Finally the Tampa Bay Rays showed up in the 2010 ALDS.
Through Games 1 and 2 there was some team on the field playing against the big league Texas Rangers, but it surely wasn’t the Rays.
This imposter team had put up one measley run and only 8 hits in two games while giving up 11 runs AT HOME, no less.
Apparently, the REAL Rays were waiting in Arlington, Texas.
2 home runs.
Now THAT’s Rays baseball.
Emotions Were High
Around my home, the stress and worry levels were really high. We were wondering if we were about to see the final game of the Rays season. The final game of Carl Crawford’s career in a Rays uni.
There’s going to be at least one more.
What was great to see was while MY emotions were out of whack, the Rays’ were not.
There was Matt Garza calmly rebounding from an early run given up to retire Ranger after Ranger.
There was Joe Maddon keeping his temper in check, even after a few blown calls by the umpires tonight (seriously, blue, you didn’t see Elvis Andrus come off the bag on his stolen base attempt while Jason Bartlett had the tag on him? Seriously?).
This game was tight until the 9th, so the cooler head was going to prevail.
The cooler head and the guy with the bigger bat.
Luckily, that was the Rays on both account.
What was awesome to see was the Rays in the dugout messin’ around as they did all season long.
Watching Evan Longoria with a waterbottle holder on his shoulder, mimicking a cameraman’s pose, “film” the goings-on of the 9th inning. The guys around him were cracking up and suddenly everything was loose.
The Rays were back.
The Rays Were Clutch
There were many events in this game that epitomized the Rays season, without which the Rays would be headed back to St. Pete with their heads held low.
–Carl Crawford had two big catches in the game, keeping the Rangers in check and preventing run-starting rallies.
–John Jaso had the biggest hit of the game in the 8th against the Rangers’ closer. Why isn’t this guy starting every game?
–The slumping and sub-Mendoza-line Carlos Pena took one down the right field line to drive in pinch runner Desmond Jennings with the game-tying run. Then Pena knocked one over the fence in the 9th to ice the game away.
–In addition to CC’s defense, Crawford hit a big home run in the 9th to put the Rays up 4-2 and take the pressure off of Pena. The loss of pressure made it just that much easier for the big first baseman to take one over the fence.
3 Keys to a W
#1 Emotion–The Rays kept theirs in check AND loosened up the dugout in the process. Look out Rangers.
#2 Hit–11 hits and 6 runs make it clear that the bats were warmed up tonight.
#3 Patience–Colby Lewis did not walk a whole lot of guys this season. He walked 5 Rays tonight. That helped to put more pressure on the young righty, and it helped the Rays to a W.
3 out of 3 Keys Turned = W
Game 4 is tomorrow.
How will it go?
If the Rays performance today is any indication, the Rangers have alot to worry about. They needed to put these guys away today.
The Rays can be really streaky, and the losing streak appears to be over.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Caught up. Now let’s get ahead.
So, the Home Run Derby is going on right now.
I just think that this is a great event. Can’t help it. I know that some people whine about it being meaningless or messing up guys’ swing, but I think it is great entertainment and I love watching it each summer.
Maybe I love it because guys’ I have rooted for have taken part in the derby over the years. Sammy Sosa, Andre Dawson, George Bell, Carlos Pena, and, of course, my favorite player of all time, Ryne Sandberg.
So I’ve had lots to cheer for over the years.
Who Ya Pickin’?
I decided to chronicle the derby as it goes along. Why? Mainly for my own fun rather than anybody’s real entertainment.
Here are my picks to win it:
I went with 3 guys just because it’s my blog and I can do what I want.
Chris Young Wow, this guy did not look comfortable at all. He hit one nice dinger, and that was it. I think he has a ton of talent and is going to be in more All-Star Games in the future, but this was a dismal display.
Matt Holliday Wow, that was awesome! He had 9 outs and 1 dinger. Then he proceeded to fire up the launch pad! Wow. He only ended up with 5, but one of those homers was 497 feet!! He is in second place right now. We’ll see what happens.
Miguel Cabrera He really launched some long balls. Wow. He sure showed what kind of a hitter he is: complete. I loved the long ball in the water that Big Papi said, “In the water…you see that?” Funny. Overall, a great performance.
Corey Hart put on a great display in Round 1. Honestly, I did not think he would do well at all. He blasted 13 homers and boy, oh boy, were they long! He had a 464-foot shot that was just majestic. Man, was it annoying to listen to A-rod talk while Swisher was hitting. I do not respect that guy at all, and to hear him try to talk about respect for the game makes me want to puke. Hanley Ramirez was great. I have to admit, though, after his disrespect of the game earlier this season, I was rooting against him. He sure showed me.
