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B.J. Upton igniting the Rays’ offense: A fan’s take
The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 5-2 on Sept. 26 to pull into a tie with the Boston Red Sox in the AL wild-card race. While the Red Sox have imploded in September (going 6-19), the Rays have managed to play good, solid baseball, posting a 15-10 record.
The starting pitching for the Rays has been stellar all season. Overall, the Rays' pitching staff ranks second in the American League with a 3.58 ERA. Pitching hasn't been the issue for the Rays in 2011.
An incredibly inconsistent offense is the issue that the Rays have battled all season long. At .243, the Rays have the second worst team batting average in the AL. On any given night, they feature a lineup with two or three players who are hitting below .200.
During their September run, the Rays' offense has shown some signs of life. In 14 of their 15 wins, the Rays have scored five runs or more. Desmond Jennings(notes) has provided a spark at the top of the lineup since he was brought up from Triple-A Durham in July. His batting average has slipped in September, but he's still managed to score 21 runs. Evan Longoria(notes) has continued to be a solid run producer in 2011 with 29 home runs and 95 RBIs. Ben Zobrist(notes), Matt Joyce(notes), Johnny Damon(notes) and Casey Kotchman(notes) have been solid, providing key hits down the stretch.
However, there is one Ray who's truly ignited the offense in September.
Ever since Joe Maddon moved him to second in the batting order, B.J. Upton(notes) has been red hot. In 21 games as the Rays' No. 2 hitter, Upton is hitting .375 with five home runs, 14 RBIs, 20 runs, seven stolen bases and an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.14. He's been one of the hottest hitters in all of baseball.
Upton's September performance is why he's so maddening to Rays fans. It's always a roller coaster with him at the plate. He has stretches (like he's having now) when he's one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. Those are the times when he realizes his full potential, and you start to wonder what this guy could do if he could play this well all season.
Then just as fast as he got hot, he goes ice cold. He goes from being one of the most dangerous hitters in the game to looking as confused as a 20-year-old rookie. He gets blown away by 85 mph fastballs and takes more called third strikes than any hitter in the league. Rays fans are left pulling their hair out, wondering what's wrong with this guy.
There is no doubt that Upton is one of the most gifted athletes in all of baseball. He can do everything on a baseball field. He can run, hit for power, hit for average; he has a cannon for an arm and no other player covers more ground in the outfield.
The Rays may never see Upton achieve his full potential for a full season. After the 2012 season, he'll be a free agent, and it's unlikely the Rays will be able to re-sign him. He may even be traded after the 2011 season.
All of that will be worked out in the future. For now, the Rays are satisfied that Upton picked the perfect time to play his best baseball. He's fulfilling his potential just when the Rays need him the most.
Sean McDonnell has been a resident of the Tampa Bay area for the past 21 years. He is an avid fan of the Tampa Bay Rays; Tampa Bay Bucs and USF Bulls.
*Statistical information provided by Yahoo! Sports
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