The Tampa Bay Rays are struggling.
The Rays swept the New York Yankees during the first weekend of the season and all was right in Tampa Bay. The offense was productive and the pitching staff was good enough to hold off the Yankees potent lineup.
What a difference a week and a 10-game road trip can make. The Rays began the road trip by dropping two out of three to the AL Central favorite Detroit Tigers. They followed that series up by dropping three out of four to the Boston Red Sox, their division rival.
On April 17, the Tampa Bay Rays road show moved across the border to Canada to face another AL East rival, the Toronto Blue Jays. Showcasing an average offense, substandard defense and lackluster pitching the Rays dropped the first game of the series against the Blue Jays.
Through 8 of the 10 games on this road trip the Rays are a dismal 2-6. If not for James Shields and his stellar outings against the Tigers and Red Sox (where he pitched into through the 8th inning in each game en route to securing two wins) the Rays may not have anything positive to show for this trip.
Much of the blame for the Rays struggles can be placed on the bullpen. With the exception of Fernando Rodney (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 4 saves), the Rays bullpen has been routinely torched. Tuesday night was no exception. Four Rays' relievers combined to give up four hits, three walks and two earned runs in just three innings pitched.
It's easy to place all of the blame for the Rays struggles on the pitching staff, but they're not the only group failing to produce. The Rays offense has been anemic as well.
The Rays have been held to three runs or fewer in five of their last eight games. On the current road trip they're averaging a paltry 2.9 runs per game. While Carlos Pena (.390, 3 home runs, 11 RBIs) and Luke Scott (.318, 2 home runs, 8 RBIs) have been bright spots, there are far too many Rays struggling at the plate. The offense struggles are glaringly obvious with runners in scoring position (RISP). The Rays currently rank second to last in the AL with a .198 average with RISP.
As bad as the offense has been, there could be good news on the horizon. The Rays return home to Tropicana Field on April 20, to host the Minnesota Twins and they hope to welcome a familiar face back to the lineup.
Baring any setbacks, the Rays hope to have center fielder BJ Upton ready come off the disabled list by Friday (possibly even sooner).
The return of Upton to center field will allow the Rays lineup to return to a normal rotation. Desmond Jennings will move over to left field; Matt Joyce will swing over to right field and Ben Zobrist will move to second base. With these changes Reid Brignac (.133, 1 RBI) and Sean Rodriguez (.185, 0 RBIs) should remain the primary options at shortstop (for now), but they'll split time instead of being in the lineup together on a regular basis.
BJ Upton brings a rare combination of speed and power to the Rays offense. When he's hot he can ignite the offense (like he did last September during the Rays historic run to the wildcard), but he can also be extremely inconsistent.
Hopefully, for the Rays sake, Upton will perform at the level he is capable of performing and be the catalyst the Rays offense needs to get out of their current funk.
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.
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