Thursday, December 14, 2017
Sports

More homers aren't producing more runs for Rays

TORONTO — By this afternoon or Thursday or sometime over the weekend in Baltimore, the Rays will hit two more home runs to reach 200 for the season.

Not only is that a nice round number, it is a significant one, as doing so will break the team record of 199 set in 2009.

That is an achievement, one to be noted, archived and even mildly celebrated.

But it should not be confused with an accomplishment.

That's because the power show, including two homers in Tuesday's 6-2 victory over the Blue Jays, hasn't exactly lit up the scoreboard. There has been only a marginal impact on the number of runs the Rays are scoring, less than .25 more per game, which is really the bottom line. And maybe even has taken away from their overall offensive efforts.

"I think it's a positive," said second baseman Logan Forsythe, "and maybe a negative in some aspects."

Manager Kevin Cash said the same thing about the record total in a different way.

"I don't view that one way or another," he said. "I could care less. Just not happy that we're not winning many games. Ultimately we have to score more runs. How they come is not that concerning."

After finishing last in the American League in 2014 with 612 runs, and 14th in 2015 with 644, the Rays realized that they had to try to do better.

So that became the agenda for the offseason, as they veered a bit away from their pitching-and-defense mantra to boost the offense by adding several supposed power bats.

To some extent, that worked, topped by the unexpected 28 homers from Brad Miller, plus 19 by cold-and-hot Corey Dickerson and 14 from Logan Morrison between injuries.

And some of their holdovers have flexed their muscles, Evan Longoria one shy of his career best of 33, Forsythe at 19, Steven Souza Jr., despite his injuries and inconsistencies, hitting his 17th on Tuesday.

"I'm a fan of the power numbers we've put up this season," Forsythe said. "That's something we wanted in bringing these guys in."

But the big home run totals, fourth most in the league, have helped only a little bit as the Rays still rank only 13th in the league in runs and are on a pace for just 682.

"It's one of those things you can definitely hang your hat on it and say we're capable of doing it," Longoria said. "Now let's just do it and score more runs while doing it."

So why has hitting more home runs not helped more?

Well …

• They don't hit them at the right time.

Of their 198 homers, 124 have been hit with no one on base, roughly 63 percent. That's the second most solo shots in the league and the sixth highest percentage.

In other words, they are not maximizing their damage.

"It's situational hitting, that's all it is," Longoria said. "It's just finding a way in these situations where you've got runners on to hit home runs."

• They don't hit them when it matters most.

Only five of the 198 have come from the eighth inning on to win a game. (Conversely, they have allowed 11 of those.)

And consider that they have not hit a walkoff homer in more than two years, since May 22, 2014 (Sean Rodriguez, vs. Oakland), the longest such drought in the majors. (And, since you were wondering, they have allowed 11 in that span.)

• They don't do enough other things.

The Rays scored 294 of their first 607 runs on home runs, the 48.4 percentage too high, second in the AL and third most in the majors (behind the Mets and Orioles).

That is the result of ranking at or near the bottom in on-base percentage and batting average overall and with runners in scoring position, and near the top in strikeouts, all of which seem to be factors in the recent change in hitting coaches, with Derek Shelton fired and replaced by Chad Mottola.

"It goes back to that timely hitting that we talk about all year, the runners in scoring position," Forsythe said.

At a time when home runs are up throughout baseball, the Rays are definitely getting theirs.

But they found out that was nowhere near enough not to be going, going, gone from the playoff race.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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