Tagged: AL East

Sox, Yanks, Sheesh!

Man, this is quite a season.

I don’t think it compares with 2008, to be honest, because that season was a season of “firsts” all over the place.  This year has a “been there, done that” feel while infusing every game with a new kind of enthusiasm.

No longer is it, ” I hope.”

Now, it is “I expect.”

Who knew that would happen?

The Rays took on the Red Sox last week.  Sure, the series did not go as Rays fans would have liked, but it wasn’t a sweep.  And, to be honest, seeing the Sox 7 1/2 games in the rearview mirror (along with their pale hosed counterparts from Chicago) makes any loss to Boston totally endurable.

But to follow that big series with a much BIGGER series against the Yanks, well, let’s just say I’m glad I don’t have a heart condition.

It’s getting tough to take!

Tonight’s game has been simply amazing.  CC Sabathia and David Price have shown why they are two of the top candidates in the Cy Young race.  So far, each pitcher has absolutely shut down the other’s vaunted offense.

(Currently, the Rays have first and second with 1 out in the 8th)

What is at stake in this series–heck, in this GAME?

No less than first place.

Man, I love baseball.

Watching these two teams battle as they have tonight, go pitch by pitch, at bat by at bat, has been a delight one can get from few other endeavors.

Forget the football on ESPN.  I have my main event right here.

I don’t know how this series will go. 

But, I will tell you that I don’t HOPE the Rays will win.

I EXPECT it. 

Isn’t that what happens when you believe in your boys?

What a game.

Go Rays!

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This is a Big ‘Un

Rays and Red Sox.

There was a time when this phrase meant little more than a full Trop–full of Sox hats and jerseys and ugly, invasive fans.

However, the last three seasons have seen a big shift in the meaning of this incredibly intense rivalry.

They battled in 2008 all season long and into the 7th game of the ALCS.  In 2009 the Rays, despite a rough season, gave the Sox all they could handle.  And now in 2010 our Boys in Blue have dominated those Bostonians to an 8-4 season clip, including two series sweeps and a 2-game series split. 

And it has been oh so much fun.

Beating the Red Sox is like celebrating your birthday, but so much more often.

This series is going to go a long way towards determining who makes the playoffs and who plays golf in October.

The Rays are tied with the Yanks for first place in the impossible AL East, 5 1/2 games ahead of the Sawx.  A series sweep by the Rays this weekend, with only a month left in the season, would all but end Boston’s playoff hopes.

But you have to give those guys credit (though I hate to); they have to be one of the most banged up clubs in the league (9 guys on the DL right now) and yet they can still see a playoff spot in the distance.

But it is a long distance.

Several scenarios could emerge from this weekend’s series:

1–The Rays sweep, go up 8 1/2 games, and end Boston’s season.

2–Boston sweeps, closes to wthin 2 1/2 games, and gain momentum and hope.

3–One of these two teams pick up a game on the other.

Scenarios 1 and 2 sound pretty exciting.  Number 3 is a yawner.

The pitching matchup tonight has to be one of the most exciting of the entire season.  Cy Young candidate David Price takes on fading Cy Young candidate Jon Lester

Wow.

Two of the best lefties in MLB. 

No wonder everybody’s clamoring for tickets.  And those who won’t be at the Trop will certainly be crowded around the tv.

Football season might be closing in, but we have one incredible brawl about to take place in ol’ St. Pete.

Let’s get ready to rumble…

Catching Up

That title has so many meanings. 

First, it is good to be back.  Vacation was great.  A week at a resort ain’t bad no matter what.

But, obviously, I have missed alot.  Let me check that, I have not written about alot.  I have missed nothing. 

Second, it seems that “catchin’ up” is exactly what the Rays have been doing.  They fought back in this tough division to take the lead by a game, only to fall back out of it before finding themselves back in the thick of it with a few strong games of late.

Here are some of the things I have seen over these last weeks.

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Rays Resilience

The Rays have not given up on this season at all.  As I mentioned, they took the division lead a week or so ago, despite a 7-game losing streak.  Then, just as soon as they got the lead, they relinquished it to the Yanks again. 

