Yesterday morning, Dave Schoenfield started pushing the panic button over at The Sweet Spot.
By way of previewing the Rays first series with the Sox, Schoenfield concluded that the Rays were in big trouble because the starting pitching has been shaky, the bullpen hasn’t been replaced, and, most importantly, because they can’t score runs. He wrote:
As miserable as the Red Sox have played so far, at least they can look at a lineup that includes Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford,Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz and know — eventually — they’re going to score a lot of runs.
The fans of the Tampa Bay Rays, however, are staring down a lineup that includes Triple-A veteran Dan Johnson hitting cleanup, Cubs castoff Sam Fuld hitting leadoff and 37-year-old Johnny Damon trying to hold off the cruelties of age.
Well. Dave. Take that! (Sam Fuld is so locked in he voluntarily waived the cycle to take a second double…much to David Price’s chagrin).
No. Seriously, I disagree with the new Sweet Spot boss because I think he dramatically overstated the Rays pitching problems. In fact, I think the pitching performance is the reason there is no need to worry.
Take Jeff Niemann’s two stink bombs away and the Rays starters go from a 5.26 ERA to a 4.67 ERA. Niemann definitely has some issues he needs to work out but, outside of those problems, the other 4 starters have given the Rays plenty of chances to win in the season’s first 11 games (including last night’s gem at Fenway from the rookie in need of a nickname). I am pretty confident that Niemann is going to figure it out but, his slow start alone can’t tarnish what the rest of the staff is doing.
Similarly, remove the struggling Jake McGee and the bullpen ERA goes from 3.60 to 3.22. More than sufficient to win a lot of games in the American League. In fact, this bullpen reminds me a lot of the 2009 bullpen that, without explanation or elaboration, became the much-ballyhooed 2010 bullpen. (Besides, anyone wishing for the glory days of 2010 only need watch Dan Wheeler giving up runs late in the game last night to remember it wasn’t all puppy dogs and ice cream).
Unfortunately, as Dave rightly points out, there is no statistical panacea for the Rays offense (short of more dates with Dice-K). But, I think that begs the question. Who would you rather be? The Rays, who look like they will pitch well on a consistent basis but struggle for runs unless a few key guys get healthy and step up or, the Sox, who will be able to outscore the Patriots but can’t get anyone out.
It’s the age-old good hitting or good pitching debate. Based on Game 11, let’s stick with the boys in Blue.