Tagged: Gabe Kapler

Aw C’mon…Again!? No-no Way!!

There isn’t alot to say.

No fan wants to write a post such as the one I am about to write.

It is hard to believe, but for the second time this season, the Tampa Bay Rays have been victims of a no hitter. 

That makes three in two years. 

Sheesh.

I don’t exactly know what kinds of records were broken tonight (I am sure that few teams have been no-hit twice in the same season), but I know how it feels to watch your team struggle to get a single damn hit.

It stinks.

Dallas Braden made the Rays look like fools all the way until Gabe Kapler was thrown out as he loafed down to first base to end the game.  The no-no was almost forgiveable because Braden did it on Mother’s Day and he had lost his mother not too much earlier.  So good for him.

But Edwin Jackson, the guy the Rays deemed expendable after the 2008 season, so much so that they banished him to Detroit for the “Next Big Thing,” Matt Joyce, throwing a no hitter against the team he REALLY wanted to throw a no hitter against, well, that is just downright unfair.

It isn’t as if the Rays didn’t work it.  They had 8 walks in the game, for goodness sakes!  They had walked the bases loaded in the 3rd! 

But as has been the case so often recently, the Rays were not able to “get the man in” with a base hit and they paid the price.

What a steep price.

I don’t want to think about the game anymore tonight.  I am going to turn on the tv, hit “Start Over” on my Bright House cable and watch the NHL draft.

One thing that is for sure, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks won’t get shut out tonight.

Sheesh…

Five Battles to Watch for in Spring Training

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:

DH

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.

 

2B

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.

 

RF

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.

 

5th starter

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.

TRayde News: Two Rays Fans Discuss the Possbilities

The MLB trade deadline will hit us this Friday, July 31st

It is a fun time of year as teams who think they are still in their respective races “buy” what they can while teams that are already looking ahead to 2010 (or 2011, 2012, 2013…) “sell” what they can to prepare.

We have already seen some interesting moves take place early in the trading season what with Matt Holliday moving from the West (A’s) to the Midwest (Cardinals), Rafael Betancourt going from low altitude (Cleveland) to way up in the air (Colorado), and Julio Lugo being lucky to go anywhere (Cardinals). 

Other than those deals nothing notable has really happened.

It is with all this in mind that Ginny at The Watercooler and Bob at More Cowbell are putting together the first (of many) co-posts where we will look at certain aspects surrounding our beloved Tampa Bay Rays.

First up, the trade deadline and which Rays players could/should move before Friday.

We are not really debating on whether or not something will happen with each of the players discussed.  We are Rays fans.  We know NOTHING is going to happen.

What we are doing is looking at the team’s needs, current player performance, and the potential for a move to occur.

It is pure fun.

More Cowbell and The Watercooler are putting on our General Manager’s hats to see if something can be done to help our guys reach October, and the World Series, for the second consecutive year.

So enjoy our hypothetical (and pathetic-al) attempt at doing a job we’re never ever going to have!

 

The Players

Dioner Navarro  C

2009 Stats:  .226   13 2B   5 HR   25 RBI   2 SB   266 AB

 

Keep or Cut?

I am sure Ginny will agree, this is a tough one.  Navi is one of the bigger fan favorites at the Trop.  He and his family have gone through alot during his time with the Rays and that has kind of bonded fan and catcher together.

Looking at it from a purely baseball point of view, though, I think that Dioner needs to go.  The Rays need to look into either moving him or finding somebody (Victor Martinez from the Indians?) to take his place.  His stats are some of the worst in the league for a catcher.

Navarro has had a roller coaster career with the Rays.  Two years ago he was brutal, hitting just .227 with a .286 OB%.  Terrible.  Last year he was a big reason why the Rays went to the playoffs, handling the staff well and hitting .295 with a .349 OB%. 

If we keep him it will be because he handles the staff’s pitchers deftly.  The Rays might also think that he’ll bounce back next year. 

