As the lumbering Dodgers offensive train moves into American League territory for five interleague games this week, they can take solace that they are not alone in offensive woes. The Rays have been among the worst offensive teams in baseball in 2016, and host the Dodgers for two games beginning Tuesday night.
Tampa Bay had higher hopes that its offense would better complement their young pitching staff in 2016, so much so that at the end of spring training the Tampa Bay Times wondered if the club was sacrificing some of its patented defense for offense.
"You have to have balance. You have to have balance. We learned for the last eight years that just being pitching heavy is probably not the way to do it," starting pitcher Chris Archer told Marc Topkin in March. "You've got to have defense. You've got to have pitching — the teams that win get high-level pitching, starting and relief. But you've got to have offense, too."
The key additions to the Rays were outfielder Corey Dickerson, shortstop Brad Miller, first basemen and outfielders Steve Pearce and Logan Morrison, and catcher Hank Conger.
But so far the Rays are dead last in the majors in scoring, at just 3.21 runs per game, hitting just .229/.283/.356 as a team.
The Dodgers haven't been much better, with 16 of their 26 games at three runs or less, and just 10 games scoring four or more runs. The Dodgers are 16th in MLB at 4.08 runs per game, though when adjusting for park and league have been slightly worse on a peripheral basis, with a 90 wRC+ from their non-pitchers, compared to a 91 wRC+ by the Rays.
The Rays, like the Dodgers, should be better on offense and likely will be. But it's just a question of degree. Tampa Bay thought they turned a corner in an 8-1 win at Yankee Stadium on April 24, capping a 31-run, six-game road trip.
"We got off to a slow start," outfielder Steven Souza told Topkin. "We faced some tough pitchers early on, some real good ones. This last week and a half or so, guys are starting to find their groove, and more guys are going to fall in behind that and find their groove. That's what you're seeing."
But after that eight-run outburst, the Rays scored just 12 runs in six games last week, while the Dodgers were busy scoring 12 runs in seven games.
I'd suggest betting the under for these two games, but baseball is just weird enough to give us a pair of offensive shootouts (instead of shutouts) at Tropicana Field.
One thing noticeable with the Rays in 2016 is that they swing at the first pitch more often than anybody, both in volume and frequency. Entering Monday, Tampa Bay swung at the first pitch 315 times in 861 plate appearances, 36.6 percent of the time. Major league hitters on the whole this year have swung at the first pitch 28.0 percent of the time this season.
The Dodgers are slightly above average this season, swinging at 30.1 percent of first pitches in 2016.
But the Rays' aggression hasn't stopped with the first pitch. Their non-pitchers have swung at 70.3-percent of pitches in the strike zone, the most in baseball, and their 77.6-percent contact rate on those swings is the lowest in baseball.
They swing early, swing often, and miss often, too. The resulting 26-percent strikeout rate by their non-pitchers trails only the Astros.
This was a week made for Scott Van Slyke, with the designated hitter available for five games and a pair of left-handed pitchers starting for Tampa Bay. But unfortunately Van Slyke is still sidelined on the disabled list with back soreness, and doesn't really have a timetable for a return any time soon.
The Dodgers will also throw two left-handed pitchers against the Rays, which should tell us a few things.
Tampa Bay has faced seven left-handed starting pitchers this season, and Pearce started at first base in all seven games, which means Morrison and his 6-for-64 (.094) start will likely be on the bench versus Los Angeles. Brandon Guyer has started all seven games, spread around the three outfield positions, and Tim Beckham has started six of the seven games, including five games at shortstop and once at second base.
Curt Casali has started 15 of 24 games behind the plate for the Rays, including all seven games against lefties, which means the Dodgers likely won't get to face Hank Conger, who just saw his streak of 48 straight stolen bases against him snapped by throwing out a runner on Sunday.
Conger this season has allowed 11 steals in 12 attempts in just 80 innings, while the running game is virtually nonexistent with Casali as the backstop, with four steals in four attempts in 132⅔ innings.
On the Dodgers' side, to date Joc Pederson has been in a platoon, sitting against all six lefty starters, and with only seven of his 77 plate appearances this season coming against southpaws. But manager Dave Roberts was adamant that Pederson wasn't in a platoon, suggesting that he could start in one of these games in St. Petersburg.
Less pulp at home
The Rays are averaging only 2.63 runs per game at home this season, yet are somehow still 8-8 at Tropicana Field. That is thanks in large part to a starting rotation that has 10 quality starts in 16 home games, with only one pitcher - Wednesday night starter Drew Smyly - allowing more than three runs in a start.
Tampa Bay starting pitchers at home in 2016 have a 2.45 ERA, with 113 strikeouts and 24 walks in 99⅓ innings.