Even though they currently sit in 2nd place in the division, they could easily have packed it in.  They overcame a mini-losing streak in the last few weeks before getting a nice start from Jeremy Hellickson his last time out (before today).  Then they seemed to hit rock bottom, being shut out by the last place Orioles on Friday.  Now they have won 2 in a row (again, behind a strong start from Hellickson) and find themselves wrapping up the weekend in the thick of it once again.

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One Game Out

The Rays are sitting just one game behind the Yanks. 

They are heading into a very difficult series with the AL West division leading Texas Rangers.  There will be no easy wins there.  The Rangers are as good as it gets, and the Rays will have to be on top of their game if they want to get closer than they already are.

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Hellickson is Awesome

How good is this kid?

His win today pushed his record to 3-0.  He has given up almost no hits in his starts; specifically, he has not given up more than 3 hits in any of his three starts.  And he is still a kid.  He has stopped any bad baseball played by the Rays to inspire them to wins in each of his starts this sesaon. 

In other words, he is exactly what a contending team needs down the stretch.

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DL?  What DL?

You would have thought that the Rays would have faltered when 19 wins of their starting rotation left at the exact same time with shoulder injuries. 

I know that I was very worried when Jeff Nieman and Wade Davis went on the DL together.  However, Andy Sonnanstine and Hellickson have not missed a beat, pitching solid baseball over these last few weeks to bridge the gap to the two starters’ return from their respective ailments.

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What’ll Joe Do?

Finally, there are some really important decisions Joe Maddon will have to make in the coming days.

First, he will have to decide what to do once Nieman and Davis return from the DL.  Does he replace a hot Hellickson and solid Sonnanstine or does he ride the hot hand and send the incumbant starters to a “rehab” in the minors?  You would think that Sonny’s move to the ‘pen is a foregone conclusion–he’s a great spot starter, but it is tough to rely on him longterm–but you really don’t want to send down Hellickson.  Tough one.

The other decision will be what to do when Carlos Pena returns from his plantar faciatis issue.  Maddon has already said that nobody from the bullpen will be sent down.  So, does that mean Dan Johnson’s days are numbered?  They might be.  He has a ******** .405 OBP, but his average (.125) is pitiful, even when compared with Pena’s.

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Caught up.  Now let’s get ahead.

The Bell Has Rung…Kaz Got His Wings

The Rays lost tonight.

And I’m not talking about the game with Detroit.

The on again/off again romance between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Scott Kazmir has reached its fitting end. 

Scott Kazmir is now an Angel.

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Took Long Enough

It’s been a long road, but somehow a deal got done.

The trade started back in July when the Rays were out scouting the Angels’ farm system for prospects.  At the time the rumor was that Kaz was on the block and a trade to the Angels was imminent.

Both teams denied the reports and the rumors quickly died–well before the July 31st trade deadline.

Nothing was said for weeks.  Then reports started to leak this afternoon from the LA Times that a deal was done and Kazmir was an Angel.  Coming over in the trade were lefty Alexander Torres and 3B Matt Sweeney.

Alas, the trade was NOT done.  It fell through because the Rays wanted one more player.

Cue ominous music:

Duh-duh-duhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I reported that, thankfully, the Rays were going to hang on to their 25-year-old lefty and that that was a good thing.  They were fighting for the playoffs, after all.

No news was good news.

Until there was news.

After the Rays loss to Detroit this evening, news came out that Kaz had, indeed, been traded.

We were shocked!

The Rays apparently got what they wanted in Torres, Sweeney, and a player to be named.

The fans lost a favorite player, and More Cowbell lost the ability to wear a certain pitcher’s t-shirt.

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Clubhouse Fallout

Kaz was not only a fan favorite, but also a teammate fave.  He seemed to click very well with youngster David Price.

That could have been a bad thing, considering that Price, upon being called up this year, immediately took on some of Kaz’s traits:

          Throw lots of fastballs, work slowly, and get pulled before the 6th inning.

Regardless, you have to imagine that such a positive guy as Kaz being gone will negatively affect the Rays clubhouse and make players search for what is the next step. 

It should also cause them to question the front office’s faith in their ability to win this wild card spot.

