Thursday, April 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays Tales: The good, bad and weird of the Tampa Bay Rays' season

These Rays ultimately may be known more for what they didn't do, specifically providing enough support — offense, defense, depth — to take advantage of one of the best overall pitching performances in recent times. But there has been a lot accomplished — good, bad and interesting — along the way.

Most valuable Ray

There are enough interesting candidates to have an intriguing discussion, perhaps even the makings of a debate. But when you get down to the end, there is no doubt:

RHP Fernando Rodney has been the most valuable Ray.

Not that what Ben Zobrist has done overall, especially given his unexpected shift back to fill the void at shortstop, is not significant. Not that what David Price has accomplished isn't impressive and potentially worthy of the AL Cy Young Award. Not that what Evan Longoria has meant isn't obvious from the immediate improvement upon his return from a three-month injury.

But what Rodney has done is remarkable by any standards — statistically, anecdotally, historically. By Wednesday, it might be the best season by any reliever — ever. And the Rays needed every bit of it.

Rodney has converted a team-record 46 saves in his first 48 chances. He has posted a 0.62 ERA, positioned to challenge Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley's 1990 all-time reliever low 0.61 during his 48-of-50 save season. He has allowed one — ONE! — earned run over his past 42 appearances. He has given up 41 hits, struck out 72 and walked 15 over 72⅓ innings.

And he did this all for a contending team, that competes in the American League East, that doesn't score a lot of runs, that lost its incumbent closer (Kyle Farnsworth) to injury in the final week of spring training.

If that's not valuable, what is?

Runnersup: 2. Zobrist; 3. Price

Most pleasant surprise

Fernando Rodney would be the top choice here, too, given how much he did this season after how little he did the previous two with the Angels, and how little a deal it seemed when the Rays signed him as a potential middle reliever/occasional setup man.

But since he has already been honored on this page, let's look elsewhere. Besides, INF Jeff Keppinger is a pretty worthy candidate on his own.

Signed to be a complementary player, Keppinger ended up being a leading man — as in, he leads the team in hitting at .331. And, with about another 100 plate appearances, he would have qualified to lead the American League. Plus he proved to be better with the glove than the Rays anticipated, handling himself at first, second and third base.

Runnersup: 2. LHP Jake McGee; 3. RHP Wade Davis

Biggest disappointment

Here, there is a debate, a big part of the reason the Rays are in the position they're in.

There are a few pitchers worthy of mention (RHP Kyle Farnsworth for one), but the issue is what their hitters did. Or, more accurately, didn't do.

Sure, it was a collective failure, from construction to execution. But there were some key individual contributions.

• 1B Carlos Peña, whose .200 overall average is the lowest in the majors, whose .153 average with runners in scoring position is worst in the AL, whose .358 slugging percentage is in the bottom 10, whose 179 strikeouts are third most in the AL, and whose $7.25 million salary is the highest of their position players.

• DH Luke Scott, who missed 45 games due to two stints on the DL, went hitless in 41 others and compiled a team-record-breaking 0-for-41 streak.

• OF Matt Joyce, who has hit barely above .200 since June 1 and .176 (19-of-108) since snapping a career-best 12-game hitting streak in mid August.

• INF Sean Rodriguez, who won the starting shortstop job based on his offense and has hit so little, .213 average, .607 OPS, he lost the position and his spot in the majors.

Given the expectations, Peña — who also was not the same defensively — deserves the top spot.

Runnersup: 2. Scott; 3. Joyce

Kings of the hill

Though there were some rough spots, the Rays overall ended up with a tremendous overall pitching performance. Consider, they:

• Broke the AL record for strikeouts — in Game 151 — and the MLB mark for double-digit strikeout games.

• Lead the majors in ERA and opponents average, with an outside shot at strikeouts (25 behind the Brewers). They could be the first AL team to win such a triple crown since the 1947 Yankees, and at least should join the 1999 Red Sox as the only teams to lead the AL in the past 25 years.

• Have two legitimate Cy Young candidates in LHP David Price, who has the best ERA of all big-league starters, and RHP Fernando Rodney, who is best among all MLB relievers.

• Have the lowest team ERA, 3.23, by an AL team in more than 20 years (1990 A's, 3.18), and the lowest reliever opponents average, .208, since the '89 A's.

Peasants at the plate

Among many ways to define the inconsistencies and impotence of the Rays offense, they:

• Scored three or fewer runs 74 times and four or less 98, both third most in the AL. (And they lost a major-league-most 21 times when allowing three or fewer.)

• Had fewer than six hits 35 times and fewer than eight 76 times (both 2nd most), and 34 games with one or none through the first four innings.

• Are threatening their team, and previous AL record (until the A's broke it last week), of 1,324 strikeouts.

• Hit 109 of their 165 homers with no one on base.

• Lost 26 one-run games (third most in AL), including 1-0 four times.

Oddballs

As always, the Rays do some interesting things. Among them:

• Became the first team to be perfect-gamed three times in regular-season play, and all in a span of four seasons.

• Could be the first team to lead the AL in ERA and be last in fielding percentage since the 1945 Senators.

• Are the first team to have more than 1,200 strikeouts by their hitters and pitchers.

• Could be the first team to lead the majors in walks with this low of a batting average (.241) since the 1968 Red Sox.

• Could be the first team to lead the AL in stolen bases for five straight seasons since the 1951-61 White Sox.

Numbers game

.629

Winning percentage with Evan Longoria in the lineup, .489 when not.

8

Games reliever Joel Peralta suspended after excessive pine tar was found in his glove.

10

Players used in the cleanup spot, including three who were designated for assignment.

15

Players who were on the disabled list, including a record 10 at one time.

21

Hitless at-bats by C Stephen Vogt to start his career.

271/3

Team-record scoreless inning streak by LHP J.P. Howell.

41

Team-record hitless at-bats by DH Luke Scott.

113

Errors by Rays, most in AL, and 40 more than 2011.

All statistics through Friday

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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