Tomorrow it begins.
I know, that sounds a little overdramatic. As if it is something from a bad Michae Bay movie. But for me tomorrow is a huge day.
ALDS Game 1.
I’m going to see how many times I can naturally work that phrase into this post.
My Rays played 162 games in order to put themselves in position to play ALDS Game 1. It is a pretty prestigious place to be, considering so many other MLB teams wish they could be right here.
When I got my postseason ticket order form a while back, I didn’t have to consider much about whether or not I would be buying a package.
Of course I would.
And now I am giddy with excitement, anticipating getting into the car tomorrow morning and heading out to the Trop for a little tailgating and a little ALDS Game 1.
I’m meeting some friends in the parking lot (my wife will be showing up shortly afterwards) for a little fun in the brisk morning sun (we’ve been getting as low as the mid-50s in the morning–sweet!) before walking inside the Trop to watch our boys take on the Texas Rangers and the vaunted lefty, Cliff Lee.
I cannot wait.
I picked up my “playoff” hat over this past weekend. You know, the bRAYzer hat that is all the rage in the area these days.
It is pretty sweet, in a totally dorky and geeky way.
Hey, it’s the playoffs!
Hey, it’s ALDS Game 1.
The Rays are sending none other than 2010 Cy Young candidate and 2008 rookie postseason phenom David Price to the bump to take on an amazing pitcher for Texas, Cliff Lee.
Both are lefties and both are the aces of their respective staffs.
They matched up in early August for what many considered the game of the year. It wasn’t bad. The Rays ended up winning that one 6-4 when they rallied (I had started getting ready for bed–I’m not old…just tired) improbably against Lee.
When you look at each guy’s numbers, you have to be impressed. But what is worrisome is when you see that Price is winless in four starts against the Rangers with a ******** 7.45 ERA!!!
However, Price is in a spot where he has thrived in the past. I think he’ll thrive again tomorrow.
Keys to Victory
The Rays won the season series agianst the Rangers 4-2, winning the last four games they played against Texas.
What is even more awesome is that they swept the Rangers at the Trop, where ALDS Game 1 takes place tomorrow afternoon.
So here’s what our Boys in Blue need to do to get a win in ALDS Game 1.
Price Price Baby! He’s got to give the Rays 6 strong. Not kinda good, but strong. Any starter who gets knocked around in game 1 of any playoff series ends up depleting his bullpen and lowering hope for the rest of the series. So Price needs to come out and set the tone.
Make Lee Work. If the Rays go out and flail away at Lee’s fastball or slider, then they’ll have a long night. It is no secret that this team is the worst when it comes to striking out. The only thing that helps them is that they are #1 in walks too! Patience, boys…
Capitalize with a Capital C! When the situation presents itself, and it will, the Rays have to take advantage. When they get that runner on third base with less than 2 outs, they have to bring him in, yes. But I’m talking about that moment where the game is in the balance and a hit there, or a walk, or a strikeout can shift the game clearly in the Rays favor. We need that.
1:37 Game Time? Seriously?
I almost spit out my Diet Coke when I saw the game times flashed up on the screen on Sunday. I could not believe at all that MLB could be such a–holes and make the BEST team in the American League play in the afternoon while reserving a prime spot for six other teams.
How fair is that?
So now I–along with many other die hard Rays fans–will be taking a day off of work (I even had to cancel a very needed basketball practice) so that we can drive across the bridge to the Trop for ALDS Game 1.
I think that the Rays deserve a lot more respect than they got with this time slot, but, as usual, they will overcome the rest of the doubters and do something very special this postseason–just like in 2008.
Kevin Kennedy Gone
It is with sadness that I report that color analyst Kevin Kennedy has been dismissed from his television duties with the Rays.
Yeah, sad. Uh-huh.
The guy was boring and never met a lame catchphrase he didn’t like.
If I had a nickel for everytime the guy said “Paint” to describe hitting the black on the plate with a great pitch, I wouldn’t have to worry about calling off work to go to tomorrow’s game.
I’d be retired.
He was a good guy, no doubt. I’ll never forget when he subdued the guy on his red-eye flight who was saying crazy terrorist stuff. That was great.
But I couldn’t take it anymore.
Next season it’ll be Dwayne Staats and Brian Anderson calling games. Anderson will bring some serious energy to the broadcast.
As Spring Training approaches (not fast enough, despite my Indianapolis Colts’ moving the Bowl of all Bowls), there are several areas on the Tampa Bay Rays that are in need of shoring up. These five areas certainly “ray-se” concerns among fans, and failure for Andrew Friedman and company to address them may result in a long summer for the Boys in Blue.
