What’s wrong with Rays’ offense? Start with these 5 areas of concern

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are where they are for many reasons.

• A pitching staff that has been consistently plagued by inconsistency throughout the rotation and bullpen crew.

• A defense that has been disappointing, unable to regularly complete the routine and rangy plays that have been the franchise standard while messing up others.

• A roster that has been reshaped repeatedly by a series of injuries and often hasn’t quite fit together properly.

But what seems to be the biggest shortcoming, one that when right can swat away all the other inefficiencies, has been a lack of consistent offense.

In returning the core group that last year ranked among the majors’ most potent and broke several team records, including homers and runs scored, the Rays expected to run it back in similarly smashing fashion.

Instead, they headed into the Memorial Day weekend checkpoint among MLB’s least productive offenses.

Scroll the stats through Friday’s games, and the Rays are a bottom-third team in almost every relevant category, such as runs per game (3.96, ranked 24nd), home runs (42, 27th), OPS (.664, 25th) and more.

Injuries, specifically to their top left-handed hitters, have been a major factor but not the only issue in what has been a group effort. A lack of power, too many strikeouts and an inability to put steady pressure on pitchers also have kept them down.

“We’re not getting it done,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Every facet of it.”

But he and other team officials still think they can.

“I’m confident that we have not shown the best versions of ourselves right now,” Cash said. “It’s going to take us continuing to work, which they are doing. And a little bit of time for the guys that we’ve gotten back to kind of get their footing.”

Here are five reasons for their struggles so far:

Randy Land of the Lost

More than any other Ray, outfielder Randy Arozarena has the ability to get hot and carry the team for an extended stretch. And as much as any Ray this season, he has looked least like he is ready to do so.

Despite a May warming trend, Arozarena went into Saturday with a .159 average that was lowest in the majors, by far, among qualified hitters (those playing regularly), the fifth-worst on-base percentage (.250) and sixth-lowest OPS (.567).

He led the American League with 63 strikeouts, was among the worst with a .159 average with runners in scoring position and had left the most runners on base (97) of any AL hitter.

And for those thinking/hoping Arozarena’s struggles are just an extended bad start, consider this: In 113 games since his 2023 All-Star Game and Home Run Derby appearances, he hit .193 with a .642 OPS, striking out 127 times in 425 at-bats.

No leading man

The best part of Yandy Diaz’s 2023 team MVP and AL battling titlist performance was the consistency with which he performed — from day to day and from pitch to pitch.

He seemed locked in at the plate regularly, rarely looked awkward or fooled, and earned raves for his strike-zone judgement. That allowed him to set the Rays up for success from his spot atop the order, posting a .330 average with a .410 on-base and .522 slugging percentage for a .932 OPS.

Like Arozarena, Diaz, too, got off to a miserable start this season, hitting .211 with a .556 OPS over 31 games through May 1.

But of some consolation, he seems to have recovered since then, hitting .321 with an .876 OPS. Another encouraging sign his luck may be due for a change: he hit the most 100-mph balls for outs (39) in the majors.

Little right from the left

First Josh Lowe, then Jonathan Aranda, then Brandon Lowe got hurt and missed time. Now, Josh Lowe is out again.

That was in addition to switch-hitters Taylor Walls, who is still recovering from October right hip surgery; and the asterisked Wander Franco, who remains sidelined due to legal issues in the Dominican Republic.

The result was a significant amount of missed left-handed at-bats against righty pitchers.

So many that the Rays have the lowest percentage of right-handed pitches faced by lefty hitters in the majors (21.5%) and the fewest number of overall at-bats by lefties (385).

That matters directly, because having fewer or lesser lefty hitters in the lineup reduces their optimum productivity vs. right-handed pitchers (a .659 OPS, fourth-lowest in the majors).

Also indirectly, as it limits Cash in constructing a lineup to be most effective (he likes to alternate right- and left-handers) and in setting up and reacting to pitching changes.

Plus, there was trickle-down impact. Lower-profile lefty hitters, such as Richie Palacios, Ben Rortvedt and Austin Shenton were pushed into bigger roles. And some right-handed hitters, such as Harold Ramirez and Amed Rosario, got exposed facing more right-handers than they ideally would and their stats sagged.

Now the Rays have to hope the lefties get right again.

Power outage

When the Rays have hit the ball, it often hasn’t been hard enough or gone far enough.

After a team-record 230 home runs last year (one per 3.7 plate appearances, tied for fifth-most in the majors), they so far have hit only 42 (a 2.2% rate that ranks in the bottom four), and fewer than the Yankees trio of Aaron Judge, Juan Soto and Giancarlo Stanton.

Even worse is their extra-base hit production, ranking 29th in the majors with one every 6.0 plate appearances — down from 8.7 last year and a top five spot.

Their team exit velocity (87.9 mph) and percentage of hard-hit balls (36.1) rank tied for 27th.

“We’re not hitting it hard enough,” Cash said.

Contactless connection

An overall problem has been the inability to put the ball in play and thus move runners.

The Rays fanned 468 times in their first 52 games, with a 24.2% ratio that ranks seventh-highest in the majors. And they don’t walk enough to offset the fan club, ranking mid-league (16th) with a 8.3% walk rate and 2.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranks 21st.

That naturally makes it tougher to take advantage of scoring opportunities, as the hitters start to press, with the Rays ranking in the bottom third of teams with a .235 average with runners in scoring position.

“What we’re lacking,” hitting coach Chad Mottola said, “is constantly putting pressure on pitchers.”

A year of difference

A look at how the Rays ranked majors-wide in several key categories in 2023 and so far this season:

Runs per game: 5.31 (4th, 2023), 3.96 (24th, 2024)

Average: .260 (3rd), .237 (18th)

OPS: .776 (4th), .664 (26th)

Home runs per game: 1.42 (6th), 0.81 (28th)

Strikeout rate: 23.0 (16th), 24.2 (24th)

Run differential: + 193 (3rd), -47 (26th)

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