Rays Players Highs and Low in 2009
Bill Koustron / AP
There was some ramblings during the last months of 2008 that if that Tampa Bay Rays squad did not make the playoffs, they would be referred to as the “Best Rays team to never make the playoffs”. Well, with their huge mountain of success that season I can safely say they will never have that title attached to their legacy because of the 2009 team’s fall from grace. But, the 2009 team could very well be the team that will be in your minds for a long time as the team was good enough to win a post season berth based on their talent, but fell short of the goals with their game results.
Even with 15 games to go in the 2009 season, and the playoff balloon sitting on the ground with no more air in it for fight or flight, this Rays team is still fighting for a few of its members to post career numbers and fight for Top 10 rankings in categories all throughout the American League. Considering this is the same Rays team that sent 5 members and their entire Coaching Staff to the 2009 All Star Game in St. Louis, Missouri. And even with the improbable story of Carl Crawford walking away with the games MVP award on a monster catch in leftfield, it might be just as rewarding to remember the season of Ben Zobrist, who caught the last out of the All Star game.
So let’s take a look with 15 games to play in some of the American League leaderboard and some of its categories both good and bad, and see where our 2009 Rays team can make some historic marks for future Rays players to aspire to beat or avoid totally :
*** Even with two pins in his fingers, Carlos Pena is still the Home Run leader in the American League with 39 this season. With 15 games left, Pena’s biggest competition comes from Yankees First Baseman Mark Teixeira, who is 4 home runs away from catching fellow first baseman Pena. This battle might come down to the last series between the teams in October.
*** Evan Longoria is also fighting Teixeira for the AL Runs Batted In title right now as Longoria currently has 104 RBI and is just 8 RBI away from catching Teixeira for the title. Longoria, who is only in his second season at the major league level would become the first Rays player to hold such a title.
*** Carl Crawford has his hands in at least two chases for titles with one currently just 1 more than his career best. That is right, currently Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury, who has 61 stolen bases is leading the Stolen Base category, but Crawford is right behind him with 57 steals at this time. Crawford also is 29 hits short of 200 total hits for the season, and with both titles within his reach, you might see a few more chances by Crawford both at the plate and on the base paths in the last 15 games.
*** Both Longoria and Crawford also are currently tied for 10th in total games played this season with 142. the top spot is currently held by the Orioles Nick Markakis and Yankee Robinson Cano, who both have 146 games this season. Crawford is also currently 11th in at bats this season with 564 prior to tonight games against the Toronto Blue Jays. Longoria is also currently sitting in the 4th spot in doubles with 44 this season for the Rays.
*** Jason Bartlett has made a name for himself this season with his bat. Not only has he set new career highs in home runs and RBI, but he is currently batting to stay within the top 5 in AL Batting Average right now. Bartlett is sitting in 5th place at this moment with a .324 average, and is within .004 of tying Yankee Derek Jeter for the 4th spot. Bartlett is also holding strong in the race for triples where he currently sits in 7th place in a tie with fellow Rays Crawford and Ben Zobrist with 7 triples. The AL leader has only 9 triples, so the title is out there for any of the three to take it this season.
*** Then we have Longoria who is also right out of the Top 5 spots with 283 total bases in 2009. And there are currently two Rays in the top 10 for Walks this season in the AL. Pena is sitting in the 7th spot with 87 walks this season, and Zobrist is right behind him in 8th with a total of 85 walks in 2009. Zobrist has more of a chance to hit the Top 5 by the end of the season.
*** There is one category that the Rays probably wish they did not have 4 members in the Top 20 this season… Strikeouts. Pena is no longer in the top spot, but is holding down the 2nd spot with B J Upton sitting at the 5th spot with 147 K’s in the season. Longoria is also in the 10th spot with 127 strikeouts so far this season. And coming in 20th is the Rays new Designated Hitter, Pat Burrell with 109 for the year.
*** As we continue on the unhappy trail of some negative Top AL spots for the Rays, both Crawford (14) and Upton (13) are in the top 3 base runners caught stealing this season. This includes picked off of the bases and actual steals during games. And another honor that he might wish he did not have, Longoria is on pace to be the top offender in Grounding into Double Plays this season as he is the current leader with 27, just 1 GIDP short of the MLB lead right now.
