Rays vs. Royals, Game 2: When did it become 2009 again?

USA TODAY Sports

Judging by how the Rays have been playing recently, we seem to have entered a time-warp.

Things are just not going the Rays' way right now. When the offense isn't hitting, the pitching staff churns out gems. When the offense provides a bunch of runs, the bullpen gives up the lead. There have been times this season when the Rays have looked as good as we thought they'd be this season, but for the most part? They've looked like a mess.

Tonight was one of those frustrating games. The Rays jumped out to an easy lead thanks to solo home runs from Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist in the first inning, and they tacked on four more runs by the top of the fourth to lead the game 6-1. Hellickson allowed 10 baserunners in only five innings, and the Royals scored another three runs off him before he left after the fifth inning. His final line wasn't pretty -- five innings, nine hits, four runs, one walk -- but even then, he still left the game with a two run lead. The Rays bullpen should be able to hold that lead, right? Right?

Well, Jake McGee entered the game, and as you likely can guess, six hits and one walk later (one of the hits came off Farnsworth), the Royals have tacked on another five runs and taken the lead. The Rays added runs in the top of the seventh off some clutch hits from Zobrist, Longoria, Loney, Escobar, and Scott, but it wasn't enough to tie the game. C'est le vie.

This has been a far-too-common story for the Rays this season: the team takes a lead, but their pitching staff then hands that lead away. The Rays have been handing away leads left and right this season, and as Michael pointed out earlier, their bullpen has been a replacement-level disaster. It's reminding me more and more of the 2009 season, when the Rays had (arguably) their strongest team on paper of any year, but they ended the season a disappointing 84-78 thanks to an under-performing bullpen.

On one hand, what I'm seeing so far this season has me worried and freaking out a little bit on the inside. On the other hand, it's still only May 1st. We're in that awkward part of the season where it's been going on for a while and it feels like there has been enough time to draw large conclusions about player and teams, but in actuality, we're a mere 17% of the way into the season. There's still a ton of time to go, and despite everything, the Rays are a mere 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. It's not like the Rays are far away from taking things to the next level; if their bullpen started pitching half as well as it did last season, the Rays would be in considerably better shape.

Anyone, on to other thoughts and observations from the game:

  • Luke Scott went three for three tonight, and he hit his first home run of the season. He also had a great at bat in the seventh inning, working the count and then driving an outside pitch into left field for a single to keep the ongoing rally alive. I know it's way too early to draw conclusions on him, but it was very nice to see regardless.
  • Matt Joyce hit a home run in May? Never saw that coming!
  • Farnsworth actually got a strikeout! Was it just me, or did Kyle Farnsworth look like a very different pitcher tonight than he had earlier this season? His velocity was way up -- fastballs sat around 94-95 MPH -- and he got two swing-and-misses on a mere seven pitches. Here's hoping that sticks around some.
  • Jake McGee continued to have struggles with his fastball command, and the Royals smacked him around plenty. I still believe that he has tons of potential and will turn it around, but he needs to get his command fixed.
  • I'm still not wow'd by Hellickson, and he was relatively lucky to get away with only allowing four runs (considering how many baserunners he allowed), but there was good news on the night: he had a total of 11 swinging strikes (12%). Helly is missing bats more often this year, which is a very good sign going forward.
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