CUT

See what Ginny thinks.

 

The Gabes: Gross and Kapler  RF

Gross 2009 Stats:  .271  11 2B   1 3B   5 HR   28 RBI   6 SB   177 AB

Kapler 2009 Stats: .250   13 2B  1 3B   4 HR    23 RBI   3 SB   124 AB

 

Keep or Cut?

These guys have worked in tandem to create a very effective platoon in right field for the Rays.  No doubt, you lose a little bit defensively when Gross is in the lineup, but you gain that much back with his bat.  Right now it is just the opposite with Kapler. 

I think that the rightfielder of the future for the Rays is already on the team.  I just don’t know who exactly that will be.  It might be Ben Zobrist, Fernando Perez, Desmond Jennings, or even BJ Upton himself (with one of the latter two taking center).  It will not be Gross or Kapler in 2010.

With that in mind, I think that either one is expendable.  I wouldn’t trade either one of them now, though, unless putting them in a package deal can land us another starter or a catcher.  Gross would probably fetch more on the open market than Kapler would.  But since Akinori Iwamura is hurt and Zobrist is playing well at 2B, I would keep them both.

KEEP BOTH (for now)

See what Ginny thinks.

 

Randy Choate or Brian Shouse    LH Relievers

Choate 2009 Stats:  0-0   2.25 ERA   4 SV   16 IP   15 K   5 BB   1.00 WHIP   .198 BAA

Shouse 2009 Stats: 1-1   3.77 ERA   0 SV   14.1 IP   9 K   3 BB   1.40 WHIP   .298 BAA 

 

Keep or Cut?

Choate has had an amazing year with the Rays.  His stats show how well he’s pitched and watching him in action backs them up.  His Batting Average Against is stellar.  When he is brought into a game to face a left-handed batter you can pretty much assume that Choate will get the out.  Lefties are hitting just .189 against him this year.  He is just the kind of guy that Joe Maddon loves.

However, we already have that guy in Brian Shouse.  Or do we?

Shouse’s numbers do not stack up with Choate’s at all.  He gets lefties out to a .235 clip, but righties are hitting .325 against him.  That pretty much means that Shouse is in for one batter and that is it.  Choate has made righties hit only .200 this year. 

I think that Choate is a keeper, but since we already have JP Howell, Shouse is now expendable.  I know that Maddon has said that he is excited about having a “toybox of lefties” in his bullpen, but 3 is a crowd.  Choate stays.  Shouse goes.

Choate: KEEP    Shouse:  CUT

See what Ginny thinks.

 

Andy Sonnanstine  RH Starter (currently at AAA Durham)

2009 Stats:  6-7   6.71 ERA   81.2 IP   50 K   22 BB   1.52 WHIP   .305 BAA

Starting pitcher Andy Sonnanstine #21 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws a pitch against the Chicago White Sox in Game Four of the ALDS during the 2008 MLB Playoffs at U.S. Cellular Field on October 6, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. 

Keep or Cut?

Sonny is doing very well with Durham (2-0, 3.35 ERA) since his demotion a few weeks ago.  However, as well as he is doing there is just about how horribly he did here.  Maddon kept waiting (as did we all) for Sonnanstine to turn it around, to turn into the guy we loved last year.  He was a great alternative to the flamethrowers already in the rotation, but when teams are hitting .305 off of you something has to give.  It did.  Andy’s at AAA.  

He needs to stay unless there is some great trade the Rays can pull off of which he is a part.  BUT, if the Rays are able to put him in a deal then we still have Wade Davis at AAA who can come up and be the next Sonny.   

KEEP, UNLESS THE DEAL IS GOOD THEN CUT

See what Ginny thinks.

 

Scott Kazmir  LH Starter

2009 Stats:  4-6   6.69 ERA   74 IP   58 K   40 BB   1.72 WHIP   .289 BAA

 

Keep or Cut?

