With the 2020 season being shortened, so should the overreaction time. The average fan overreacts through the first 10 games all the time. In 2020, even the highly advanced fan has to change their mindset to think a bit differently. The Tampa Bay Rays started off very well, winning four in a row and leading the East with a 4-1 record. They then left for the road and they haven’t won since. Losing five in a row, including three straight to the doormat Baltimore Orioles, can really raise some high levels of concern.
As much pessimism as there is, there can also be some optimism to be found. Let’s check out three positives and three negatives to take away from the first 10 games of the season.
As bad as things have been lately, there are several things to be optimistic about. In a shortened 60-game season, it’s imperative that the team starts to see what can go right versus what has gone wrong. So what exactly should the Rays be proud of through the first 10 games?
Bullpen Sharp Early
Despite the top of the rotation struggling, the bullpen has done their part in keeping the games within striking range. The Rays have been behind in eight of the 10 games when the starter has left the game, so the success has come from some surprising names. Two players that need recognition are Ryan Thompson and Jalen Beeks.
Thompson, a rookie, has used his 3/4 arm angle to create deception and ground balls. His ERA is a nice 1.59 to start his career.
Jalen Beeks has been used in some bulk relief efforts. He leads the bullpen in innings pitched, and has become more of a strikeout pitcher with his increase in velocity. Averaging almost two strikeouts per inning.
With the lead, the Rays have also been very solid. The core four at the back end have done their job. Hopefully the Rays lineup and starters can give them more opportunities in the future for some shutdown work.
Back End of Rotation
Coming into the 2020 season, the Rays had Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos lined up for the fourth and fifth spots. Chirinos missed timed during summer camp with a positive COVID test, while Yarbrough has bounced between starter, bulk, and other relief duties. Definite questions about those two and how they would look out of the starting gate.
The first shock came when Yarbrough was given the ball for second game of the season. This happened because he was healthy, and most stretched out to give the Rays a quality start. In his two starts, he has thrown the most innings while having an ERA of 1.54. He doesn’t overpower anyone but he gives the Rays the necessary length as a starter and can keep power hitters off balance.
Chirinos only needed one instrasquad start to say he was ready to go. The fifth starter, after two starts, leads the starting rotation with a 1.04 ERA. Quite a nice job with such little prep time.
Having these two be the best starters through the first 10 games is both a blessing and a curse. If they can continue to hold serve in the back of the rotation, that can only mean good things for the Rays in their last 50 games.
Lowe and Wendle Hot Starts
Our best hitters happen to play the same primary position. Brandon Lowe was off to a torrential start last year when he was named an All-Star in his rookie season. An injury kept him out the majority of the second half of last season, but was able to play well in the playoffs when he returned. This year, he has picked it right back up. Seven of his 10 hits have gone for extra bases, including two home runs over the weekend in Baltimore. With Austin Meadows looking to return soon, a 1-2 punch of Meadows and Lowe at the top of the lineup should be a fun sight to see for hopefully the rest of 2020 and beyond.
One of the bounce-back players for 2020 on the Rays was Joey Wendle. Wendle had a few freak injuries keep him on the sideline for most of the season last year. In only eight games, he has a .292 average with a home run and a double. His short, compact swing is back to his 2018 campaign. With others in the infield struggling, don’t be surprised to see Wendle’s bat get some more playing time.
Amidst a five-game losing streak, there are many directions to point for the reason behind the struggles. Here are three that need to be addressed in order for the Rays to get back to their successful ways.
Through the first ten games, the Rays have 10 home runs. Doesn’t sound too bad when you say it that way, but when half of them came in one game, there is reason to be worried. Brandon Lowe and Hunter Renfroe lead the team with two homers apiece but the lack of power has lead to low run production. It’s not just the long ball either. The offense is averaging less than three extra-base hits per game through the first 10 games. In a game where power is king, the Rays need to get the loud bats going.
The Rays brought in several big bats this year to add thump in the middle of the lineup. When Lowe, the number two hitter, has nearly a quarter of the team’s extra base hits, there is a need for something to change.
Big Three Arms Struggling
Coming into the season, many believed the Rays to have the best top three in a rotation, perhaps in all of baseball. Through 10 games, all five starters have made two starts, one home and one away. Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow have yet to get a win, and they post a combined ERA of 5.50 and WHIP of 1.455. This is not a recipe for success.
Glasnow has looked the best of the three as his stuff remains nasty. He had some control issues in his second start but not too much worry with the tall right-hander. If the focus is just on Snell and Morton, the numbers and concern rise even further. If the Rays are going to turn it around, they’ll need the starting pitching to be what many thought it would be.
Lack of Enthusiasm
This can be taken different ways, but most would agree that they don’t see the spark that they are used to seeing with this club. The defense has struggled a bit and that’s another piece of the game that isn’t usually concerning.
Willy Adames has four errors through his first nine games. He is making the easy plays look tough and the tough ones, even tougher. For a young player like Adames, that can take a toll on him. Luckily, his offense has turned up a bit with a team leading .333 average.
Kevin Kiermaier has made his usual spectacular plays but he has also shown some struggles out in centerfield. He also made a crucial mistake on the base paths the other night. A mistake he took full responsibility for, but those type of plays seem amplified during a losing streak.
Something just seems a bit “off” when it comes to the teams’ discipline and demeanor on the field. Nothing a trip back home and a day off can’t fix, hopefully.
Ten games into the season is usually not a time to worry. However, in a 60-game season, there is going to be a certain level of panic when a team gets off to a slow start. With eight teams in the American League making the playoffs, there is no need to write off the season after a 4-6 start, but it’s time to get going in the right direction.
The Rays welcome the last-place Boston Red Sox to the Trop for a quick two-game series starting Tuesday. This comes after their first off day on Monday. Charlie Morton will look to make the third start a charm as he faces former Ray Nathan Eovaldi.
The next 23 games are against American League East opponents. Time to get to work.
Embed from Getty Images