Nothing has gone right for the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2014 season. This is a team that was predicted to not only have a good shot at making the playoffs, but to be one of the strongest and most balanced teams in the majors. At the end of Spring Training, Rays’ fans were looking at one of the best rotations in the league, a deep bullpen with an All-Star closer, and a solid lineup with a MVP-caliber third baseman. All of these seemingly great qualities seemed to indicate that the Rays may have finally been good enough to capture their first ever World Series title. Unfortunately for the Rays, the reality of the 2014 season has been a far cry from what many had anticipated. Now that the season is a third of the way through, I will evaluate the Rays’ performance thus far.
The one area in which the Rays have played extremely well is defense. They have committed only 28 errors on the season, which is the third fewest in the majors. The Rays also have an outstanding fielding percentage of .986, which puts them at fourth best in the league. Joe Maddon has always fielded solid defensive squads, and this season is no exception. The fact that the team’s struggling pitchers can rely on their teammates to make the plays behind them is one of few things keeping up the Rays’ morale.
Both the starting rotation and the bullpen have not come anywhere close to living up to their high expectations at the beginning of the season. The Rays’ pitching staff was supposed to be their strongest asset, and what would ultimately help them succeed in the playoffs. So far this season, the Rays’ pitching has not done much to help out their even more deflated offense.
The Rays have used seven different starting pitchers in the first third of the season due to injuries to Matt Moore and Alex Cobb. Moore is out for the rest of the season, and Cobb has been inconsistent since returning at the end of May. There is not one starter on the team with a winning record, and Cobb is the only one on the team with an ERA below 4.00.
As an entire staff, the Rays’ pitchers have surrendered 239 earned runs and 54 home runs, putting them at fifth and eleventh most in the majors, respectively. Their starting pitchers have a combined record of 13-22 with a 4.28 ERA. Their relievers have not faired much better, combining for a 10-12 record and a 4.03 ERA. The team’s bullpen is 9/16 in save opportunities, and 0/5 when anybody besides Grant Balfour closes out the game.
The Rays have really struggled at the plate in the first third of the season. As a team they are twenty-first in the majors with a .243 batting average and twenty-second in runs scored with 217. They have hit only 43 home runs, which is the twenty-fourth lowest in the MLB. There is not one hitter on the entire team that is batting over .300.
James Loney has been the closest thing to a reliable offensive threat on the entire team. He is batting .293 with 28 RBIs and a couple of home runs. Evan Longoria and Wil Myers, who were predicted to be the team’s leaders in offensive production, have both seriously underwhelmed thus far. Longoria is batting .265 with 5 home runs and 23 RBIs, while Myers is hitting .227 with 5 homers and 25 RBIs.
Nobody expected the Rays to be an offensive powerhouse, but given the struggles of their pitching staff, their problems at the plate have been taxing. By providing minimal run support, the Rays’ lineup is putting more and more pressure on the team’s pitching staff to carry the team.
Overall Grade: F
The Rays are in last place in the American League East, and are 10.5 games behind the first place Toronto Blue Jays. Their 23-34 record is the worst in the American League. Even the Houston Astros, who finished 51-111 last season, are a half game better than the Rays so far. The only two teams in the MLB with worse winning percentages than the Rays at this point in the season are the Chicago Cubs (20-34) and the Arizona Diamondbacks (23-36).
It may seem a bit harsh to give the Rays a failing grade for the season, but I do so not only due to horrible statistical figures. I would argue that a team like the Chicago Cubs deserves a better grade than the Rays do, because nobody expected them to have a quality season. It is bad enough to be the worst team in the American League, but when it is a team that almost everybody predicted to be in the playoff hunt, things are going seriously wrong. The window for the Rays to save their dismal season is rapidly closing as we near the All-Star break. If the Rays don’t turn things around in a big way soon, it may just be too late for them to live up to their playoff expectations.