Ahhhh, Kaz.  This guy was the golden child when he was acquired from the New York Mets a few years ago for nothing more than our ace at the time, Victor Zambrano.  It was such an amazing deal for the Rays and such a terrible deal for the Mets. 

It’s still a good deal for Tampa Bay as Kaz developed in the ace for several years and came up big in big games last season.  However, he has developed an inability to go past the 5th inning and recently has developed the inability to get guys out.  It is not a good sign for the team’s current #2 starter.  

He has quite a fan following (I know Ginny at The Watercooler is especially infatuated), but that is no reason to hang on to the guy.  When you look at his performance you see that he is improving here in the second half of the season but that his “improvement” is still worse than many #5 starters in the league.  Kaz is slotted to make $10 mill next year.  He says he signed the contract to give the Rays a “bargain” and ensure that he would be able to play out his contract in Tampa Bay. 

I say let him.  I know it sounds crazy, but this guy has talent.  It is just off a bit.  I have ranted and railed at how sick of his ineffectiveness I am, but he could come back next year and become the All Star he was last year.  He is one of the guys who got it all started here, and I respect that.  He wanted to stay with the Rays before they were good.  I doubly respect that.  I want nothing more than to see him return to form.  I’ll have to hope for that. 

KEEP

See what Ginny  thinks.

 

 

Wade Davis RH Starter (currently at Durham)

2009 Stats (at Durham):  8-6   3.22 ERA   114.2 IP   103 K   47 BB   1.29 WHIP   .229 BAA 

Keep or Cut?

I’ll be honest, I don’t know a great deal about the Rays’ top pitching prospect.  I know that when the Rays drafted him, Davis was supposed to be part of the new wave of Rays pitchers who would arrive in the majors and dominate.  He was supposed to team up with Jeff Nieman and Mitch Talbot to form the best homegrown 1-3 of any rotation in the league.  Nieman is here.  Talbot is hurt.  It’s Davis’ turn.

If the Rays make any deal for a substantial return (Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez anyone?) then Davis is more than likely going to have to be part of the package.  My gut says “do it.”  I believe in NOW in alot of ways, and this season is the NOW for the Rays.  Contracts are going to start kicking in soon and it won’t be long before the Rays and owner Stuart Sternberg have to dump some salary.  We’ve got to do it now.  If there is a way to make a deal for people who will get us to October this year, then do it.

I don’t know if that deal really exists.  If we get a pitcher, it will be for about 7-8 starts the rest of the season.  If we get a catcher, he’ll have to learn the staff and adjust his hitting to our stadium.  In the end, a deal for a pitcher and catcher might not help us as much as we might think.  And it would be stupid for a team with cash restrictions to give up an uber-talented and VERY cheap pitcher for that.   

KEEP

See what Ginny thinks

Oh No-No: Buehrle Perfect

Just to preface this post to eliminate any confusion, I started typing this while the game was in the 8th inning and things did not look good for my guys.  I ran with it until the end of the game.  After the game was over, I took some deep breaths, knocked my head against the wall a little bit, and typed the rest of this post.  Enjoy?

———————————————————

The Rays and White Sox have just completed the top of the 8th inning with Sox hurler Mark Buehrle refusing to give up a hit.  Or a walk.  Or a baserunner.

He has a no-no/perfect game going as they head into the bottom of the 8th and it doesn’t look good for the Rays.

They will sent Gabe Kapler, Michel Hernandez, and Jason Bartlett to the plate in the top of the 9th with the hopes of avoiding being no hit.

If the home plate umpire Eric Cooper continues to give Buehrle 5 inches off the outside part of the plate I don’t see how the Rays will be able to break up this impressive performance by Buehrle. 

(Incidently, Cooper also called the no hitter that Buehrle threw against Texas in 2007, so…)

I’ll let you know how the inning progresses when we get there.

