What did you expect, anyway? The other day, Rays manager Joe Maddon said, “We're not hitting as a group.” You will hear that about 423 more times this season. There's no shock value, none. This is who the Rays are, this is who the Rays have been, this is who the Rays will be, win or lose, postseason or no, shame on them or no shame. Their DNA is filled with DNH (Do Not Hit).
Here we are again, early on, watching a rerun of 2012, “Eight Men Out.” OK, so this time it's Seven Men Out — Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria are both hitting. Two whole guys! This team is batting .227 through nine games. Granted, the Rays are 4-5, the same record they had to start last season, when they ended up winning 90 times. And they're at Fenway Park the next four games, maybe the best get-well card in baseball for hitters. There could be dents in the Monster by midnight. But is it ever a good thing when you're hitting .227 as a team? Is it ever way cool when a groundout RBI is a reason to wave a rally flag? Is it ever good when your new shortstop, Yunel Escobar, who is supposed to add punch, is batting .100 on the button? Isn't it positively weird when Longoria has 10 hits, but all of them are singles? And how, in any earthly way, can a team perform like mutts, 0-for-11, with the bases loaded? But why be surprised at this point? This is how it's going to be, all season long, wondering on any night if the Rays have enough to back up their pitching and defense. Who ever thought we'd wake up Thursday to discover that fully 124 major league players have hit home runs this season and not one of them is named Longoria? That's trippy, to say the least. Mind you, the formula is good in theory. The Rays are, in fact, striking out less, making more contact, but so far it's been lousy contact. There are all sorts of reasons to think baseball is cyclical — that the hits will come. But right now, no AL team has less of them. And the Rays will need those hits, more hits, more station to station, because long balls might be at a premium. They've hit four homers this season, tied with Kansas City for last in the AL. The Rays hit 175 homers last season, and even that was deceiving, as 66 percent of them (116) were solo shots. Amazing, but 22 of B.J. Upton's 28 homers in 2012 came with no one on base. Still, subtract Upton's 28 homers, and Carlos Peņa's 19 homers he hit on the days he decided to join the living, and we're looking at a deficit that has to be made up, preferably by better situational hitting. By the way, throw in Luke Scott's 14 homers last season, too, because though Scott can kill a wild boar with his bare hands, he can't stay off the DL. It's hard to see right now how newcomers like Escobar, whose career high in homers is 14, or James Loney (career high: 15) or Kelly Johnson (who hit 16 last season) are going to make up the whole difference. And now the news from the departed: Thursday morning, B.J. Upton was hitting .103 for the Braves, with a homer, an RBI and 12 strikeouts, Carlos Peņa was at .250 with no homers, three RBIs and 11 strikeouts for Houston … but Carl Crawford (Remember C.C.?) was leading the Dodgers and National League in batting at .464. Here are four games at Fenway, three in broad daylight. Hey, if a 14-year-old kid can shoot 1 over at the Masters, then how hard can it be to string together some hits and homers tonight against the Red Sox? Problem is, his round doesn't get over until late this afternoon and it's a two-hour flight to Boston. Then there's the cab to Fenway, in traffic. When it rains, it pours.