Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays (76-83) vs. Cleveland Indians (83-76)

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Sep 23, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) hits an RBI double during the eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

There’s something liberating about not being in control of your own fate. If what you do doesn’t matter, you can do whatever you want, you can play a game or whatever however you choose. That’s where the Cleveland Indians find themselves as they head into the final series of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays. There’s still a window for them to make the playoffs, but it’s so miniscule and besides sweeping Tampa they have to have a lot of dominoes fall exactly right. The odds going into Friday night are something like 1 in 73 that they make it, but what did Han Solo say? And they survived the asteroid field. The Indians just have to keep winning.

It’d be a nice piece of kismet for the season to end for the Tribe against the Rays, just like last year. And just like last year, it could well end with some disappointment even as they’re able to look back proudly at all they accomplished during the season. The Rays have been everything the Indians could hope to be the last few years, but right now it seems to all be falling down around them. The injury bug hit the wrong guys at the wrong time, cash issues caused the shipping off of David Price, and some old stalwarts are nearing the end of their time as valuable pieces of the team. It’s the way of things and perhaps it’s about time the Rays had a consolidation year, but it’s always a bummer to see David fall after so many battles with Goliath.

Offensively the names are all still there, the punch is just lacking. They’re 10th in the league in ‘wOBA and 13th in runs scored. Even for a team built around run prevention and pitching this isn’t going to cut it if they want to keep doing what they’ve been doing. Ben “Zorilla” Zobrist is the most Rays player ever, being able to excel at three or four positions at his peak, work a walk and hit for some power. Well, he’s slugging below .400 and his .336 wOBA is a far cry from his .407 peak in 2009. Age does that to a man. He’s still been worth 5.6 fWAR, though as Jason COllette noted on Wahoo’s on the Mic, he’s going to find himself locked to a corner outfield spot permanently sooner or later. He’s just fading, is all.

THe biggest curiosity to me is Evan Longoria. For several years he’s been that rock they built upon, the kind of guy I wanted the Indians to find to start their quest toward contention. I assume it’s just a lost year for him, he’s only 28, but his .318 wOBA is nearly 50 points down from his career average, his power has slipped and he’s walking only 8% of the time. He didn’t miss any games this year due to a DL stint, the second season in a row he’s achieved that, but maybe he’s being nagged by a hammie or a wrist or something. He’s just not right. Still a presence in the lineup, but Evan is a big reason the Rays stink this year.

Other guys that were hoped to be something special just haven’t materialized. Desmond Jennings has yet to make that leap where he was supposed to replace Carl Crawford, instead just an average hitter with a solid glove. Wil Myers was hurt all year, I figure he’ll be better last year, though as Collette mentioned Thursday he looks like he’s got a case of ADD to the max out there sometimes. Maybe he IS just trying to get through the season, get it cooking again in 2015. Matt Joyce has been on that team seemingly forever but may have hit his past due date as well. They do have David DeJesus, a brilliant aquisition I think and a woefully underrated player. He does a lot of things pretty well even if none of it is spectacular. Pretty much another perfect Rays player. They love their multitool players.

In a raw and ugly season nobody has enjoyed outside of that neat burst where they went from 18 under .500 to nearly back in the race before falling back again, Kevin Kiermaier has been a neat revelation for the Rays. An outfielder with decent pop, Kiermaier popped a .925 OPS in the first half of the season, though by July he started to fade and that OPS fell to .511 after the break. Maybe he’ll be a diamond in the rough for the Rays. He looks the part and he’s got tools, perhaps it just took a bit of adjustment by the league to figure him out for a bit. I’d keep an eye on him going into 2015 because this team needs to find some offense somewhere and Kevin can do it. Maybe. He was a 31st round pick but talent is everywhere.

There’s a lot of complementary players on this team really, solid major leaguers who anyone would love to have, but they do need Longo and Myers to get back to being what they were supposed to be at the plate to challenge for pennants again. Defense is neat, but you have to score runs and this team just hasn’t been doing it. They’re primed and well run, though the drafting has been a crapshoot at best and somehow riddled with meth use at times in the minors which still baffles me, they just need that extra oom pah pah that great teams have. It’s there, just crappy right now.

The Indians need to TCOB in this series, simple as that. There’s still something to play for even if it’s a long shot. Considering the egg the Rays laid in Boston the last couple days, they might just be playing the string out some to get to the offseason and give it another go next year. But the Tribe can’t sleep on that comfort. And Joe Maddon is still a tricky old fox, he’ll squeeze something special out of this team. The Rays are a neat squad. Should be a fun watch.

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