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Tampa Bay Rays: Making Sense of Last Place

By Robbie Knopf
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The day has finally come–the Tampa Bay Rays are 72-78, last in the American League East by a half-game. They have three games against the Boston Red Sox to change that–they just need to win two of them and split their four-game series with Boston to remain in fourth place. But for now, at least, the Rays are indeed in the cellar, and the way that they got there was emblematic of how they have fallen to this point.

Chris Archer only allowed 1 run on 3 hits in 5 innings, but unfortunately, that isn’t good enough these days. We know about the problems that the bullpen has been having, and the Rays need Archer to last 6 innings if not 7 as this team’s ace. It isn’t as though the starting pitching has been so terrible lately, but if the Rays were going to hide their weak relief corps, they needed the rotation to be at the peak of its abilities right now. Unfortunately, it’s not.

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The scary thing about those aforementioned bullpen problems is that it isn’t just Brad Boxberger. In this game, Alex Colome came apart again, giving up 3 runs, before Brandon Gomes reminded us of what he was like in the middle of the season and surrendered a Xander Bogaerts grand slam. Colome was so good before his recent struggles while Gomes has also seemed to break through with his new approach. Gomes’ grand slam pitch to Bogaerts was also a fine slider down-and-away, as remarked on the Sun Sports broadcast–Bogaerts just guessed right or somehow knew that it was coming. It was another fluke night from a pair of good pitchers, but somehow these “flukes” are surfacing increasingly often for the Rays.

The Rays offense looked good to begin the game, scoring three times on a Brandon Guyer homer, an Evan Longoria RBI double, and a Logan Forsythe RBI single. The team’s three best hitters against left-handed pitching delivered again. Then, as usual, the stranding of runners began–one in the second, two in the fourth and fifth, and the bases loaded in the seventh. But after Colome’s collapse, the team put together the type of rally that reminds us how good another scenario of 2015 could have gone.

The Rays had first and second with one out as Alexi Ogando came in for Boston. He was greeted by four outstanding plate appearances by Rays hitters. John Jaso worked a walk, and he drilled a fastball such a long way foul that Ogando had to throw primarily sliders for the remainder of his outing. Breaking balls were his last two pitches to Jaso and all five offerings that Guyer saw, and Guyer got behind 0-2 before poking the last of the sliders into the hole between first and second and into right field. It was smart hitting, knowing how the Red Sox were pitching him and that the Boston defense was giving him space on the right side.

Grady Sizemore hasn’t been a great hitter since joining the Tampa Bay Rays, and we rarely see flashes of the former superstar that he was. Instead, we see examples of how he remains an intelligent player even though so many of his skills are gone. In this game, he got behind Ogando 0-2 before seeing a fastball up and away and not trying to do much with it, hitting a line drive into left field to turn the Rays’ 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead. If you make a mistake, he can still can advantage. Then, after Longoria was intentionally walked, Forsythe also didn’t try to do too much and hit a sac fly for an insurance run.

Of course, it all came apart once again from there, but at least the Rays finished the game with one more highlight. With one out in the ninth, Richie Shaffer capped his 2-for-4 game with a hit-by-pitch by sending a fastball middle-in over the Green Monster and onto the streets of Boston. It was a reminder of things to come for the Rays–with players like Shaffer and Mikie Mahtook set to play bigger roles next year, maybe things can be different. In any event, their ascension came too late to save this season, not to mention this game.

Matt Moore will hope to cement his place as another player who the Rays can count on for much better results in 2016 as he hopes to build on his masterful effort in his last outing. Henry Owens will take the hill for Boston.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Difficulty Vs. RHP Brought Season Down

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