The Tampa Bay Rays struggled early on this season, but came into this series on a five game winning streak. To learn a little more about one of the more surprising teams in the American League, we exchanged questions with DRaysBay's Drew Laing.
1. While they are currently on a five game win streak, the Rays have been one of the bigger disappointments of the 2014 season so far. They were among the preseason favorites in the AL East, but currently sit 9 1/2 games out of first place. What went wrong?
It's tough to really pin it on just one thing. I think the early pitching injuries to Alex Cobb and Matt Moore is what got the slide started. From there it's just been a combination of little offense and pitching woes. After the Moore and Cobb injuries, it seemed like no Rays pitcher could record a quality start or a win. I believe it was like 16 or 17 games in a row the Rays went without a win for the starting pitcher. Consequently, the bullpen was taxed early on and struggled. Guys like Joel Peralta and Grant Balfour are struggling and have been inconsistent to say the least. But now, the bullpen is rested and the starting pitching has regained its form and the team's outlook looks a little better than it did in May and June.
2. Chris Archer has continued the success he found in his rookie season, putting up a 3.24 ERA and 2.98 FIP in 100 innings. However, his command has gotten the better of him at times in the past. Are the walks still a concern? What should we expect when he takes the mound on Saturday?
A nasty, nasty slider and a 94-96 MPH fastball. In fact, out of all starting pitchers last season, Archer threw the fastest fastball on average. As for control, with any young pitcher that has incredible stuff, control will be an issue. The silver lining for Archer has been the improvement he's shown over the past months. He decreased his walks by nine from May to June (21 to 21). Ironically, one of Archer's biggest assets can sometimes be his downfall. If you read any local work about Archer, you'll quickly realize he is one of the most cerebral players in the MLB today. For how young he is, his approach to the game is one of the more mature I've seen. However, on the mound, he can sometimes think a little too much, especially when he's in tight spots. I remember during his June 14 outing against the Astros, he committed an error on a throw to first base that kept him from getting out of the inning without allowing any runs. After the error, he went on to give up five runs in the inning and walking two more batters as well as hitting a batter. The potential is there for him to get in weird funks like that at times, but he's growing out of it and becoming a very reliable pitcher. I will say he can get very emotional on the mound, especially when he gets out of those tough jams. Don't hold it against him if it happens on Saturday. He means well. :)
3. David Price is awesome and his 9.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio is downright ridiculous. Trade rumors are circulating again, though, and everyone at ESPN is 100% certain he will be somewhere else after the trade deadline. What do you think? Will the Rays trade Price, and what should they expect in return?
Barring a continued hot streak by the Rays where they somehow can get back in the thick of the playoff race, it's all but guaranteed that he'll be in another uniform by the trade deadline. As far as a return for Price in a trade, it'll have to be better than what they received in the Shields/Myers deal. Although many would agree the Royals gave up too much for Myers, it is kind of the standard now for the Rays. It would be tough to imagine the Rays accepting a lesser offer than that of what they got in the trade with Kansas City. You'll see the Rays get at least one or two impact prospects as well as a handful of middle-tier prospects.
4. Wil Myers had a great rookie season, but seems to have taken a step back this year. Now, to add injury to insult, he is on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his right wrist. Meanwhile, James Shields is anchoring a Royals rotation that is still within striking distance of the playoffs. This might be heresy, but is there any chance that the Rays are regretting that trade?
Nah. If you look at just this year (Royals having a much better season) it could be easy to say the Rays would regret the trade. But there's no denying the fact that the Royals could very well lose Shields this year to FA. The Rays still have several years of Wil Myers, even if they don't lock him up to a team-friendly deal like they have done in the past with their young studs (Moore, Archer, Longoria). Without Myers last season, the Rays don't make the playoffs. They have plenty of confidence that he'll get through his sophomore slump. As Joe Maddon has said, the team is set up to have success behind Longoria and Myers.
In addition to Myers, the Rays also snagged Jake Odorizzi in the Shields trade. He's the team's No. 5 starter when everyone is healthy, but the guy has made drastic improvements from April to now. Early on, he would be nearly untouchable the first time through the order, but when teams saw him in the middle innings, it would usually all fall apart for him. He seems to have gotten over that mental hurdle and gave teams fits in June (.182 OBA). As it stands, he's a great back-of-the-rotation option for the Rays' pitching staff.
5. Who is Kevin Kiermaier and how much are we going to hate him by the end of the series?
Depends on who you ask. The lady Rays fans may think of him as "McDreamy" or "Dreamy Eyes." All kidding aside, Kiermaier is a guy Rays fans look at as the sparkplug for this team. For weeks, the Rays seemed lifeless and were characterized as "The Walking Dead." But then this Kiermaier guy comes up to the team. He's aggressive at the plate, hustling all over the place and making web gems on a daily basis. Basically, the exact opposite of what we had been seeing from all the other guys. It was a breath of fresh air and he certainly seems to have played a big role in revitalizing this team and he's even currently on pace for a WAR of around five. He'll probably regress some on offense, but his place on this team is secure. By the end of the series, you may hate him quite a bit. Three of Detroit's four pitchers for the series are RHPs, so he'll start in at least all three of those. Add in the big outfield at Comerica Park and Kiermaier could knock a couple of doubles or even a triple or two by the end of the weekend.
6. Has former Tiger and kitten savior Matt Joyce rescued any animals from danger during his time with the Rays? Does he take a particular liking to the penguins in the clubhouse? Is he just Dr. Doolittle with a decent hit tool? We kind of miss him.
Ha! Not that I know of. As long as he keeps hitting home runs, Rays fans don't care what he does.
Once again, a huge thank you to Drew and the rest of the DRaysBay staff for answering our questions on such short notice. Be sure to check out DRaysBay for more fantastic Rays coverage all season long!