Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Do Rays have enough home run power?

PORT CHARLOTTE

The expectations are somewhere over the fence. Success lies somewhere beyond the wall.

The question is: Can the Rays reach them from here?

It is the great equalizer of baseball, the home run. Nothing changes the scoreboard faster. Nothing gives a trailing team more hope than the threat of it. Hit it where the other team can't catch it and a baseball team has gone a long way toward victory.

Which brings us to this question: Do the Rays have enough muscle for the long haul?

Even in the fuzzy, feel-good land of spring training, it seems like a fair question to ask. Do the Rays have enough sheer thump to reach the cheap seats and to survive the dog days? Is there enough power, enough clout, to carry the Rays to the postseason? Is there a reason for opposing teams to back up their outfielders?

Consider last year, when the Rays were a slightly below-average power team (eighth in the American League with 175). And that team lost B.J. Upton's 28 home runs, and Carlos Peña's 19 and Jeff Keppinger's nine.

In other words: Where's the boom?

James Loney? He hit six home runs last year.

Yunel Escobar? He hit nine.

Desmond Jennings? He hit 13.

Of the Rays, only Ben Zobrist hit as many as 20 home runs. No one hit 21. Granted, Evan Longoria is a proven threat if he plays a full season, but who else can you realistically expect to hit 25?

Matt Joyce? He hit 17.

Luke Scott? He hit 14.

Ryan Roberts? He hit 12 between Tampa Bay and Arizona.

"We're not a lineup where we just pound you from top to bottom," Scott said. "But do we have the capability of hitting the long ball? Absolutely. Roberts is capable of hitting 15. Kelly Johnson is capable of hitting 20, maybe more. Sean Rodriguez has a lot of pop. If he figures it out, he could hit 30.

"(Longoria is) a 30-home-run guy. If I can stay healthy and get at-bats, when I've been healthy, I've always had the capability of hitting 30."

Is it enough? Last year the Yankees hit 245 home runs to lead the league. The Orioles hit 214 for second. The White Sox hit 211 for third.

You have to go back to the 2005 season to find a Rays team that finished as low as eighth.

Granted, baseball isn't all about hitting home runs, although four of the five American League playoff teams hit more than the Rays. The Rays of recent seasons have tried to maximize their baserunning and their defense. But there is a time in most games that seems perfectly suited for a three-run homer.

"The ball over the wall is definitely desirable," manager Joe Maddon said. "I really do think we have enough. A full season of (Longoria) is going to add more thump. I think Desmond Jennings is going to provide more power. Matt Joyce should be able to come back in a better way. Luke Scott … there is more in there. Ben Zobrist … you don't know when he's going to start hitting more.

"I do believe there is enough power in there from the group to almost equal, if not surpass, last year if everyone hits their norm. I think we're in that average kind of category. We can be that again. But while you're being that, you have to take advantage of your opportunities. You have to be better situationally."

So where does the extra rip come from?

Consider Longoria, who hit 33 in 2009 and 31 in 2011. If he can stay healthy, he can get there again.

Consider Wil Myers, who will be up with the Rays before long.

Consider Joyce, who was as disappointed as anyone over his 17-homer season of last year.

"No one expects more than the player himself," Joyce said. "Yeah, it was frustrating. But instead of sulking and getting down on myself, I went to work."

Then there is Jennings, whom Maddon raves about.

"Desmond's going to surprise you, man," Maddon said. "He's a strong young man. People don't know how strong he is. He's swinging the crap out of it now. Just watch him. His approach is awesome. It's not good. It's awesome."

Still, the question remains: Does this team have enough pop to get a key home run in the key moment? Does it have enough legitimate power threats to muscle through an important game?

We'll see. Every now and then, after all, it's nice to trot around the bases, too.

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