Here are the five key areas of consternation heading into these few weeks before pitchers and catchers report:
Rays fans loved Pat Burrell in 2009.
He did an amazing job of keeping those in attendance at the Trop cool every night as the human oscillating fan. Hearing Dwayne Staats announce, “Swing and a miss,” with regards to Burrell never got old. Wait…it did.
No folks, “The Bat” was far from a fan fave-the typical fate of so many .221, 14 hr, 64 RBI guys making 9 million dollars. As of this moment Burrell is still a Ray-not for lack of trying, though. While the much maligned Milton Bradley’s name was bandied about as a possible replacement at DH, nothing happened. Tough to know whether that was for the best or not.
The question remains, though: Who will fill the DH role in 2010? There is no clear cut answer. It seems unlikely that Tampa Bay will look to free agency to find a Burrell replacement. The addition of closer Rafael Soriano and the resigning of Kelly Shoppach pretty much ate up the petty cash lying around Stuart Sternberg’s office. Promoting from within might occur, with Willy Aybar itching for a chance to play every day. A Burrell trade could happen too, but the price tag for the 33-year-old veteran might be a little high for most teams.
Perhaps Rays fans should prepare for another breezy summer inside the Trop.
This position was occupied by several people in 2009. Akinori Iwamura was certainly one of the Rays’ most beloved second basemen of all time (sorry, Brent Abernathy). However, he is now gone, doomed to the Sarlaac Pitt. Other second basemen of 2009 include Reid Brignac, Joe Dillon, Willy Aybar (what an experiment in futility that was) and the great Ben Zobrist.
While Zobrist may very well become the Rays everyday 2B in 2010, there could be a problem should Zorilla be moved to right field instead. Brignac probably will not be the every day answer-though it would be neat to see him break camp as the starter so we can see what he can do with consistent at bats-so the Rays might just consider the recently acquired Sean Rodriguez.
Side Note: I know that every team wishes they had a player with the last name “Rodriguez” simply so they can take that player’s first initial and add it to “Rod,” ala “A-Rod.” But, seriously, Rays fans, let’s please avoid calling him S-rod, ok?
Rodriguez has some serious pop (easily 20 hr power) and shouldn’t be a defensive liability should he take over the 2B position. I am sure that the Rays see him as a long term answer at that spot in the infield, but it will remain to be seen if Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon will give the youngster the green light coming out of Spring Training. If he can win the job when the team breaks from Port Charlotte, many things would be cleared up as Zorilla’s move to right would be set.
Should S-Rod (oops!) take the 2B competition, the question of who will be the next right fielder becomes simple arithmatic.
Zobrist’s bat and strong arm at the corner outfield position would be a perfect fit. He would seemingly complete one of the better outfields in the majors and finally settle the revolving door that the Rays have had at that position for years.
However, if Zobrist were forced to man the 2B position because Rodriguez was not ready for the majors and Reid Brignac was, well, the same ol’ Reid Brignac-a move that Maddon may not frown upon as much as may be thought-then the Rays could potentially be in trouble in right.
In the offseason they unloaded one of the Gabes (both Kapler and Gross were really one entity in 2009, but the Kap has stuck around for about a million in 2010) which means more playing time for Kap-should he earn it. But his struggles with righties means that the Rays will have only 1/2 of a right fielder-not ideal.
Right fielders in waiting (for how long is to be determined) might be Matt Joyce, Justin Ruggiano, Fernando Perez, and Desmond Jennings, but it is difficult to determine whether or not any are ready to be with the big club. Jennings, Ruggiano, and Perez may be better suited for CF, which limits thier contributions to RF to a simple “fill in” status from time to time.
Joyce was a big part of last year’s Edwin Jackson trade, a trade that Maddon has consistently said may work in the Rays favor despite Jackson’s double digit wins and All-Star appearance in 2009 and Joyce’s almost season-long stint at Durham. Will this be the year that Joyce shows his own All-Star potential and takes the right field spot by force?
If Rodriguez could take over 2B and Joyce was the every day RF (or at least could platoon with Kapler) then that might give Maddon the option of using Zobrist as that super-sub again-something that certainly worked in the past. Perfect scenario? Maybe, maybe not. It would seem that Zobrist would prefer to have his position staked out beforehand so he could maintain his focus throughout the long season.
