The Rays took on the league-worst Philadelphia Phillies in a matinee' rubber match at Citizen's Bank Park. The Rays' sent Jake Odorizzi to the hill, looking to make up for a rocky outing his last time in Toronto, while the Phillies sent the soft-throwing rookie left-hander Adam Morgan to the mound. A solid, consistent performer with a sub-3.00 ERA for the Rays taking on an anemic Phillies offense, and a weak, untested rookie taking on an . . . equally anemic Rays offense - what could go wrong?
In short: Lots of things.
Before jumping into that, the quick version of the game's events is that the Rays found a way to lose in ten innings on a walk off single by Odubel Herrera after trading runs with the Phillies, mainly thanks to Logan Forsythe. The Rays are lucky they even got to extra innings, after being gifted an overturned call on a play at the plate that should have given the Phillies the lead in the bottom of the eighth.
It was bad, real bad, and here's why:
Where is Jake Odorizzi? I ask because the pitcher who took the hill today, the same pitcher who took the five days ago in Toronto, is NOT the Odorizzi we're used to seeing. Where's the control? Where's the confidence? Was he plagued by the weather like the two starters before him?
To Jake's credit, he settled in after the first three innings, but he wasn't solid by any stretch of the imagination.
Odorizzi loaded the bases twice in the first three innings (TWICE!) but luckily, only two runs came out of those instances (read: Luckily, it was the Phillies' offense). Odorizzi hasn't been the same pitcher since his return from the DL. Listening to his postgame interview in Toronto, he sounded exasperated and frustrated. Today, he didn't look any better.
If this wasn't a one off performance, is there still a lingering injury? Is there a new injury that hasn't been disclosed? Because this is not the Jake Odorizzi we're used to seeing every five days.
However, the real arrow to the Achilles ' heel was the same one that has been rearing its ugly head for the past four weeks: the bullpen, and public enemy number one was once again Brandon Gomes.
The man now has two consecutive appearances in which he allowed 2 earned runs in less than an inning of work. His 4.06 ERA speaks volumes. His splitter doesn't break, it hangs. that is the opposite of what a splitter should do.
Gomes gifted the number eight man, Cody Asche, a two run home run, giving the Phillies a 4-3 lead at the time before getting hooked in favor of Xavier Cedeno, a weak bright spot in the ‘pen of late. Gomes is bad and there are two things that shock me about his use: Why do you trot him out there in a high leverage situation and why is he on the roster in the first place?
The first question is just another in a long line of questionable pitching management at the hands of Kevin Cash. The second baffles me. We have better options at AAA. Belatti, Riefenhauser, and to a lesser extent in my view, Yates, are all available. Belatti has had success with the big club this season, the others are probably league average. What has Gomes done to keep his roster spot?
There are more pitching management questions that I'll leave to you fine readers in the comments, such as Jake McGee's usage and why Kevin Jepsen continues to falter in tight spots.
The Rays' radio broadcasters said it best: If you're a little leaguer looking to learn how to play like the pros, don't watch today's Rays' game.
You know it's bad when Evan Longoria commits an error on a ground ball FROM THE PITCHER. While certainly disappointing and eyebrow raising, coming off the heel of the glove from one of the most sure-handed third baseman in the league, we can somewhat forgive the error and give Longo the benefit of the doubt. Bad luck hits everyone and Evan is spot on more often than not.
The very next play and the resulting throwing error by Rene Rivera, however is not so forgivable. On a soft groundball in front of the plate, Rivera had two choices: Take the guaranteed out at first and keep the dangerously fast Ben Revere off the base paths, or try to get the lead runner at second. Now, anyone who knows baseball fundamentals knows the correct answer: Top of the second inning, down by two with one out, you should just take the out.
Oh nay, nay!
Rivera made the ill-advised throw down to second, bouncing the throw in, and allowing all runners to be safe. Two on with one out, which would eventually lead to another bases loaded situation. Luckily, Ryan Howard lined out to center after a Freddy Galvis fly out, saving the Rays' any more of a deficit.
Even Brandon Guyer fell victim to failed fundamentals. The normally alert and fleet-footed centerfielder made it to second after a Steven Souza single with no outs and the Rays' first rally seeming to take hold . . . until Morgan caught him sleeping and he was picked off at second.
And let's not even talk about James Loney's 'Buckner' on a crucial play late in the game. I'm still furious. But he also turned a great double play, so let's remember that instead.
Yet when the defense took a day off, the offense couldn't click, despite eighteen base runners on the afternoon.
This one usually goes without saying for the Rays. Rays' baseball is not predicated on run-scoring, but run-prevention. We know that. As much as we all despair over our lack of production at the plate, we Rays' faithful have learned to accept our reality.
Unfortunately, when the defense and pitching, the Rays' keystones to success are failing at an alarmingly recurring clip, the impotent offense is a glaring problem.
Rene Rivera's on-base percentage couldn't buy a pack of gum, much less his batting average. And of course, it's Rivera who finds his way to the plate with the bases loaded in the second, and two on in the fourth. Nothing like a three-strikeout performance and a 0-for-5 overall to make for a fun day at the park.
Even Longoria finds his way into this discussion too. As has been a growing topic of conversation in Tampa Bay's sports media, I too ask the question, "Where did Evan's power go?"
Longo's only hit in five trips to the plate was a double that he crushed to left field. I've seen that swing and heard that contact off of his bat before and I immediately thought it was gone, only to see it bound off the warning track, in a hitter's ballpark no less.
One can make the argument that it was a windy day in Philadelphia and, with the breeze carrying to right, righties were going to have a tough time clearing the fences. However, this was one that should have found the seats and is the latest in a growing trend of Longoria losing his stroke.
Even watching him swing the bat, it seems he's generating his power from his arms and upper body alone, with no drive from his legs. Is this a bad habit Evan fell into recovering from injury over the past few seasons or is this an example of another topic in local media conversations: the fault of hitting coach Derek Shelton. Feel free to debate below.
To wrap this long-winded soap box recap up, this game was a microcosm of the Rays' season. Every problem the Rays have faced so far this season showed up at once, against the very worst team in baseball:
- The offense, outside of Logan Forsythe, can't hit its way out of a wet paper bag.
- The starting pitcher looked fatigued and couldn't find any sense of stability. He was lifted earlier in the game and looked furious for it, and then the bullpen blew it.
- Yes, the bullpen with the most mileage of any in the majors this season is showing severe signs of fatigue, and the management brain trust on how to utilize it seems like they're just pushing buttons and hoping to find the right answer.
- And the cornerstone defense was inconsistent. Players couldn't think straight. It was tough to watch, as yet again, the Rays snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory against a subpar opponent.
The Rays are (God bless it) still in the hunt in the AL East, but something has to change and fast.
It needs to start with leadership. Players need to be held accountable. Management needs to learn how to use the tools at its disposal. And, I know this is a long shot, but the front office needs to find some way to bring some offensive spark to this lineup.
The season's not over, but the collective Tampa Bay Rays need to look in the mirror after this game and this series and this road trip, and ask itself "Where do we go from here?"
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