watch tape of James Loney at-bats. When I saw this team take shape in March, everyone was convinced that this was the best Rays offensive team ever and instead, it’s a train wreck. In order to finish with 91 wins, their total in 2013, the Rays have to play .603 ball for the rest of the year. The boys had better start boppin’!