Infielder Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays bats against the Seattle Mariners during the game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Rays are one of Major League Baseball's feel-good stories!
Which isn't exactly new news. The Tampa Bay Rays are always one of Major League Baseball's feel-good stories.
This season, those plucky Rays with the low payroll have the fourth-best record in the American League, and by that measure seem like a wonderful bet to reach the postseason for the fourth time in five years.
There are some cracks in my optimism, though. While the Rays do have the fourth-best record in the league, they have the eighth-best run differential ... and as you've been told too many times already, run differential predicts wins and losses better than wins and losses predict wins and losses. The Rays have outscored their opponents by only seven runs this season, which means they're at least a little lucky to be 35-28 right now.
Last season the Rays outscored their enemies by 93 runs. And I will suggest that if they don't at least approach that figure this season, they're sitting at home come October.
So will they?
Getting Evan Longoria back will certainly help. Since, you know, he's easily their best hitter. The Rays are ninth in the league in scoring, compared to third in ERA. The pitching hasn't been great -- once you get past David Price and James Shields, the rotation's been shaky -- but there seems to be more room for improvement on the other side of the ledger.
With Longoria rehabbing in triple-A, there's good news there.
Aside from third base, other weak spots include
catcher, because Jose Molina can't hit; and
Designated Hitter, because Luke Scott and a cast of thousands haven't hit much.
Otherwise, though, things really haven't been so bad. The Rays are 12th in the league in OPS, but I suspect that if you removed the catchers and the utility infielders (especially Will Rhymes and Sean Rodriguez) from the equation, they'd be in the middle of the pack. No question, the bench has been weak. Oh, and Desmond Jennings has dropped off a ton from last season.
These do seem like small problems. And no lineup is perfect.
I don't think I would bet on the Rays to reach the playoffs. Not with that run differential, 63 games in. Their margin for error is too small. Sure, things will look better when Longoria's back. But what if someone else gets hurt?