10/27/08 2:25 AM ET
Rays' big bats in a funk
Maddon chalks it up to key players expanding their strike zones
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Carl Crawford has two homers and Eric Hinske, who was just added to the roster prior to Game 4 on Sunday, has the other jack, a fifth-inning shot to straightaway center. The power slump comes as a surprise after the Rays hit a record 16 home runs during the AL Championship Series against the Red Sox.
Of note have been the performances of Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena in the middle of the Rays' order.
Pena, who had 31 homers with 102 RBIs in the regular season, and Longoria, who added 27 long balls and 85 RBIs in his rookie campaign, have combined to go 0-for-29 with 15 strikeouts vs. the Phillies. In the AL Division Series and ALCS, the duo combined to hit .295 (23-for-78), with nine home runs. They hit .360 (9-for-25) in the ALDS and .264 (14-for-53) in the ALCS.
"[It's] very hard to say [what is wrong]," said Pena. "It's just the way baseball works. You ask yourself, 'Are we doing what we normally do? Are we approaching our at-bats the way we usually do? Are we pitching the way we usually do? [Are we] focusing on the process?' And if we are, that's all that matters. There's not much you can do after that, because in baseball, you can't force things."
Baseball can be a cyclical game of severe highs and lows. Pena believes the Rays are in the midst of such a cycle.
"It's one of those things where things are going well for them," Pena said of the Phillies. "And things have not gone well for us. So I think it would be very ignorant to come out and say we haven't done well as far as focusing on what we need to be focusing on. Maybe they've pitched well. Maybe they've swung the bats great. And that's something very, very important for us to realize.
|Rays Nos. 3 and 4 hitters Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria are 0-for-29 with 15 strikeouts and three walks through four games of the World Series.|
"I think when you start looking in the mirror and asking all these questions -- 'Why this? Why that?' -- that's a black hole. That's a never-ending black hole. Why would you ever waste your time going that route? We just know what's right. So why not just focus on what's right and try to do that? So that's where our minds are at right now."
Longoria sounded as though he felt a sense of urgency.
"At the bat, we have to try and do something different," said Longoria. "Obviously, this is win or go home, so we have to change something. And hopefully that adjustment comes tomorrow."
Longoria answered "not really" when asked if he's noticed any different pitching patterns against him.
"I just think I'm at one of those stages where I'm not locked in where I'm getting one maybe two pitches per at-bat to hit," Longoria said. "When you're locked in, you hit those pitches. ... Earlier in the game, [Phillies starter Joe Blanton] made some good pitches with fastballs early, then sliders and changeups later [on] were good pitches. It makes it tough when you're not feeling too great in the box and you only get one or two to hit."
Rays manager Joe Maddon attributes the lulls with Longoria and Pena to the pair expanding their strike zones.
"[They are] just getting out of their zones a little bit," Maddon said. "I really addressed that primarily first with all the hitters. Normally when guys go bad, everybody wants to go for the mechanical correction. But I oftentimes think it's just what he's swinging at. I talked to them both. I talked to Longo about it. We always talk to Carlos about it, [saying], 'Just get back into your zone [and] you'll be fine.' When you're swinging at pitches that you don't normally hit, you're not going to hit them now either."
Maddon said the problem can sometimes be attributed to the mind-set of a young hitter.
"I think young hitters are trained to believe when things aren't going well, it's physical mechanics," Maddon said. "But I think it's mental, in regard to expanding your strike zone. So more than anything, I want them to get back to their strike zones."
Longoria appeared to snap out of his slump in Saturday night's game when he hit a ball off Phillies starter Jamie Moyer with two outs and a man on that looked like a home run. Unfortunately for Longoria and the Rays, the wind blew the ball back to where Philadelphia left fielder Pat Burrell could make the catch.
"I really was just jogging out of the box to see if the ball was going to stay fair," Longoria said. "In my mind, I thought it was for sure going out. I was just seeing if it was fair or foul. I started rounding first and I saw him camped under the ball. I was stunned."
Maddon also thought Longoria had measured one.
"Longo yesterday crushed that ball," said Maddon. "That was unfortunate. Weather conditions kept that ball in the ballpark."
Maddon said the Rays can still win the World Series despite the reduction in offensive productivity.
"You can win in a variety of ways," Maddon said. "[On Saturday] night, we almost won based on our legs. One of the things I've talked about a lot since I've gotten here is the balance throughout our team. I don't want to build a team based on one component, whether it's power or speed or whatever.
"I like the idea that you could be a balanced ballclub. You can win with your legs, win with your power, hopefully with your situational hitting, etc., the good pitching, the defense. Of course, it's a lot easier to win if both of them are doing what they can do. But I really have a lot of faith that we can produce runs in other ways. Furthermore, I think they're going to be fine."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.