The Tampa Bay Rays have started the season behind the eight ball, and the squad’s rough start could get even worse. The club relies on pitching, defense and the wizardry of Manager Joe Madden to collect wins. Succeeding as a low budget franchise is extremely difficult, given the big pocketbooks of the Yankees and Red Sox in their division. Nevertheless, the team has always had the attitude that they will find a way to win consistently and remain a contender. The positive attitude could be stretched to the limit as they team struggles to overcome starting pitching injuries and a recent slump by Wil Myers.
Teams with solid starting pitching begin each game with a built in advantage. Before the start of spring training, the Rays starting pitching corps appeared as strong as any in MLB. David Price is a former Cy Young winner who overcame arm troubles last season to finish the season strong. The young starters following him in the rotation also looked formidable for teams playing the Tampa club. Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Archer and Matt Moore form a quality group. Unfortunately, Cobb and Hellickson have been sidelined on the disabled list and Matt Moore’s season is over due to Tommy John surgery on his elbow.
Moore’s injury is particularly distressing. Of all the young pitchers with body wrenching pitch deliveries, such as Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals, Moore’s simple pitching delivery did not appear to put him the same category. Hopefully, his spare pitching mechanics will allow him to recover without future mishap. A possible starter replacement, Alex Colome, is also shelved for 50 games due to a prohibited substances suspension. He tested positive for anabolic steroids. Cobb went down with a strained oblique muscle and Hellickson is recovering from January elbow surgery to remove debris. Until the cavalry arrives from this group, the Rays will have to make due with Erik Bedard, Cesar Ramos and rookie Jake Odorizzi, each of whom has suffered a spanking in their recent starts. The poor pitching by the Rays replacement staff has led to the rough start to the season in Tampa Bay.
The Rays offense is generally sufficient to generate the runs needed, at least when the team’s pitching is good. Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist have done their part, batting .394 and .296, respectively. Right Fielder Wil Myers has not continued his American League rookie of the year success thusfar. He is batting .242. Myers appears to be a streaky hitter based on his results last season. The Rays hope he goes into a more positive cycle soon. Slick fielding Shortstop Yunel Escobar, whose contract was extended by the budget conscious team this off season, is also expected to contribute more at the plate soon as well.
The Tampa Bay Rays always have a small margin for error. Unlike the Red Sox or the Yankees, who can buy an arm or a bat when a player goes down or fails to perform, the Rays have to make due from within. Although their strong farm system continues to deliver quality players to the MLB team, replacing three starters is a tall order. The Rays offense is going to need to carry the load for a while if they are going to overcome the rough season start in Tampa Bay.
Commentary by William Costolo