Keep in mind that Kazmir was starting to come around.  He had been solid in his last 8 starts, going 4-2 with a 4.41 ERA.  He had thrown 6+ innings in 7 of those 8 starts and dominated Wednesday night with 10 Ks.

He was starting to look like the guy who set franchise records for wins, innings, strikeouts, starts, and quality starts. 

And, despite his good-faith contract signing for much less money than he could have gotten on the free agent market recently, the Rays STILL shipped him off for prospects in what can only be seen as a cost-cutting move.

A cost-cutting move during a playoff run!?

Idiots.

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Potential Fan Reaction

I think that Rays fans are going to be mixed on this one.

On one side will be the fans who remember the last 2+ years during which our once golden child struggled to get out of the 5th inning.  The kid who set the bar for all future starters for this frahchise.

They’ll remember the guy who was the DEAL OF THE CENTURY when we stole him from the New York Mets for who WAS our franchise record holder in wins etc, Victor Zambrano.

That was a Chuck Lamar deal…one of the few things he did right while with the Tampa Bay franchise.

They’ll remember him as the Icarus of the team who fell much too quickly and disappointed us much too strongly.

Remember when he was the fixture of the rotation?

Remember when EVERYBODY saw him as the team’s ace, the only 2-time pitcher All Star in franchise history.

He was supposed to be one of the greats.

The fall was quick and hard.

Those fans are going to be excited about this 21 year old pitcher and his 21 year old counterpart 3B and what they will bring to the Rays 1-2 years down the road.

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The other side will remember a kid with blonde hair and a cherub face who was ready to help a terrible team get better.  A kid who went out every 5th day from, seemingly, the beginning and threw gems. 

A kid who just won–Period. 

He was a kid who made us forget we rooted for one of the worst teams of all time.  He gave us hope when we had none.

Those fans are going to miss him.  They’ll miss the “Kaz” and “Kid K” nicknames and wonder if this deal is going to be something we rue as much as the Mets did when they dealt him in the first place.

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Personal Memory

What I’ll remember most of the kid was one game during the “Devil Rays” days when his teammates decided to have fun with him one night.

It was miraculous that the cameras caught it, but one night Kaz’s teammates (I believe it was Jonny Gomes) decided to make Kid K look stupid.

They blew up a Dubble Bubble bubble and pinched it off.

Then they placed it on his head.

Scott went most of the game with that bubble on his head.  His teammates fell out every time he came up to shoot the sh– with them.

Of course, this kid had no idea why he was so funny all of a sudden.

He smiled and waved at the cameras everytime he saw the red light come on.  He thought he was suddenly some kind of celebrity, though he had no idea why.

After a few innings he took his hat off.  And the camera caught him going nuts over the fact that he had been on tv all night long with a HUGE bubble gum bubble on his head.

I’ll always remember that one.  It was one of the funniest moments I’ve ever had watching a baseball game.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

The Rays acquired two very young, but very talented, players from the Angels farm system.  Both guys played primarily at Class-A the last year or so, but recently were promoted to Class-AA.

Alex Torres was named the organization’s pitcher of the month for July for putting up stellar numbers.  He was just moved to Class-AA Arkansas.

Matthew Sweeney missed the entire 2008 season with an ankle injury and two months of the 2009 campaign.  He still impressed enough for the Rays to get him, but his power numbers this season (9 hrs) are not impressive at all.

As fans, we’ll just have to wait and see just who got fleeced in this deal.  I don’t see this as a win/win situation.  I see this as a “somebody beat somebody else” situation. 

I don’t know if the Rays got the best of this deal, but I doubt it very much.

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Final Thoughts

I don’t want to be too negative here.  The deal is done.  Kaz is no longer a Ray.  We have to deal with losing our franchise’s best starting pitcher ever.

What makes me more upset than anything is simply the timing. 

According to reports, Kaz could have been moved around the trade deadline. 

Know who we could have gotten?

Mr. Cliff Lee

You know.  Mr. 5-0 sub-1.00 ERA for the Phillies, Cliff Lee.

Instead we’re getting two guys (and a player to be named) who have yet to reach AAA. 

These moves do not win you Executive of the Year, Andrew Friedman.  These moves make you a joke.

