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You see it in the Tampa Bay Rays night after night. Pushing sometimes past the limits of physical exertion into those uncharted waters. This season has already produced more of its share of wild twists of fate. The worst has been watching this once dominant team at home somehow lose that “ home turf” advantage, watching loss after loss stack up where victories once lived.
There was a time when a 3-3 split in a 6-game home stand might be acceptable, but no more. Once the Rays had that subconscious advantage of team’s coming into Tropicana Field knowing this was the place where visitor’s win come to die. In 2011, the Rays have played 30 of their 55 games in the 72 degree confines of the Trop, but have only produced a sub .500 mark of 14-16.
This was the stadium that once boasted the some of the best Major League Baseball home records, but now even the 10th man (fans) can not seem to drive the Rays towards the finish line with any clarity. Some might say the problem lies in the fact the Rays have now played their 16th game in a row against a team with a .500 or better record. But don’t you have to beat the best to be the best?
Sure the Rays have amped up their offensive output during this home stand, but that still only manufactured a .500 record ( 3-3). Averaging 5 runs a game this series has been critical to even producing those 3 victories. Before they finally took out their boom-boom sticks at home, the Rays were averaging only 2.9 runs per game.
Still, currently the Rays are averaging 3.2 runs at home compared to their 5.5 runs on the road. How much of a disparity is that? Well, the Rays at home rank 25th in MLB in offensive output, while on the road they are 3rd in the MLB (2nd in the AL). Interesting enough, the Rays have scored 6 runs or more 14 times already in 2011, but have only turned over the digits on the scoreboard that high twice in their home confines.
So what is so different about 2011 that the Rays have sunk to new lows at home? Some point towards the roster changes, but even that is stretching it a bit thin. Sure there have been huge personnel changes, but after a Spring Training schedule and 55 games, the team should be more comfortable in their playing style, and guys showing their tendencies to teammates.
It hasn’t been the starting pitching. That has been one of the great strong suits of this Rays team that starters have gone long in games, produced some outstanding results, and have handed the Rays Bullpen only a handful of critical and potentially harmful situations. But still this team sulks below ,500.
Could our want for this squad to resemble the 2008 and 2010 teams been too much pressure too soon, or possibly could the Rays just not be there yet with this revamped team chemistry. The potential and the spirit is still soaring on this Rays club, even as they near the .500 mark overall. Consider this for a moment, if the Rays did not sport a winning record on the road, they might be farther in the pack in the American League East.
Instead this team has been within 3 games of the top of the AL East leaderboard for 45 straight days ( since April 18th). More frustrating is the Rays have now lost 8 of their last 12 games, possibly finally hitting the first wall of the season. And with a road trip facing over .500 Seattle and Los Angeles firmly in their sights, it is time to either buck up of take shelter.
It is not like guys like Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce are not trying to push this team past their home flaws. Flying under the radar is the fact the Rays actually came out of May with a winning record ( 14-13) . This is only the third time in club history the team has achieved that mark.
Interesting point is that the Rays sport a 2.00 ERA in their 14 wins, while watching that mark fall rapidly towards a 5.90 ERA in their 13 losses this May. Rays Manager Joe Maddon always says “Pitching sets the tone”. But how can a part of the Rays game that has been so dominant also be one of it’s breaking points?
Maybe the Rays need to use that K. I. S. S. mentality we all learned as kids. Keep It Simple Stupid seemed to work for us, maybe it is the invisible mantra for June with AL East rival Boston invading the Trop this month along with Inter-League foes Cincinnati and Interstate foe, the Fish (Marlins). Out of their 27 games this June, only only 10 are home games.
Suddenly their home record will be the test of time for these young Rays. If they can not produce a over .500 mark this month, their place at the table may fall by the wayside. Suddenly it seems that a sweep of the Red Sox and at least a .500 Inter-League mark might be the salvation for the Rays potential late season run.
Wild how a team that for the last three seasons sported one of the most intimidating home environments is now faced with a revamping, or re-channeling of their home vibe. Could the visitor’s ears finally gone deaf to the sound of the cowbells?
Could the once loud crowds and cheering Rays Republic suddenly gone silent much like Kevin Costner’s character Billy Chapel “ clearing the mechanism” to hush the Yankee crowd noise in “For The Love of the Game”. We want to point fingers on why this is happening. Want answers and changes simultaneously to occur to nip this evil in the bud.
This team has to finds a way to again evoke fear, intimidation and a sense of defeat when teams enter to Trop for games. Somehow we got to get that “Pit” mentality back that Maddon spoke about so many times in the past. But it doesn’t start with the 10th man, the first 9 have to produce, entice and make the environment prime for victory again.
Maybe something as simple as opening a can of whoop a$$ when the Rays return home to face Boston on June 14th is the answer. If not, it might be the final pebble in the way of this Rays rock rolling downhill, further pushing them away from their goal and dream of again celebrating in October.