First Pitch: Rays mediocrity will last without financial help

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First Pitch: Rays mediocrity will last without financial help

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Barring a miracle finish -- and remember, last year they squeaked into the post-season in the final inning of their final game -- the Tampa Bay Rays will not be going to the playoffs this year.

There's no great shame there, of course. The Rays have reached the post-season in three of the last four seasons and won the American League East crown twice in that span -- or, once more than the Red Sox have in the last decade.

Naturally, they've done it with extremely modest resources. Their payroll is approximately 63 million. And that, of course, is part of the problem.

As improbably successful as they've been, there's a limit to what the Rays can accomplish and it's possible they've already peaked. Like the Oakland A's of a decade ago, the Rays seem to be headed for a dead end.

Yes, they've reached the playoffs three times in the last four years. But the last two times they qualified, they were knocked out in the Division Series -- once after winning two games, and last year, after winning one.

In the last three years, then, they've won a grand total of three post-season games. Aside from the satisfaction of reaching the playoffs over more monied competitors, what have they accomplished?

Most organizations are envious of the pitching the Rays have developed and stockpiled. The Rays can trot out a completely homegrown starting rotation, with every one of the starters under the age of 30. Most teams would give anything to have such a staff.

But as this season and the last two trips to the playoffs have demonstrated, pitching -- even young, affordable, quality pitching -- will only take you so far.

The Rays offense this year is pop-gun style. They ranked 12 (out of 14) in the A.L. in runs scored, 12th in slugging percentage and 10th in homers.

On Tuesday night, the Rays had just one hit going entering the fifth inning for the 30th time this season. Think about that: in about one-fifth of their games, they've had one or no hits almost halfway through the game.

That puts a tremendous strain on the pitching staff. And the defense hasn't helped, either. The Rays rank dead last in fielding percentage and stand to become the first team since 1945 to lead the league in ERA while being last in defense.

The problem? Payroll, of course. And it's not just the putrid support that the Rays get in the Tampa Bay market, though that itself is embarrassing. In the first three games of this homestand, which began with the team nominally still in the playoff chase despite a 1-5 road trip, they've drawn less than 36,000 fans.

Tied into a onerous lease at Tropicana Field, the Rays literally have nowhere to go. There isn't a single logical market to which they could move and there's no sign of a new deal in Tampa, Orlando or anywhere else that will change their fate.

But things don't have to be this bad. Their 2011 payroll of 42 million was much lower than it could have been. The Rays receive tens of millions in revenue sharing from MLB's central fund and tens of millions more from national TV money and the sport's wildly profitable advanced media inititives. Those payments alone, an industry source confirmed, would have more than covered the 2011 payroll -- before the Rays sold a single ticket, or local sponsorship.

The same could be said about this year's payroll: it wasn't absolutely necessary to have former Red Sox castoff and career journeyman Drew Sutton serve as the team's cleanup hitter for a while, as he did earlier this season.

But it seems like the Rays have fallen so in love with their underdog, us-against-the-world mentality that they're more interested in exceeding expectations than they are in winning a championship.

Had the Rays, for instance, invested in a catcher better than Jose Molina to handle their talented staff, perhaps this year would have ended better. Or if they had brought in a legitimate veteran hitter to protect Evan Longoria in the lineup -- and protect against his absence.

Already, there is talk that the Rays might have to move James Shields this winter because they may not be able to afford to retain him. In this regard, too, the Rays are repeating the cycle the Oakland A's went through last decade when their homegrown starters also became cost-prohibitive.

The Rays will finish with somewhere around 87 wins this year, and, in an off-year, that's nothing for which they need to apologize. Red Sox fans would surely happily switch places in the standings right now.

But until a solution to their stadium is found, or failing that, a step-up investment is made by owners, the Rays seem destined to hear lots of "atta-boys," and little else.