So, all I’ve got left is Miggy. I suck.
Miguel Cabrera Damn. This has been great to watch, but none of my guys did anything! Right now my wife is rubbing it in that she chose Big Papi and that he might win. There is a foot rub riding on it! Miggy really let me down. Don’t know who to root for now. Maybe Corey Hart.
Ramirez looks good. Wow. He is really surprising me. Not the biggest surprise, though. Corey Hart’s first round was something else. I’m rooting for Hart to move on to the finals and win it all. (Wow, Hart really stunk it up!)
Big Papi did not disappoint, that’s for sure. Man, that guy just launched moon shot after moon shot. Incredible. Ramirez just had nothing left in the tank (good!) and he could not find a rhythm in that final round. What I thought was pretty cool was watching Ortiz interact with his kid. It was really sweet.
Well, I’ve got a footrub to administer. I’m a loser…
You surely want to get excited about the series that starts tonight between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox.
You want to get hyped and break out the good snacks before settling down on the couch for a series between rivals.
You want to go through the ritual of getting mentally prepared for yet another series of insanity between to top-notch teams in the AL East.
You want to, but…
Let’s face it, the Red Sox are a long long long way from contending for the division. Heck, they have to crawl out of 4th place before they can contend for anything.
Sweeps Is Sweeps
You cannot forget the hard-to-watch destruction that was the 4-game series sweep the Rays handed to the Red Sox last month. On the one hand, you do not want to put too much emphasis on baseball in April, but you can’t discount it too much, either.
I mean, the Rays outscored the Rouge Sox in that series by a 24-9 score and dominated pretty much every facet of the game. They outhit the Sox, outpitched the Sox, and outstole the Sox.
Sadly, while that series was simply legendary, you can’t transfer those good times to this series.
The Sox are going to throw 2 of their best in this series (all due respect to Josh Beckett, he simply has not been himself lately).
Clay Buchholz (who is pitching RIGHT NOW!) and Jon Lester are having solid seasons. Their ERA’s are in the low-3’s and they are a combined 9-5 this year. They typically have good success against the Rays, which could bode ill for the good guys.
They Rays will throw Wade Davis (who deserves SERIOUS Rookie of the Year consideration) in Game 1, which is not an issue because he has pitched in many pressure-filled games this season. He will be followed by the stellar James Shields and Cy Young-esque Matt Garza.
The Sox pitching in this series might be good, but the Rays’ should be better.
The Secret? Stealing
In their series in April, the Rays stole the Red Sox blind. They took base after base with little resistance.
Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, and BJ Upton could not be stopped. And that could be acceptable, if you are a Sox fan, if those were the only guys who were swiping bases. However, the Rays rubbed it in by having Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Carlos Pena take bases as well.
The way the Rays will win this series, and the Sox will lose it, is if the Rays’ stealing success continues. But if the Sox keep the Rays off of the bases and prevent them from turning singles into doubles we could see another sweep, but this time from the bad guys.
Funny, when I started this post I thought of this series as yet another ho-hum series in 2010 a la the Royals or Mariners.
But when you look at the pitching matchups, the battles between base runner, catcher, and pitcher, and the drama that is Rays/Red Sox, I find myself starting to get more and more amped up.
Game 1 might not be looking so good thus far, but jeez I am starting to feel those competitive juices flow.
The Sox may be 8 1/2 back right now, but I would love to see the Rays bury these guys by the end of the series.
Ok, I’m officially pumped.
Of course, all that was raining on the Rays during the month of April were W’s.
17 of ’em to be exact.
The Rays came out of April with a 17-6 record.
Not only is that the best in the American League, it is the best record in the MAJORS.
Who doesn’t have the best record in the league?
(I just wanted to make sure that was clear.)
Sure, this season is just one month old, but you have to start somewhere, right? Last year, the Rays got off to a 9-14 start and, in the competitive AL East, pretty much sealed their doom early. They made a run near the end of the season to put themselves in contention for a wildcard spot, but injuries and bad baseball–and the aforementioned poor start–gave them no wiggle room for mistakes.
This kind of a start means that when that inevitable slump comes for the Rays, they WILL have some room for error.
Sure, the Rays lost to the Kansas City Royals last night. But not for lack of effort by one Carlos Pena.
He made a great play to take away an extra bases hit down the line early in the game. Then he turned in an incredible “falling-into-the-dugout” grab of a foul ball in a 1-0 game to support his pitcher.
That level of effort is why the Rays are not only the best team in the league right now, but also because watching them (in person or on tv) is one of the most entertaining 2-3 hours you can spend in your day.
Rays 9, Yankees 3
And it wasn’t that close.
David Price, the Rays’ phenom 24-year-old lefty, led the team against the invaders from NYC and gave them more than they could handle.
