The All-Star break came at the perfect time for a Rays team that finished the first half by dropping back to back road series to the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees. The first half curtain dropped with the Rays 6 games behind the first place Red Sox and 5 games behind the second place Yankees. The Rays second half of the season begins at Tropicana Field with a 3-game series against the Boston Red Sox followed by a 4 game series with the New York Yankees. After the Rays finish the 7 game home stand they will head out on a 10 game road trip featuring 3 games against the Kansas City Royals, 4 against the Oakland A's, and 3 against the Seattle Mariners. The end of the road trip will coincide with the non-waiver trading deadline which means that the team that leaves St. Petersburg next Thursday evening may be very different upon its return on July 31st.
In order to contend n the AL East or for the wild card the Rays will need to improve their offense in the second half. The Rays were held to 3 runs or less 42 times (46.7% of their games!) and were 9-33 in those games. Evan Longoria only played in 61 games in the first half and never seemed to find his rhythm. Entering 2011 Longoria's career slash line read .283/.361/.521 and in the first half of 2011 he has a sub-par slash line of .239/.321/.459.
Matt Joyce got off to a sizzling start posting a slash line of .370/.430/.636 with 24 extra base hits in 186 PA through May 31st but from June 1st to July 12th he posted a slash line of .163/.224/.317 with 10 extra base hits in 116 PA. The Rays offense will benefit greatly if the pair of Joyce and Longoria can find their stride during the second half.
The Rays will have to get increased production from the shortstop and catching position. Overall the Rays shortstops have combined to put up a slash line of .205/.252/.301, well below the league average of .264/.320/.386/ Reid Brignac had a miserable first half hitting .193/.238/.222, Elliot Johnson hit .205/.268/.348 with most of his PA coming at shortstop, and Sean Rodriguez is an option to fill in at the position but has sparingly there garnering 40 PA (most of his playing time come at 2b against left handed pitching). Ideally, the Rays would like to have Brignac's glove in at shortstop nearly every day, hopefully, the offense will pick up in other areas and give Joe Maddon this luxury.
The Rays catchers have posted a slash line of .199/.287/.330 while the league average is .235/.305/.377. John Jaso had a very disappointing first half hitting .220/.300/.339 and will open the second half on the disabled list with an oblique injury. Kelly Shoppach hit a miserable .158/.276/.304 but did provide a little punch against left handed pitching by posting a slash line of .227/.346/.379. Jose Lobaton, who was last in the big leagues with the Padres in 2009, will get his chance behind the plate after an impressive season with the Durham Bulls where he posted a slash line of .293/.410/489 with 19 extra base hits including 8 home runs.in 224 PA.
Finally, the Rays could use a right handed bat who can play first base and maybe some outfield. Someone who could take some pressure off Casey Kotchman against left handed pitching and allow Joe Maddon to give him some days off during the second half and provide some right handed power off the bench. Juan Rivera would've filled the role nicely but the Blue Jays sent him to the L.A. Dodgers. Now, the ideal candidate in Willy Mo Pena seems to be available for the Rays as he has been designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks.