Ask Gary: Are this year’s Rays better?

by Gary Shelton on May 13, 2017 · 1 comment

in general

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

The Rays are only 6 weeks into the season but are showing signs of unraveling. Do you think they are headed for another disastrous season like 2016 or is the talent level high enough this year to allow them to rebound? Their lack of ability to hold a lead is a huge red flag.

Larry Beller

The thing that disappoints you is that these are the days the Rays could be artificially high in the standings. They got good starting pitching against a bad part of their schedule, but the bullpen was so horrible the team kept losing.

I don't think the Rays will be as bad as last year. They have some good pieces. But I don't see this blossoming into a great bullpen. It'll have good moments, but they'll be bracketed by bad ones.

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I think the team can win from 75-80 games, which is much better than a year ago. But will that be good enough for the fan base? Probably not. The offense still has nights when the opposing pitcher turns off the lights. They defense is spotty. And, as I mentioned, someone in the front office did a poor job of collecting arms for the bullpen.

I see four teams -- even Toronto -- that are better than the Rays in the AL East. Don't you? And that schedule that has had Miami, Toronto and Kansas City will be replaced by Boston, New York and Baltimore. It'll be easy for this team to fall into a hole somewhere along the way.

Ok, so what’s the matter with KK, he of the Golden Glove defense whose stated focus over the off-season was to work on his hitting. He seems to me to not be having any fun at all, his hitting is miserable and he’s not making good decisions in the outfield, like he’s over-thinking things and not just reacting. Is it the  big contract that has got into his head?

 Cecil DeBald

I think it would take a team of psychiatrists weeks to navigate through Kiermaier's mind. I'm sure there are a lot of things that are messing with him now.

The main problem, I think, is that he's pressing. He says he isn't, but how in the world could you not be when the one thing that you counted on -- your glove -- has betrayed you.

Kevin is never going to hit as much as you'd like, or for the power  you'd like. He butters his bread with his ability to take away the gaps. Over the last week, Kiermaier has gone from being the player you wanted the ball hit to to the one you don't, and that's disturbing.

How come the Tampa Bay Times had to go all the way to Oklahoma City to find a sports editor?

Scott Myers
If I ran the Times, I think I'd answer that the newspaper was willing to go all the way to Oklahoma City to hire Mike Sherman.
I knew Sherman a little bit when I worked with the Times -- he reminded me of this when we were introduced at a Bucs' game. He's a sharp guy who is very well thought of in the industry. He did a terrific job in Oklahoma.
It's a different deal, hiring a guy who orchestrates. It isn't like hiring a beat writer, or a columnist, or a feature writer. Those guys all have clips, and they've all been in press boxes long enough to establish a reputation for how they go about their business.
Personally, I would ask more questions about the guy than the place he came from. It's like college classrooms. Sure, Harvard is great, but a lot of colleges use the same textbooks. Your learning phase can come from anywhere.
Again, I like Mike. I think he'll do a good job if the deadlines and available space allow it.
The whole mess in Boston reminded me of the days when Doug Williams was treated terribly by some Bucs fans.   How much of that stuff goes on in Tampa Bay today?
Jim Willson
To be honest, I'm sure that if you ask our African-American athletes, there is more than we'd like to hear about. Cram 60,000 fans into a stadium, and not all of them are going to be high-minded.
Overall, Jim, I think Tampa Bay's record on race is a lot better since Doug Williams played here, and since Bo Jackson refused to play here. Remember, the last two USF coaches have been African-American. The Bucs have had three black coaches. The Rays have had a black manager.  The best two quarterbacks the team has had -- Doug Williams and Jameis Winston -- have been black. The Rays have had Carl Crawford and David Price.
Yeah, we're still in the South. You can't forget that. But some of the most beloved Bucs of  Tampa Bay -- Lee Roy Selmon, Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Warrick Dunn, Simeon Rice and Ronde Barber -- have been African-American. Most of Tampa Bay's fans still cheer or jeer the performance, not the color of the player.
Again, I'm sure there are more problems than are talked about. I'm sure there are morons catcalling here. But it doesn't seem as pronounced in other cities, does it?
Keep in mind, though, that racism can happen everywhere. I remember Bruce Smith, the great defensive end, was upset about an incident he had in Buffalo years ago. My old buddy Mike Wilbon (he used to make a living the hard way), wrote that that can happen anywhere. And it can.
Early in Tony Dungy's career, some radio clods did a skit with a racist dialect (sad, since Dungy was as well spoken as anyone) attributed to Dungy. The public let them know that wasn't okay, and it stopped. Doug had a negative image of Tampa Bay until he came back in the front office, and he met a lot of fans who loved him.
What is up with Kiermeier? Injury? Is he wrapped up in wedding plans? What?
Jim Willson
Jim, I hope it isn't something like wedding plans. Most of us are married, and most of us worked while we were waiting for it. As I mentioned earlier, I think a lot of it is that he's pressing. I know he says that defense doesn't slump, but I've had baseball people tell me that it does. It isn't as noticeable as offense, but defenders are human, too, and they're susceptible to the same ebbs and flows as the rest of us.
I'll say this. Long-term, I'm not worried about Kiermaier's glove. I think he'll be fine. But will the bullpen? The offense? The catching? Some parts of the Rays aren't in a slump; they're just not very good.
Hey, we all like Kiermaier. We all have a level of trust in his defense that surpasses other parts of the game. So his slump seems like a betrayal. But he'll snap out of it eventually.
Don't you think?
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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Larry Beller May 13, 2017 at 5:48 am

The Rays management likes to say they are about pitching and defense but that’s mostly because the hitting isn’t very good. The bullpen has been poor to awful with the exception of Colome who has been lights out when pitching in 1 inning save situations. And the defense at times is just as bad. Brand Miller stands out as the worst of all. Beckham has had his adventures at shortstop but Miller is the weak link in that infield and his offense has been nonexistent. Now with KK off his game the Rays are very weak up the middle defensively and that’s a huge problem. It’s a shame because there are some good pieces this year. A few guys are having good years at the plate and aside from Blake Snell the starting pitching is coming around. But this team has so many pieces that have been cobbled together that inconsistency is their most consistent trait. I’d take 75-80 wins but I don’t see it happening. Expect the Rays to dump free agents to be at the trade deadline and the team will be even weaker in the second half.

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