Coming into the season it was widely known that the Rays would have a fight on their hands.
We all knew the defending American League champions were going to have to participate in a Battle Royale for AL East supremacy. What we couldn't have predicted, however, was that it would be the Rays themselves, and not the juggernauts of the East that would lead to their ultimately demise.
Let's take a look at three reasons the Rays will be on the outside looking in this October.
1. The Bullpen
Statistically speaking, the Rays Bullpen has been solid. They rest comfortably with a 3.94 ERA and are near the bottom in batting average and home runs. But the lack of a true closer, and the lack or bullpen slots has finally caught up to them.
J.P. Howell has been good, but he also leads the league with eight blown saves. Of all relievers in the AL, the Rays have three pitchers in the top of the blown-save leader category. Grant Balfour has five and Dan Wheeler has four. These are not good stats.
Someone needs to step up next year to be able to take the ball at the end of the game. Joe Maddon needs to start working on this now. It is imperative.
All of the other stats don't mean a damn thing if you can't pick up the save.
2. BJ Upton
So much promise.
Coming off last years playoff performance everyone thought this was Upton's breakout year. Everyone. If anyone says differently, then you may find them with their pants on fire. As in they are a dirty rotten liar.
Truth is, Upton has struggled so much at the plate that it has given me reason to actually feel relieved when the Gabe squared tandem is thrown into the mix. I started feeling excited when Zobrist was in center.
He looked lost, and often times he would take it out onto the field with him.
He showed his frustration in the way he tracked down balls. I still think he is one of the most talented outfielders in the game, but he would get late breaks on balls, make feeble attempts to get the ball back into the infield after a hit, and on more than one occasion flat-out drop a ball in the air.
This isn't the BJ Upton we expected.
He has 37 stolen bases as of now. Imagine how many he would have if his average was higher than .236. The Rays would become so lethal that catchers would just give up. They would retire before games, just so they wouldn't have to deal with the Rays.
Upton/Carl Crawford/Jason Bartlett could turn into Ozzie Smith/Willie McGee/Vince Colemen (1980's reference, what up?).
3. The Rotation
Yeah, they have been good. Very good at times. But next year is when it will all come together.
Who was this year's ace? Jeff Niemann? Matt Garza? James Shields? You don't know? Me either, and neither do the Rays starters.
I cannot stress enough how much the Rays pitching staff needs to go into next year with one mindset, "I am the Ace of this staff." All of them. Even Wade Davis.
There is so much talent in the rotation, that they should not accept anything other than finishing one through five in the Cy Young voting next year.
This year's staff had talent, but lacked confidence. You could see it on their faces. When they had the swagger, they pitched well. When they couldn't muster it up, it was a long night.
A lot of this might have to do with the Bullpen too. I might be reluctant to pitch my heart out if I was going to hand the ball to a blown save.
So there you go. The recipe for success.
While were asking for things, I would really like to see the entire team healthy for a full season too. I'm talking to you Pat Burrell.
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