———————————————–

Top of the 9th (“Live”)

Chicago has moved Podsednik to left and put Wise in center to bolster the defense for Buehrle.

I’m nervous.  Here we go…

Gabe Kapler–HE GAVE IT A RIDE TO LEFT FIELD!!  IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A HOME RUN BUT DEWAYNE WISE JUST ROBBED A HOME RUN!  OH MY GAWD!!!

Michel Hernandez–just struck out.

Jason Bartlett–Ground out to SS. 

Perfect Game is Done!!!!

Much respect to Mark Buehrle on the PERFECT GAME!

(Below: Buehrle with his wife and baby boy)

 

ws mob.jpg

(52-44)
  Final 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Tampa Bay 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chi White Sox 0 4 0 0 1 0 0 0 X 5 6 0

WP: M. Buehrle (11-3)
LP: S. Kazmir (4-6)

(bottom graphic from Yahoo! Sports)

(50-45)

—————————————————-

Quick Game Recap

Well, now that I’ve had a few minutes to come in off the ledge and get my wits about me, I just have a few things to say about today’s game.

Mark Buehrle deserved the spoils of his labor today.  He pitched an amazing game, working both sides of the plate and keeping the Rays hitters off balance.  It is tough to give too many kudos to the guy, but he earned his perfect game today.

I would be remiss, however, if I ignored the fact that home plate umpire Eric Cooper was part of helping to keep the Rays off balance today.  As I said earlier, Cooper was giving Buehrle (and Kazmir, by the way) 3-5 inches off the outside part of the plate.  Many “strikes” were just terrible calls.

BUT

Good pitchers realize that and take advantage of that.  Kazmir did not.  Buehrle did.  I’m not taking anything away from the ChiSox pitcher.  He did what a really good pitcher such as him should do. 

Good hitters also adjust.  The Rays did not.  They did not adjust their stances by moving closer to the plate to take away that outside edge nor did they protect against that part of the plate.

Buehrle struck out 6 Rays hitters.  What was more frustrating in this game was that he induced ground ball after ground ball to Alexei Ramirez at short, meaning that the pull-happy right handed Rays hitters were trying to pull everything to the left side of the infield.

The Rays had not been no-hit since 2002 when the OTHER Sox did it to them: Boston’s Derek Lowe.

As I said in an earlier post: I HATE LOSING TO THE SOX.  WHITE, RED, DOESN’T MATTER!

——————————————

Left Out

I might save this for a future post, but it is incredibly upsetting that the Rays thought they had upgraded their offense against left handed pitching in the offseason.  It was their Achilles heel last year and really hurt them in the World Series against the Phillies. 

So they got Gabe Kapler and Pat Burrell

Wow, that worked.

The Rays are now 16-21 against lefties this year.  Terrible.

————————————————–

The Road Ain’t Gettin’ Any Easier

Tampa Bay will head to Toronto today to prepare for a weekend series against the Blue Jays.  Who’s waiting for them there?

Doc Halladay.

Ordinarily I would go into the series with confidence, considering the Rays are 2-0 against him this year.  But coming off a series such as this one, and a perfect game to boot, I am not as thrilled.

Then it will be the New York Yankees for 3 at the start of next week at the Trop.  That is going to be a very difficult series as the Yanks have just dominated teams over the last week plus. 

But it isn’t supposed to be easy.  We’ll see what the Rays have got in the tank the next 6 games.

The AL East, and the Rays’ place in it, will certainly come into more focus over the next week or so. 

Let’s hope the Rays won’t be left behind.

 

Nieman Was Dealin’; Rays Were Stealin’

This game was OVER.

Until it wasn’t.

Two nights in a row Bobby Jenks let the Rays have hope.  That is one night too many.  This team is built for the comeback, and boy did they.

———————————————————–

First, the Lineup

What was Joe Maddon thinking? 

(I KNOW it’s an old picture, but it fits don’t you think?) 