Quotes, notes and stars: Pedroia was focused on winning, not streak

Quotes, notes and stars: Pedroia was focused on winning, not streak

BOSTON -- Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 8-3 win over the Royals:

QUOTES

“I hadn’t really thought about it. Trying to win games. It’s late in the year . . . I don’t really have time to sit back and pat myself on the back for anything. We’re trying to win as a team.” - Dustin Pedroia on the importance of the 11-for-11 stretch in his career.

“It’s fun. It’s why you go to work in December, January, February. It’s all the work you put in up to this point. It feels good to go out there and get the results you expect to get, especially against a team like [the Royals] who is hot as they are right now.” - David Price on pitching meaningful games with a playoff-like atmosphere.

“Yeah, yeah we [knew about the streak] . . .  It was an awesome roll and it was fun to see . . . Every time I went up to hit, I let Salvador Perez know.” - Xander Bogaerts on Dustin Pedroia’s 11-for-11 streak.

“I think we’ve been able to handle velocity very well. We’ve got good bat-speed in out lineup, and we’re able to handle that.” - John Farrell on the offense thriving against good pitching.

 

NOTES

* David Ortiz played in his 1,000th game at Fenway Park, becoming the fifth player to do so.

* Ortiz also became the first player ever to play 2,000 games as the designated hitter.

* Mookie Betts scored his 100th run of the season off his 29th home run of the year, joining Fred Lynn, Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams as the only players to reach 100 runs before turning 24.

* The Red Sox hit back-to-back home runs for the fourth time this season with Betts and Hanley Ramirez going yard in the fifth.

* With his 2-for-4 day at the plate, Jackie Bradley Jr. improved to 34-for-94 (.362) batting ninth.

 

STARS

1) Dustin Pedroia

Pedroia finished 4-for-5, extending his streak to 11 hits in 11 at-bats, finishing one shy of tying the MLB record.

2) David Price

Price logged his fourth straight quality start with his six-inning, two-run start. He also dropped his ERA below 4.00 for the first time since his Opening Day start with Boston.

3) Salvador Perez

Perez finished 2-for-3 with two home runs. Saturday marked only the second multi-home run game of his career.

First impressions: Price, Pedroia lead Red Sox to 8-3 win over Royals

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First impressions: Price, Pedroia lead Red Sox to 8-3 win over Royals

BOSTON -- First impressions from the Red Sox 8-3 win over the Kansas City Royals:

 

David Price has found a groove.

Price finally brought his ERA below 4.00.

He’d been about that mark since his second start of the season. Twenty-six starts later, he finally reached the mark.

Saturday’s start marked Price’s fourth-straight quality start. Price will soon eclipse the 200-strikeout, reaching 186 K’s with his seven-strikeout performance.

Although the lefty hasn’t been at his best throughout much of the year, he’s caught fire of late.

Possibly at the most important part of the season, too.

 

Dustin Pedroia just missed making history, can’t buy an out.

Boston’s second baseman entered Saturday with seven hits in his last seven at-bats. He stretched that streak to 11-for-11 with a 4-for-4 game.

He had the chance to go 12-for-12 in the eighth, but weakly grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.

He’s also the first Red Sox player with three straight four-hit games at Fenway Park since 1913.

Boston’s second baseman continues to prove that his struggles in recent years were directly related to injuries, not diminishing performance.

 

The offense passed a big test.

It might’ve appeared that Danny Duffy was a middle-of-the-road pitcher with the way Red Sox hitters tattooed him in Saturday’s win.

But the right only had one loss in 19 starts, with a 2.66 ERA (2.61 as a starter).

Between the long balls and Dustin Pedroia’s incessant ways of late, they ballooned his ERA to 3.01.

A respectable number, still, but a jump of nearly a half of a run.

 

Sandy Leon’s in a minor cold spell.

Possibly the greatest story of Boston’s 2016 offense, Leon hasn’t had too many struggles along the way.

But after finishing 0-for-4 Saturday night, he’s only 2-for-21 (.095) in his last five games.

Saturday also marked only the third time all season where he was held hitless in back-to-back games.

These things happen to everyone, but it was starting to look like Leon didn’t fall under the category of “everyone.”