Baseball Expert Tony DeMarco has been covering the big leagues since 1987, and been casting Hall of Fame ballots for the last 14 years. He answers questions weekly here:
Q: I'm a dedicated Rays fan who is extremely frustrated with Carlos Pena's inability to hit anything other than a fastball. What are your thoughts on the Rays' less-than-productive bats? Do you think signing Hideki Matsui was a good move? If it were your call, do you have any other solutions?
— Jason Cooper, Mulberry, Fla.
A: No doubt, it can get frustrating watching the Rays struggle to score day after day. Through Wednesday, they stood 13th in the AL in batting average (ahead of only the Oakland A's), 10th in runs, eighth in on-base percentage and 10th in slugging percentage.
Broken down by position, Rays catchers, first basemen and second basemen all were hitting below .200, while DHs were at .214.
Broken down by spots in the lineup, the 3-4-5-6 hitters were at .224, .223, .229 and .230 through Wednesday, while No. 9 hitters were under .200.
And the team was batting .225 with runners in scoring position. Makes you wonder how they had a 31-25 record, doesn't it?
Along those lines, the good news is that the Rays finished ninth in the AL in runs scored in their pennant-winning 2008 season, and eighth in the AL in runs last season, when they won the wild card on the final night.
So hang in there, Jason — and keep in mind that Desmond Jennings just returned to the lineup after a stay on the disabled list, and Evan Longoria is about to start a rehab assignment, so he could be back within two weeks.
Steve Nesius / Reuters
Some good news for the Rays: star third baseman Evan Longoria could return from a hamstring injury within a couple weeks.
In the interim, Joe Maddon's lineup/matchup wizardry really has been stretched, as we've seen everything from Pena leading off to a revolving cleanup spot that has included no fewer than 10 different players, including Matsui, B.J. Upton, Jeff Keppinger, Drew Sutton and Elliott Johnson.
Matsui falls into that category of "why-not?" players the Rays give opportunities to due to their strict financial limitations. If he can't produce enough — and early indications are that he won't — at least it won't be too costly.
Leslie Anderson is a 30-year-old Cuban first baseman who leads the Rays' Triple-A Durham team in average, homers and RBI. He could be a possibility, and there always is the option of trading Wade Davis and/or a prospect for a young-but-established big-league regular, or a role player whose salary is in line with Davis' $1.5 million.
Q: A number of teams sported multiple picks in the early rounds of the recent amateur draft. Does that really mean anything? Aside from the first few picks of the first round, is there any assurance these kids will develop into solid major-leaguers, let alone stars?
— Mel Landis, National City, Calif.
A: The simple answer is no, there is no assurance of anything, Mel. Even No. 1-overall picks aren't locks to reach the majors and have productive careers.
As proof, I give you the names of Steve Chilcott (1966), Danny Goodwin (1971 and 1975), Al Chambers (1979), Shawn Abner (1984), Brien Taylor (1991), Bryan Bullington (2002) and Matt Bush (2004).
More negative draft numbers: A recent study of the 1981-2006 drafts showed that only about one-third of all first-round picks, and only about 20 percent of all top-10 overall picks, ever reached the major leagues — and that's even for a cup of coffee.
So you can see just how tough it is for draft picks — and I believe it's getting harder as the game expands globally, and undrafted free agents are being signed in countries all over the world.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
But that doesn't mean organizations can't be built, and winning major-league teams can't be developed, through the draft. And the more picks you have near the top, the better your chances. (And incidentally, there is no trading of draft picks, but teams do receive additional picks in the first round and so-called sandwich round — which occurs after the first round — for free agents who signed with other teams.)
The Tampa Bay Rays are the best current example of building primarily through the draft, with David Price, Evan Longoria, Delmon Young, Jeff Niemann, B.J. Upton, Rocco Baldelli and Josh Hamilton among their No. 1 draft choices since 1999.
Other notable picks who came through their organization include Carl Crawford, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist, Reid Brignac and Jake McGee.
The Phillies also had a nice run of consecutive first-round picks from 1998-2002 — Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, Chase Utley, Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels — as well as Ryan Howard (5th round, 2001) and Jimmy Rollins (2nd round, 1996) that helped fuel their recent success.
Q: What do you think of these White Sox?
— Jimmy, Chicago
A: When it comes to first-place teams at this point in the season, the White Sox are almost as surprising to me as the Baltimore Orioles. I didn't see either team finishing .500, let alone contending.
It's not easy to spot the reasons why, though: Paul Konerko's MVP-type first two months, the comeback seasons of Jake Peavy, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, the breakouts of Chris Sale and Dayan Viciedo, and Addison Reed stabilizing the closer role.
The Tigers' struggles could keep the White Sox hanging around for quite awhile, but here are some potential trouble spots for impressive rookie manager Robin Ventura:
The Sox's 17-9 pace on the road won't continue — although it must be said they are only 14-16 at home, which most likely will improve. The back three in the rotation all have 5-plus ERAs, although fill-in Jose Quintana has shown promise. The bullpen is full of power arms, but is short on experience.
However, it bodes well that through Wednesday, the Sox had a +32 run differential, while the rest of the AL Central was in the red: Cleveland (-19), Detroit (-19), Kansas City (-25) and Minnesota (-70).
And the right roster addition or two from general manager Kenny Williams — who has shown he's not afraid to make a deal — also could make a big difference.
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