June 6, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees catcher Russell Martin (55) tags out Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Ben Zobrist (18) after striking out during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. Yankees won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
When I was a kid we played a schoolyard game called Kill The Man With The Ball which was simply a game where a football was thrown up in the air and whoever caught it had to prove how tough he was in getting through everyone trying to kill him and reach the end zone. This meant one young mans bravado was up against 15 rabid youths who were out to destroy him. Usually it wasn't a giant hit that took a player down it was a slow progression of being slowed down, then having shirt tugged on and ripped, and finally falling down under a heap of bodies.
Once fallen arms began pulling at the ball to break it free and for some reason, maybe due to stubborn youth, the player held onto the ball until the realization came that he could not breath anymore and his arms broke the clench he had on the ball and he relinquish it. One lucky (or unlucky) brave child ended up with the ball and the process repeated itself. Unfortunately for the loser at the bottom of the pile the ability to breath was still in question as the mob still had to make its way off his back. During this time the loser at the bottom of the pile will begin to squirm, scream, and maybe even cry. Panic and anxiety filled the brain and remained there until a fresh gasp of air filled the lungs. Once that first breath of air was inhaled the poor loser began his new role as a rabid pursuer of the new loser who was holding that ball that was rightly his.
In many of the same way, the Rays have become the team that hasn't fallen like a rock but has rather been slowed, had their shirts torn, and are falling under a heap of bodies. As Rays fans we play the role of the unfortunate soul at the bottom of the pile looking for a gasp of fresh air. We know our lives aren't going to end, we know that breath of air is going to fill our lungs soon, but we just don't know when.
The Rays are being shut down by left handed pitchers, right handed pitchers, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers. They are failing to put up the big inning and have fallen victim to poor defense and allowing the opposition to put up the big inning as well as tack on key runs late. I am confident this will change but don't know when and I don't know if it will happen over night or if it will be a gradual build up. I don't know if it will be before or after Evan Longoria returns to the lineup. Is my confidence a fans folly or is there reason for optimism?
These are some of the questions being asked and they are fair questions and the answers to them will certainly go a long way to defining the 2012 Rays.
- Is Ben Zobrist playing at his new norm or is he simply in a funk?
- Is Luke Scott battling some shoulder fatigue, has he developed some bad habits after missing so much time in 2011, or is he just in a slump?
- Is Carlos Pena going to snap back after a bad month of May or is he going to continue to falter through the summer?
- How much of an impact will the return of Desmond Jennings, Evan Longoria, and Jeff Keppinger have on the Rays offense?
- At 100% full strength is the Rays offense a concern or a big asset?