Thursday, July 5, 2007

Everything's fine here... How are you?

Is this rock bottom? Down 13-2 in the 4th inning to the Red Sox and well on the way to an 11th straight loss it looks like the Rays are ready to hit the ground harder than Wile E. Coyote. However, I’m wary of saying it can’t get any worse, because if the Rays have proved anything in the last 10 seasons it’s that it can (and probably will) get worse. So where do they go now?

For starters they head to Kansas City. After a three game series with the Royals the All Star break looms like a mirage in the desert for the battered Rays. The last two months have been costly as they have lost their starting centerfielder (Rocco Baldelli), their 2nd baseman (BJ Upton) and most recently their closer (Al Reyes) to injuries.

With the exception of Carl Crawford who will be flying off to San Francisco to represent them in the Mid Summer Classic the Rays are going to get a much needed break. Without a doubt they need it more than any other team right now. What had been a promising first half at 33-40 has burned to the ground with the 10 game losing streak.

Everyone on the roster is scuffling from the starting pitchers to the starting nine in the field. From Aki (.220) to Carlos Pena (.188) to Ty (.176) no one is hitting in the last two weeks or so. It’s really hard to win when not one single starter is hot. James Shields has cooled off over the last two weeks and is currently riding a 4 game losing streak. Scott Kazmir continues to battle his control and is nothing more than a 5-6 inning pitcher at this point.

Despite all of the chaos that is encircling the team recently there has been one constant and that is Manager Joe Maddon’s optimism.

“Everything’s been good, we just haven’t been winning. It’s a perfect growth moment.” Wow, I’m starting to wonder if California Joe isn’t starting to self-medicate, heavily.

It will be interesting to see if upper management is as patient as the Rays resident philosopher/manager. The firing season in the major leagues has already begun with the sacking of Sam Perlazzo and Jerry Narron.

Removing Maddon from his position will not help. The young players need to have his reassuring presence in the clubhouse. The fire and brimstone method that was the norm under Lou Pinella did not work, so perhaps it’s time to trust in the current leadership.

This season is still one of development for the team. Perhaps the mistake the Rays made was being successful enough to make fans want more. Now fans seem to expect more out of what is a last place team. Right now and for the rest of the season it’s about seeing which of these prospects can play at a major league level. Is Delmon Young ready to realize his fill potential, can Andy Sonnanstine step into the rotation, will Dioner Navarro hit his weight?

Those are questions that need to be answered now not if the Rays can finish next to last instead of in last. In the grand scheme thing of things does that really matter?

The Rays will eventually pull themselves out of this funk, but when they do you have to wonder how much momentum they might have lost from a season that started, if not promising, at least better than normal. Till then hang tough Rays fans.

(Can it get worse? Navarro just knocked in a run with a weak ground ball to first. In doing so he managed to slam his jaw against Josh Beckett’s shoulder and knocked himself woozy. Only with the Rays would an RBI cost them a starting catcher.)

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