There is nothing bad you can say about the Rays’ pitching. They lead the American League in earned runs allowed. They do an amazing job of finding pitching talent and developing it for the majors. What they have done with Fernando Rodney is nothing short of genius. But they are not nearly as good at finding offensive players. To be fair, their best right-handed hitters like Evan Longoria and Jeff Keppinger are on the disabled list. The outcome last night might have been a little different for Andy Pettitte with them in there. But even so, don’t you have to question a roster that requires three designated hitter types who all bat from the left side to be in the lineup against a left-handed pitcher?
And what of some of these roster decisions? Carlos Pena is back to his usual self. He had a brief flash in early April and yes, the Yankees were victimized by that. But what has he done since? Take away his walks and you have a .203 batter with a .375 slugging percentage as your starting first baseman and he is striking out nearly 30 percent of the time. He has played every game for the Rays despite an OPS of .632 against left-handed pitchers.
Luke Scott is another guy that hurt the Yankees early in April. But he has predictably sunk as well. He is now batting .222 with an on-base percentage of .285. He has played fifty of the Rays’ fifty-five games despite a .510 OPS against left-handed pitching. To augment the offense that has been struggling, the Rays answer was to sign Hideki Matsui. Look, we all love him. We will never forget that World Series in 2009. But seriously, there is a reason no one wanted him after the 2011 season. He has hit a couple of homers, but little else. And he is in the same mold as Scott and Pena as a third DH type that bats from the left side and with Scott around, the Rays have little choice but to put Matsui in the outfield. Matt Joyce can’t hit lefties either, but wouldn’t he have been a better choice last night than Matsui?
There is no help available in the minors for the Rays. Their Triple-A team is not hitting all that well either and a quick glance of the roster there shows a roster chock full of left-handed swingers. It seems that for balance, Vladimir Guerrero would have been a better choice than Matsui.
And what about the catching position? You have to question the decision making there too, don’t you? Jose Molina looks like a sixty year old man tying to catch back there. He has little mobility left and yes, he scores highly in framing pitches, but that is his only remaining talent. And he and James Shields seemed in a tug of war all night when it came to what pitches Shields should throw. The combination of Molina, Chris Gimenez (now in the minors) and Jose Lobaton have a combined triple slash line of: .183/.251/.251. Ugh! That makes the Yankee catchers look like Babe Ruth in comparison.
And for all their smarts, the Rays have a terrible infield (a healthy Longoria notwithstanding). Reid Brignac has had trouble hitting in the majors, but he was given eighteen at bats before being dispatched to Triple-A. But at least he was a quality fielder. Elliot Johnson is hitting relatively better than all the shortstops the Rays tried last year, but he is not a good shortstop and is still questionable offensively. If Sean Rodriguez has to play third to cover Longoria’s absence, should the Rays at least employ a shortstop that can help that great pitching staff instead of hurt it? And Rodriguez has not proven he is a major league hitter either. His current on-base percentage is .281. Tampa Bay shortstops have a combined OPS of .650 this season and their second basemen have a combined OPS of .583.
Somehow, it seems, the Rays will continue to be a factor in the American League East. Somehow, they will be there at the end. Pitching is a big reason why. And yes, their managing and coaching staff are terrific. But for all the props given the Rays for their smarts, they have a poorly constructed offense and a lineup that should not scare anyone. Their infield and catching is a mess. They have one too many lefty DH types (two if you include Drew Sutton). There is no help in the top minors. They will probably give Ivan Nova a tough game tonight since he throws from the right side. But throw a lefty at this team and it is in big, big trouble.