Why the Rays struggle

The Devil Rays have lost eleven games in a row, and everyone wants to know why. It’s not all that hard to figure out. You have a young team with little veteran leadership, a pitching staff with kids who have never learned how to win, no catching to speak of, and on a team with little quality depth, injuries or suspensions to BJ Upton, Elijah (Big Daddy) Dukes, Josh Paul, and now Al Reyes.
In some respects the big leagues really aren’t that different from little league. I have coached little league and AAU ball for years. I always tell the pitchers the same thing: throw first-pitch strikes and get ahead of the hitters. I also tell them not to throw the ball down the heart of the plate. Some little leaguers listen and at least attempt to do this. Some are only interested in throwing the ball as fast and hard as they can. Some have not a clue how to pitch, but merely throw fastball after fastball in an attempt to overpower the batters. Doesn’t work in little league, doesn’t work in the big leagues. You wonder why Scott Kasmir needs 115 pitches to get through five innings. I’m sure his coach is telling him to cut down on the pitches. He just hasn’t figured out how to do it yet. Hopefully he will before he moves on to another team.
The Detroit Tigers had a very young, inexperienced pitching staff. They had Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman leading the staff and losing a lot. These kids had no one to guide them, so the Tigers went out and signed Ivan Rodriguez off the roster of the Florida Marlins. Rodriguez, one of the five best catchers in the history of baseball, turned the team around all by himself. He was expensive, but he was worth it.
Who do the Rays have to lead their pitchers? Dioner Navarro, a great kid, but a rookie green behind the ears. You watch Edwin Jackson throw fastball after fastball, and you wonder, what is Navarro thinking? He’s doing the best he can. He’s just not ready to be a big league catcher, and every one of our pitchers suffers as a result.
It’s clear to everyone that you can’t build a winning team on the other guys’ castoffs. Yes, management has gotten terrific value from Carlos Pena, Brenden Harris, Ty Wigginton, and Al Reyes. But would you rather have Brenden Harris or Miguel Tejada? Ty Wigginton or Gary Sheffield? At some point, and I do believe this is the point, management is going to have to go out and get a couple of expensive veterans, behind the plate and on the mound especially. The team needs a Kenny Rogers, a Roy Halladay, a guy who not only can win games but can work with the other pitchers as well.
The Rays have been forced to bring up pitchers too early and to let them go too early. Look at Chad Gaudin, who is becoming a star with the Oakland A’s. We could have had Gaudin, Shields, and Kasmir. But we let Gaudin go. And we are paying for that mistake. Brenden Backe was a similar mistake. Because our team is so thin, the Rays just cannot afford any mistakes.
Management was honest when it said that this year will be spent evaluating. Here’s my evaluation: a team without quality veterans is a team without a rudder. I’m one of those who thinks Joe Madden has been a terrific manager. But if he doesn’t have veterans who know how to win out there on the field providing leadership and guidance to the legion of kids, this team will continue to flounder and lose.

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