Rays Diary 9/3/14

     Even for the most optimistic of Rays fans, it has been apparent for several weeks, if not months, that the team lacks the “horsepower” necessary to make the playoffs this year.  Without the speed and pitching consistency of previous years, much of it due to injuries, manager Joe Maddon’s first half goal was to finish near .500 by the all Star break.  His method consisted mostly of praying and when that failed, more praying.  Unfortunately, his prayers were not accompanied by the superb pitching which had always seemed to bail out his chronically failing offense in the years since the unfortunate decision to fire Steve Henderson.

     For the first seventy or eighty games, Rays players were essentially forbidden to bunt, to hit and run, or to hit outside pitches to the opposite field.  They were encouraged to waste their first two strikes in an effort to hit needless homeruns in “singles” situations and to drive the ball even with huge holes in the infield beckoning the intelligent hitter.  Only Don Zimmer’s passing seemed to awaken Joe and his foolish bosses as they finally embraced Zim’s professional baseball philosophy instead of their amateur theories.  Suddenly Joe reintroduced “smallball” to his team,  leading to a resurgence and and bringing them close to a .500 record.  Unfortunately, the twelve to fifteen games, charitably donated to opponents in the first half of the season by changing countless bunting situations into needless double plays had already caught up with a tired team with only slightly above average talent.

     Looking at next year, one can see that decisions need to be made regarding both coaching and player personnel.  Middle relief pitchers have to be reestablished.  Rookies like Kiermaier and Guyer need to have regular places in the lineup.  Escobar needs a sports psychologist.  Sooner or later, someone has to be honest and ask why most pitchers who join the Rays seem to improve and why batters most often seem to get worse.  Who is the uneducated fool who told Matt Joyce to pull outside pitches? (Good thing he didn’t listen yesterday.)  Why can’t Evan Longoria and Will Meyers hit minor league quality breaking balls off of right handed pitchers?  When will Sean Rodriguez, probably the most athletic of all the Rays learn how to hit the ball with his legs and body instead of his arms?  Why is Desmond Jennings a leadoff hitter?  He thinks like a sixth or seventh man in the lineup.  He rarely uses his speed and he has warning track power.  What have Rays coaches taught him, anything?

     In fact, four underachieving hitters exemplify Rays offensive coaching.  Evan Longoria, Will Myers, Sean Rodriguez and Yunel Escobar.  These players all seem to have coasted to the major leagues purely on their considerable natural ability and a small amount of training in youth leagues, mostly of bad quality.  (Either that or they think their excrement doesn’t stink.)  Evan’s swing has gotten longer and more circuitous over the years, admittedly to his credit, with a smaller hitch and loop since the All Star break.  Unfortunately, he and Will Myers still stand so far back in the batter’s box that by the time they square the left foot and step up in the box, it’s far too late to hit the late breaking slider that so often eludes them with a two strike count.  I would assume that both of them must have been afraid of the ball as youngsters.  I hope they’re not still afraid of it.

     Ironically, Sean Rodriguez may be the most athletic Ray of all, but he has possibly the least athletic stance of anyone who has ever played the game at the major league level.  Initially off balance, he is usually forced to arm swing.  On the rare occasion when he has time to transition to his athletic position, he hits the longest homeruns of anyone on the team.  Meanwhile, Yunel Escobar waves his bat “menacingly” with a wristy motion tipping it toward the pitcher.  This is very fancy, but only menacing to a pitcher ignorant of the fact that despite his considerable  power, with all the wasted motion, Yunel is only going to hit a half dozen homeruns per year if he’s lucky. 

     In short, I ought to call this article, if not this season : Ode to One of the Worst Coached Baseball Offenses That I’ve Ever Seen.  Unfortunately, facts have a nasty habit of speaking for themselves, so why bother?

Al Finkelstein (O’finky)   9/3/14