Tampa Bay Rays' Players Who Must Step Up in Order to Make the Playoffs

Andrew BurtonCorrespondent IIIAugust 20, 2012

Tampa Bay Rays' Players Who Must Step Up in Order to Make the Playoffs

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    As of Monday morning, the Tampa Bay Rays sit five games behind the New York Yankees in the American League East, but they hold the first wild-card spot in the AL.

    In their last 10 games, the Rays are 8-2. However, their production cannot just depend on two or three guys. There are a number of players that have to take their game up to the next level in order for Tampa Bay to make the playoffs, especially in a competitive division like the American League East.  

Carlos Pena

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    Tampa Bay's first basemen, Carlos Pena, is typically the No. 2 hitter in the Rays' lineup; however, with 146 strike outs, he needs to concentrate a bit harder if he and his team look to progress farther than a wild-card appearance.  

    With that amount of Ks, it's no surprise that Pena is batting .193, and what should be more of a concern is his average against American League opponents—Pena's batting .195 with a mere 69 hits in 354 at-bats. Versus right-handed pitching, Carlos is hitting .211—this has to increase for the Rays to stand a chance in the AL. 

    Pena is the Rays' everyday first basemen; therefore, he still has many plate appearances remaining, but if he doesn't improve, his lack of performance could be Tampa's demise. 

Sean Rodriguez

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    Sean Rodriguez needs to take his game to the next level, but it won't get any easier. Rodriguez is batting just .207 away from Tropicana Field. Keeping an eye on the playoffs while looking at the remainder of the season, it's only going to get tougher for the infielder.

    Tampa Bay's remaining away games include series against the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees.  

    If the Wild-Card game started today, the Rays would be pitted against the Baltimore O's—that's bad news for Rodriguez. He has a career average of just .185 in 65 at-bats. His OBP is .221 against the O's, but he's also struck out 15 times. 

    I also must add that when Evan Longoria returns to third, Rodriguez will have to become acclimated returning to shortstop. While it shouldn't be difficult for the utility infielder, it will take an adjustment. 

    Rodriguez needs to find his groove in order for the Rays to stand a chance in making the playoffs. 

James Shields

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    James Shields is Tampa's No. 1 pitcher, but David Price is having such an incredible year that it appears Shields isn't doing as good of a job as he should be. 

    With a record of 11-7 and an ERA of 4.03, Shields doesn't look as effective as he did last year. Before you tell me I haven't been watching Shields pitch, let me say that I have.

    His most recent start against the Angels wasn't that bad, but he reached 100 pitches in only six innings. As a manager, you want your ace to give you at least seven innings to save the bullpen for later during the week.

    The start before Los Angeles, Shields pitched against a weaker Minnesota Twins team. Here, he received a no decision for a seven-inning outing—only striking out two. The Twins aren't nearly as dangerous as the American League East rivals, so Rays fans should be concerned. 

    If Tampa Bay has any hope of making the playoffs, Shields' remaining starts have to be spectacular. 

Jeremy Hellickson

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    Jeremy Hellickson was thought to be the middle-of-the-rotation guy that the Rays could depend on. This season, he doesn't look as promising as he once did.

    In his last three starts, Hellickson is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA. In these three starts, the starting pitcher has given up eight earned runs over 16 innings pitched, and he's accumulated over 300 pitches.   

    The loss that stands out most to me came against the Orioles. In this game, Hellickson tossed four innings surrendering eight hits and four earned runs. This terrible outing will be in the back of all Rays fans' minds, especially with six games remaining against the O's—and it's highly likely that IF Tampa makes the playoffs, they will be against Baltimore. 

    Why is that significant? Well, if Shields and Price tossed in the games prior to that one-game elimination, manager Joe Maddon might give Hellickson the ball; anything's possible in baseball. 

Jose Molina

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    Jose Molina is the veteran on the team of youngsters, but he better find the Fountain of Youth quick if he looks to help Tampa Bay reach the playoffs.

    Against left-handed pitching, Molina is batting an abysmal .118. He fairs 110 points better against righties (hitting .228). But what could you expect from a 37 year old? 

    Molina becomes more of a liability behind the plate. Opposing teams have stolen 27 bases in his 71 games played as the catcher; his brother Yadier, of St. Louis, has allowed one more stolen base in 101 games played. See the problem?  

    If the Rays have any chance of making the playoffs, they need to keep runners off the bases, or prevent them from advancing to scoring position. If they can't do this, they might find themselves not advancing to the playoffs. 

Luke Scott

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    If Tampa Bay can put runs on the board for their starting pitchers, they're a deadly team, but without those runs, they're just not so intimidating. That's where DH Luke Scott comes into play. 

    When Luke Scott returns from the DL, he's expected to take the designated hitter spot back. Scott was batting .225 with 12 home runs and 45 runs batted in before he was moved to the disabled list with back problems. This kind of production will be needed for the Rays to make the playoffs, or even advance further than that. 

    Luke hasn't been in Tampa's lineup since July 20. Picking up where he left off a month ago will be extremely difficult, but the Rays playoff hopes depend on his bat. After all, they are much better with him than they are without him. 

Evan Longoria

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    Don't get me wrong, Evan Longoria has done wonders for the Rays' ballclub since his return to the lineup, but as a DH, Tampa Bay is not getting the full affect. 

    He's hitting .299 in 34 games played with an OBP of .385 in the 2012 season.  

    Longoria's bat is great and his glove is solid as well—he's got a .900 fielding percentage in 23 games at third base this year.

    With No. 3 on the diamond, he can make the routine plays—and those not-so-routine plays. 

    Yahoo! Sports' writer Tim Brown mentions that Longoria will play a crucial role in Tampa Bay's chase for a playoff berth. 

    "The re-entry has been slow. His stroke's not quite right. The timing is a tick off. The season won't wait. He homered Thursday for the first time since returning and singled as part of Friday's gang-up on Weaver. The Rays need him, and he knows it, and that's just the way things seemingly have always been in St. Petersburg."

    Without Evan returning to true-Longoria form, the Rays' will have no chance at getting into the playoffs, let alone advancing.