Not only does the timing of this move stink because of what we COULD have had, but it makes the Rays look like they are giving up on the post season.

It is as if the Rays are showing the team–and their fans–that they don’t think making it to October is plausible, so moving a surging pitcher now is not that big of a deal.  Might as well get what we can for him, right?

Moving Kaz is not the bad move. 

Moving Kaz NOW is what makes this stupid.

I’ll admit, my confidence in this team’s committment to winning this year is now shaken.  I bet I speak for lots of fans when I say that.

Regardless, I wish Kazmir luck in California.  He’ll certaily help out that Angels rotation.  Maybe he’ll even get his elusive World Series ring.

I’m sure he’ll enjoy it.

But, no doubt, he–and we–would have enjoyed it alot more if he could have earned that ring playing for the team that annointed him a Golden Child.

We called him “Kaz.” 

And he’ll be missed.

Storm Damage in Seattle

What happened?

As I  mentioned in my last post, I’ve been entertaining family the last few days.  We had a lot of fun spending time in Orlando, swimming, and watching my brother graduate from college.

It was kind of cool picking my mom up from the airport not only because I got to see her after a long time apart, but also since I was able to be reminded of something ELSE I love very much.

Ah yes, my Rays can never be far from from my mind.

Good times.

The last post I put up indicated my excitement over the Rays’ “sweep” of those blasted Red Sox and how great it was that they were sitting just 2 1/2 games behind them in the wild card race.

After that everything went dark. 

No, not like the typical gloomy, storm-ridden skies of Seattle (though we had our own scary weather down here in Tampa too).

Dark as in lack of energy, no electricity, nothing working.

I was able to pay attention to my guys as much as possible, but it might have been for the best that I didn’t see the heartbreak of Friday, the lack of permanance in Saturday, and Sunday’s stinkfest.

Right now I feel like I’m surveying the damage after the storm, and it looks pretty grim.

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Where Did the Pitching Go!?

I have touched on this in an earlier post, but I have to ask again: where is our pitching? 

You know, the guys who helped to guide us to the Series last year when the hitting disappeared from time to time? 

Don’t get me wrong, our hitting needs to get the thumb out.

But what made the Tampa Bay Rays a playoff-caliber team last year was the fact that when the hitting fell the pitching was there to catch it.

Right now we’re falling into the abyss.

 

Friday

Rays sink in extras 7-6

I’m glad I missed this one.  Rays hitters must have thought that getting 5 against Felix Hernandez was enough and put it into cruise control.  You can’t blame them.  Wait, yes you can.

Jeff Nieman pitches a great game–until the dreaded 7th.  He falls apart to give up 4 runs in his 6 1/3 innings.  His bullpen did not help at all.  The M’s manage 4 runs on 5 hits in the inning, launching them back into what was shaping up to be a blowout.  Then Ryan Langerhans takes our most trusted ‘pen guy, JP Howell, yard in the 11th to win it. 

He was down to his final strike!!!! 

Ouch.

 

Saturday

Rays win 10-4

Rays hitters manage only 8 hits while scoring 10 runs.  Ugh.

James Shields gets run support, but he needed it; he threw only 5 1/3 innings and gave up 4 total runs on 8 hits, walking 3.  That’s about a 2.00 WHIP, folks.  That is stuff that gets people who aren’t a team’s ace sent to the minors.

 

Sunday

Rays get blasted 11-2

Our “hitters” get 2 runs on 7 hits. 

Scott Kazmir had looked like he was climbing out of the hole he was living in so he could finish strong.  Not so.  His line was typical Scotty: 4 1/3, 7 R, 9 H, 2 BB.  Terrible. 

The Seattle pitching was awesome.

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Opportunity Knocked and Knocked and Knocked and Knocked…..

Four times the Boston Red Sox choked out a loss to the New York Yankees.  Four times in four games.  It took them about 2 1/2 weeks just to score a run!

Awesome, right?

Nope.

It felt like a storm ripped right through the heart of this team in Seattle as the Rays were only able to grab 1 1/2 games (the 1/2 only because they didn’t play that day!) so they can now sit 1 1/2 games out of the wild card.

