The Tampa Bay Rays capped off a miserable 2-5 week with a hard-to-watch 5-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. I can scarcely remember all of the good feelings at the end of the first half, when the Rays swept the then first-place Houston Astros. They'll welcome David Price and the Detroit Tigers into the Trop for a three-game series, starting Monday.
I'm lookin forward to the memories of right now, never forgettin from where I came and no matter where Im headed I promise to stay the same— David Price (@DAVIDprice14) July 27, 2015
If you’re a fan of irony, you’ll love this. Tampa Bay's former ace finds himself in a déjà vu scenario ― as with last season, Price will be on hand at the Trop when a decision regarding his future with the Tigers could be made. If he isn’t dealt before Tuesday, he’ll take the mound opposite of Jake Odorizzi in the second game of the set.
The Rays overall subpar play led to a new round of trade rumors toward the middle of last week, as Brad Boxberger, Kevin Jepsen, Jake McGee, David DeJesus and John Jaso all find themselves on the trade bubble. The most likely to be dealt is RHP Kevin Jepsen, who, as Marc Topkin wrote, has served them well in high-leverage situations, but is also headed to $5 million territory next season, his last before free agency.
Reliever Kevin Jepsen, free agent after '16, becoming stronger trade candidate now that #Rays have fallen to 49-51. — Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 26, 2015
Of the many teams seeking relievers, the Cubs ― given their abundance of young hitters ― Astros, Blue Jays and Rangers match up well with the Rays.
Source: Rays are open to buying and selling at the deadline. Significant addition unlikely. http://t.co/J8tEy4PaVp— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) July 23, 2015
In kind, as Chris Cotillo (MLB Daily Dish) asserted on Thursday, the Rays "could look to upgrade offensively," although "a significant addition is unlikely at this point." Of course, the team could stave off the trade rumors if they could put it together as they had in the first 70 games.
Then again, as Matt Baker (Tampa Bay Times) pointed out, the Rays aren’t what you would call an offensive juggernaut:
The #Rays set a club low for fewest runs thru 100 games, and 13 games in a row with <5 runs ties MLB season worst. http://t.co/LiHJgSyqXm — Matt Baker (@MBakerTBTimes) July 27, 2015
To put things into perspective, let’s compare the Rays’ offensive output in the first half of the season with that of the previous two seasons — 2014 when they posted a disappointing 77-85 record, and 2013 when they made their last postseason appearance.
They haven’t gotten on base as often — a combined .240 batting average, .305 on base percentage, .682 OPS, .290 batting average on balls in play, and .300 weighted on base average speak to that — and even though they have a greater power potential this season over last (.138 ISO vs. .130), they just aren’t doing anything with it. Furthermore, the team has struck out more and walked less.
The oversimplified result is 117 fewer runs and 115 fewer RBI than in 2013, and 45 fewer runs and 50 fewer RBI than the previous season, which was considered to be one of the worst in franchise history.
More upsetting, only 13% of base runners scored on balls in play (14% is the league average), while they stranded, on average, 3.34 runners in scoring position* per game.
If the Rays converted just .58 more of those runners in scoring position** into runs, they would have entered the All-Star Break having scored 385 runs; somewhere in-between their 2013 and 2014 midpoint totals. At this rate, Tampa Bay is projected score 591 runs by season’s end — some 21 fewer than in 2014, and 109 fewer than in 2013.
If playing better is the key to staving off the rumors, the team certainly hasn’t shown signs of improvement over the last week. In the series against the Philadelphia Phillies — Major League Baseball’s worst ball club, mind you — Tampa Bay posted a toasty .185 batting average (5-for-27) with runners in scoring position, while scoring eight whole runs...and the team didn’t even face Cole Hamels, who tossed a no-no against the Cubs on Saturday. As for their most recent series versus the Orioles, the Rays went 3-for-14 wRISP (.214 BA) while scoring a grand total of six runs.
That said, I guess this won’t be the last that we hear of trade rumors until Friday at 4:00 pm, when the deadline passes. Sigh.
*Note: that’s better than 2014 and 2013, when they stranded 3.63 and 3.60 respectively.
** The difference between the Rays and Orioles runners left in scoring position.