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What has happened, and what has to happen for the Tampa Bay Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — One-third the way through The Season After, the most consistent trait the Rays have shown is so obvious that manager Joe Maddon finishes the sentence for you: "is that we've been inconsistent."

At the plate. In the field. And especially on the mound.

"All over the place," Maddon said.

Very little has gone the way the Rays planned, including the bottom line, with a 25-28 record that is better than just five AL teams and has them starting June in fourth place, 5½ games out.

"You figured we'd be in a better position," Carl Crawford said, "but it's just one-third of the season and now we get to make adjustments and all that stuff. We still have a long time to play, so we still can get it going."

"It's June," Matt Garza said. "It's time to get this going."

The offense has been better, but not for the reasons it was supposed to be. The defense has been inexplicably shaky, especially at key moments. The pitching — so much a part of last season's success — has been a problem. The off-season additions haven't added much.

Plus, they've had a slew of injuries, with three members of the lineup and three key pitchers among nine on the disabled list.

But with 53 games down and 109 remaining, Maddon, naturally, sees the glass as one-third full, and remains confident of a turnaround.

"There's so many games left and so many things that we have not even scratched the surface of doing that we know we're capable of," Maddon said.

"A lot of it has to do with health and a little more consistency out of the starting pitching. … And it's not a stretch to think we're going to pitch better or that guys are going to get well. Both of those things are going to happen."

Here's a look at what's happened, and what has to happen:

For starters

There's no question the biggest disappointment has been on the mound. "Overall the pitching has not been at the level that we thought it would be at this point," Maddon said.

It starts with the rotation, which has a 5.00 ERA (11th in the AL).

A bulk of the problem is the result of two struggling starters: Scott Kazmir and Andy Sonnanstine together are 7-9, 7.67. The others, including pleasantly surprising No. 5 starter Jeff Niemann, are 13-12, 3.78.

The Rays already made one change, moving Kazmir to the disabled list and bringing up David Price, who made an immediate impact, evidenced by the starters' 2.80 ERA over the weekend.

"Price has given us a huge shot in the arm," Garza said. "We've been saying for a while that we needed a little boost, and Price sure as hell did it. He got us all on track, and he's making a lot of things come together."

Sonnanstine, who still has minor-league options left, may be next to go, as Wade Davis, Carlos Hernandez and Mitch Talbot are all .500 or better at Triple-A.

Lack of relief

The starters are at least partially to blame for the relief problems too, as there have been 16 games when they didn't get through the fifth. The 164 1/3 innings Rays relievers have worked are fourth most in the AL, though their 4.05 ERA is fourth best.

Maddon was still learning how to best use the three new relievers and work around the ineffectiveness of others, when injuries to Troy Percival and Brian Shouse forced him to shuffle plans again.

Without a true closer, he's going by matchups each game rather than defined roles, which makes it tougher on all. "We're trying to restructure the bullpen more than anything," Maddon said.

Offensive charge

The Rays worked hard and spent a lot of money to improve their offense, and they clearly did, since they lead the majors with 294 runs (5.55 a game).

What's amazing is how they're doing so considering how little they've gotten from new additions Pat Burrell (five extra-base hits) and Gabe Kapler (.178 average, 5 RBIs), along with holdovers B.J. Upton (.204, 9) and Dioner Navarro (.212, 11).

The reason is the extraordinary performances they've gotten from Evan Longoria, who leads the majors with 55 RBIs; Jason Bartlett, who, though on the DL now, leads the majors with a .373 average; Carlos Pena, who leads the AL with 17 homers; and Carl Crawford, who leads the majors with 30 stolen bases, and has a .324 average.

And don't forget Ben Zobrist, who's third on the team in homers (8) and RBIs (26). And Akinori Iwamura was hitting .310 before his season-ending knee injury.

The Rays figure there is some balancing out to come, and that even if some of those doing well cool off, the ones struggling are going to get hot.

"If we get all that going we should get better," Crawford said. "It would be nice to see what we can all do."

Medical matters

By mid-June, the Rays hope to have SS Jason Bartlett (left ankle sprain) and DH Pat Burrell (neck strain) back in their lineup. RHP Chad Bradford (elbow surgery) and LHP Scott Kazmir (right quad strain) could be ready shortly after that. RHP Troy Percival (right shoulder tendinitis) and LHP Brian Shouse (left elbow strain) are less certain. Also on the DL are reserves Shawn Riggans and Fernando Perez, plus Iwamura.

Do the math

Things change, but some Rays are on pace for some impressive numbers.

162-game

Now projection

Longoria RBIs 55 168

Pena HRs 17 52

Crawford SBs 30 92

Longoria XB-hits 33 101

Garza Ks 66 202

A year apart

Though team officials keep saying it's early, last year's team was already doing pretty well by now. Here are some of the key differences:

2008 2009

W-L 32-21 25-28

Place (GB) 1 (+1.5) 4 (-5.5)

Home rec. 21-9 13-11

ERA 3.76 4.59

Starters W-L 24-14 20-21

Starters ERA 3.83 5.00

One-run games 7-7 5-11

Last at-bat games 8-4 3-3

Players on DL 3 9

Relief W-L-S 8-7-16 5-7-14

Relief ERA 3.63 4.05

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

What has happened, and what has to happen for the Tampa Bay Rays 06/01/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 2:00pm]
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