After getting off to a roaring start, the Tampa Bay Rays have really hit the skids in June. Since reaching their high watermark at 32-12 on May 23, the Rays have gone 12-19 and seen a six game lead in the division turned into a 2 ½ game deficit. What’s worse, some of the frustration of losing boiled over when BJ Upton and Evan Longoria engaged in a shouting match in the dugout during today’s game. At one point the darlings of all of baseball, the Rays now stand at a cross roads.
For the first six weeks of the season, the Rays’ were sustained by a dominant pitching staff, but in the month of June the team’s ERA has increased by over one full earned run per game. In particular, James Shields, Matt Garza and Wade Davis have all suffered a significant decline in performance. That trio has posted June ERAs of 7.40, 7.84 and 7.32, respectively. In other words, the Rays have been trotting out three AJ Burnetts for the entire month, so it’s no wonder they have struggled so mightily.
The inability to win low scoring games has also been part of the Rays’ problem as of late. Despite ranking fourth in runs per game, the Rays are only 4-27 when scoring three or fewer runs. Perhaps that frustration (an .086 batting average in the weekend series against the DBacks probably didn’t help) is what led to today’s blowup between BJ Upton and Evan Longoria during the Rays’ 2-1 loss to the Diamondbacks. According to reports, Longoria chided Upton for not hustling after a triple by Rusty Ryal, after which the Rays’ centerfielder exploded and had to be restrained. Upton’s painfully slow pursuit of the ball was obvious, so Longoria’s reaction was more than justified.
BJ Upton has had issues with hustling in the past, prompting Rays’ manager Joe Maddon to remove and bench his talented centerfielder on more than one occasion. The fact that the similar incidents continue to occur, and that Longoria felt the need to confront Upton, suggests that Maddon has not gotten his message across. Despite being one of the more clever tacticians among baseball managers, instilling discipline and handling the clubhouse may be chinks in Maddon’s armor.
There is plenty of time for the Rays to pull things back together, but they do have some real concerns. Shields, Garza and Davis should all rebound from awful Junes, but the collective youth of the pitching staff does raise questions about its ability to hold up over the dog days of the pennant race. On the offensive side, only Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria have held up their ends of the bargain. The Rays’ lineup is still chock full of talent, but one wonders whether Carlos Pena’s contract year and the turmoil surrounding Upton might inhibit their performances going forward.
While the Rays try to pick up the pieces, it is incumbent upon the Yankees to build their lead as much as possible. The same opportunity also exists relative to the Red Sox, who could be without Dustin Pedroia for an extended period of time. The Yankees have managed to not only survive, but thrive amid a spate of injuries and inconsistent performances from key contributors, so if they can finally put things together, now may be the time to pull ahead.
American League Records When Scoring Three Runs or Fewer