There are a lot of words — some more colorful than others — that could be used to describe the Rays' season as they get to the All-Star break today. The truest thing that can be said is that it's nothing like the Rays — or anyone else in baseball — would have imagined given how much losing they've done when so much winning, as legit World Series contenders, was expected. Here's a look at how, mostly bad, it's gone:
Most Valuable Ray
David Price, LHP
This was harder than usual to pick, given the overall sense of disappointment around the team. Typically we'd favor a position player, but the only one worthy of consideration — rookie OF Kevin Kiermaier — didn't show up to stay until May 28 and has played in less than half the games, so we were torn between ace starter Price and top reliever Jake McGee and, narrowly, went with Price. Sure, he only has eight wins. And he has given up an AL-most 19 home runs. But the Rays are 11-8 in his starts, he has kept them in almost every game (13 quality starts), he has given them much needed innings (1392/3, second most in the AL), tops the majors in strikeouts (159), is a leader and role model to the rest of the staff. Also, he's pitching about the best he ever has, which is to say, pretty darn good.
Runnersup: McGee has been handling high-leverage situations all season, moving into the ninth over the last month as Grant Balfour struggled and, with a 1.56 ERA, is as close as they have to a sure thing in an otherwise volatile bullpen. … Kiermaier sparked the recent improved performance with his play in the field, on the bases and — unexpectedly — at the plate, ranking third with eight homers.
Most Disappointing Ray
Grant Balfour, RHP
Conversely, there are plenty of choices, a half dozen legitimate candidates from A (Alex Cobb) to Z (Ben Zobrist), the inconsistent (SS Yunel Escobar, OF Matt Joyce) and the injured (LHP Matt Moore, OF Wil Myers). A solid case could be made for 3B Evan Longoria, who leads them with 11 homers and is second with 43 RBIs but has not been particularly clutch nor star quality. But the choice is Balfour, who was brought in unexpectedly —and by Rays standards, somewhat expensively — to anchor the bullpen but has instead torn it asunder. He was stripped of his closer title, forcing the Rays into a by-committee approach, and repeated failures force others into tougher situations. He has three losses and two blown saves; worse are a staggering 27 walks and 29 hits in 351/3 innings.
Runners-up: Longoria is still a long way from the player he can be, his .721 on-base plus slugging percentage ranking 101st in the majors, his 25 extra-base hits tied for 109th. Myers was headed this way, hitting .227 with five homers and 25 RBIs in 53 games, until being sidelined by injury. Escobar's defense has been way down, Zobrist's offense had been until a recent hot streak.
In a season pockmarked by lows, here are three of the lowest:
1. 5-4 loss to Royals, July 9
The game was won, the series was clinched, the hard-earned momentum was carried over, and then Joel Peralta and Kirby Yates botched the ninth and all was lost — the MLB-most third time the Rays blew a lead of two or more in the ninth.
2. 9-6 loss at White Sox, April 25.
Taking a 6-4 lead into the ninth wasn't enough as Grant Balfour showed his first cracks, allowing a double, three walks and a walkoff grand slam to Jose Abreu.
3. 3-2, 10-inning loss at Red Sox, May 30
In the midst of losing 10 straight and 14 of 15 was this hot mess, the start of the David Price-David Ortiz brouhaha and a frustrating end, with Jonny Gomes hit by a pitch then scoring the walk-off winner — and on the play where Wil Myers broke his wrist.
So, how bad was it ...
So bad when you consider how many ways the Rays found to lose. Consider they lost when they:
• Followed an intentional bases-loading walk with another walk that forced in the go-ahead run (April 20 vs. Yankees);
• drew 11 walks, rapped 10 hits, scored six runs and saw 196 pitches (April 25 at White Sox);
• made four errors in an inning (April 27 at White Sox);
• brought the winning run to the plate in the ninth inning — in four straight games (May 6-9 vs. Orioles, Indians);
• blew a three-run lead in the ninth and gave up Mike Trout's first walkoff homer (May 15 at Angels);
• allowed only one hit (May 21 vs. Oakland);
• threw wildly on a bunt allowing the winning run to score from first (May 28 at Toronto);
• gave up the only run on a bases-loaded walk (June 3 vs. Miami).