This might be the most contentious position battle as we near spring training. However, the emergence of either Joyce or Rodriguez will clear everything up quickly.
The Rays seem to have gotten their money’s worth (we hope) in the Scott Kazmir deal. Adding the highly touted Sean Rodriguez and the potential of lefty Alex Torres and infielder Matt Sweeney (the biggest Sweeney) has put the Rays in a great position for the future.
However, after moving Mitch Talbot to Cleveland in the Kelly Shoppach trade (he was the player to be named later) the Rays find themselves potentially a little thin in big league ready starters.
Sure, the rotation looks fine at the top with James “Big Game” Shields and Matt “Just As Big Of A Game” Garza. Spots 3 and 4 should be fine with David Price and Jeff Nieman, especially if both build on their 2009 performances.
But where do the Rays go from there?
At the moment the 5th spot is manned by Wade Davis, but he was hardly consistent in his 6 starts last season in spite of his 2-2 record and 3.72 ERA. While he struck out an impressive 36 in 36 1/3 innings, he also had games where he simply blew up.
If Davis does win the 5th spot, who do the Rays turn to should somebody or, God forbid, two somebodys get injured? In the wings stand Jeremy Hellickson (he might be ready sooner than we think-hopefully) and-<gulp>-Andy Sonnanstine. Not exactly a scenario that inspires great confidence.
The likelihood of the Rays adding a 5th starter via free agency seem small, though veterans such as Vicente Padilla and Joel Pineiro might be interesting (both would likely expect more than the Rays could afford).
At the moment it seems that Joe Maddon’s squad will be content with the arms they have and head into Spring Training hoping for two things: 1) that those aforementioned arms remain healthy; and 2) that one of the guys in camp really stands out to claim the 5th spot.
What a strange night.
What a long, strange night.
What a long, long, long strange night.
The Rays took down the Red Sox in 13 innings “last night” (actually early this morning) thanks to two long balls–one of which was a walkoff–by future Hall of Famer (if you believe Sports Illustrated!) Evan Longoria.
It was an amazing end to an epic ballgame.
Of course, it was the second time in the same game the Rays had won.
The MLB rulebook has some wacky guidelines inside of it. None so wacky as the “dead ball” rule that affected–greatly–the Rays in the 8th inning of last night’s ballgame.
The inning started well for the Rays.
Longoria tied the game up with a long ball to straightaway center field to lead things off.
Ben Zobrist then walked.
When Willy Aybar stepped in to sacrifice bunt, all hell broke loose.
It was like something out of a horror novel.
I think this guy had something to do with it!
Aybar’s bunt was fielded by pitcher Josh Bard, who promptly threw the ball over the head of first baseman Victor Martinez. Zobrist was running the whole way as the ball rolled into the Rays’ bullpen. By the time JD Drew threw his hands up to concede that he could not find the ball, Zobrist was on his way to home with Aybar heading to third.
At worst, the Rays had scored the go-ahead run and had a guy at 3rd with nobody out. Right?
Apparently the umpires ruled that as soon as the end result of the play was determined, the start of the play could be suspended. It is the “dead ball” rule. As soon as the ball rolled into a Rays’ player’s equipment bag, play was stopped. Which means, that there is no advancing. Which means, where the players were when the play’s momentum was going is where they stayed.
So, Zobrist was brought back to third, Aybar to second, and the winning run was taken off the board. (I say “winning run” because we all know JP Howell would have closed out the 9th!!!)
3-2 Rays became a 2-2 tie.
Announcers Dwayne Staats and Kevin Kennedy were livid.
Staats: “I mean, C’mon!!!!”
Kennedy: “That is just a poor judgement call!”
Staats: “Aren’t they even paying attention!?” (THE BEST LINE OF THE GAME, IN MY OPINION!)
Kennedy: “There is pretty much no reward for the error with this call!”
Sure, the Rays won. But it was in spite of ridiculous umpiring.
The Real Win: Walkoff Style
There’s really not alot I can add that you haven’t seen on Sportscenter already.
Last night’s game was just amazing in its scope, not to mention is dramatic ending.
Longoria’s walkoff was somewhat unexpected. He had battled all game long, striking out and homering and little else.
With two outs in the 13th and Michel Hernandez on 3rd, I was just hoping for a base knock.
Longo worked the count rather clumsily before getting a rising fastball that he clocked high and deep into the left field seats.
When he raised his hands in exultation (not showing up the Sox at all) it was a fitting end to a hard fought ballgame.
It almost HAD to end this way. A single up the middle would not have sufficed.
