Sunday, May 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays offense isn't up to the task

NEW YORK

Alas, Stephen Vogt could not save them.

Sadly, Ben Francisco could not ease their pain.

Heartache upon heartache, Elliot Johnson could not save the day.

Sigh.

In other words, Misdemeanor's Row was back in business Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadiums. The Punchless Wonders have lost again.

In a game that will be remembered for all the little guys walking to the plate in all the big moments, the Rays have stumbled again. This time, they lost 5-3 to New York, their fifth loss in their past six games. At this point, that mantra about how many games are left is starting to sound like a comedy routine.

They are running in place, these Rays, and for a while now, it has been third place. They cannot close ground because they cannot string wins together, and they cannot string wins together because they cannot score, and they cannot score because they cannot come up with key hits, and they cannot come up with key hits because they cannot hit period. They are not often, and they are not enough.

Pretty much, that sums up Saturday, doesn't it?

Also, the rest of the season.

Where else would you see this? It was the top of the ninth inning, one man on, and there were two men out, and here comes High-Voltage Vogt to the plate. Really? As a major-league hitter, Vogt had batted 17 times, and he had made 17 outs. Officially, Vogt was off to the worst start in the history of the Rays.

Around here, he is the last chance.

When Vogt came to the plate, the Yankees immediately huddled together to google "Vogt" and see what came up. Seriously, don't you wonder what was said in that huddle? "If he hits it, where is it likely to go? Durham?" After all, how to Vogt is pretty much the question of the fall, isn't it?

"I thought he could hit one into that rightfield porch," said manager Joe Maddon.

And guess what? Vogt, unleashed, drew a walk.

Then came Johnson, who has hit just .188 with runners in scoring position since the first of July, to hit with two runners on. He struck out.

With the Rays, it is always a vicious cycle. The reason the pinch-hitters at the end were so unimpressive is that the ones you might have preferred were called upon earlier in the game, and the reason for that is that the starting batting order is so ineffective itself. Sometimes, you look at the pitching of this team, and you wonder why it is behind in the playoff race. Then you look at the hitting, and you wonder how it is anywhere close.

In some ways, games like this were lost last January, when the Rays brought in The New Hit Show. In nine days, they signed Luke Scott, who has been injured, and Carlos Peña, who has been inexcusable. These were supposed to be answers to the Rays' hitting woes that left owner Stuart Sternberg lamenting the lack of bats after the final loss in the Rangers' playoff series.

Instead, they have struggled. Peña is hitting only .193, but he also has only 17 homers. Scott is hitting .215 with 13 homers. Add in the struggles of Matt Joyce (who is hitting .151 over the past month), and you can understand why the Rays struggle so badly against right-handed pitching. Combined, the three of them have hit only three home runs since Aug. 19.

If those three guys were hitting, perhaps Maddon would have sat still during the seventh. Instead, he made the telling move to pinch-hit for Peña … with backup catcher Chris Gimenez. What does that tell you? Gimenez is a lifetime .178 hitter, and as soon as the Yankees changed pitchers, Maddon pulled Gimenez for Sam Fuld, who grounded out to the pitcher.

Then there was the move to pinch-hit Francisco for Joyce later in the inning because he liked the matchup of Francisco vs. Boone Logan. Francisco then tried to bunt down the third-base line, only the ball ended up as a blooper-reel popup over the pitcher's head, and the lead runner was quickly thrown out.

If it had not been sad to see, it would have been amusing. Don't you wonder what the Yankees were saying when they huddled to discuss how to pitch to Vogt? What are the odds that Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez had even heard of him? Answer: Not good.

Look, this isn't meant to belittle players such as Vogt. It's meant to belittle a team that doesn't have any better options in the middle of a huge game in a playoff chase. Do you think the Yankees have an 0-for-17 hitter ready for his shot in the ninth inning? The Orioles? The Angels?

Frankly, the guys don't win games like this because they aren't constructed to win games like this. They aren't dangerous enough. They aren't deep enough.

You know who the Rays are these days? They are Evan Longoria's bad leg, the one he drags around the field to do what he can. Still, he's the Ray you want to see most when he walks toward the plate.

For the Rays, that's what the season has become: A limp and a prayer.

That, and a calendar that is turning over faster than a team seems to realize.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM The Fan.

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