Rays hope Longoria can rev stalled offense

The Tampa Bay Rays activated Evan Longoria Tuesday after he missed more than three months with a partially torn left hamstring. Longoria is expected to be the team’s designated hitter as he is eased back into the lineup.

Longoria suffered the injury on April 30. After beating the Mariners 3-2 in 12 innings that day, the Rays were 15-8 and in first place in the AL East, and just two games behind the Texas Rangers for the best record in the AL.

Since then, they have gone 41-44, tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for the worst record among AL East teams in that span (and one game worse than the Minnesota Twins!). However, their playoff hopes are still alive, as they are just two games back in the AL Wild Card race.

Offensive slump

The Rays offense has really struggled without Longoria. They ranked fourth in the AL in OPS and runs per game during April, but over the last three-plus months have scored the fewest runs in the league and also rank last in batting average and slugging percentage during that time.

Rays Offense This Season

They have been blanked in their last two games, the sixth time in franchise history that’s happened and the first time since 2008. They have also scored three or fewer runs in 11 of their last 14 games dating back to July 21.

Four seems to the magic number for Tampa Bay, as they are 44-8 when scoring at least four runs this season, the best record in the AL. The problem is that their 52 games scoring four-plus runs are the fewest in the league.

Longoria feasts on heat

Longoria was having a strong season before he was injured, with a .329/.433/.561 batting line and a .994 OPS that ranked seventh in the AL for the month of April. Each of those rates would be the best of his career if he can keep it up for the rest of the season.

Evan LongoriaLongoriaLongoria was crushing “hard stuff” prior to landing on the DL. He hit .381 and slugged .635 against fastballs, sinkers and cutters, which was a significant increase from his .245 average and .554 slugging against those pitches last year.

At the same time, Longoria’s performance this year against offspeed pitches had suffered a noticeable decline from 2011. He hit .158 against the “soft stuff” in April compared to .228 last year, and had whiffed on nearly half his swings against those pitches before the injury.

What’s next

The Rays are two games back in the Wild Card race and have a good chance to make a move in the standings over the next two weeks with nine straight games against teams with a losing record (Blue Jays, Twins, Seattle Mariners).

However, the most critical stretch of the season comes at the end of September with 13 of their final 16 games against fellow Wild Card contenders – the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles.