It's not that Boston Red Sox pitchers Josh Beckett, Alfredo Aceves and others weren't awesome in the Sunday night/Monday morning marathon -- perhaps I'll need a Monday afternoon nap to compensate -- but I couldn't help but wonder whether Tampa Bay Rays outfield prospect Desmond Jennings might have been able to help. The Red Sox earned their 1-0, 16-inning victory on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball," as Rays hitters managed three singles in 50 at-bats against six pitchers. Jennings doubled twice among his three hits Saturday for the Triple-A Durham Bulls, then doubled again and scored twice Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Rays certainly could use a spark at the top of the lineup, one that ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of scoring runs but really shouldn't be relying on the likes of Sam Fuld and Justin Ruggiano, not to mention Reid Brignac, Casey Kotchman (hitting cleanup, really?) and all their catchers. Yes, the Rays scored a healthy number of runs Friday and Saturday against the Red Sox, but Andrew Miller and John Lackey started those games. Let's be realistic.
I'm not saying that the 24-year-old Jennings, who consistently ranks well in colleague Jason Grey's prospect lists and is playing again after breaking a finger a few weeks ago, will save the offense, but he would help. Jennings is a right-handed speedster who has 33 extra-base hits for the Bulls in 85 games, and he could steal many bases in the majors. This is his third season at Triple-A. It's time to promote him for good. For the record, I do think Jennings will become instantly attractive for ESPN standard leagues as a fourth or fifth outfielder, and he's available in 98.6 percent of leagues. It's possible Jennings could instantly become this team's fourth-best offensive player for real life and fantasy (after Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist). If the Rays call Jennings up this month, watch him hit six or seven home runs in the final two months with double-digit stolen bases and a .280 batting average.
Of course, it dawned on me as the Rays prepare to meet the New York Yankees on ESPN's "Monday Night Baseball" -- in what starts an interesting stretch that should decide whether they will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline -- that very few current Rays are trending up. I like the Rays, but for them to stick with the Red Sox and Yankees, some of these strugglers need to turn things around. In fact, the following Rays don't really seem like wise buy-low options anymore. Let's discuss.
Evan Longoria, 3B: Surprised, eh? Longoria is hitting .233 for his injury-plagued season and only .226 during the past month. Most people probably assume it's just a matter of time before he resumes being the top-10 talent we all told you he'd be. Well, not so fast. Although Longoria is driving in runs and is actually playing, he's playing through a foot problem, and it's likely affecting him. I placed Longoria 25th in the ESPN midseason rankings, well below his March value. After seeing him at the plate this past weekend, I think we all ranked him too high, like the NL's Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. I hope Longoria hits .275 the rest of the way but don't expect it.
James Shields, SP: He was so terrible this past season that the fact that he's lost four consecutive starts has people jumping off the considerable bandwagon. I'm not going that far, but then again, it does seem a bit implausible that Shields could keep his WHIP on the good side of 1.00 all year. Don't read too much into the six earned runs he permitted this past weekend because the Red Sox can absolutely hit with the best teams, but keep an eye on the free passes. Shields has seen his strikeout rate drop in the past two months, while his walk rate has risen. Minor concerns, perhaps, because he was so dominant, but I can't trade for him as a top-10 pitcher, which he currently is on the Player Rater.
Matt Joyce, OF: I probably don't need to tell people to run away from Fuld, since he did his best work in April. However, Joyce is hitting .180 since June 1. A shoulder injury contributed to his poor June, but then again, Joyce's BABIP was well over .400 for the first two months, which is generally unsustainable. Joyce has popped a few home runs in July, but he's not walking, and it's hard to view him as a better option than Jennings, for example, the rest of the way.
Other Rays thoughts: Kyle Farnsworth entered July having walked two hitters this season. He's walked five in 5 1/3 July innings. Not saying you run away from him, but if you're trading for a closer, he wouldn't be one of my top 15 choices. And I don't think Jake McGee will save games this season. ... Why rip Kotchman, you might ask? Well, a hollow .333 batting average works at catcher or middle infield. I can't really justify it at corner infield, though. Plus, I can't expect it to continue. Kotchman has never done something like this, and he's typically had this walk rate. When that .363 BABIP levels out, you don't want to have Kotchman active. ... OK, I am no longer touting Sean Rodriguez. Some right-handed batters never learn how to hit right-handed pitching, and he possesses neither the speed nor plate discipline to compensate.