There is good news following the Rays’ disappointing series loss to Baltimore: they are heading back out of the road very soon.
After the weekend series (which had an odd, deja vu-ish, feeling, didn’t it?) the Rays are now 10-12 at home. That is by far the worst home record of any current contender. (I thought it would be among the worst in baseball but the White Sox and Twins apparently openly dislike their fans or something.) Now, I know that the Rays opened the season with a quick 0-5 in the Big Ballpark by the Bay so, 10-12 isn’t too surprising. In fact, if I were still on the Rays’ PR staff I might even argue that the Rays are 10-7 at home after that awful start. But the losing record isn’t the only issue. The Rays are playing awful at home.
The Rays have yet to score more than 5 runs in their own ballpark, tying them with the 1907 St. Louis Cardinals for the second-longest 5-run-or-less stretch in baseball history. And, if they don’t crack one open against AJ Burnett or Ivan Nova, the 1906 Brooklyn Superbas’ 26-game streak is in their sights (Can we agree that someone should change their name to the Superbas? That is so much cooler than, say, “Devil Rays.” Right?). They are scoring just 2.78 runs per game at the Trop — 3.39 fewer than they are scoring away from home. That is the second worst home offense in baseball (thank you San Diego) and the largest differential between home and away.
So what gives? Are the youngin’s on the roster having too much fun in Dowtown St. Pete the night before home affairs? Has Stu handed down a mandate instructing the Rays to remain competitive at home without winning too much in an Extra 2%-ish plan to get a new ballpark? Should we be worried?
I don’t know what is causing the hometown blues but, I am fairly certain it has nothing to do with the number of deviled crabs the players are eating while they are at home. Also — and pay close attention here Forbes.com — I don’t think it has anything to do with the crowds.* For now, I just think it is the classic tendency to relax when you return home after a long road trip.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Rays have a brutal travel schedule. So, it is natural for them to return from the road and ease up on the intensity after a night in their own beds. Also, I think young players tend to be more focused on the road because they know how difficult it can be to win in places like Boston and New York. Perhaps that extra focus on the road doesn’t come to the Trop for Baltimore because the young Rays are expecting a little homefield advantage.
Can I prove any of that? Nope. I am just guessing and so are you (and hopefully so is the skipper who needs to fix this). Either way, I don’t think it is anything to worry about yet. The 2010 Rays were a .500-ish home team in April and May but raced out to a division lead with a great opening road trip. The 2008 Rays also played middling ball at the Trop early in the season before catching fire. Based on this club’s total body of work, I fully expect them to improve at home (the budding stats nerd in me feels like this is a good place to use the verb “regress” but I am uncertain.)
*It is crazy to me that labor bargaining has reached this kind of brinkmanship but, just to remain consistent, I reiterate that the Rays are not going to be contracted.