The Rays’ skipper put out a lineup that was missing two of its biggest hitters and filled in with bench players who do not get a whole lot of at bats.

And it worked!

To be honest, the Rays had mustered only 1 run on 4 hits up until the 9th inning.  And those Rays he put into the game were able to go only 1/9, the lone hit being a single. 

But Joe Dillon, Willy Aybar, and Gabe Kapler (LOVE that guy!) were able to help the defense and Jeff Nieman keep the game close until regulars Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Gabe Gross entered the game in the 9th.

In the 9th, all hell broke loose for the Rays–in a good way. 

———————————————————–

The Fateful 9th Inning

Bobby Jenks entered tonight’s game in the 9th in much the same way he entered last night’s game: he had a 1-run lead, but he was starting the inning fresh and clean.

The Rays entered the 9th inning in the same way too–LOOKING TO WIN THE BALL GAME.

He immediately gave up a rocket to Jason Bartlett

Nice, we have some speed on board.

Jenks then “plunked” Evan Longoria (it grazed his jersey and ended up hitting the umpire with more force than Evan).

Ok, now we’ve got a guy in scoring position.

Ben Zobrist, who was looking to extend his 10-game hitting streak, did just that with a rocket up the middle. 

But since it was a liner Bartlett had to stop to make sure it went through.  He could not get doubled off in the 9th.  So he didn’t score, but

Bags are loaded with Pat “the Bat” Burrell up. 

The fans were busy booing their closer when Burrell walked to force in the game tying run.

A dramatic moment that was lost on nobody sitting on my couch (um, me). 

Carlos Pena entered the game to hit for Willy Aybar and launched what looked like a patented high fly grand slam to left.  Instead, it turned into a sac fly double play (Burrell drew the throw as Longo scored). 

WE HAVE THE LEAD!

CC walked and promptly stole second to put runners at 2nd and 3rd.

That was when Jenks had had enough and ended the inning on a weak Gross groundball.

But the damage was done.

In typical Rays style!

Rays up 3-2.  Good times!

HappyDog.jpg image by sxy2385

JP Howell would enter in the bottom of the 9th to close things out.  He’s not officially the closer, but he has appeared in that capacity 4 of the last 5 games.  What else do we call him?

Our closer entered the game and did what he does best: SHUT.  THEM.  DOWN. 

The White Sox managed only a weak grounder up the middle and that was that.  Howell struck out 2 of the 3 batters he retired, all the while making sure pinch hitter Dwayne Wise wasn’t going to try to steal second. 

The fans booed.

Let ’em.

———————————————————–

Nieman the Dealin’ Demon

How’s that for a nickname? 

Jeff Nieman was amazing tonight.  He went 8 STRONG innings, walking NONE, giving up only 2 runs on 8 hits.  He threw only 100 pitches in this outing and earned his team-leading 9th win. 

This guy is making Andrew Friedman look like a genius for unloading Jason Hammel instead during spring training. 

The tall Texan intimidated batters, blowing them away with his 94+ mph fastball.  They couldn’t catch up to it.

Then he baffled the Sox hitters with his ankle-breaking curve.  Hitters could not figure him out.

Especially Alexei Ramirez and Scott Podsednik, who both struck out twice against the Rays’ 6’10” hurler.

This was an outing that helps guys like Nieman get out of the shadow of the other Rays super-rookie (David Price) and garner some attention for himself for Rookie of the Year honors.

He was that good.

———————————————————–

The Rays entered the game 15-19 against left handed pitching. 

They shouldn’t have won tonight.  Not with their lineup being dominated by Sox Clayton Richard.

They shouldn’t have won tonight.  Not with the dominant Bobby Jenks entering the 9th with a 1-run lead (and boy oh boy was he booed tonight–not too classy Sox fans).

They shouldn’t have won tonight.  Not with two of their best players gettiing most of the night off.

But the Rays DID win. 

It was their best steal of the season.