You tell me.

How many times do you think the Red Sox will lose 4 in a row after being swept by the Rays between now and the end of the season?

Hmmmmm?

NONE!  IT AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN AGAIN!  THIS WAS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY THAT JUST BLEW AWAY!!!!

Somebody please drop a large fan thing on me for goodness sakes….

(Don’t worry, nobody was hurt)

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The Seattle series did little to help our chances to catch the Sox for the wild card spot. 

It did wonders for allowing New York to start to run away with the East. 

This next series just might go a long way towards determining what kind of October we are going to enjoy in the Tampa Bay area:

Stormy or sun-drenched?

Man, why can’t storm damage be more like this?

I think I could live with that. 

Rays Go Prospectin’ in the Ol’ West

    VS   

Fresh off of a “sweep” of the Boston Red Sox, and currently (as of this minute) 3 games out of the wildcard spot, the Tampa Bay Rays will board a plane for a good ol’ fashioned West Coast Trip.

Yikes.

The Rays will take on the Seattle Mariners and Los Anaheim of Angeles Angelic Baseball Players of California.

Sorry, the LA Angels of Anaheim.

I’ll be entertaining family for the next few days, but I wanted to drop in a few gold nuggets (get it?) of info about this extremely important series.

prospector.jpg image by file83

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Gotta Win

The Rays are in a rare position where no matter what they do in the next 3 days against Seattle they will reap some sort of benefit.  That is because the Yankees and Red Sox are duking it out in New York.

Should the Rays lose any of these games, they will lose ground to one of the aforementioned teams but not to both. 

However, should the Rays win any of these next three games, they will gain all important ground on one of the Yanks or BoSox.  That is key.

In a way, they can do no wrong.  But to lose any of these games to Seattle–a very strong team, despite the loss of Jarrod Washburn–will go down as a HUGE wasted opportunity at a time when opportunties are knocking less and less.

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Records We’d Rather Ignore

The Rays’ young men go west having fared poorly against the teams in that division.  They stand with a sub-.500 record against those teams (7-12).

They lost 2 of 3 to the M’s way back in April, but both teams have undergone a rejuvenation of sorts in the last month or so.  Even though the Mariners might be slowly falling out of the playoff picture, they have done alot of damage.  

We have to make sure they don’t do any more.

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Pitching Matchups

Friday, the Rays will send their default ace of the staff, Jeff Nieman (10-5, 3.62), to the mound against the true ace of the M’s staff, Felix Hernandez (12-4, 2.78). 

 Nieman has thrown well this season, and should find that his 12-6 hammer will have just as much movement in SafeCo Field’s pseudo-outdoor stadium as it does in the friendly confines of the Trop. 

 

King Felix is a bigtime strikeout pitcher and the Rays’ hitters will need to be disciplined if they want to have a chance.  However, as with one of my fave pitchers, “Big Z” Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs, Hernandez can be his own worst enemy–he often gets inside of his OWN head.

Let’s hope for a case of the “crazies” for Felix.

Saturday the Rays will pitch James Shields (6-8, 3.75) against the M’s Ian Snell (2-8, 5.19).

Shields is a guy who gets no respect.  Or maybe that’s runs.  Either way, he gets none of it.  The guy almost threw a no hitter his last time out and STILL got saddled with the loss!  Poor hitting behind him has been the bane of Shields pitching existance this year.  The Rays’ hitters owe him.

Ian Snell Picture

The recently acquired ex-Pirate Snell will be making an attempt at impressing the home crowd in his second start for the Mariners.  He did a nice job shutting down the Rangers his last time out, and will look to put the brakes on an equally impressive offense this time. 

I’m sure my friend at The Pittsburgh Peas, Matt, will be watching with great enthusiasm to see how his guy Snell fares. 

I’m hoping it’s poor, buddy.

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I’ll get back with everybody on Saturday to talk about a (hopefully) exciting and successful Rays series.  We really need these games. 

I hope the Rays bring their best out west.

We are sitting (now at the end of the creation of this post) just 2 1/2 games behind those Sox for the wildcard lead.  Oh my. 

Let’s strike gold!

(This guy has gold.  See?  Gold.)

