Oakland Walk to a Win over the Rays

 

             Athletics 5,      Rays 2


Ben Margot / AP

Frustrations Mounting Fast

The worst part of the last couple of games is that the Rays have had their chances to mount sustained drives and have come away either empty-handed, or shot themselves in the foot on multiple occassions.  Some whispers in and outside of the Internet have hinted that it might be due to the large number of strikeouts by the Rays, and the number of walks given up by the pitching staff. I decided to do a little snooping around and see just what might be true or false with those statements.   First I decided to see how the Rays as a team are stacking up against the rest of the American League in those categories before trying to put any scientific or opinionated facts out there.

As of today, the Rays have a total of 151 strikeouts, which puts them third in the American League at this moment, but they are within striking range of again manning the top spot. That position right now is held with only 158 K’s by the Texas Rangers, who also was in the top 3 at the end of 2008. In comparison, the Rays pitching staff is ranked seventh in the AL in walks with 71 this season.  What that shows is that some of the people commenting that the Rays have been giving up too many walks is not completely accurate. But it is more to the fact that the Rays pitchers have been giving up too many walks in a condensed period of time.

Let me use today’s game as a good example. In the fourth inning, Rays starter Matt Garza gave up a lead-off walk to Orlando Cabrerra, then issued a second walk to Jason Giambi. Those kind of beginnings to an inning never seem to work out to the pitchers’ advantage. But after Matt Holliday hit a fly ball out to center field for the first out, it seemed he might have a chance to redeem himself. But he walked the next batter, Jack Cust to load the bases. That led to Nomar Garciaparra’s 3-run double to the left-center field wall on the first pitch he saw from Garza.  That instantly put the A’s up 4-0 on the Rays.

Situational pitching is an artform. Some pitchers seems to come by it naturally, while others struggle with it their entire careers. But what is killing the Rays right now is the fact that the squad is issuing some walks at the wrong moments in the game, and it is costing them dearly in the end. In their games this season, the Rays have issued 71 walks in 17 games, that is good enough for  over 4 walks a game. In two contests the team has issued over 6 walks a game and have gone 1-1 in those contests. The only win was during the Home Opener against the New York Yankees on April 13th.

But the Rays have not done themselves any favors in the offensive numbers either attached to strikeouts. in 6 of their losses, they have struck out over 9 times in a contest. the highest was actually during their Opening Day loss in Boston when they posted 14 strikeouts.  But that is not the only time they have suffered over 10 this season. They also posted 10 strikeouts in their second game agianst the Yankees at home on April 14th, 9 against the Chicago White Sox in a 12-2 loss to close out their last home stand, and 10 strikeouts the first game in Seattle to start this road trip.  In only one game have the Rays won when posting over 10 strikeouts. It was their lone win in Baltimore during their second series when they posted 10 K’s on the day.

Even during this series so far, the team has posted 12 strikeouts in two games. That figure might be lower than their average, which is sitting at 8.3 strikeouts per game right now. With that in mind, the Rays have topped the 8 strikeout mark in 10 of their 17 games, and have won only one of those games. The first thing to try tear apart here is the Hitting Coach. I do not think it is what Steve Henderson wants to see his club do on a nightly basis. I think he would not disagree that the burden here lies on the players for not taking intelligent swings at times. For a short period of time there, it almost seemed like Carl Crawford was just swinging into the air, not even expecting to hit anything.

       
        Ben Margot / AP

It is going to be a big test of Henderson’s patience and his expertise to again get this team to put their frustrations aside and begin to rebuild themselves from the ground up. But these guys are professional hitters’, it should not take long for them to discover and correct some of their flaws in the batters box. I mentioned Crawford above as a guy who seemed to be free-swinging a lot more than usual. This was true, but recently he has begun to see the ball better and is hitting it  as if it was a beach ball. But then you have guys like B J Upton, who have added pressure of being the lead-off man right now for the Rays and is mired in a bad slump.

His average has sunk to .171 this season, with no end in sight of the dismal beginning. His recent game in Oakland came down as an 0-4 with a single strikeout, but after the at bat, he took his bat and cracked it over his knee in visual frustration over the lack of power by himself and the team right now. In that game, Upton did get on base once via a walk in the sixth inning, but he was stranded at third base after a Rays rally was stopped cold by Oakland starter Dallas Braden.  Upton hit the ball three times in this game, but they were at people. 

The frustration level on this team is at an all time high, and it is only going to get worse until the Rays bats begin to strike some fear into opposing pitching staffs. Right now, there is not a staff in the American League that fears the Rays hitters besides maybe Carlos Pena, who is on a homer run tear right now. Over their last two series, the Rays are hitting .243 as a team with 22 total runs and 42 strikeouts. Over the past six games, that puts them 12th in the AL during that time. Only the Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s are underneath them, and Oakland is beginning to get hot.

      
       Ben Margot / AP

Is Matt Garza Getting Frustrated?

I am not sure if it is only Matt Garza that is starting to shoe outward frustration right now for the Rays. the enitre team seems to be in a dander, and not their usual confident and energetic selves on the field and at the plate. But Garza is a player who holds his emotion up close to his kin, and in yesterday’s fourth inning he seemed to almost bubble over on the mound. Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey did come out to the mound and seemd to make the right words cool the fires within Garza. He ended up getting back under control after Garciaparra’s RBI double and again pitch like a champion. After giving up that double, Garza retired the five of the next six batters  before getting into trouble in the sixth inning.

