The first half of the 2013 season has come to a close for the Tampa Bay Rays, there have been many exciting moments, surprises, and disappointments so far for the team this year. We will review them all and talk about what the future possibly holds for the team.
For most of the year it seemed like the elephant in the room was when Wil Myers would be recalled to help the Rays. He was rated the minor league player of the year by Baseball America, the centerpiece of the James Shields trade, and believed to need very little time in AAA before joining the big league club. We all talked about the Super Two deadline as the perceived cutoff for Tampa to call up Myers. Only…he wasn’t, Myers was struggling at Durham and was not called up. But on June 18th, Myers got the call up to the big leagues and has done a good job of holding his own since then. Playing in an everyday role when you are a top prospect is very tough, but Myers looks like he will be a fixture in the Rays outfield for a very long time.
Two separate incidents at Tropicana Field reminded fans about the dangers of the game, as both Blue Jays left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ and Rays right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb were drilled in the head by line drives. J.A. Happ went on to suffer a slightly fractured skull behind his ear after being hit by Rays CF Desmond Jennings. Happ has set a return back on the mound for the Jays after the All-Star Break.
For Rays pitcher Alex Cobb, after he was hit in the head by a line drive by Royals 1B Eric Hosmer, everyone was thinking about the previous incident and hoping Cobb was safe. Cobb was diagnosed with a mild concussion but has also been dealing with vertigo while tilting his head. Cobb says he wants to pitch by August but the teams is monitoring his rehab very closely and are in no way pushing him to come back sooner than needed.
Rays LHP Alex Torres has been nothing short of dominant this year in the majors, so far in 26.1IP, he has surrendered 7 hits, 1 run walking 9, and striking out 33. Since the bullpen struggles earlier in the year, Torres has helped stabilize the pen and provide quality innings to the team and is being rewarded by pitching in the late innings more.
The beginning of the year was not a kind one to Fernando Rodney as he started to look more like the pitcher in Los Angeles and Detroit instead of the record setter in 2012. While some regression was expected, Rodney started losing command of his electric fastball and in turn walked more batters and started blowing saves. His job as closer was in jeopardy for a while, but Joe Maddon has stuck with him so far. While he has gotten better through the season, Rodney still provides intense moments with his save opportunities.
Jake McGee was coming off his best season in 2012, with a 1.95 ERA, and 73K, 11B, and only 33H in 55.1 IP. 2013 Has not been as kind to McGee as he has already walked more batters (13 compared to 11), more earned runs (18 compared to 12), and given up more home runs (5 to 3). His role so far with the Rays has stayed the same, being the left-handed complement to Joel Peralta, but Alex Torres recent success has put his ultimate role in question.
The offense this year has been a pleasant surprise for the Rays. In years past it has struggled to support the Rays great pitching staff, this year it seems to be the opposite. The team is 5th in the majors in OBP, are scoring 4.68 runs per game (compared to 4.3 in 2012, and 4.36 in 2011). Most of this can be contributed to a healthy Evan Longoria being in the lineup for most of the year (aside from some plantar fasciitis). But contributions from James Loney and Kelly Johnson have helped the offense compared to Carlos Pena and Elliot Johnson in 2012. James Loney currently leads the team in batting average, on-base percentage, second in slugging, and leads the team with 102 hits. Joe Maddon also credits the team as a whole with the “swarm”, as 8 guys on the team now have at least 30 RBI’s.
Kelly Johnson is 3rd on the team with 13 home runs, third with 44 RBI’s, and helped provide Joe Maddon with versatility as he has appeared this year at 2B, LF, 3B, and 1B.
Some improvements that could be made include the bench as UTIL Sean Rodriguez, OF Sam Fuld, IF and Ryan Roberts have not impressed very much. While Tampa loves Sam Fuld for his speed, great defense, and his energy, his slash line of .194/.258/.287 is not scaring anyone (also 1/8 in PH attempts). Sean Rodriguez provides great versatility to the team as he is the primary backup SS, but has also started all over the IF and OF over his rays career. It would certainly be hard to replace his defensive capabilities but it is hard to ignore Durham Bulls IF Vince Belnome with a slash line of .342/.448/.520 in AAA. He has also started at 1B, 2B, and 3B for Durham so he can play around the IF in the big leagues. Former first overall pick Tim Beckham is holding his own in AAA and might get a September callup once rosters expand.
As One Republic has said before, “We’re Marching On”. The staff has seemed to stabilize after a shaky start, so in far in July the Rays pitching staff is 10-1 with a 1.99 ERA, 131IP and 125K. The debate at the beginning of the season was Roberto Hernandez v. Jeff Niemann for who becomes a starter, and who gets relegated to the bullpen. Well Hernandez won by default as Niemann had shoulder surgery after spring training and is out for the year. The rest of the rotation has been solid in the past two months with Chris Archer in the 5th spot since Cobb went down and has done well as of late. Although he is showing a lot of emotion while doing it. The Rays can potentially call up either Alex Colome or Jake Odorizzi if a spot start is needed here or there. As for the bullpen, Brandon Gomes rehab is going smooth and should join the team after the break. Other names to look for as the season moves on is a recall of Josh Lueke, Jeff Beliveau, and potentially CJ Niefenhauser (futures game participant).
Yunel Escobar has already started more games at SS this year for Tampa (86) then Elliot Johnson (68) who had the most appearances at SS last year. His defense has been spectacular this year, so much so that Joe Maddon stuck with him even as he was mired in a long offensive slump (His bat is starting to heat up as well). Desmond Jennings has also been playing a great CF since B.J. Upton left for Atlanta, Tampa was confident he would fill in defensively and he has marveled at the position. Having a healthy Evan Longoria has also helped as well. Much has been said about the Rays and the shifting defense this year. How much it helps is yet to be seen, but from Ben Zobrist…
"“I just think it becomes more and more a game of who can make the adjustment first,” Zobrist said. “We’re trying to make the adjustment out in the field before they even hit the ball, because we know how we’re going to pitch them, we know how they’re generally going to hit the ball, and if we put ourselves in the right spot, we’re going to catch a lot of line drives and balls that are normally hits for these guys.”"
Odds and Ends:
As a pitching staff, Tampa is tied for 3rd in the Majors in K/9 with 8.33.
As an offense, Tampa is 4th in the majors in OBP at .331
As a pitching staff, Tampa is league average at 1st pitch strikes, at 60%
Matt Moore has 16 4-pitch walks this season
Kelly Johnson leads the team in pitches per plate appearance at 4.13 (but is 5th on the team in in BB% at 9.2%)
Tampa has used 66 lineups this year.
Jeremy Hellickson has had 11 GIDP for him this season.