Stellar and Resilient, Rays Beat a Good Greinke

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).

The secret?

Never giving up on the game, no matter what the score.

——————————————

The Pitching

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.

 

3-2 Rays.

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.

4-2 Rays

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.

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The Breakdown

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!

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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

Staggering!

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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 scoreYEP.  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

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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.

Rays and MLB Mid-Season Report–Looking Ahead to the Second Half

It is hard to believe that the second half of the baseball season starts today.  It seems as if the first half flew by so quickly.  But the first pitch of post-All Star Break baseball will be thrown tonight at 7 by Derek Lowe of the Atlanta Braves to the New York Mets. 

The Rays don’t get going until tomorrow against the Kansas City Royals, unfortunately.  So it will be a day of reflection on what has happened and guessing on what is to come this season.

 

Rays’ Mid-Season Awards

MVP

When you look at this Rays team as a whole, and at the season as a whole, not one guy stands out.  That was one of the hallmarks of last season’s team and one of the big reasons why it was so successful.  They literally are “One Team” as the ads proclaim, and it is not a bad trait to have. 

BUT, I’m not going to be lame and say that the award goes to the whole team.  Not everybody gets trophies here, so I’ll be narrowing my pick to one guy.

That guy is Carl Crawford.

 

With all due respect to Evan Longoria, Jason Bartlett, and Ben Zobrist, Crawford has been the most dependable player on the team.  He does not strike out alot, he is hitting .309, he has scored the second most runs on the team (58 behind Carlos Pena’s 62), and he has stolen a league leading 44 bases. 

When CC gets a hit, defenses shudder.  He is more disruptive on the basepaths than any other guy in the league.  HIs SB% is top-tier stuff and he even stole over 20 bases in a row to start the season.

Plus, just ask the guys on the AL All-Star squad how they feel about him. 

 

Best Starter

The rotation for the Rays has been hit and miss.  Unfortunately, this team could depend on its starters alot more last season, and things could get hairy the remainder of the 2009 campaign if these guys do not step up. 

The most consistent starter this season has to be “Big Game” James Shields

 

He goes out there every 5th day and throws excellent baseball games.  Period.  He leads all starters in ERA and innings pitched.  If he could get some run support from his offense he could be an 11-game winner and an easy pick for the All-Star team.  Alas, his hitters have scored more than 3 runs in a game for Shields only 8 out of 19 starts.  Tough to win when you have to be near perfect every start. 

If the Rays score runs for him in the second half, look for Shields to put up some amazing numbers.

 

Best Reliever

This might not be the sexiest award out there, but you don’t win without a solid bullpen.  The Rays are second to Boston in the AL in bullpen ERA (3.56 to 3.42) which is a big reason why they are in the running for the division lead.  Guys like Lance Cormier, Randy Choate, and Chad Bradford have helped to stabilize a ‘pen whose ERA was 6.16 just two years ago.

The top Reliever thus far, though, has to be JP Howell.

 

Howell has become the team’s defunct closer, and he has thrived in the role.  He has a 2.11 ERA, 5 wins, 6 saves, and sports an incredible strikeout ratio (50:42.2 innings!).  When he comes into the game, teams don’t hit.  And, more importantly, teams don’t score.  He has protected many leads for the Rays thus far, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joe Maddon officially name Howell as the closer for the remainder of the year.

 

Top Bench Player

If a team’s bench can be a strength, then a team will be successful.  The Rays had a strong bench last year with role players such as Eric Hinske, Cliff Floyd, and Jonny Gomes playing a big part in the World Series run.  This year is no different.

The Top Bench Player so far this year has to be Gabe Kapler.

 

Don’t get upset that it isn’t Ben Zobrist.  He became a starter a long time ago and thus does not qualify for this award.

