The month of April was unkind to the last place Tampa Bay Rays. For a lean budget team constructed on pitching and defense, losing three starting pitching mainstays kills the mojo, even with mojo king Joe Madden as manager. Matt Moore is on the shelf for the season after Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb sit on IR with elbow issues and an oblique strain, leaving only David Price and Chris Archer as the remaining starters in the rotation. “Patch work” is the best phrase to describe the rotation through April. Hitting might have been enough with the full starting rotation intact, but the bats failed to pick up the slack. Even the usually stellar defense failed in a bumbling four error sixth inning against the White Sox on April 27.
The Rays sit at 11-16 through the end of April, good enough for last place in the difficult American League East. The team is 1-4 halfway through a 10 game road gauntlet. The squad plays the Red Sox in a double header today and then heads to the Big Apple for a three game series against the Yankees. Luckily for the Rays, the other East teams have had rough starts, with only the Bronx Bombers sporting a winning record.
The Rays overall ERA of 4.41 ranks number 10 in the AL based on a total of 124 runs surrendered. The final ERA for the season last year was 3.74. The hitting for the team might have been adequate with a full complement of starters, but the 4.15 runs produced per game so far this season and .249 batting average do not make up for the lower than usual pitching quality. While the difference between the runs produced and the runs given up shows the bottom has not dropped out, the margin for success is very slight. For the pitchers, only Chris Archer and David Price have posted winning records through month’s end with Archer at 2-1 and Price at 3-2.
Top Rays Pitcher for April – Chris Archer ranks as the top pitcher for the month with his 4.11 ERA, edging out Price with an ERA of 4.75. Archer pitches better at the Trop, with both wins coming at home and an ERA of 2.13. In comparison, Archer struggles on the road with an ERA of 5.50. Hopefully, Pitching Coach Jim Hickey can teach Archer how to pitch effectively on the road in his second MLB season. The Rays have high expectations for the pitcher. Archer signed a six year contract extension this spring with over $25 million of guaranteed money from the budget conscious team. The Rays have an additional two year option to extend the deal.
Top Rays Player for April – Ben Zobrist beats Evan Longoria by as the top Rays player for the month. Zobrist has a .302 batting average coupled with a .390 on base percentage. Longo is batting .286 and his OBP is .342. None of the Rays hit for power this season. Zobrist leads the squad with three home runs. Matt Joyce was also a contender for top player because of his team leading .328 average, but Joyce does not collect as many plate appearances as Zobrist.
While the bullpen has not been very effective, as highlighted by Tuesday night’s 7-4 loss to the Red Sox in which Erik Bedard gave up one run in five innings, the Rays starters must produce more quality starts in order for the team to win with any consistency. The month of April was a tough one for the Tampa Bay Rays. With news that Alex Cobb is pitching some in practice, maybe better results are on the horizon.
Commentary by William Costolo