Ben Zobrist's Big Night Highlights Tampa Bay Rays' Desperate Need For Offense

By Thom Tsang
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

On a night where Ben Zobrist had one of the biggest offensive outbursts of the season, the Tampa Bay Rays were only left wondering where the rest of it went.

Losing will definitely do that for a team in contention, and losing to a 55-63 team will highlight that point even more. The Rays learned that the hard way as they dropped a tough 5-4 loss against a Seattle Mariners team nowhere near a playoff spot, watching their super-utility man’s two-homer night be outdone by the M’s own two-homer man, Brad Miller.

The story in this game, as it’s been in the Rays’ current six-game slide, can be defined by two words: not enough.

Zobrist’s two solo shots were the first time he’d done it since June of last season, but it put the Rays just one run short of the five runs that Chris Archer gave up. He’d been on a tear even prior to that, having tallied a .349/.413/.530 post-break triple-slash as the team’s best hitter since then outside of super-rookie Wil Myers … but it just hasn’t been enough.

As the Rays are finding out, not even having two players with 1.000-plus OPS’ since the Midsummer Classic will be enough to carry them in this race — not when their third-best position player in that same span is Yunel Escobar with 0.7 fWAR, and doubly so when the heart of the franchise, Evan Longoria, is mired in a deep slump that’s seem him hit just .207/.274/.402 over his last 21 games.

Making things worse is the fact that the Rays’ pitching staff has all but collapsed lately, with the team combining for 77.1 innings of 29th-ranked 5.35 ERA ball through nine games in August. Perhaps not so coincidentally, that’s just 0.08 runs higher than 5.27 mark than the 28th-ranked M’s have put up in the month.

So yeah, just not quite good enough.

In all, the team has put together a league-worst 28 runs scored in August  with a 23rd-ranked .664 team OPS, two pretty good indicators of why this team has continually come up short in trying to stay within the AL East race.

That said, the race is far from over yet. Despite their recent slide, Tampa Bay still has a two-game hold on the second Wild Card spot heading into play on Wednesday, and are just four games back of the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox. There is still time for the pitching staff to stop the skid, for Longoria to turn around, and for the team to retool.

That last bit isn’t really something that the Rays are known for, but with players like Justin Morneau and Adam Dunn having cleared waivers and being available, along with Josh Willingham being a potential candidate to join them, it would behoove Tampa Bay to add some offense, especially if it can come on an expiring contract.

Sure, it might be Joe Maddon‘s way to stick with the team he’s got, but as the skipper found out on Tuesday with Zobrist … what he’s got might just not be good enough.

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