State of the Rays: Opening month proved an odd one

It included a bit of everything: Snow and a swear word (allegedly); a home-run streak and a road slump; a DJ, magician, animals in the clubhouse and mixed results on the scoreboard.  
We’ve seen a month of Tampa Bay Rays baseball 2013, and if you’re bored, well, that’s your fault. The unexpected was the norm through April and the early days of May, for a team that stands at 14-16 and 5 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. 
There are two ways to revisit five weeks of the wild, wacky and, at times, strange. First, there were faces who impressed, players such as left-hander Matt Moore (5-0, 1.95 ERA), first baseman James Loney (a team-high .398 batting average) and infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist (a team-high 21 RBI). Meanwhile, there were others who struggled, mainly left-hander David Price (1-3 with a rotation-high 6.25 ERA), who stands as the largest question as Tampa Bay works deeper into May and beyond. 
When the numbers are studied, it becomes clear that the Rays are where they deserve to be, if not fortunate to be where they are in the competitive AL East. Tampa Bay ranks 10th in the AL in batting average (.248), eighth in RBI produced (122) and eighth in slugging percentage (.404). Meanwhile, Rays’ pitching stands 12th in staff ERA (4.30) and sixth in earned runs allowed (125). 
In summary: Tampa Bay is neither stellar nor Houston Astros-level bad. The Rays have won as many as four of five games and lost as much as eight of 10. Their lineup showcases capable bats (Loney, Zobrist, Evan Longoria) and strong arms (Moore and right-hander Alex Cobb, who has a 4-2 record with a 2.79 ERA). Now, it’s a matter of seeing if the inconsistency will be fixed or if the season will be marked by continued waves of progress, then setback. 
“Kind of mediocre,” Rays manager Joe Maddon told reporters in Kansas City, Mo., when asked about the early start. “That was a mediocre month. We’re definitely capable of doing more. I actually feel kind of fortunate that we’re in the position we’re in.”
It’s safe to say, though, that the Rays won’t have much time to find themselves, if they intend to keep pace in their division. The AL East is loaded, with three teams — the Red Sox, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles — holding records better than .500. As of Monday, no other AL division can claim as much, and it stands to reason those contenders will remain threats throughout the season. Tampa Bay has little room for a long slide. 
This summer was never thought to be simple, especially in replacing right-hander James Shields, who pitched at least 203 innings in each of the past six seasons. Still, Price’s start — and his controversial spat with umpire Tom Hallion on April 28 in Chicago — falls into a category of the odd and curious. It begs the question: Where is Price’s head right now? 
Obviously, Price must perform at an elite level for the Rays to contend in the AL East. That involves eliminating distractions, both internal and external. Yes, Moore and Cobb have been strong to date. But the returning AL Cy Young Award winner must shake whatever he’s battling for Tampa Bay to have a chance to clinch its third playoff berth in the past four years. 
“I’ve just got to make better pitches,” Price told reporters after his latest loss last Saturday, to the Colorado Rockies. “Especially in those big spots. And that’s not what I’m doing. It’s frustrating.” 
It’s easy to see why he’s frustrated. He has surrendered a combined 20 runs in his last four starts, two of which were losses for him. The Rays never dropped more than two consecutive starts by Price last season, but they lost in the five times he took the mound in April. Something is different. 
So after a month of emerging questions, Price remains the biggest. Still, there are more: Will Moore continue to impress? Will Loney keep hitting? Will the Rays find a way to string together wins on the road? 
After a month when anything seemed possible, both inside the clubhouse and out, what does the rest of the season have in store? 
One month down. Enjoy the rest of the ride. 
What’s Hot
James Loney emerged as an effective hitter in the past week. He batted .550 (11-for-20) with four RBI in the stretch, raising his season average to .398 (33-for-83) with 15 RBI. He had no equal along the way. No other Rays hitter had more than six hits in the past seven days, with Desmond Jennings and Evan Longoria both reaching that mark. 
Loney, who signed a one-year deal with the Rays last December, has hit safely in all but five games since April 17. He has finished above .300 for a season once in his seven-year career — in 2007 with the Los Angeles Dodgers when he closed with a .331 average. Among players with at least 40 at-bats, he leads the Rays in batting average and slugging percentage (.542). 
What’s Not 
David Price continues to slump through the early part of the season. It’s common knowledge that his velocity is down a few ticks from a season ago, and as a result, he has struggled to find consistency on the mound. The numbers show it. He has given up at least three earned runs in five starts, including the unsightly nine from a 9-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies last Saturday at Coors Field. His record stands at 1-3 with a 6.25 ERA after seven appearances — not what Tampa Bay had in mind from its ace. 
Joe Maddon continues to show support for the returning AL Cy Young Award winner, as he should. Still, as time moves on without Price looking like himself, it’s fair to wonder how long this situation will last. Matt Moore has performed well to fill the void, but it’s hard to imagine the Rays near the top of the AL East without Price reaching his familiar level. 
Quotes of the week 
“I still like the idea that we’re playing right on that cusp, that verge of getting over the top and playing like we’re capable of playing. I’m very pleased. You’ve got to be pleased with the effort. Sometimes, a wounded dog is more dangerous.”
— Joe Maddon, after the Rays’ 8-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on Sunday to end a 4-5 road trip to Chicago, Kansas City and Denver. Tampa Bay begins a 10-game, 11-day homestand Monday against the Toronto Blue Jays. 
“I just wanted an apology. That’s all I cared about.” 
— David Price on wanting an apology from umpire Tom Hallion from an incident April 28 in Chicago that resulted in $1,000 fines for Price, Hallion, and Tampa Bay pitchers Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson. Hallion allegedly used an expletive directed at Price as the pitcher walked off the field after the seventh inning. After the game, Price, Moore and Hellickson took to Twitter to criticize the umpire. 
“I didn’t grow up in snow. I’ve seen it, but it’s still kind of cool. It brings back that childhood kind of wonder and excitement. But at the same time, you don’t want to play in it. That was definitely the coldest game I’ve ever played in.”
— Outfielder Matt Joyce, to, on playing in frigid conditions during a game against the Kansas City Royals last Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. The contest was eventually called after 3 ½ innings because of rain and snow. 
Numbers game 
17: Consecutive games with a home run for the Rays, before the streak ended last Saturday in a 9-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. It’s a franchise record, topping the previous mark of 15 consecutive set from July 25-Aug. 10, 2009. 
6: Games Tampa Bay has won on the road this season, after the conclusion of the Rays’ latest trip. They’re 6-12 away from Tropicana Field, and only the Toronto Blue Jays (4-9) have a worse record on the road among AL East teams. 
6.25: ERA for left-hander David Price, after allowing nine runs and 11 hits in the loss to the Rockies last Saturday. The nine runs were a season-high allowed by him. With the defeat, Tampa Bay is 1-6 this season when he’s on the mound.
Top tweet
Alex Cobb was among the Rays starters to step into the batter’s box during the interleague matchup with the Colorado Rockies over the weekend. And well, his time was brief. He went 0-for-3 in the outing, which was typical. Counting Cobb’s total, Tampa Bay starting pitchers were 0-for-8 with the bats at Coors Field. (Cobb and David Price each had three appearances at the plate, and Matt Moore had two.) The Rays were fine without the extra help, though. Tampa Bay produced 18 runs during its Denver stay. In the Rays’ four victories on the road trip, they scored no fewer than seven runs.
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