And thus we have the latest chapter in what has become a fierce–and FUN–rivalry
The Real Win: Pitching
Matt Garza outdueled John Lester in the game, though neither pitcher got much run support.
Garza went 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits and striking out 6. He received a no decision in a game he pitched well enough to win. I’m scared that Garza might have caught whatever disease has been plaguing James Shields this season where neither can get any run support from the offense!
Lester went 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and striking out 10. The Rays made it easy on the lefty, flailing away at the junk he was throwing and getting blown away by the heat. The Rays hitters had no discipline at the plate, led by FOUR STRIKEOUTS by both Longoria and BJ Upton and three K’s from Willy Aybar.
The Real Win: Missed Opportunities
The Rays had the leadoff man on base in 6 of the final 7 innings. Yet it took them to the 13th inning to win it.
They had been ranked 4th in the majors in scoring when the leadoff man gets on base. In those situations they are able to score 54% of the time. However, that stat was thrown out the window by poor plate discipline and making poor swings.
As mentioned, the Rays struck out 10 times. Many times with runners in scoring position. At one point, the Rays were poised to win the game if Upton merely put the ball in play. The result: he struck out to help end the threat.
Pat Burrell, put on the bench by Joe Maddon in favor of Willy Aybar (cheers to that!), pinch hit in that fateful 8th inning. With fans hoping for a miracle, Pat “The Bat” swung at the first pitch–on the outside portion of the plate, of course–and easily grounded to 3rd to end the inning.
In the 7th inning Dioner Navarro hit into a rally-killing double play on, you guessed it, the first pitch.
Rays hitters need to get their acts together. We can’t rely on Longo to win every game.
The Real Win: Two Stars Give ‘N’ Take
This game seemed to revolve around two of the bigger stars in MLB: Longoria and Dustin Pedroia.
Both gave alot to their respective teams, and both hurt their teams.
Longoria continued his dominance of the Red Sox. He’s hitting around .350 with 6 homers and 22 RBIs in 11 games against them this season. And let’s not even get started on his domination of Sox pitching in last year’s ALCS.
Longoria struck out his first 3 times up, 4 times in all. He looked goofy out there trying to solve Lester. However, he made up for it by turning a key double play with the bases loaded and spearing a rifle shot down the line by Kevin Youkilis that surely would have given the Red Sox the lead in extras.
Oh, and there are the two dingers, one of which was a walkoff.
Pedroia put his team up 2-0 with a homer to left early in the game. He did not strike out and went 3-6.
However, with the bases loaded in extra innings and only 1 out, he let down the Nation by grounding hard to–yep–Longoria who stepped on the bag at third and threw him out at first. Inning, and rally, over.
It’s something interesting how the stars of a game can control almost every facet.
Three Keys to Last Night’s Game
1–Bartlett must set the table. YES. While he struck out twice, Bartlett did a great job for the second consecutive game in the leadoff spot, reaching base 4 times! He should be there again tonight.
2–The bottom third of the order must produce. NOPE. Upton, Navarro, and Kapler went a combined 2-10 and struck out 4 times.
3–The Rays must get off to a nice start. NOPE. Garza started well, but the offense–as usual–lagged behind.
Result: 1 of 3=WIN (though it shouldn’t have)
Looking Ahead To Tonight’s Game
Tonight the Rays will send David Price (4-4, 5.10) to the mound against Brad Penny (7-5, 5.07). On paper, this looks ugly.
It probably will be on the field, too.
Penny has never done well against the Rays, going 2-3 with a 5.06 ERA. He is not the LA Dodger Penny who pitched so well in his All-Star seasons. He is losing his stuff and struggles often.
Price will face the Red Sox for the first time since the ALCS last year when he shut down Boston in Game 7, sending the Rays to the World Series and the Sox home to weep.
A win tonight just might create some tears of joy for this Rays fan.
A win tonight gets us within 3 of the wildcard.
A win tonight will turn this season on its ear.
Three Keys to Tonight’s Game
1–BJ Upton needs to stop moping and start hitting. Upton was said to be crestfallen before yesterday’s game after learning that he would not be leading off anymore. Did not not see this coming? His OBP is .318! Now he needs to refocus and do some damage from the 7 spot.
2–Price needs to stay on the mound. If he goes only 4-5 innings again, after the marathon game for the bullpen last night, the Rays are in trouble.
3–Rays hitters must chase Penny. For the same reason as #2, if the Red Sox starter can get out of the game early, that should spell success for the Rays late in the game. They are late-game specialists, after all.
