It had to happen sometime. The Rays finally lost a game even with Kevin Kiermaier in the lineup. No team or player in baseball goes undefeated. Even with Babe Ruth hitting 60 home runs and Lou Gehrig adding 47, the 1927 Yankees only won 110 games. The 1906 Cubs, with Tinker, Evers, Chance, and Three-Finger Brown at their peak, set a major league record of 116 wins, but did not go undefeated. We shouldn’t have expected the Rays to remain undefeated in the Kiermaier era, but it was nice while it lasted.
Baseball is the ultimate team sport, requiring contributions from all 25 players to create a pennant winning team. Bill James has demonstrated through several different studies that a star free agent moving from one team to another is usually worth no more than one or two wins. Sometimes, of course, one or two wins can make the difference in a pennant race. But we’ve seen again and again teams sign free agents and not improve, while the team that lost them surges to the pennant. The recent performance of the Cardinals after losing Albert Pujols to free agency and the performance of the Angels since they signed him demonstrates the truth of that. The best player on the Angels is not any of their big contract free agent signings, but their second year star, Mike Trout. But even though Kiermaier can’t single-handedly win games, he adds great value to his team thanks to great defense and an underrated bat.
The Angels looked pretty good against the Rays last night and there was nothing Kiermaier could do about it. While Joe Maddon keeps saying it’s not time to panic, he’s sure acting like a manager desperately looking for a win, pulling Cesar Ramos last night after 1.1 innings and late pulling Juan Carlos Oviedo with the bases loaded. There’s no question our Rays have disappointed their fans and confounded the high expectations we’ had for them. But that’s why they play the games. Pennants are won on the field, not in the front office.
If you believed in the Rays’ talent at the start of the year, there’s still reason to remain hopeful. Evan Longoria and Wil Myers should be hitting much better. If they are to get close to matching their totals from last year, they should be poised to hit much better for the rest of the season. Alex Cobb had a good rehab start and should return to the rotation soon, and Jeremy Hellickson isn’t far behind. The starting staff has also pitched much better as of late. The Rays are still within striking distance of the top of the AL East. They can still turn things around. All they have to do is start winning, even if good-luck charm Kevin Kiermaier is sent back down soon.