Saturday, July 19, 2008

A baseball post?

I had posted awhile back that I wasn’t going to write about the Rays unless they hit a losing streak or the All-Star break. It was nice of them to roll it into one package. The team thundered into the 4 day break with an impressive 7 game losing streak. Everything that could go wrong did. The offense remained dormant, the pitching faltered and the normally reliable defense scuffled a bit.

As quickly as the national media jumped on the bandwagon they jumped off. It took the Rays roughly 5 minutes to blow the 4 game lead they had built over the Red Sox. The “I told you so’s” are lined up and ready to go.

I told you they couldn’t handle the pressure
I told you they were too young to know how to win
I told you their offense wasn’t good enough
I told you their bullpen was smoke and mirrors

Well folks let settle down a bit. No one likes a 7 game losing streak, even a franchise that is accustomed to them like Tampa Bay. However, if there is ever a time for a losing streak it was right before the break. The majority of the team got to take a break. They got to put the bats away and decompress a bit. The bullpen, which has seen a lot of work lately, got to take a few days off.

Having a clean break from the losing streak should be beneficial for the young team. If this had happened in the middle of August the losses would keep piling on, each day more pressure to win, each loss garnering more negative press. Now that they’ve had a chance to shut it down they can start the second half of the season fresh and remain a factor in the American League.

So what do they need to do to run with the big dogs? Quite simply hit the ball. 4,0,1,2,0,4,2,2 - those are the runs scored by the Rays in their last eight games That’s not going to get it done. Neither is 5 for 58 with runners in scoring position. How do they change that? The overriding theory is by bringing in a right handed bat. The names that seem to be garnering the most notoriety on the internets are Matt Holliday and Jason Bay.

While big deadline deals are sexy, especially when you’re a buyer instead of a seller for the first time in franchise history, they don’t necessarily pay off in the end. The biggest deal in 2007, Mark Teixeira to the Braves for a gaggle of prospects propelled them to a fantastic 3rd place finish in the National League East. The teams that made the American League playoffs in 2007 all made minor moves. The eventual champs, the Red Sox, picked up Eric Gagne who’s impact was minimal at best.

From reports it seems the Pirates are asking for the moon for Bay and Xavier Nady. It could cost teams as much as 2 premium prospects to acquire either of them. The Rays could put a package together that would satisfy Pittsburgh needs, but would it be worth it? Assuming David Price is off the table, what would the reaction be in losing Jeff Neimann, Desmond Jennings or Reid Brignac? While Bay is a big name and a big bat his defense in the outfield leaves a lot to be desired.

In Holliday’s case the Coors Field factor has to be a consideration. Ten of his fifteen homeruns this year are at the friendly confines in Denver. His road average is a respectable .301, but is 56 points below what he hits at home. There is also his contract. He is in the first year of a 2 year $23 million contract. That would be a lot of money for the frugal Rays to invest in an outsider.

Most likely the offense will have to come from players already on the team. Carlos Pena, BJ Upton and Carl Crawford are the names that immediately jump out as ones who need to turn it up. Pena seemed to be warming up as he hit .294 with two homeruns in the nine games before the All-Star break. If he can stay healthy and provide the type of offense that justifies his large contract than it will be similar to picking up a new player.

Upton has slumped recently, hitting .190 in the month of July, but has been steady if not spectacular for most of the season. Coach Joe Madden may want to think about moving Upton to the leadoff spot. With his power numbers down and his walk numbers up he may be better suited to hit leadoff. That would leave Aki Iwamura without a spot in the line up, but as anemic as the offense has been it might not be a bad idea to try some players in different spots.

Crawford seems to be a victim of his own success. As the only bright spot for a dismal franchise for many years CC is suffering through his first down year. It was a year that many had high hopes for, including Crawford. He is a notorious streaky hitter and seems to be striking the ball a lot harder in recent games. If he starts getting on and wreaking havoc on the bases it will lead to better pitches for the heart of the order behind him.

There is still a lot of ball to be played this season. One losing streak is not the end of the world for this team, but they must find their offense or they face risk proving the naysayers right.

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