Do the Rays have enough power to win?

by Gary Shelton on March 29, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Rays

Kiermaier hit 15 homers for the Rays in 2017./JEFFREY S. KING

Kiermaier hit 15 homers for the Rays in 2017./JEFFREY S. KING

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Remember the crack of the bat, that sharp, distinctive, violent sound. Remember the arc of the ball, soaring long and far, tucking just under the catwalk, headed toward the Beach. Remember the slow jog around the bases, itself a celebration of power.

Remember  the suddenness of the home run, that ball that travels to places in the ballpark that mortal players cannot reach. It is the measure of a power hitter, a launched missile into an area where it cannot be caught. It is the most muscular  play in baseball, and it tends to do the most damage.

Remember Evan Longoria in Game 163? Remember Dan Johnson? Remember Wade Boggs' 3000th hit?

Remember it all  for a moment.

And then forget it.

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Miller fell from 30 homers to just nine a year ago./CARMEN MANDATO

Miller fell from 30 homers to just nine a year ago./CARMEN MANDATO

This year, you can think of the Rays as the no-hit show, a team that will try to win via the paper cut. Most of the Rays' power hitters have gone, supposedly taking their strikeouts with them.

Logan Morrison and his 38 homers? Gone.

Steven Souza and his 30 homers? Gone.

Corey Dickinson and his 27 homers? Gone.

Evan Longoria and his 20? Gone.

In fact, a great many of the Rays' 218 home runs (sixth in baseball) have departed from the roster. In its place is a team where no one hit as many 20 dingers a year ago. The Rays have gone from one of the most powerful teams in the league to one of the least.

Can the Rays survive the lack of power? We'll see.

There is a majesty to the home run, a ball hit so far it leaves the field of play. It is the stuff of Roy Hobbs and Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson. It is Ted Williams' final at-bat, and Evan Longoria in game 163, and Bill Mazeroski. Everyone has their favorite home run from their youth, be it Hank Aaron's or Reggie Jackson's or Joe Carter's. It is Bucky Bleeping Dent and  Bobby Thompson and Roger Maris. It is Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds and the steroid debate.

Perhaps this is why, from their inception, the Rays have been in love with the long ball. Chuck LaMar was fascinated with the home run, and he openly believed it was the key to getting people into the seats. Lately, the Rays have tried to cover up other deficiencies with home runs.

Looking back through the years:

1998: That first Rays team had Fred McGriff (19 homers) and Paul Sorrento (17)

1999: The Rays added Jose Canseco (34, including 31 in the first half) and McGriff bounced back with 32.

2000: It was the year of the Hit Show, as Greg Vaughn had 28. McGriff had 27. Gerald Williams had 21.

2001: The Rays were moving away from the Hit Show. Vaughn had 24 homers and McGriff 19.

2002: Aubrey Huff hit 23.

2003: Huff hit 34.

2004: Huff had 29. Tino Martinez had 23 and Jose Cruz 21.

2005: Jorge Cantu had 28, Huff 22 and Jonny Gomes 21.

2006: Ty Wiggington had 24 and Gomes had 20.

2007: The Rays were getting close. Carlos Pena had 46. B.J. Upton had 24.

2008: Pena had 31. Evan Longoria had 27. Eric Hinske had 20.

2009: Pena had 39. Longoria had 33. Ben Zobrist had 27.

2010:  Pena had 28. Longoria had 22.

2011: Longoria had 31, Upton had 23 and Zobrist had 20.

2012, Upton had 28 and Zobrist had  20.

2013: Longoria had 32.

2014: Longoria had 22.

2015: Longoria had 21.

2016: Longoria had 36. Brad Miller had 30. Dickerson had 24. Logan Forsythe had 20.

2017: To repeat, Morrison had 38, Souza had 30, Dickerson had 27 and Longoria had 20.

In every year but the first, a Ray has had at least 20 homers. Still, it is fair to say that somewhere along the way, the Rays became over-reliant on the home run ball. Too many games, they either scored on long balls, or they didn't score at all. Their strikeouts soared. Their average with runners in scoring position plummeted.

Ah, but the question remains. Does this team have enough power to compete?

Cron, the first baseman, has had 16 home runs in three straight seasons. But he'll get more at bats here. He should be in the 20s. Carlos Gomes has had two seasons in the 20s, but it's been a while. Miller hit 30 for the Rays, but he slumped to only nine a year ago. Wilson Ramos hit 22 two years ago.

So, yeah, there are some players who have long-distance power. This won't be a slugging team, but it can win a game or two with the long ball.

In a sport where victory also lies on the other side of the fence, can the Rays win enough?

We'll see.

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