In the tight American League East battle, it may take just one key transaction or one player stepping up to reach the postseason. We all know how the Rays are built: solid depth in the starting pitching rotation, a strong bullpen (albeit overused) and spectacular defense; all in an effort to limit opposition runs. However, scoring a few extra runs might be the difference in the Rays returning to the playoffs, as demonstrated by their recent 2-8 home stand.
Despite the Rays focus on pitching, Evan Longoria remains the face of the franchise, and rightfully so. Looking at the back of his baseball card, his statistics speak for themselves. However, his power and run production have dropped off over the past few seasons.
At the age of 29 he remains in the prime of his career and is the only feared batter in the Rays lineup day in and day out. So what gives?
One reason may be the lingering wrist issue he and Kevin Cash have mentioned on more than one occasion this season. My explanation however is............Carlos Pena.
Yes, the same Los we all loved to hate for all those strikeouts, Pena provided a long ball threat behind Longo that no other player has been able to do since. Longoria's best power numbers were 2008-2010, when Longoria was protected by Pena in the Rays lineup.
Let's look at the numbers: Pena hit 31, 39 and 28 homers with an OPS of .871, .893 and .732 in those years respectively allowing Longo to hit 27, 33 and 22 homers and driving in 100 RBI's for the only 2 times in his career.
Since Los has left, Longo has been protected in the lineup by names such as Luke Scott, Matt Joyce, Logan Forsythe and David DeJesus, just to name a few. Not names that will intimidate a pitcher or change a coaches game plan going into a series. Longo continues to put up good numbers, but the power and run production remain down. He seems less disciplined at the plate, trying to do more than just a single player is capable of.
So what if the Rays could add a bat that has 13 homers this season......23 last season......and nearly 350 in his career.
Enter Ryan Howard.
Yes I am aware he is 35 years old and not the player he was when he faced the Rays in the 2008 World Series due to injuries, but he is a player who will likely be available and one the Rays should consider if the Phillies are willing to eat most of his $25 million dollar annual salary. His strikeouts may rival Carlos Pena's but the long ball threat behind Longoria could be the player we need to help push our Rays into October.
Longoria/Howard may not remind you of Ortiz/Ramirez or Mantle/Maris, but it may help relive the magic of Longoria/Pena. Didn't those 2 reach a World Series together?