A Horrific June Did the Rays In
By Robbie Knopf
No matter what you’re non-baseball watching friends try to convince you every other week, all 162 games matter in baseball. This season, that reality has come raining down on the Rays. They’re finishing the season as baseball’s hottest team by a mile yet it means nothing because inconsistency earlier in the season doomed them. There are plenty of plenty of 5 of 10 game stretches where the Rays came up completely flat and all the Twitter cynics said that they were going to be an under-.500 team this year. But one month particularly stands out: June. Let’s to a quick game-by-game breakdown and try to figure out what went wrong.
June 1st to 3rd vs. Orioles: 5-0 Win, 2-1 Loss, 8-4 Win
The month began, ironically enough, with the Rays taking two out of the three from the Baltimore Orioles to remain in first place in the AL East. In the first game, the Rays got Wei-Yin Chen for 5 runs in the first inning, including a Luke Scott 2-run single and a Hideki Matsui 2-run home run, and David Price tossed 7.1 shutout innings for his 7th win. In Game 2, Brian Matusz out-dueled Jeremy Hellickson as a crippling Drew Sutton error scored the go-ahead run for the Orioles in the 7th inning. But in Game 3, the Rays came up huge in their opportunities, scoring 8 runs on just 8 hits while stranding just 3 men on base, and Matt Moore gave them 6 strong innings on their way to a big series win and a 1 game lead in the AL East over Baltimore, but hat lead would evaporate before long.
June 5th to 7th at Yankees: 7-0 Loss, 4-1 Loss, 7-3 Win
Things turned around quickly for the Rays in New York. Andy Pettitte dominated them in the first game, striking out 10, and Russell Martin hit a grand slam in the 4th inning off of James Shields as the Yankees rolled. In Game 2, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira homered off Alex Cobb while Ivan Nova went 8 strong for New York. Even in the third game, the Rays won relatively easily but only as the Yankees collapsed defensively, winning despite CC Sabathia‘s 12 strikeouts as they scored 4 times in the 3rd and 4th innings with 3 of the runs being unearned. The Rays were luckily able to end the series with some momentum, but they played terribly and were lucky to come away with a win.
June 8th to 10th at Marlins: 5-1 Win, 13-4 Win, 4-2 Win
Playing against the Miami Marlins helped assuage a lot of frustration for major league teams this season. The Rays were no exception. In Game 1, the Rays had a tough game again, with Jeremy Hellickson lasting just 4.1 innings as he walked 7 batters, the most ever in a game, but the Marlins failed to come through with runner on base, stranding 13, and Matt Joyce homered as the Rays managed to win. The second game was another story as Ben Zobrist slammed 2 homers and drove in 4 and the unlikely pairing of Elliot Johnson and Jose Molina each had 3 RBI, with Johnson going 4 for 5 in the game, while Matt Moore struck out 9 as the Rays won in a blowout. The third game was exponentially tighter, but James Shields gave the Rays 6.1 one-run innings and Joyce and Johnson both homered as the Rays came away with a sweep and suddenly they had won 4 games in a row to stay 0.5 games up on the New York Yankees, who were fresh off a sweep of their own against the New York Mets. When the Rays welcomed the Mets to the Trop, however, the results were far different.
June 12th to 14th vs. Mets: 11-2 Loss, 9-1 Loss, 9-6 Loss
This series was the Rays’ worst nightmare, and it demoralized both them and their fan base as the core of their team, the pitching, completely fell apart- not to mention the offense’s absence in the first two game. In the series’ first game, the two teams were polar opposites- the Rays scored 2 runs on 9 hits, stranding 10 while the Mets scored 11 runs on 14 hits, stranding just 6. The Rays managed 11 baserunners in 5.2 innings against Chris Young but scored just 2 first inning runs and Alex Cobb and the Rays bullpen got hammered. But it wasn’t as bad as Game 2, where the Rays were saved an R.A. Dickey no-hitter by only a first inning groundball to third that David Wright tried and failed to barehand that was ruled a single and only scored a run after a Wright error and two passed balls. The Mets offense tagged David Price for 7 runs and stranded just 6 runner again to bring them to 20 runs versus just 12 left on base in the series. And in the series finale, the Rays’ offense finally came alive, but Jeremy Hellickson got lit up for 8 runs, including 2 home runs by Kirk Nieuwenhuis (he had just 7 on the year) and another by Jason Bay. The Rays got downright embarrassed in this series, and you had to have a bad feeling about this team after three games that made you want to puke.
June 15th to 17th vs. Marlins: 11-0 Win, 4-3 Loss, 3-0 Win
Once again, the Marlins came to the Rays’ rescue. But this time, it only led to 2 out of 3 wins. Game 1 was awfully fun as Matt Moore struck out 8 in 7 one-hit innings, Ben Zobrist homered, and Desmond Jennings drove in 4. But the Rays led the second game slip away, losing in 15 innings after James Shields allowed 3 runs during the first 7.2 innings of the game, all unearned, before the Rays eventually lost after Scott Cousins tripled in the go-ahead run in the 15th. The Rays did come back with a win in the third game, getting 10 strikeouts over 7 innings from Alex Cobb and getting a B.J. Upton home run. But the Rays slipped 3.5 games back of the red-hot Yankees in the AL East and that was after a series win. The Rays were going to have to use this Marlins series to spring forward to a strong Interleague showing, and they simply couldn’t do it.