But the day did not start like that for him. He got two 1-2-3 innings before giving up a lead-off homer to Travis Buck in the thrid inning. Even after Buck’s shot, he retired the next three in a row to hold Oakland to a single run. Then came that fourth inning when 3 runs were given up by Garza on one hit. He had basically walked the bases full before Garciaparra’s drive to left-center.  Garza is one of this teams pitchers that needs to again regain some of the magic of 2008.  His 5.2 innings of work today yielded 4 runs on 4 hits, with 6 strikeuots. But his 4 walks did make the most damge today as three of those walks came around to score for the A’s.

           
            
Ben Margot  / AP

Aki is the Man

Since he left the lead-of
f spot this season for the Rays, Akinora Iwamura has been kind of quietly having a great season. Including today’s game, Aki is hitting .302 for the year, and has been one of the three consistent hitters on the team so far in 2009. His numbers might not jump out at you, but he has been doing great thing under the surface for the team. His 7 doubles are only one of the AL lead, and he is 5 for 5 in stolen bases this year.  He is 4 for 12 in his last 3 games with 2 doubles.

But since moving down to the bottom of the lineup for the Rays, Aki has not forgotten to be offensively motivated this season. Some players might view it as a bad omen to be figured into the bottom slots in the lineup, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon looks at it more like a “second” lead-off man, or a speedy option in the middle of a lineup. Iwamura has seemed to adopted well to the new spot, and is showing it with his bat. He was the first Rays to get on base today when he hit a single into right field in the third inning. In the fifth
inning, Aki again made his presence known when he stroked a RBI single to center field to begin the Rays coring on the day.

Aki might have cooled down a bit during the game, but his ninth inning at bat will be a controversial play for the rest of the season. With A’s closer Brad Ziegler on the mound, Aki hit a hard ball down the first baseline to Giambi.  the ball hit off of Giambi’s glove and he finally picked it up and tried to race Aki to the bag for the out.  First Base Umpire Mark Wegner called Iwamura out, but replays showed he had made the base in a stride before Giambi made it to the bag. After that play, the Rays went down in order the rest of the inning and lost their first game in Oakland this season.


Ben Margot / AP

Saturday Scrambles

****  The Rays on Saturday tried to win their second game in a row for only the second time in 2009. The only other time they have won two in a row was in their first series of the season against the Boston Red Sox. Up to today, that is also the only series the Rays have won this season.  Speaking of streaks, during their start to 2009, the Rays have now had two 3-game losing streaks and two 2-game losing streaks on the year.

**** With their current record of 7-10, the Rays have also  been at this mark 6 times in the franchise history, with the same record at this point in the season for the last  the past  4 out of 5 seasons. the lone exception since 2004, is the 2006 season, when they were 8-6 at this juncture in the season. Also of importance is the fact that at this point, the team has been in fifth place in the AL East each year, and have been from 3.5 to 5.5 games back of the division leader. The 2009 squad  however has the least amount of runs and errors after 17 games. The team does have their highest amount of stolen bases ( 24 ) in the franchise history at this point.

**** Carlos Pena’s two home runs last night have vaulted him into the major league lead this season.  The only other Rays player to lead the majors in home runs was Jose Canseco, who lead the majors as late as June 26,1999 with 28 homers.  Pena did lead the majors briefly early last season, when he had 6 homers on April 15th.  The 8 are currently tied for third-best in club history for April, and is onl three shy of the team record. Pena now has 14 homers over the past two Aprils, which is one shy of the tops in the majors held by Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.


****
The Rays currently lead the majors with 21 infield hits.
          They also have 24 stolen bases at this time, which leads the majors and are the most since the 1998 New York Yankees swiped 30 early in the year.
          They are currently fifth in the majors with 23 homers, which is their best output ever after 17 games.  

 

4 Comments

Baseball all seems to be about ebbs and flows; some days the players are hot and some days their not. As much as I would like to see the other teams in the AL East all fall away :-), I know that isn’t going to happen and I really that before too long the Rays will be back in the mix again. They are a much better team then they are showing right now.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

I know the Rays are a really good team and they will hit their hot streak where they are all hot at the same time. I mean the Giants had a 0-6 road trip and seemed like they were going to suck for the rest of the season. Then they went on to win 6 out of the next 7 games. Rays are a good team, so we all know they will be making some teams pay soon.

~King of Cali
http://kingofcali.mlblogs.com/

Considering they are only a tad below their 2008 record, I do see a sense or urgency beginning to take foot in the team and in the fan base.
But we have been here before, and we just have to be patient and know that on the road we can not cheer and be loud for them.
Time will tell what will happen in every division, not just the AL East.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Steve,
I am a believer in the team, I just see a few glaring holes that needed to be patched. Not throwing in the towel, or even considering anything drastic as moving B J Upton to the 8-hole.
The team is now playing 40 games in 41 days. In that unhuman strtch you have to consider the mental fatigue of this team. They played their last roadtrip without the off day becuase of the rain-out in Boston.
This team might just be physically drained right now……….We shall see.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

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