Rays Diary  8/4/13


Since the Rays’ 6 to 5 loss to the Yankees a few weeks ago, I have tried to take a more objective view of the teams “pluses” and “minuses,” that is their positive and negative traits.  Obviously their hitting, with the acquisition of Loney, Escobar and Kelly Johnson, gives the team the air of a Major League lineup, something they did not have last year.  The mid season addition of Wil Myers, especially after the wise decision to let him mature in Durham shows wisdom and patience lacking in most baseball front offices.  With their ability to hit both right and left handed pitching and the apparent return of the Rays pitching staff to something of last year’s form, the team should be able to reach the postseason this year.

Even more encouraging is the quality of the this year’s defense.  With Escobar anchoring the middle infield, Zobrist available at second base, and Loney playing vacuum cleaner at first base, the Rays finally have the defensive stability that they enjoyed in 2008.  A fairly healthy Longoria completes one of the very best infields, I believe, in all of baseball.  The defense has been strengthened, as well, by Manager Joe Maddon’s more judicious use of his pitching staff.  No more arbitrary lefty-lefty, righty righty matchups using inappropriate pitchers simply based on which side of their body they use to throw the ball.

I’m not really concerned about the Rays’ overall ability to hit the baseball or to pitch effectively.  What concerns me is what will the Rays do in the postseason against teams that are clearly “in the same league” as the Rays with respect to talent?  Will they advance runners by either bunting, hitting the ball to the right side of the infield or by aggressive base stealing?  Or, will Joe continue to have his players “hit away” with multiple runners on base and no outs in close games, so often ending up in a double play?  Will Joe and/or his equally oblivious batting coach remember to tell Jennings or Longoria not to swing at the first pitch or two from a pitcher who has just walked the bases loaded?  Will either of them ever advise a player to “step up in the box” with two strikes to enable him to hit a decent slider or other breaking pitch he knows is coming (hopefully while the pitch is still hittable)?  As talented as the Rays are, do they not seem to be “eaten alive” by virtually any pitcher with a mediocre breaking ball and halfway decent control, even pitchers who do not pitch well against anyone else?

Another concern that cannot be ignored is the propensity of so many Rays players to try to pull outside pitches.  I am sure that Mr. Maddon must be sick and tired of trying to tell his players what they were supposed to learn in Little League, to pull “middle-in” pitches and to hit “middle-outside” pitches to the opposite field.  Some guys “get it” and some guys don’t.  Some guys know how to do it and some guys don’t.  A fair question is: Do the Rays have someone down in their farm system that knows how one goes about hitting an outside pitch to the opposite field or even to center field?  They certainly do not seem to have anyone up here!

The last question reminds me of the old baseball adage: “To get out of a hitting slump, try to hit the ball up the middle.”  I seem to remember at the end of the last season, when Luke Scott came off of the disabled list, that he began hitting the ball “up the middle,” and “not trying to do too much with it.”  Before long, everyone except for Desmond Jennings was following his lead, the Rays staging a valiant late season comeback, falling short of the playoffs by only a game or two.  Today I watched Evan Longoria trying to hit the “middle-outside” pitches to either right or center field and maybe starting to look remarkably like the Longoria “of old.”  In fact, he wasn’t breaking his wrists until his bat had connected with the ball, avoiding the power hitter’s “death move,” that is breaking the wrists too early in the swing.  Yes, the same “death move” that causes Zobrist to pop the ball up so often on a pitch which he thinks he should have “driven” deep to the outfield, the same “death move” that causes Ben and Matt Joyce to pull so many well hit pitches so far foul, the same “death move” taught to them by incompetent charlatans who have no personal knowledge, at all, of how to hit a baseball!

My final question may prove to be a most important and controversial one should the Rays make the postseason.  With 95-100 mph pitchers like Price, Archer, Moore, and especially McGee or Rodney, what are the chances that a batter will pull their fastball?  In key situations against these “fireballers,”  doesn’t the corollary of the last paragraph presume that a smart batter will try to beat these “speed merchants” the only way he knows how, by hitting the ball up the middle?  I would be curious to see how many times the Rays have been beaten “up the middle” and conversely how many times the team has won by hitting that way?


Al Finkelstein,  8/4/13