What a Loooooooong (ball) Night!

    VS   

I’m not going to call this a “sweep.”  To do so in a two-game series would be kind of cheap. 

I AM going to call this a turning point, though.

This series against the wildcard-leading Red Sox was going to go a long way towards determining whether our Boys in Blue would sink or swim. 

To lose both games would put the Rays 7 out of the wildcard and, essentially, end their season.

To split would be a wasted opportunity to gain some ground.

To take both games, well, that was just too much to hope for.

Yet, it was exactly what we got!

Rays 6, Red Sox 4.

The Rays now sit only 3 games behind Boston in the wildcard standings.  They have a somewhat challenging schedule coming up, but this could be the Rays’ chance to do some serious moving.

But first, let’s talk about tonight’s game.

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Chicks Dig the Long Ball

The Rays and Red Sox combined to hit 6 long balls tonight.  The Rays got more bang for their buck by scoring all 6 of their runs via the tater. 

The Red Sox hit two solo shots and scored their other two runs a la the always exciting, um, groundout.

(FYI, groundouts are not exciting)

Advantage Rays.

Here’s how the night went:

In the second, Jason Bay went yard.                                                                            Sox 1-0.

The Rays retaliated with their own longball, but Carlos Pena made his count for two.      Rays 2-1.

Carl Crawford celebrated his 28th birthday by going opposite field for a 2-run dinger.      Rays 4-1

The Red Sox were feeling left out, so “newbie” Victor Martinez took one over the fence.  Rays 4-2.

Pat Burrell knocked a very business-like homer over the left field fence.                         Rays 5-2.

In the 7th, Jason Bartlett cemented his spot at the top of the order with a 2 out jack-son.  Rays 6-3.

 

Sometimes I get a little worried when the Rays rely too heavily on home runs to score, but about this time last season they started to do this (score almost exclusively via the home run) and they rode it all the way to the Series.

So I’m going to shut up about it.

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The Pitching

The pitching was exactly what I expected:  TIRED.

Both starters needed to give their respective teams 6+ innings and keep the score manageable.  If they went out of the game too early, the fatigued bullpens were bound to be shellacked.  If they stayed for their 6+ innings but gave up a ton of runs, the game would be difficult to win.

One starter kept his end of the deal.  Luckily, he was ours.

David Price gave the Rays 6 strong innings giving up 2 runs on 6 hits, walking none, and striking out 5.  It was exactly the type of start the Rays needed.

He didn’t look sharp all night long, giving up solo shots to Bay and Martinez, but what was impressive about the young hurler was that he kept his poise.  That will be something to build on for his next start.

The Red Sox did not fare as well.

Brad Penny was rocked for 5 runs, 6 hits, and 2 walks in his 6 innings of work.  You had to feel for Terry Francona (sort of) since he was pretty much locked in to allowing the right hander to work through the home runs.  He could do nothing else after using every arm in his bullpen in the 13-inning marathon last night. 

The Rays were fooled by nothing coming out of Penny’s hand, knocking him around in only his second 6-inning performance since July 4th.

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Three Keys to Tonight’s Game

1–BJ Upton needs to stop moping and start hitting.  YEP Upton went 1-3 tonight and stole a base, his 34th.  His one hit was a rocket to left on a tough inside pitch.  This is the BJ we need to see more often. 

2–Price needs to stay on the mound.  YEP.  While his 6 innings were not earth shattering, they were yeoman-like.  Price did the job and saved the bullpen from getting hammered tonight.

3–Rays hitters must chase Penny.  SORT OF.  The Rays knocked Penny around pretty good, but didn’t get him out of the game early.  Who knew that would actually work in the Rays’ favor?

Result: 2 1/2 out of 3: WIN!!

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Looking Ahead

The Rays begin a 6-game West Coast road trip on Friday against the Mariners.  They’ll then take on the Angels.  The Rays are not very strong on the Left Coast, so these games might be a challenge.

The Red Sox face their nemesis in the Yankees for a 4-game set that could go a long way towards reshaping the AL East.  It’ll be fun to watch.

Let’s hope they knock each other around while the Rays keep the winning streak going.

Now let’s get some sleep…