The theme of this Rays squad the last three years under the tutelage of Joe Maddon has been never to give up.
No matter what the score, the Rays always work on getting a good count to hit in, moving runners over, and throwing the best inning they can.
The result has been many come-from-behind wins such as we have seen the last two nights.
Last night the Rays fought back against the Royals bullpen from 4 runs down to take an 8-7 victory from the jaws of defeat. Tonight, the Boys in Blue came from being down–and dominated, by the way–to earn a 4-2 win.
They improved to 3-0 against the league’s best hurlers (Roy Halladay and Zack Greinke).
Never giving up on the game, no matter what the score.
Who could have guessed (ok, Ginny could have guessed) that the Rays would have been able to count on #2 guy Scott Kazmir to give them a solid start?
Kaz went 6 innings, giving up only 1 run on only 4 hits with three Ks before being lifted in the 7th due to a mild strain of his left forearm (Rays reporter told us during the game that the injury is not considered serious). Ok, he walked 4 guys, but tonight’s Kazmir has been so much better than the Kazmir we’ve seen to date.
He was able to outpitch no less than Cy Young candidate and All Star Zack Greinke.
The Royals hurler went 7 and gave up 1 run, but he allowed 9 hits–very un-Greinke-like. He continually kept the Rays hitters off balance, but was forced to leave the game because of a moderate–for him–pitch count.
That was when the Rays rebounded
The 8th Inning
John Bale entered the game to relieve Greinke for the Royals, and the Rays were only too happy to have somebody new to hit against.
And hit they did.
I thought that things were looking good when Carlos Pena coaxed a walk to start the inning. The Royals immediately brought in the goat from last night, Juan Cruz.
With one out, Pat Burrell did what he has been doing the last few weeks, he went the other way into right field, lacing a double down the line to score Pena and tie the game!
It was great!
Then Willy Aybar (a guy who could contend with Gabe Kapler for best bench player of the year) came to the plate and ripped his own double down the line, scoring Burrell. Aybar did something he had done only 3 other times in his career: he went 4-4! He had the RBI double and three singles.
Just to show that they had more in the tank, BJ Upton grounded a single up the middle off reliever Ramon Colon, scoring Gabe Kapler.
That was it. Dan Wheeler pitched the bottom of the inning to get his 11th hold and JP Howell put the Royals down in order in the 9th, striking out two, to earn his 8th save in 12 chances.
The Rays showed that they can be patient in a game where the starter dominates. Last night they did it against Brian Bannister, waiting until he left the game to unleash their offense on the bullpen.
Tonight, the Rays dominated the Royals ‘pen, scoring their runs off of three relievers in the 8th. They bided their time, waiting for the right moment to strike and take the other team down. In fact, their behavior the last two nights has been downright predatory!
Stats of the Night
They entered the 8th only 1-6 with runners in scoring position. In the 8th inning alone, they went 3-3, driving in their 3 runs. That was clutch. That was what a winning baseball team does.
Also, Dwayne Staats mentioned an unbelievable number. In order to illustrate the patience at the plate the Rays displayed on the evening, Staats told us that of the 108 pitches Greinke threw, 46 of them were seen by only two Rays hitters: Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria.
Three Keys to the Game
—Be aggressive with Greinke. NOPE. The Rays hitters were very patient–almost to a fault. They took many first-pitch strikes and were constantly hitting behind in the count. It showed, as they scored only 1 run against the guy.
—Kazmir needs to keep the Royals on their heels. YEP. Kaz turned in one of his best performances of the season, throwing for strikes (63/101 pitches for strikes) and moving the ball around. He would have pitched the 7th if not for the injury.
—Do the little things to score. YEP. In the 8th, the Rays pinch hit, pinch ran, walked, hit the ball to the opposite field, and showed great poise. Those are winning traits.
Two out of three=WIN
In all, tonight’s game was fun. F-U-N. Wins usually are, but tonight’s was special.
We got to see Kazmir act like the Kaz of old, perhaps showing what The Pitcher’s Duel was saying about getting extra rest over the All Star break and coming out gunning.
Plus, the Rays took this game without hitting a ball out of the park. I like that. Too often this season, and at times last season, the Rays rely on the long ball. They won tonight’s game by waiting for their time and not missing opportunity.
The Rays picked up a game on the losing Red Sox and keeping pace with the Yankees. Right now they stand at 5 1/2 out of first and 3 1/2 behind New York.
It was quite the STELLAR game and definitely a happy night.