Serious question: how is this team currently in first place?
I'm not trying to be snarky or a downer or depressing, just...how has this team managed to do so well? Not only are they in first place in the AL East, but even with tonight's loss, they have one of the best records in all of baseball. And when you consider all the things that have gone wrong this year -- copious amounts of injuries, a suddenly error-prone defense, and disappointing performances from Luke Scott and Carlos Pena -- I'm somewhat in shock that the Rays have managed a .500 record, nonetheless their current .574 mark.
This is a team where Chris Giminez has nearly as many plate appearances as Evan Longoria. Where they've had to trade for two replacement-level players due to injuries, immediately placed them into the lineup....and hit one of them cleanup. Their defense has fallen apart, starting way back with Longoria's error-fest early this season, and it's yet to improve. The offense is a disaster against left-handed pitchers, and it's not about to get better until Longoria gets back.
There are some nights -- plenty of them, considering their record -- where the Rays have made us forget about all of these factors. They've managed to piece together wins through strong pitching and just enough offense to get by, but then there are those other nights. The nights where it becomes all too obvious that this team is eking by and is really lucky to have such a favorable record right now.
Tonight? Tonight was one of those other nights.
It all started in the first inning. James Shields got Derek Jeter out easily enough, and then Curtis Granderson managed to sneak a grounder through a heavy infield shift for a single. Nothing to worry about yet...but then Jose Molina let a ball in the dirt get by him, A-Rod walked, and Robinson Cano hits a grounder right back to Shields that he deflects and no one is able to grab. Just like that, it's bases loaded with one out and Mark Teixeira is coming to bat.
What's really irritating is that Shields should have escaped the inning with no damage. Teixeira struck out for the second out, and then Shields got Ibanez to hit a grounder right at Elliot Johnson. Johnson didn't set his feet, though, and half-heartedly flipped the ball to first, where it landed beyond Carlos Pena's reach and bounced past him. Two runs and six pitches later, the Rays finally finished the inning.
As it turns out, I could have turned the game off right there -- Andy Pettitte was dealing like the Andy Pettitte of old (helped along by the Rays' lackluster offense vs. lefties, I'm sure), and the Rays managed only four hits and six baserunners all game. They also seemed to be playing half asleep on defense -- they made three errors on the night, and there were times when they just looked lethargic out there. This team has a ton of great defensive players on it, so this stretch of poor defense is really odd. They need to break out of it, and soon.
- James Shields was in classic Yieldsian form tonight, allowing a grand slam in the fourth to Russell Martin. His peripherals suggest he's emerging as a bonafide ace....buuuut at the same time, he's still the same old Yields we know and love.
- B.A. and Staats shared a fun story early in the game about how the Rays reacted when they heard Matt Joyce wasn't in the lineup today. All the players reenacted a scene from "Rudy", all coming into Maddon's office and putting their uniforms on his desk. Apparently it was all in good fun, though, as Maddon stuck to his guns and there didn't seem to be a revolt. But yeah, I can understand the Rays wanting Joyce in their lineup, considering this is what we get when he's not in there.
- If there was one silver lining from tonight's game, Cesar Ramos saved the rest of the bullpen by pitching three full innings. And he was actually quite effective; he only allowed one hit and struck out four hitters over those innings.
Am I the only one that didn't realize Ramos was on the Rays roster right now? I know I've been a bit spacey in recent weeks, but huh, that surprised me.