The Tampa Bay Rays are one of baseball's most talented teams. They have it all. They have very good defense, very good pitching, pretty good power, and above-average speed. They could very well go all the way. Except for one thing: They sometimes are not very smart.
I watch the Rays three to four times a week. I cannot count how many times I have said during a game, "What was the point of that?" Sometimes it's Joe Maddon giving a key player the day off while playing the Red Sox or Yankees, with an off day or the Orioles coming up. Really Joe? You couldn't wait one more day to sit Carl Crawford? Or Carlos Pena?
Sometimes it's strategy. Like having success with the squeeze bunt in certain situations, and then not using it when that same situation comes up again a week later. Or being 114 games into the season but still not settling on a leadoff hitter or a DH.
But most irritating of all are just the boneheaded plays that seem to go unnoticed. At least the announcers don't seem to notice. In Wednesday's game against Detroit, a game that the Rays lost by one run that would have put them back in first place had they won, there were several.
No. 9 hitter Kelly Shoppach drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Leadoff man Dan Johnson had a 2-0 count, then swung at a high fastball and popped it up. Why swing at that? He's thrown six straight balls. Take a strike. Unless it's served up on a tee, let that one go.
Then there was a situation with runners on first and second with one out. The Rays had just tied the game and were finally starting to hit Justin Verlander. Jason Bartlett hit a line drive to right that looked like a sure hit. But the right fielder made a great diving catch. Matt Joyce had already rounded third, so he was easily doubled off. There was only one out. Make sure the ball is going to drop before you take off. This is high school stuff.
But THE most galling play of the day came in the ninth. B.J Upton led off with a walk with the Rays down, 3-1. The tying run came to the plate. And this genius steals. What? Why? Your run is MEANINGLESS! If it's the eighth inning, that's a good play. In the ninth, it's stupid. You should be standing on first base. It's not worth the risk of getting thrown out and losing a precious out and not having the tying run up.
Oh sure, he would say "I'm trying to stay out of the double play." Then break it up when that situation comes up. That's not worth the risk. How would he feel if he got thrown out and then the next pitch got blasted into the upper deck?
Later in the inning, he scored on a groundout. He went into the dugout and everybody is giving him a high-five. Really? You congratulate him for being stupid? A play that dumb should get him chewed out just like loafing after a ball did. He should be fined for that, not congratulated.
Someday, one of your players is going to do something like that it in a postseason game. And it will cost you a game and maybe a title. And the poor guy who does it will be this century's Fred Merkle. Unless Maddon starts doing something about it now, this will happen. It's baseball karma. You keep tempting it, it has a way of getting you in the end.