Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

A roller-coaster Rays season lies ahead

ST. PETERSBURG — Welcome to Rays baseball.

The good. The bad. The ugly.

And the frustrating.

All were on display Tuesday in a 7-4 loss to the Orioles. And, you get the feeling this is the way the Rays are going to be all season. This is just who they are.

Not great, but not bad. Plenty to like, but an awful lot to worry about. A bloop here, a hanging curveball there and that's your ballgame.

Get used to games like this, games that you just don't know what to think while they're being played and, especially, when they're over.

The Rays are going to thrill you some games and disappoint you in others. You'll pump your fist some nights and shake it on others.

Tuesday gave us a sneak preview. They're going to be all over the road. You're simply never going to be comfortable watching this team.

You see, the Rays easily could have won Tuesday, but definitely deserved to lose. It really did come down to a couple of pitches, yet it seemed like it was never really that close.

Even when the Rays led by a run late, it felt like they were down by a few.

And when it was over, you were more confused than ever. You can't quite figure out whether they are good enough to win the American League East or have so many holes that they'll finish last.

In the end, it's just one game, but Tuesday's was full of contradictions.

So here are a few first impressions of the Rays with only 161 games to go.

The new guys need to produce

The Rays had six hits and not one from the four new hitters in the lineup. Yunel Escobar was 0-for-4. James Loney went 0-for-2. Shelly Duncan went 0-for-1. Kelly Johnson, who batted ninth and was the DH (uh, that seems like a bad combination, doesn't it?) went 0-for-2 with a walk.

That's a combined 0-for-9, and that's the concern with these additions. You can't say that any of them is just too good to not hit this season. Recent history simply doesn't suggest that. All arrive with questions. All arrive looking to find their bats and revive their careers.

Yes, it is only one game, but it's clear that those players will need to produce to support hitters such as Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist.

By the way, those three went a combined 5-for-11 with three RBIs and three runs scored, and you get the sense that the Rays offense will rely heavily on those three all season, mostly because no one else is going to produce consistently.

They can't give up a bunch of runs

It's clear that this team isn't going to outslug anyone. They're built to win games 4-3 and 3-1 and 2-0, not 8-7 and 10-6. The offense has been so sluggish over the past couple of years that you hold your breath until someone gets a hit and ends any threat of a no-hitter. Seriously.

When Baltimore's Matt Wieters cracked a two-run homer in the first, you couldn't help but wonder if that was too much for the Rays to overcome.

That's how spotty this offense can be.

They'll score lots of runs on the days when they run into a couple of long balls, but this isn't the type of lineup that is going to string together five or six hits in a row very often and put up a bunch of crooked-number innings. And that means you can't afford to give up seven runs a game, particularly when your Cy Young Award winner is on the mound.

The good things

Longoria and Sam Fuld each made two spectacular plays in the field. Loney spent the afternoon picking throws out of the dirt at first base. Escobar looked smooth at shortstop. Already you can see the 2013 Rays are going to field better than the 2012 Rays. Jennings looks much better at the plate. For all of you who whine that manager Joe Maddon doesn't play enough small ball, Maddon had the Rays stealing, hitting-and-running and, yep, even laying down a sacrifice bunt.

A quick side note

Can I just say that the gong in rightfield got old five minutes before the first pitch of the season.

Bottom line

It's ridiculous, of course, to read too much into one baseball game. This isn't football. The Astros won their first game and they'll be lucky to win 50 more. But Tuesday really did seem like the epitome of what kind of team the Rays are going to be this season.

Good. Bad. Entertaining. Maddening and Maddoning. Fun. Baffling. And, seemingly, one or two pitches from either winning or losing. When you add all that up, you know what you get? A number somewhere right around .500.

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