The experts are circling above the Tampa Bay Rays like vultures, looking to see what bones they can pick. Rumors and suggestions about possible trades of David Price and Ben Zobrist are flooding in from everywhere. While a possible trade of either player would be very intriguing, given the haul they could extract, don’t start cleaning out their lockers just yet.
For most of the young season, the starting pitching has not been very good. That has started to turn for the better as everyone but Cesar Ramos pitched well the last time through the rotation. David Price was brilliant his last start against Seattle. His fastball velocity sat in the mid-90s all game–it was important for him to prove that he can still get it up there. Just two years from free agency, Price has all the motivation in the world to continue getting his act together. Behind Price, Jake Odorizzi has turned in consecutive strong performances, as has Erik Bedard. Chris Archer‘s control did come and go in his last outing, but he was able to finish with 5.2 shutout innings overall. Even Ramos managed to put it back together in his last start after a horrific beginning, setting career-highs for innings pitched and pitches thrown in the process. Couple everyone’s performance with Alex Cobb’s imminent return and Jeremy Hellickson coming back eventually as well, and the starters aren’t the weak spot anymore.
The relievers’ fortunes are directly related to the health of the starters. With David Price and Co.’s performance improving, the bullpen can settle down. Juan Carlos Oviedo is pitching himself into form, Jake McGee has been brilliant, Brandon Gomes is for real, and Brad Boxberger has shown plenty of potential. The mileage on Joel Peralta may be mounting but, until he’s driven to the junkyard, don’t count him out. He has looked very good in his last couple of appearances, and he may be fine from here. As well, Grant Balfour has struggled, but that has a lot to do with lack of save opportunities. After his disaster on Thursday night, he rebounded in a big way on Friday and has appeared to find the aggressive mindset he needs to succeed. Seattle announcers questioned the Rays letting Fernando Rodney slip away, but the ninth inning is in capable hands with Mr. Balfour.
Contrary to popular belief, the offense has not been that good. Fellow RCG writer David Egbert summed everything up in his recent piece. The major offensive revelation this year has to be Ryan Hanigan. Near the team lead in RBIs, he has definitely been more than a pleasant surprise at the bat. Giving him a contract extension at the beginning of the season has brought stability to a position the Rays have not ever had. It is, however, too much to expect Hanigan to lead the team in runs driven in the whole season and, if he does, an inquisition should be held. James Loney is right there with Hanigan and another smart signing by Andrew Friedman. To date, his performance goes directly against all the people who thought that he would regress this season. A number of times this year, Loney has come up and collected a key hit, whether it be against a righty or lefty.
On the negative side, Wil Myers‘ year has been uneven at best. If the Rays played the Yankees all 162 games, he would be having some kind of season right now, but unfortunately they don’t. Still, he has shown signs of putting it together. Rays fans will just have to deal with the at-bats when he channels his inner B.J. Upton. They are going to happen and just hold your breath and look the other way. Evan Longoria is needed, now more than ever with Ben Zobrist destined to be sidelined for a little while with that thumb injury. Once, we were talking about Longo being a possible MVP candidate, but the last two years his offense has gone into hibernation for periods. Longoria is the face of the franchise and has to lead by example. It is a lot of pressure to put on one player, but Longoria has to deliver.
The Tampa Bay Rays have dug themselves a hole but there are a lot of games still to play, especially against division rivals. They are in an AL East with no team pulling away from the crowd, and they are still very much in competition for the division title.