Tampa Bay Rays' Biggest Early-Season Surprises and Disappointments
The Tampa Bay Rays have had an up-and-down beginning to the 2014 season.
The early results look good, though the process to attain them is concerning.
Their one-game-above-.500 record has come with a lot of inconsistent play. The Rays scored at least seven runs three times in their first five games of the season. The five-run performance against the Texas Rangers in their sixth game of the season is the only time they have been able to score more than three runs since.
One bright note has been the Rays' ability to win one-run games. They are 4-0 so far in games decided by a single run, including two games with a 1-0 final score. If the offense is going to continue to struggle to score, they will need to continue to be efficient in close, minimal-scoring games.
Even though it is early in the season and the sample sizes are tiny, there are some trends that have played a role in the Rays’ early successes and struggles. Let’s take a look at some of the positive surprises and unfortunate disappointments of the first two weeks.
All statistics courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Disappointment: Starting Pitcher Depth
Starting pitching depth was the overwhelmingly single biggest strength the Tampa Bay Rays had coming into 2014. Two weeks into the season, it has become one of their largest concerns.
The rotation was supposed to be one of the most elite in baseball. David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Chris Archer were supposed to be the core to start the season until Jeremy Hellickson could return in June to complete the group.
Things did not go according to plan.
Over the weekend, the Rays announced that Cobb has a strained oblique and is joining Moore and Hellickson on the disabled list.
It is a huge disappointment for the Rays to have to turn to Erik Bedard to fill in as a starter after passing on him for the fifth starter position in the spring. Even more concerning is the potential for Moore to be out for the remainder of this season and potentially into next season if his elbow requires Tommy John surgery.
Cesar Ramos is the team’s only long reliever, and he has already had to start in Moore’s absence, leaving a gap without any qualified arms to fill.
This team does not have the offense to compete in the AL East if it does not have top-notch starting pitching, period.
Injuries cannot be controlled and are a part of the game. That does not make it any less of a disappointment.
Surprise: Chris Archer
Chris Archer has performed exceptionally well in his first two starts of the season. He has a 1-0 record with a 1.36 ERA and has only allowed two earned runs and walked two batters.
It is not surprising that a player who finished in third place for the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2013 would have a good start to the season. What is surprising is the amount of poise and efficiency the young right-hander has displayed.
Archer’s 14.54 pitches per inning is tied with David Price for the fewest among Rays starting pitchers. Fewer pitches can translate into being able to last more innings and requires less use of the bullpen.
With the previously mentioned injuries to the starting rotation, the Rays will have to get every quality inning they can out of Archer and Price.
At the beginning of the season, Archer was a quality fourth starter for the rotation. Two weeks into the season, he is the temporary No. 2 starter.
Right now, the Rays are looking like they got a great deal by signing Archer to a six-year extension to start the year.
Disappointment: Wil Myers
If much is truly required to whom much is given, Wil Myers is not fulfilling his requirements.
The reigning American League Rookie of the Year has been off to a very slow start offensively this season.
Myers finished 2013 with a .293/.354/.478 line that set the bar for his performance to be measured. His .233/.283/.279 line in 2014 are the type of numbers that can ultimately make people use terms like sophomore slump and regress to describe his play.
Myers' early-season disappointments are tied to poor performance in the first two-thirds of games.
He has consistently struggled in the first six innings of games, compiling a .156 batting average (5-for-31) with 11 strikeouts. Good starts to games can result in short outings for opposing starters and run-support for Rays’ starters to allow them cushion to go deeper into games.
Myers will have to increase his offensive performance for the Rays to stay in the running in the AL East as the season progresses.
Surprise: Matt Joyce
Matt Joyce was not chosen to be the Tampa Bay Rays starting left fielder. Instead, his role to begin the season has been to be the team’s primary designated hitter.
As you can expect from most players, Joyce would prefer to be a starting outfielder. With that being said, he is more than willing to DH compared to the alternatives. Before spring training, he shared his thoughts with Bill Chastain from MLB.com.
I'm looking forward to any opportunity I get to help the team. At the end of the day, I'd rather DH than be on the bench. That's what it comes down to.
He has turned that opportunity into a surprising .355/.475/.613 line with two home runs and 7 RBI to start the season. The only thing keeping him out of the lineup more is his continues struggles against left-handed pitchers.
This season, Joyce is hitless against lefties in four at-bats. He has a career .191/.267/.317 line against left-handed pitchers.
All of Joyce’s success this season has come against right-handed pitchers. He has been hitting a very impressive .407/528/.704 in 27 at-bats.
He may have a limited role, but he is making it difficult to remove his bat from the lineup with a right-hander on the mound.