Consistency the key for Rays in playoffs
Talented group needs to keep performance level high vs. Texas
ST. PETERSBURG -- Tampa Bay is young, athletic and talented. They also are unpredictable.
Some nights the Rays barely scratch out a hit -- twice this season they didn't manage to do that -- and yet they usually find a way to beat the opposing team. Other nights the talent goes into high gear, using their overall speed and power to cruise to victory and make one wonder how they ever lose.
"Our numbers are strange but good offensively," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We talk about the walks-to-strikeouts ratio, we strike out a lot, we walk a lot, but our ratio's great. Our RBIs, our runs scored are very good, moving baserunners, so we don't hit into double plays. Our stolen-base percentage is high. First to third we're good, second to home.
"There are all these other things we do well offensively. So, on a nightly basis, everybody's always waiting for us to be this offensive juggernaut. And we just don't do that. We patiently play the game, and when we get our opportunities it seems like we're able to score enough runs. That's not going to change. There are times when we've looked really bad offensively. We've had some slow games. It never seems to impact the next day."
By winning the American League East Division on Sunday, the Rays earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with the AL's best record, and they learned they will meet the Rangers in the AL Division Series that begins Wednesday. The Rays went 4-2 against the Rangers this season.
A mentality exists within the Rays' clubhouse that no matter how dire the situation looks, they are going to find a way to overcome it and win.
"If you look at us statistically, you have to look at us below the surface why we're this good offensively," Maddon said. "It's not about the higher batting average, it's about who has the most points. And that's what we've always been about. Trying to get to that offensive situation to where we can score runs in a variety of different ways ... it's not your daddy's offense."
Heading into the playoffs, the Rays have another major plus in their favor, a check mark that normally goes the way of youth: health.
All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria is nursing a strained left quadriceps, but the injury appears to be more nagging than threatening. And that's about the only physical problem the Rays have other than the normal bumps and bruises associated with this time of year.
"Always the most important thing would be health issues," Maddon said. "I think as long as Longo gets healthier, we're in pretty good shape when it comes to the health issues. And that's a really good thing.
"After that, I think in a sense we're pretty well rested. The fact we've been able to platoon so often, we get guys off their feet during the course of the year, helps. ... The two things I'm looking for [heading into the playoffs] is that we're healthy and that we're rested."
Of some concern over the course of the season's final month was the state of the Rays' starting pitching, which has been the backbone of the team. David Price was dominating down the stretch while the rest of the group was average at best, which is not their normal state. However, Maddon is starting to see improvement.
"Among the group itself physically, the starting pitchers are rounding back into shape a little bit right now," Maddon said. "They look a lot better."
Meanwhile, the bullpen has been steady all season. Maddon has different relievers at his disposal he can use as the situation warrants. And at the back end, the Rays have their hammer, Rafael Soriano, who has been money in the ninth.
"The bullpen, I think, is in good order and they're all throwing well," Maddon said.
Of note, the Rays finished the season playing right at .500 for the final month. That should bode well for the team, which always seems to find a different gear after staying in neutral for an extended period.
The Rays finished the first two months of the season with a 34-18 mark. When they experienced a lull in June that saw them go 11-14, they rebounded in July with a 19-7 run that included winning streaks of six and seven games. Thus, seeing the Rays going off on a prolonged hot streak in October is not a stretch by any means.
"I don't have any issues right now," Maddon said. "I think we're ready to roll."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.