Up is down. Black is white. Night games are day games. The Rays’ offense keeps bailing out their inability to pitch or play defense.
We are truly through the looking glass here, folks.
The Rays offense has now scored 76 runs in 16 games. The Rays didn’t score their 76th run in 2011 until their 21st game (and they wouldn’t have made it that quickly if the Legend of Sam Fuld didn’t propel them to a 13-run outburst at Fenway Park). They’ve scored those runs despite using Sean Rodriguez/Reid Brignac AND Jose Molina/Some other C that can’t hit every single night. (Imagine where they’d be if they hadn’t left 112 runners on base in those 16 games…)
At this pace, the Rays will score 769.5 runs in 2012, lambasting their 2011 total of 707. I know, I know, 16 games is far too early to set a “pace.” But even if they come back to earth a little, it is VERY likely that the 2012 Rays are going to be an offensive juggernaut when compared to the light-hitting 2012 clubhouse. (Someone ask Johnny Damon about the DH/1B contribution again).
As unexpected as the offense has been, it isn’t the weirdest thing happening at the big ballpark by the Bay. Despite the emergence of the Greatest Show on Turf (as a Bucs fan, I hated those Rams teams but, they had a cool nickname that I am stealing, so there), the Rays have a WORSE run differential than they did in 2011.
Last season, the Rays only scored 707 runs (4.36 per game) but they held opponents to 614 runs (3.79 per game). In 16 games this summer, the Rays have been outscored 78-76. So, that puts this franchise, that was built on pitching and defense, in the odd posture of being saved by its offense.
A lot of things, honestly. The Rays starting pitchers have been mediocre, at best. With the exception of James Shields, who just balanced the staff with an impressive scoreless innings streak, the starting pitching has not been aggressive and cannot get deep into games. Then, they give the ball to a bullpen that has been downright terrible (besides Fernando Rodney).
Part of the reason the pitching has struggled is because the Rays’ vaunted defense is suddenly very porous. It’s not just the errors, it’s the mental mistakes that occur on a seemingly nightly basis.
I am not yet worried about either the pitching or the defense. The Rays’ players are talented in that arena and they are likely to come around and put together a good season. I am also not yet convinced that the Rays can keep up a 4.75 runs per game pace.
But, if they can survive this stretch of poor pitching and defense, they are going to win a lot of games this summer and may just be the team to beat in the American League.