So now that we have established that several Rays players are having career seasons in 2009, lets head on over to the American League leaderboard in the pitching categories and see if we might also have some contenders for top 10 spots on the Rays pitching staff:
*** Rays starter Matt Garza is currently sitting in the 8th spot in the AL in Strikeouts this season with 167. With another start on Saturday night, Garza might have a chance to boost himself closer to the top 5 spot currently held by Toronto’s Roy Halladay with 187 strikeouts. But in reality, he might not get to the 200 K plateau, but it has been a great season for the Rays rightie. James Shields also is in the top 15 in the AL in strikeouts sitting at 14th place with 145 this season.
*** Rays reliever J P Howell is currently sitting in the 6th spot for appearances with 67 this season. The top spot currently is only 4 appearance more than Howell’s, but that might be unrealistic as the Rays have unofficially shut down Howell at this time due to arm fatigue.
*** Rays starter Shields is also currently sitting in the Top 3 in Games Starts this season with 30, and is well within the top spot in the AL, which is held by Yankee CC Sabathia and Tiger Justin Verlander with 31 starts. But in reality, there are 10 people sharing the spot with Shields who will be making his 31st start of the season tonight against the Blue Jays at home.
*** Rays rookie Jeff Niemann also has a few spots within the top 20 in several categories for the Rays in 2009. In his first full season with the team, Niemann is currently 14th in wins with 12 this season and 14th in ERA (3.80). The Rays AL Rookie of the Year candidate also is in the 8th spot for Complete Games (2) and is in a 4-way tie for Shutouts with two this season.
*** The Rays also have three members of their starting rotation Niemann, Garza and Shields in the Top 20 in the AL ERA category this season. And at this moment, both Shields (198.2) and Garza (185.0) are within the top 15 for total innings pitched this season for the Rays. Garza also has the 3rd best Opponents Average in the AL currently sitting at .234 mark.
*** And some of the marks that the Rays pitching staff wishes it did not have in 2009 consists of Shields surrendering the second worst amount of hits this season in the AL with 217 hits. Also in the Red spots for the Rays is Shields with the third worst amount of runs scored against him in 2009 with 101 this season. And it gets even worse as Shields is also in third surrendering 27 HR this season.
*** And just because his name did not flash in the last paragraph doesn’t mean that Garza also is off the hook with bad statistics this season. He is currently the second worst pitcher in the AL in hit batsmen this season. Garza is also within the Top 3 in Walks Allowed this season in th American League with 68 so far this season.
So as you can see, the Rays harbor some of the best young talent in the American League. With a splattering of great events throughout this season taking the spotlight away from the reality of the disastrous events of the last few weeks, this team has struggled the entire year to decide what kind of team they wanted to be both on the mound and at the plate. That indecision might have led to the final free fall in September that dashed their dreams of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
But the solid foundation of this Rays team is strong and should be able to weather the storm of 2009 and come out strong again in 2010. Even with their expected 3 young starters with a year or less of MLB service hitting the mound in 2010, the Rays should again be the team to watch in the AL East. Because with this season coming to a close, the learning process of this squad will not stop with the games. In the off season you can be sure that the hitters and the pitchers will be working hard to again get the taste of champagne in their mouths.
And the stark reality that this team is being built for the long haul and not just a single season or two of championship caliber talent might hasten their rise again to the top of the AL standings. With the Rays minor league system again brimming with young talent striving to make a mark so they can get a shot in the big leagues, this team might be again the envy of most of the Major League Baseball world.
So this team might be considered a failure by some, but the reality of the situation is that the team could finish with the second best record EVER by a Rays team in 2009 and be considered a failure by the critics around the league. Just because the team took a step backwards in 2009 doesn’t mean they are losing their grips or going to go into another free fall towards mediocrity in 2010. The team again will be stocked with tremendous talent with the abilities to again have the team celebrating next October.
It might be one step back, but it is not as if the team stepped off a large cliff and is destined for the rocky bottom. There is a current team who also struggled like the Rays the season after they appeared in the World Series. The Colorado Rockies came upon the same fate as the Rays and lost their chance at a world title. And the team did take a backwards step in 2008, but in 2009 they currently are riding high with a chance to again make the post season in the National League.
Anything is possible for the Rays in 2010. With the example of the Rockies also coming off the rock pile and again chasing the top spots there is hope and a sense of determination from these Rays players to be next season’s Rockies and again go to the MLB playoffs. So maybe it is now that the team needs to set a short term goal of showing the community their commitment and their striving to again post “W’s” in the left column for the next 15 games. This team might be the worst of the best Rays team to ever set foot on the Trop’s turf, but it is in no way comparable to the 2007 squad.