Rays Need to Wipe the Tarnish Off Their “Golden Arms”
Coming into the 2012 Major League Baseball season I do not think there was anyone connected with the game who had any major concerns about the Tampa Bay Rays starting pitching or their overhauled Bullpen. Most proclaimed them to be a pitching staff that was a year older, but considerably wiser beyond their years. From the only over 30 member of the starting rotation James Shields to rookie Matt Moore, the Rays were definitely a young staff to be wary of this season.
But how reality can change. How quickly things can go sideways, produce holes and show the Rays have a few situations, and not all of them have immediate solutions. Things looked up quickly for the Rays “Golden Arms” after sweeping the 2011 American League East champs, the New York Yankees at home. Quickly people were singing the praises of this young bunch of hurlers who seemed to have the midas touch, the “Golden Arms” moniker seem appropriate. Even after a hiccup of only winning one of three against the favored Detroit Tigers, the Rays seemed destine to head into the land of the Lobster and chowder with confidence and a chance.
Suddenly over a 3-game spread the Rays starters looked vulnerable, giving up extra base smashes that usually find a glove, or produce outs. Even though pitches were being placed perfectly in their quadrants, bats met ball almost like they knew it was going to be delivered there, without much sweat or guessing. Instantly eyes and fingers began to watch these Red Sox for clues or suggestions of a more clandestine reasoning for the Rays sudden fall from pitching grace. In an instant the once mystical Rays seemed bewildered and confused as speculation ran rampant that their secret formula had been deciphered and pilfered producing 3 straight dizzying losses to their divisional rival Boston.
The Rays seemed plagued by an aspiration more towards mediocrity than their acclaimed meteoric prediction. In a flash the Rays tumbled from the grace of promise to fall 0-3 and closer to the .500 mark before their ace, James Shields delivered them from the folly of losing all 4 contests to these Bostonians. Some say the difference was a change of habit, a visual game of hide and go seek where Rays catcher Jose Molina would do his best impression of hiding the corner and seeking the calls on the outside corners. Even if the strike zone did gain a few inches, it went both ways, but it did give Shields and the Rays a fighting chance.
You want to dissect the Rays starting staff and look for a fundamental reasoning for the Boston meltdown, but you will not find it. Tongues wagged that Moore was tipping off his pitches, but the same game outcome and hit barrage beset veteran hurler David Price and 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. How could a staff that stifled the Yankees less than a week before suddenly fall flat against a divisional rival they had winning history against in their ballpark. It is not like the Rays came into Boston complacent or sporting a superior record, somewhere the dike developed a leak and not until Shields hit the hill did it get plugged with success.
Some might contribute this strange quandary to the fact of a plethora of afternoon contests on this road trip, but that is the easy answer. The hard answer is this young staff is still maturing at times and can be vulnerable. The real answer is Hellickson and Moore have the abilities to shut down any American League offense, but if their control ticks even an inch off the plate, the Home Plate Umpire might not give that extra inch. That comes with experience and knowing which Umpire might be open to balls skipping the corners and who runs a tight strike zone. Worst thing is on any given night that variable could change without warning or hint.
We all know already if Shields and Price have the motors revving and are on point, only they can cost themselves a victory. Worst thing that could happen to the Rays is one of these two going down, or experiencing even a short span of wildness or ability to sit guys down via the outside corner called third strike. There is a gap between the experience levels of these two and the duo of Hellboy and M&M. Not even sure the tallest member of the silent assassins, Jeff Niemann can put himself into that middle ground at times. Even though the 6’9” Niemann can show the skills of an ace during his streaks, when he is off his game, weird things happen. You might consider Niemann a liability compared to the other 4 starters on this team, but when he is in his groove and popping balls into the strike zone, he looks more like a #3 starter than the back end option at #5.
The Rays starters just have to wipe the tarnish off their “Golden Arms” and again show the wealth and worth of their abilities to get the Rays close games that their offense can overcome and post wins. The Boston series was a debacle by any sense of the word, but this Toronto series might be the true test for the Rays starters. If they can harness themselves and post a winning edge in this first series in Canada, it could be a great launching pad into their home stand and again having people feel “golden” about this starting staff.