The Tampa Bay Rays were supposed to have the best young rotation in baseball this year, one that would finally put them over the top. But as they head into the postseason, the Rays’ starters might be what will hold them back from making it to the World Series.
Other than David Price (18-6, 2.84), Rays starters have been inconsistent and disappointing all year — and downright terrible in September.
James Shields (13-14, 5.06) is the prime example. Following a loss to the weak-hitting Mariners on Sunday, in which Shields allowed five runs in six innings of work, the right-hander fell to 0-3 with a 7.00 ERA in September.
After starting off the season going 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA in April, Shields has completely fallen off the map and has become the biggest pitching disaster in the American League.
Shields’ teammate, Matt Garza, isn’t living up to his expectations, either. On July 26, Garza threw a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers, then followed that up with a 1.27 ERA in August. In September, Garza’s ERA is a putrid 6.41, and he’s only pitched into the seventh inning in one of his five starts.
Meanwhile, usual No. 4 starter Jeff Niemann has a 9.18 ERA this month, and rookie Wade Davis, who has pitched well of late, has never appeared in a postseason game.
It wouldn’t be surprising, then, if Rays manager Joe Maddon decides to hand the ball to 23-year-old rookie Jeremy Hellickson in a crucial playoff game.
Hellickson, who started the year in Triple-A Durham, has filled in beautifully when called upon as a starter. The young righty went 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in four August starts when Niemann and Davis were both on the DL.
Maddon could decide to use Hellickson in the same way he used Price in 2008, as a specialist out of the bullpen. But Hellickson hasn’t exactly panned out as a reliever since he was demoted when Niemann and Davis came back, giving up eight runs in nine innings of work out of the ‘pen.
It might be wise for Maddon to throw Hellickson, the only Rays starter whose mind hasn’t been tainted by poor outings this year, in a big game come October.
At this point, it’s pretty obvious what he’s going to get from Shields, Garza and Niemann. Why not try a kid who only has a huge upside?