June 19 to 21st at Nationals: 5-4 Win, 3-2 Loss, 5-2 Loss
The Rays were lucky enough to face off against Chien-Ming Wang in the first game and scored 4 runs in the 3rd including a Carlos Pena 2-run blast on their way to a 5-4 win. More famously, it’s the Glove Check Game where Joel Peralta was ejected for having too much pine tar in his glove. It all worked out though as the Rays were able to hold on to win the game. Game 2 was Chris Archer‘s major league debut, and he pitched great after allowing 3 runs, just 1 earned, in the first inning, but Stephen Strasburg was too good for Washington as the Rays lost 3-2. But the third game had to leave the worst taste in the Rays’ mouth as Matt Moore battled to hold the Nats to 2 run in 5 innings and a Sean Rodriguez RBI single tied the game at 2 in the 6th, but the Rays bullpen collapsed as the Rays lost the series. The Rays got a gift in Game 1 but were simply outplayed but a better team the next two games.
June 23rd to June 24th at Phillies: 7-6 Loss, 3-2 Win, 7-3 Win
The Friday night game of the series was rained out leading to a Sunday doubleheader, but before that the Rays suffered what might have been their most frustrating loss of the season. The Rays rallied against Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon in the 9th, getting back-to-back 2-out RBI singles from Jeff Keppinger and Brooks Conrad to tie the game at 6, but Jake McGee allowed a leadoff homer to Jim Thome in the bottom of the 9th as the Phillies won 7-6. But the Rays were able to come up huge in the doubleheader. David Price gave the Rays 7 good innings and Carlos Pena slammed an 8th inning 3-run home run to give the Rays a win in the opener before Brooks Conrad drove in 4 in the nightcap as the Rays beat Cliff Lee and the Phillies 7-3 to secure a doubleheader sweep and series win. It was the type of day that the Rays had to hope would ignite a run.
June 25th to 27th at Royals: 8-0 Loss, 8-2 Loss, 5-4 Loss
Instead, the Rays came into Kansas City and saw a vastly-inferior Royals team blow them away. Both teams got complete games from their starters in the series opener- the Royals a 7-hit shutout by Luke Hochevar and the Rays a 13-hit, 8-run seemingly never-ending nightmare start for Alex Cobb that killed his ERA but saved the Rays bullpen (although he did allow just 2 hits after the 4th inning). Game 2 saw Chris Archer struggle to an extent in his second big league start before a bullpen blowup put the game out of reach as Bruce Chen held the Rays’ feeble offense at bay again. Then in the final game, the Rays rallied for 2 runs in the top of the 8th on a Ben Zobrist 2-run triple, but he was out on a fielder’s choice on a Will Rhymes groundball before a Billy Butler homer gave the Royals their winning margin in their 5-4 win to secure the sweep. The Rays completely let this series get away from them and were suddenly in a major hole in the division, down 6.5 games.
June 28th to 30th vs. Tigers: 5-2 Loss, 4-2 Win- 6-2 Loss
The Rays had a chance to rebound from their awful Kansas City Series with a strong showing against the formidable Tigers, but even heading home after a 9-game road trip they took another step backwards. Max Scherzer beat James Shields in the opener as Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera both had 4 hits for Detroit. The Rays managed to steal the second game against Justin Verlander as David Price was great and Desmond Jennings went off for 2 home runs. But the third game may have been the worst of the month as Jeremy Hellickson had to leave the game after just 2.2 innings after getting hit by a line drive but the Rays managed to stay in the game until the 7th when the wheels came off for the bullpen, and late homers by Jeff Keppinger and Carlos Pena were too little, too late.
On the month, the Rays went 12-15, losing 7.5 games in the AL East as they began the month up 1 game and fell to 6.5 games back. They never led the AL East again after June 10th. It definitely could have been worse, but several of their losses were inexcusable- how did they manage to get swept by the Mets and the Royals? On the month, the Rays managed just a .222/.301/.339 team batting line, their worst of the season although not by that much- they were just .225/.307/.355 in July- and they averaged 4.03 runs per game. Remove a few blowout wins (basically the 13-4 and 11-0 wins versus the Marlins), and they managed just 3.4 runs per game the other 25 games, which is horrendous. Their pitching was pedestrian for the month, managing a 3.96 ERA (3.86 FIP) overall and a 4.06 mark (4.04 FIP) from their starters with their highest walk rate of the season- they walked not too far from double the amount of batters that they walked in August. Most teams can survive a stretch of decent, not outstanding pitching, but the Rays could not.
Having Evan Longoria out the entire month while Jeff Keppinger got in for just 7 games and Matt Joyce for 13 really hurt the Rays offense, and with B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, and Desmond Jennings in slumps, the Rays offense was basically Ben Zobrist, who posted an outstanding .344/.443/.578 line with 7 doubles, 4 homers, and 13 RBI. Zobrist OPS was a ridiculous 1.021, but only one other Rays with a minimum of 60 plate appearances in the month managed an OPS as high as .700: Elliot Johnson, who actually managed a nice .295/.360/.423 line (.784 OPS). When your offense is Ben Zobrist and Elliot Johnson, you’re not going to score a lot of runs. Don’t even get me started on Hideki Matsui. On the pitching side, David Price and Matt Moore pitched well and James Shields was OK, but Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb had disaster months and poorly-timed bullpen collapses by Brandon Gomes, Joel Peralta, and Wade Davis didn’t do the Rays any favors.
The Rays went 12-15 in the month. If they had managed just 1 win each against the Mets and Royals, they would have been 14-13 and would be putting the pressure on the Yankees, Orioles, and Athletics until the last possible second in the AL East and Wild Card chases. Instead, they let a bad situation get worse and it cost them a chance to still be competing right now. It was a perfect storm of injuries, slumps, a little bit of a tough month for the rotation, and some bullpen struggles and the results were catastrophic in hindsight.