Kapler has done it all.  He has played great defense, throwing guys out at will.  He has been a force at the plate, knocking 4 BIG home runs this year and doubling 13 times (7th on the team) in only 113 at bats!!!  To put it in perspective, no other Ray has that kind of production in so few at bats.  If he projected as a full time starter with numbers such as these, he would have gotten All Star consideration.

 

Best Acquisition

The Rays have not made many moves, but it looks right now that Randy Choate is the best addition to the team thus far. 

He has been a steadying influence on the bullpen and his 1.84 ERA has shown that he can be counted on to get the job done.  And his cheap contract means that he is just the type of guy the Rays love to get.

 

Most Disappointing Player

Unfortunately, there are many contenders for this award.  There are some Rays players who have underachieved in a big way in 2009.  BJ Upton would have been a lock for this award, but he has really turned it on as of late.  The same can be said for Pat Burrell

One guy who has not been able to improve at all has been Dioner Navarro

 

His .223 average, 13 doubles, .254 OB%, and 7 walks in 69 games this year have been bleak.  There are few teams that can succeed getting that kind of production from such an important position.  Sure, he calls a great game, but you have to get some offense from your catcher.  Let’s hope he turns it on in the second half as he did in 2007.

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Rays’ Mid-Season Report Card

Hitting  C+

I’m not happy that this offense, which can be so potent, has been shut down left and right by inexperienced pitchers the last 2-3 weeks.  That cannot be.  When rookie takes the mound, he has to be dealt with accordingly.  The Rays’ hitters do not have that killer instinct right now.

Defense   A

This has been a part of the Rays’ game that can be counted on at all times.  Zobrist may lack the Aki range at 2B, but he has done fine there.  Kapler and Gross have platooned well in RF.  And Longo, Bartlett, Crawford, and Pena are among the best at their positions.

Pitching    B-  

Inconsistency among the starters have plagued this team all year.  An improvement there will lead to a serious run at the division.

Managing   B

Joe has done a nice job keeping guys focused through injuries.  But some of his moves have been perplexing. 

Front Office   B+

The guys up front have gotten the players to help the team at a low cost–something they are pros at and something that resulted in Andy Friedman getting Executive of the Year last season.  Burrell might have been a bust so far, but he will turn it around.  We’ll see if the Rays try to add anybody at the trade deadline–don’t count on it, though.

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Fun Stuff 

Best Moment of the First Half

I had a great time watching BJ Upton go yard at the Trop in the bottom of the 9th against the Cleveland Indians in May. 

The game had everything: great defense (Upton gunning down a guy at the plate), a big comeback (they were down 7), and the capper (Upton’s walkoff).  It was the biggest come back victory in Rays’ history. 

Biggest Question in the Second Half

Can the Rays’ rotation calm down and pitch the way they did in 2008?  The offense will come around–too much talent there not to–but the rotation is too shakey.  You know Shields and Matt Garza will pitch well most of the time.  That’s it.  Jeff Nieman, Scott Kazmir, and David Price cannot be counted on right now.  If the rotation does not improve, they will not be able to keep pace with the Sox and Yankees.

Series to Pay Attention to in the Second Half

I am going to ignore the obvious Boston and New York series.  Of course those could be big.

However, I argue that if the Rays cannot do well in their 6 games against Kansas City, 9 games against Toronto, and 10 games against Baltimore the Sox and Yankees’ series will not matter.  The Rays have to beat the guys they are supposed to beat.  Nothing short of .600 baseball against those three falling teams will do.

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My Playoff Picks

AL East:  Boston

AL Central: Detroit

AL West: Texas

Wildcard: Tampa Bay

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NL East: Philadelphia

NL Central: St. Louis

NL West: Los Angeles

Wildcard: Chicago

 

That’s as far as I’m going to go with my predictions.  As you saw with my Home Run Derby and All-Star Game MVP predictions, I’m not all that good at it. 

I’ll leave that for the professional prognosticators.

What I will predict is that I–and hopefully you–will have alot of fun cheering for my team and going to the ballpark. 

What more could you ask for?