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Rays' offense not just slumping; it's bad

Another baseball season and another season of complaining about how the Rays just can't hit.

No team in the American League had fewer hits, fewer runs or a lower batting average entering Tuesday's games.

So who are we blaming today?

Well, there's hitting coach Derek Shelton. He's always a popular target. We can rip into manager Joe Maddon for constantly tinkering with the lineup and his stubborn refusal to bunt. You can point to injuries or bad calls by umpires or just really bad luck against really good pitchers.

But here's the real reason the Rays can't hit: They don't have good hitters.

They don't draft them. They don't trade for them. They don't sign them as free agents.

This isn't about approaches or philosophies. This isn't about being in a collective slump. This is about a serious lack of ability when it comes to hitting the baseball.

Yes, it's only 13 games into the season, barely a blip on the schedule. Every team goes through hiccups when it doesn't hit. Judging a baseball team after 13 games is like judging a football team after one game.

Still, are you surprised by the Rays' lack of offense? Haven't we been talking about this for … years? Wasn't this a concern coming into the season?

Perhaps 13 games is not long enough to make Maddon panic, but it's certainly long enough to confirm every fear the rest of us had about this club. We didn't think it could hit, and it is proving us right. What's worse is there's no reason to believe it is going to get much better.

Ask yourself: Who isn't hitting who should be hitting? Obviously, you expect players to hit better than .098 (Yunel Escobar entering Tuesday) and .172 (James Loney), but it's not like we expected those guys to compete for batting titles, either.

This is who the Rays are. This is who the Rays have always been. They have great pitching. They play good defense. And they are a no-hit candidate every time they take the field.

Let's go over some of the so-called bats in this lineup.

Matt Joyce: We were all excited when he made the All-Star Game two years ago, but that appearance — and his entire career — has been built upon essentially two good months. In 2011 he hit .370 in the first two months of the season. But since then, his numbers have been racing south. From June 1, 2011, until Tuesday night, Joyce had batted .230. So which number do you trust — the .370 average he posted over the course of 165 at-bats two years ago or the .230 average he has had over his past 730 at-bats?

James Loney: The Rays like to point to Loney's .281 career average. I would point to Loney's .244 average since the start of last season as a more accurate gauge of what kind of hitter he is now. And he has little power for a first baseman, hitting about 13 homers a year.

Yunel Escobar: The Rays like to point to Escobar's .280 lifetime average. But like Loney, Escobar is trending in the wrong direction. Since the start of the 2010 season — and that's a pretty significant stretch — Escobar is batting .262. Since the start of last season, he's hitting .242.

Luke Scott: As soon as Scott figures out how much water he can drink, he will be back, and suddenly he supposedly will be the big whopper this lineup can use. True, occasionally Scott can run into a homer, but overall, you're in trouble when you're waiting for a guy like this to come back: an injury-prone player who hasn't been healthy in three years and has never hit 30 homers or driven in 80 runs over a season.

Ben Zobrist: Forget that Zobrist is a heck of a nice guy. Take his name and personality out of the equation, and look strictly at his numbers. The 162-game averages for his career are .261 batting, 19 homers and 83 RBIs. Those are decent numbers. Not great. Just good. Your second-best hitter should put up more productive numbers than that. That's not a knock on Zobrist. It's an indictment of the rest of the lineup.

Meantime, the Rays' role players don't hit enough to regularly crack a lineup desperate for offense. Sam Fuld is a lifetime .239 hitter. Ryan Roberts has batted .215 in a Rays uniform. Sean Rodriguez is a career .224 hitter. There's hope Kelly Johnson and Shelley Duncan might hit a few dingers here and there, but that's about it. I can't remember the last good DH the Rays have had, and let's not even bring up the catchers.

That leaves Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings. Longoria is off to a slow start power-wise but is one of the best hitters in baseball. Jennings has put up so-so numbers (a .248 career average) but should become better. A future star, Wil Myers, is in the minors, but he has yet to have a major-league at-bat.

There you have it. That's it. That's what the Rays have.

Part of the problem is monetary. The Rays can't afford to sign big boppers like Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder.

Part of the problem is missing on draft picks. They are the only major-league team without a player to reach the majors from the past five classes.

Part of the problem is swinging and missing on budget free agents such as Scott, Carlos Peña (second stint) and Pat Burrell.

So far this season, it's all catching up to the Rays — the low averages, the lack of extra-base hits, the absence of power, the failure to hit with runners in scoring position, the inability to even get runners in scoring position. There isn't enough pitching in the world to make up for this woeful offense.

I'd like to say it will get better, but there's no reason to believe it will. The pitiful numbers just don't suggest it.

Rays' offense not just slumping; it's bad 04/16/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 10:52pm]
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