Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tampa For Real

The Tampa Bay Rays have just lost seven games in a row. The wheels are coming off the bus; the ship is sinking. It’s what everyone’s been waiting for, the little team in the ugly stadium to fold it in and let the AL East to get back to business.

Not so fast.

Now this is not to say that the Rays are going to sweep the Red Sox and blow out the Angels. But make no mistake, the Rays are for real, and they are a serious threat.

As with everything in baseball, it starts with pitching. With the recent slide, the Rays ERA has ballooned a bit, however, they still have an ERA of 3.79, with 4 of their five starters under a 4.00 ERA. The team WHIP is tied for third in all of baseball at 1.27. Of their five starters, the highest WHIP is a fine 1.38. Those numbers go way down at home, where the team ERA is 2.82, with a collected team WHIP at a paltry 1.13. (It’s interesting to note that 6 of the 7 games they’ve lost on the slide have been on the road, and that they won the previous seven games, all at home, including 3 from the Red Sox.) Should the Rays win home field advantage in the playoffs, the threat they pose to the big boys of the AL will be even more daunting.

Their bullpen even more remarkable than the Rays’ excellent starting staff has been nothing short of excellent. Thought to be a weak link before the season (how many people criticized the Troy Percival signing?), the pen has 27 saves so far and runs very deep. Here are some ERAs from the bullpen: Grant Balfour, 1.64; Dan Wheeler, 2.38; Troy Percival, 3.54; J.P. Howell, 2.68. And the bullpen should only get deeper once Al Reyes (out since early June), not to mention Troy Percival, come back off the DL.

The problem comes on the other side of the ball, where the Rays are mainly middle-of-the-pack in batting average, slugging percentage, on base percentage, and most other offensive categories. However, two areas that the Rays are doing quite well in are base on balls and steals. They are third in the AL in walks (with B.J. Upton second only to Jack Cust in walks) and they rule in stolen bases with 101 stolen bases, collectively, and B.J Upton, Carl Crawford, and Jason Bartlett with 18 stolen bases or more each. Their speed and their patience bodes well come playoff time when the quality of pitching goes up and the reliance on the long ball goes down.

Don’t schedule the parade yet, but keep in mind that for years the Rays have drafted high and have acquired a heap of talent---last year’s number 1, David Price has a 1.38 ERA in AA ball---a lot of which is coming to fruition now. They are young, they are dangerous, they are fast.

And they are for real.

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