I don’t know what it is about the Tampa Rays, but they just go through stretches of offensive impotency. Last year, Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game against Tampa. Earlier this season, Dallas Braden tossed another perfect game against them. Then again in 2010, Edwin Jackson no-hit them despite walking ten.
And on Friday, Bruce Chen threw a shutout, giving up only two hits and two walks while striking out seven. He’s been a surprise contributor in the starting rotation this year after taking over Gil Meche‘s spot when Meche went on the disabled list in May.
With an ERA+ of 101, Bruce Chen is perfectly average in 2010. For the Royals though, average is an upgrade from bad. Even if that average player was a minor league free agent, like Chen.
When you don’t suspect much from a player and they start to perform, it’s like a bonus. Chen has been solid this year, if a little bland. He’s quietly become the Royals team leader in wins with 12. That will be an odd footnote in Royals history someday. But Chen presses on and now looks like he has a great shot at making the roster one way or another next season.
Chen isn’t alone in cashing in on the simple opportunity to perform. Wilson Betemit has stepped in as everyday third baseman since the trade of Alberto Callaspo. Over his career, Betemit has a 103 OPS+, also right near league average, so it’s not like Betemit is a bum. He’s simply been expendable, a movable part. He hit 18 homers in 2006 during stints with the Dodgers and Braves, so his power in 2010 isn’t so surprising, but his batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage are all on pace to be career highs.
It seemed like during his first few weeks of action that Betemit couldn’t buy a single, instead hitting homers and doubles with frequency. But it was just a hot streak, it wouldn’t last. Then he kept hitting. And kept hitting. And now, months later, it looks like Betemit is the favorite to start 2011 at third base.
Another minor league free agent, another great find.
Though if Chen comes in for Meche and puts up a plus-7.00 ERA over a series of starts, he’s not on the team and in a position to win 12 games. If Betemit goes 0-20 in his first few games, he doesn’t get the opportunity later to play everyday.
It’s all about timing.
But it’s nice to see the Royals catch some breaks and find useful players. After signing Jose Guillen to an inflated contract and seeing him report to camp slow, out of shape and still display his poor attitude, cold streaks and proneness to injuries makes you wonder if the Royals can sign anybody and get a good player out of the deal. So snagging two journeyman players and turning them into regular contributors is encouraging. Ideally, when the team starts to come around, that same eye for talent and knack for development — or at least the faith to give someone a shot — will continue as mega-prospects make their way up from the minor leagues and start to learn to play in the majors.
That’s the hope.
Maybe the two aren’t related. Maybe it’s just a stroke of luck.
But hey, we’ll take what we can get, right?