Following a 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Monday, July 16, the Tampa Bay Rays dropped to 46-44 on the season. Dangerously close to the .500 mark, the record leaves the squad tied with the rising Boston Red Sox for 3rd in the AL East and another game behind in the crowded wildcard race.
Managing only 1 run and 3 hits in 6 innings against rookie pitcher Zach McAllister, the Rays' bats yet again looked anemic for much of the contest. Though pitching was expected to be their calling card, few predicted the offense would look so impotent.
Tampa Bay's .232 team batting average is 3rd worst in baseball. Even more frustrating, though the Rays cling to their reputation for late inning rallies, hitting with runners in scoring position has failed to be a strength in 2012. The club's .243 team average in such situations reflects the failure.
Indeed, after agonizingly leaving the bases loaded in the 9th inning of Sunday's loss, the club responded by stranding 5 runners in scoring position on Monday. A mere single in these situations against the 3rd worst pitching staff in MLB could have altered the contest's outcome.
Through 90 games, Tampa Bay interestingly has plated the exact same number of runs as it has yielded. With a run differential of 0, the club has scored and surrendered 372 tallies. Despite occasional exceptions, this number must remain positive if the Rays are to be a playoff-caliber team.
However, in addition to stellar pitching and batting improvements, a third factor figures into this equation. Atypical of a Joe Maddon squad, the 2012 Rays have not exhibited strong defense. In fact, with so many regulars missing from the lineup, defense has actually been a liability.
With Carlos Pena's errant throw in Monday's contest, the Rays have committed 73 errors. Not only is that number the 2nd highest in baseball, but it sadly matches the total amount from the entire 2011 season.
These miscues have largely emanated from the disappointing performances of the Rays' make-shift infield. While the absence of 3rd baseman Evan Longoria has rocked the club offensively, it likewise has been felt in the field. As a 2 time Gold Glove winner, Longoria did not post his top season at the hot corner in 2011, but only committed 14 errors in 130 games.
In contrast, the sub-par talent in Longo's place has struggled in the field nearly as much as at the plate. In 84 contests, primary replacement Sean Rodriguez is already responsible for 11 errors, while swing-man Will Rhymes similarly has struggled with 8 errors in only 44 games. Adding to the frustration, new acquisitions Drew Sutton and Brooks Conrad even chipped in a combined 5 errors in limited time.
Many of these miscues surely would not have occurred if Longoria were manning his usual position.
Longo's absence is not the only injury to hamper the club. The recent loss of Matt Joyce and the season-long absence of Sam Fuld have deprived Maddon of 2 reliable options in right. Turning Ben Zobrist into an everyday outfielder, not only has Zorilla struggled, but he has been largely unable to play his natural position of second base.
Furthermore, the subtle regressions at catcher and first base should not be overlooked. While the Rays' battery only committed 8 errors behind the plate during the entire 2011 season, this year's group has already made 9. Similarly, while Casey Kotchman was only responsible for 2 errors in 146 games last year, Carlos Pena has doubled that total in 2012.
While such defensive liabilities have not stung as painfully as woes at the plate, the lack of fundamentally sound baseball has undoubtedly thwarted the Rays. Even with injuries, it is not asking too much to expect these light-hitting replacements to possess a decent glove in the field.
Tampa Bay continues its 4 game homestand with the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday with a 7:10pm start at Tropicana Field.
More by Jeff Briscoe from Yahoo! Contributor Network:
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