Rays top offseason priority: consistent offense

Frustrating, yet also gratifying.

The Tampa Bay Rays don’t have to dig very deep to determine what

went wrong in a season that ended much earlier than manager Joe

Maddon and his players expected.

Despite superb – and in some cases historic – pitching, an

inconsistent offense undermined the team’s chances of getting back

to the playoffs.

The Rays won 12 of their final 14 games to finish with 90 wins,

joining the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers as the only clubs

with at least that many victories each of the past three

seasons.

And while that’s not too shabby, finishing third in the AL East

and failing to earn their fourth postseason berth in five years was

a major disappointment for a team that played as well as any

contender down the stretch.

”I really felt like we could play with anybody right now,”

Maddon said. ”I felt that all year, but especially right now. We

just ran out of games. We ran out of time because truly we are one

of the best teams out there right now, and truly we could have

contended for the World Series title. I honestly believe that.

”It’s unfortunate it unraveled the way it did.”

Led by 20-game winner David Price, the Rays pitching staff led

the major leagues with a 3.19 ERA and .228 opponent’s batting

average, while also setting an AL record for strikeouts with 1,383.

Closer Fernando Rodney anchored the league’s best bullpen (2.88

ERA, .208 opponent’s average) with a franchise-best 48 saves. His

0.60 ERA set a major league record for a reliever working a minimum

of 50 innings.

On the flip side, three-time All-Star Evan Longoria missed 85

games with a partially torn hamstring, and the offense struggled to

do its part while he was out. The third baseman’s absence also made

a difference defensively, which is another area where Maddon felt

the team underperformed.

The Rays went 47-27 in games Longoria started. They were 43-45

when he didn’t play, including 41-44 while he was on the disabled

list from May 1 to Aug. 7.

”There’s a lot of things that went awry early in the year and a

lot of it was linked to Longo,” Maddon said.

”On the field we were not very good defensively in the first

half. We were offensively challenged for a lot of the season, but

… that’s how the major league season works,” the manager added.

”I mean, everybody can talk about the games that they thought they

would have, or should have, won had they done something

differently, or got a hit or made a play or whatever. Everybody

goes through that same moment. So as much as you can lament on that

particular thought, that doesn’t really get you anything.”

The Rays hit .240 as a team, joining the AL West champion

Oakland Athletics (.238) as the first team since the 1972 World

Series champion A’s to win at least 90 games and bat .240 or less.

They drew a major league-high 571 walks, but also struck out 1,323

times – third-highest in AL history.

Centerfielder B.J. Upton, who will become a free agent this

winter and has likely played his last game for Tampa Bay, led the

club with a career-best 28 home runs and 78 RBI’s.

But the team’s two biggest offseason acquisitions – first

baseman Carlos Pena and designated hitter Luke Scott – failed to

add much to the offense.

Pena batted .197 with 19 homers, 61 RBIs and 182 strikeouts in

160 games. Scott was slowed by injuries and spent a month on the

disabled list, finishing at .229 with 14 homers and 55 RBI’s in 96

games.

”I’ll be honest with you. I’ve lost sleep over it. It’s

something that I have heavy heart about it,” Scott said of the

club’s offensive woes. ”It’s frustrating to put it lightly.”

The Rays went 21-27 in one-run games and lost 1-0 five times

after Aug. 1. Despite going 12-2 down the stretch, they only gained

three games in the race for a wild card playoff spot.

”Sometimes you’re not good enough. We are good enough. This

year we just didn’t win enough games. It’s unfortunate,” Maddon

said. ”Nevertheless … winning 12 of the last 14 is pretty

impressive. We did not deserve to be there this year, but it really

should serve as motivation and incentive for next year.”

In addition to Upton, the Rays could lose Pena, infielder Jeff

Keppinger and relievers J.P. Howell, Kyle Farnsworth and Joel

Peralta to free agency. The team has a $6 million option on Scott,

and executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman

didn’t provide any clues Thursday on the prospects of Scott

returning in 2013.

”There definitely will be turnover,” Friedman said. ”Our goal

is to construct a better roster for next year. What that will be, I

don’t know.”

What also remains to be seen is whether the Rays will try to

bolster the offense by parting with some of the surplus of starting

pitching in the organization.

The budget-minded Rays have one of the deepest five-man

rotations in baseball, and have at least three other young pitchers

with major league experience who have promising futures.

Friedman said what the Rays won’t do is make any deals just for

the sake of acquiring some bats.

”It was a strange year in a lot of ways, and people focused a

lot on the offense – and rightfully so,” Friedman said. ”It’s

something we’re going to spend a lot of time thinking about and

discussing and analyzing because you don’t want to have a knee-jerk

reaction and do something. … We’d love to have an elite pitching

staff and elite offense, but that’s difficult to do.”