Rays Diary: 5/12/17

    I guess I’ve waited as long as possible to comment on the Rays.  With the Rays’ legion of walking wounded, including position players, but especially valuable bullpen staff, it seemed premature to evaluate their performance.  Besides, I would be happy if this Rays team is anywhere around five hundred by the All Star break.  By that time, near full strength, perhaps they can make a legitimate run for the playoffs at least.  In the meantime, anyone expecting a really strong defensive team  typical of years past, it’s not gonna happen.  However, it’s plain to see that these guys are putting in the requisite effort to improve their defense over last year.  In the case of the offense, some improvement can be seen, but overall, it sure seems like the Rays, as usual, are undercoached and over computerized.

    This, of course, is the Rays’ modus operandus.  It’s why Kansas City can so readily hit an outside pitch “the other way” to take the lead and the Rays can’t.  It’s why with bases loaded, no one bothers to tell the Rays’ batter to take the first two breaking pitches that they know are sure to be in the dirt, instead of foolishly swinging at them.  There is no law against reminding the hitter that in this case he needs to at least attempt to work the count to force the pitcher to eventually throw a strike.  There is also no law against hitting the ball to the right side to drive in a run with runners on second and third or just third base with less than two outs.  There’s a reason that the Rays lead baseball in strikeouts.  It’s because it’s accepted as “part of their DNA” as Joe Maddon would have said.  It’s also because Rays batters are not even expected to change any long standing bad habits that they have maintained ever since they developed them in Little League.

    It took Wil Myers ten minutes on a new team to change his Evan Longoria like stance to a major league version, but it took Rays ten years and the dogged persistence of amateur advice for Rays to convince Evan to finally do the same thing, leading to his finest season offensively.  Now, if gifted athletes like Evan and Souza Jr. are happy being mediocre hitters, they can continue to take long exaggerated swings, under the snoring watch of Rays coaches while general management continues to play their little video games.  Perhaps there are Rays coaches old enough to remember Mike Schmidt, possibly the best hitting third baseman ever who significantly extended his hitting career with virtually no loss of power and average by cutting down his swing after shoulder injury.  Perhaps they can see that Ricky Weeks, another truly gifted athlete wastes so much of his power and quickness by holding his hands in such a time consuming position, one he unfortunately must have adopted  in Little League.  As I have complained countless times, it seems virtually impossible that Rays batting coaches actually watch film or video of their players actually hitting in games.

    The most amazing case of Rays offensive neglect has to be the mismanagement and coaching of Kevin Kiermaier.  He represents the quintessential baseball player.  Blessed with an attitude from heaven, he has all the tools to be a .300 hitter with enormous undeveloped homerun power as well.  He has a wonderful compact swing, very similar, in fact, to that of Barry Bonds.  Unfortunately, he and Rays coaching seem clueless to the cause of his persistent hitting woes.  It’s not rocket science, folks.  It’s only Rays management playing computer games and too busy planning how many runs they can let in with their defensive shift instead of how they can help their athletes to hit the little baseball.  Last year, the geniuses attributed Kiermaier’s second half batting surge to the change of his position in the batting order.  Poppycock!  That was an explanation by people who forgot to watch him swing.  For the entire first half of the season, he pulled off of almost every single pitch that he swung at.  After the All Star break, he cut way down on pulling off the ball toward first base.

    This season is no different.  Kiermaier is constantly pulling off the ball and it is the reason he’s mired in the low .200’s without much power.  In fact, if coaches would bother to watch film or video, they might just notice that virtually every time he “steps in the bucket” toward first base, Kevin completely whiffs at the ball.  When he takes a pitch or hits it solidly, he invariably “steps in the bucket” toward the second baseman’s normal position.  I understand many hitters like Kevin Kiermaier and Evan Longoria logically open up toward first or third base in order to see the ball with both eyes, but the vast majority, like Evan, step toward the ball, while Kevin steps away from it, moving his head and losing sight of the ball in the process.  I am really ashamed of Rays “professional” coaches for not dealing with this fact so readily visible to them if they would only watch the game instead of their iphone screens and computers.

    Whether Kiermaier is more comfortable changing his stance to a slightly more “square” one or simply practicing stepping more toward the ball (forward) is up to him, but it may well be the only thing between him and a.300 batting average and 20-30 homeruns a season.

    As for Kevin Cash, his attitude remains upbeat just like Kiermaier’s and Longoria’s and he somehow seems to keep his other players upbeat as well.  I have to give the guy credit.  Constantly “between a rock and a hard place,” the poor guy gets criticized for leaving his starter in too long if he falters and for yanking him too soon if his bullpen falters, which, of course is all too often under the circumstances.  I believe he is maturing every day as a manager.  The only question is whether his hair will go gray or directly to white.

    Well, it’s not the only question.  The most important sports question is “How is the BIG DAWG doing?”  Nothing seems quite as important without his presence on the airwaves.  To your health Steve!

Al Finkelstein, 5/12/17