By the (ugly) numbers
10 Games lost when leading or tied after eight innings
12/24/37 Games with no runs, 1 or less and 2 or less by Rays, all most in the AL.
31 Consecutive scoreless innings by Rays offense, including three straight shutouts, both team records.
34 Consecutive hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position by Rays during a 10-for-101 streak
39 Games where Rays starters worked five or fewer innings, most in MLB
49 Innings in which Rays allowed three or more runs; fifth most in MLB
Double plays — for whatever reasons — have been doubly troubling this season. The Rays have turned only 51, 11 fewer than any team, but have hit into 81, fourth most in the majors.
Oh, the pain
Injuries have been a big pain this season, with 12 Rays serving time on the DL. Here is a rundown in order of significance, with the Rays record in their absence:
1. LHP Matt Moore
Injury: Tommy John elbow surgery
Dates: April 8-out for season
2. OF Wil Myers
Injury: Wrist fracture
Dates: May 31-mid August?
3. RHP Alex Cobb
Injury: Oblique strain
Dates: April 13-May 22
4. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
Injury: Elbow surgery
Dates: March 30-July 5
5. OF David DeJesus
Injury: Hand fracture
Dates: June 19-early August?
6. C Ryan Hanigan
Injury: Hamstring tightness
Dates: May 28-June 11
7. 2B/OF Ben Zobrist
Injury: Dislocated thumb
Dates: May 15-May 30
8. SS Yunel Escobar
Injury: Sore shoulder
Dates: June 25-July 11
9. OF Brandon Guyer
Injury: Thumb fracture
Dates: May 26-June 19
10. RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo
Injury: Elbow surgery
Dates: March 30-April 22
11. INF Tim Beckham
Injury: Knee surgery
Dates: March 30-late July?
12. INF Jerry Sands
Injury: Strained wrist tendon
Dates: June 23-out for season
A June 4 loss to Miami saddled the Rays with a 23-37 record that was the majors' worst — an "honor" they'd held solo for just one day (April 10, 2011) since becoming the Rays in 2008 — and kept it until June 29. … From May 28 to July 6, and again Saturday, they sat alone in last place in the AL East, somewhere they'd been post-April for only two days in the previous six seasons. … The 10-game losing streak was their longest since an 11-gamer in 2009. … On June 10 the Rays dropped to 24-42, the 18 games being their most under .500 since 2007. Worth noting, only two teams since 1900 made it back from 18 under to .500 ('04 Devil Rays and '06 Marlins), and none have made the postseason.
It hasn't all been bad
After cratering (they hope) at 24-42 on June 10, the Rays went 18-9, the best record in the AL East over that span. … 3B Evan Longoria surpassed Carlos Peña as the franchise home-run leader, and is closing in on the RBI and doubles lead. … RHP Brad Boxberger on May 8 threw an "immaculate inning" — striking out the side on nine pitches, and with the bases loaded. … The Rays won three games over 36 hours in two cities, sweeping a day-night doubleheader in Boston then beating the Yankees in 14 innings, and four of five in 75 hours. … They also won three consecutive games on walkoffs — a Sean Rodriguez homer May 22, a Cole Figueroa double May 23, a Desmond Jennings fielder's choice/error May 24. … Led by LHP David Price, Rays pitchers lead the majors in strikeouts.
There is a bobblehead of radio guys Andy Freed and Dave Wills commemorating their 10th season; no word yet on when/how it'll be available. … The Giants are considered atop the teams most interested in 2B/RF Ben Zobrist; the Reds and Mariners among others. … Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal says he now thinks LHP David Price will be traded, and that the Mariners should make the deal. … Astin Jacobo, who trained SS Adrian Rondon since he was 12, said the now 16-year-old, signed last week for $2.95 million, is "ready to play at a high level ... has a very good feel for the game ... looks a lot like (Dodgers SS) Hanley Ramirez." … Biggest benefit of trading minor-league RHP Matt Ramsey to Miami for $1,000,800 in international bonus slots was to reduce the penalty the Rays will pay for exceeding their bonus pool. … Another disadvantage of the Trop: Players with the Rays on their no-trade list because they don't want to play on turf, such as Phillies OF Marlon Byrd, who told CSNPhilly.com that also applied to the Jays.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.