The offense didn’t want to be outdone, so they put their best bat forward and put up 8 earned against the Yanks’ big offseason acquisition, Javier Vazquez.
In the end, there was not much to complain about.
If you are a Rays fan, of course.
Price Was Scary Good
Price went out and simply gave the Rays his longest–and one of his more solid–performances of his young career.
7 2/3 IP 3 ER 7 H 3 BB 7 K
Through 6 innings, however, Price threw only 66 pitches. Aside from a double in the 2nd that brought home 2 runs by Alex Rodriguez, there was nothing scary.
When he reached the 8th inning, Price admitted he began to press a bit, which led to a bases-loaded jam and another run given up. But Lance Cormier came into the game and ended the frame with a strikeout.
It was an almost-effortless performance from a guy who is the Rays’ NUMBER 4 PITCHER!
Big Inning: The 4th
The Rays almost batted around in the bottom of the 4th against Vazquez.
A few doubles, a few singles, a stolen base from BJ Upton, and a huge blast from Carlos Pena gave the Rays all the runs they would need for the rest of the game (5).
While the home run was fun, I was more excited about the double that just eluded left-fielder Marcus Thames’ glove from the bat of Jason Bartlett. It was one of those moments that you were hoping would happen (him missing the catch) and it led to two big runs. Whew!
Sleeping Bats Awakened–Look Out!
Pena had been hitting terribly this season. And he had been suffering from a power outage, with no balls of his bat threatening to leave the yard. It was nice to see him take one out against a tough pitcher like Vazquez.
The other area the Rays are getting no production from is DH. I am going to lay off the Burrell Bashing–for now–and simply say that Willy Aybar’s big 2-run home run in the 6th was a respite from worrying about what to do with the DH position. After striking out horribly earlier in the game, it was great seeing him rip one down the line and out.
The Rays are going to have a tough one against the Yanks and CC Sabathia. Even though CC got knocked around pretty good by the Red Sox on Opening Day part 1, everybody knows he is a tough hombre.
The Rays are sending out youngster Wade Davis, who will make just his 7th start of his young career. He had to work hard to beat out Andy Sonnanstine for the 5th starter job, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against a tough Yankee club.
I’m excited. Can you tell?
Ok, corny puns aside…
Who’ll be the new JP?
When lefty JP Howell went down with an arm injury a little while ago, the season passed through all Rays’ fans eyes. The Rays’ plans for 2010’s bullpen were about to fall apart. And, with it, the season.
In 2010 the bullpen was going to be perfectly put together. The 6th and 7th innings would be manned by a combination of Lance Cormier, Grant Balfour, and Dan Wheeler. In the 8th Howell would make hitters look silly just as he has done the last two seasons, providing a knee buckling curve and low-key fastball to contrast with new acquired closer’s Rafael Soriano’s slider and blistering heat.
But a twinge of pain in Howell’s elbow caused the lefty, and the Rays, to shut him down for the time being. While the initial fear was season-ending Tommy John surgery, it turns out that Howell will just need some rest. That rest could take as long as a few months into the regular season, but better to work without Howell now than lose him, as the Rays pretty much did the last month last season, at the end of the year.
In House, or Out House?
It would seem that the Rays might need another left-hander to fill out the bullpen and compliment the in-house lefty, Randy Choate. Who that lefty could be is up for debate.
The Boston Red Sox recently dismissed one of last year’s delights in the Rays bullpen, Brian Shouse.
Why they let him go only to sign another slightly older lefty (Scott Schoenweis) is up for debate. The veteran lefty only put up a 0.96 ERA for the Sawx and even earned a win in 10 games (9 1/3 innings). Last year for the Rays he got into 45 games and provided key lefty relief.
Certainly, Shouse could be gotten for a song right now as teams often shy away from 42-year-old arms, lefty or righty.
So who else could it be?
I would argue that a great choice would be a suddenly relevant Heath Phillips.
Phillips’ numbers have been decent this spring, though not outstanding. His ERA is not great (5.62) but he has shown durability, pitching about 2 innings per appearance.
However, what makes him an attractive option in the Rays’ bullpen at the start of this season is simple:
HE’S A LEFTY!
He has had an outing this spring against the Twins vaunted lineup in which he pitched 3 scoreless innings. No doubt, this performance has made his case for a spot in the bullpen much stronger than it was before Howell’s injury.
Remember, it was another long-shot lefty a few seasons ago who broke into the Rays 25-man roster after an injury occurred right around the start of the season.
It was 2008.
The lefty in question was Carlos Pena.
The point is, that the Rays seem to have a run of success with lefties filling in for their starting counterparts.
Let’s hope that, should Phillips win the job, the Rays’ streak will continue.