Tagged: Grant Balfour

Never Finished–Rays Republic Stands Tall

    VS   

Nice finish, guys.

After a game that had Rays fans doubting the sincerity of their team, and others doubting the sincerity of the team’s fans, the Rays came out and blasted/shouted/ran/dove/gutted their way to a big victory.

The outcome was in doubt late, but, as usual, the Rays were able to put on the finishing touch with a flurry in the 8th that helped restore faith across the republic.

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Garza Guts

He was not sharp tonight.  His off speed junk was weak and his fastball was spotty.  He threw near 30 pitches in two separate innings and went to a full count 4 TIMES in the 4th inning alone.

But he kept his team in it by slowing down one of the best teams in the league.

Can’t ask much more.

Matt Garza gave his team 6 strong innings, throwing 119 pitches, before being pulled in the 7th.  He left with a 5-3 lead and had a chance to be the victor in another big game against the Red Sox.

He didn’t get the win, as the ‘pen was not a strongpoint tonight, but he did get greater respect than ever for being a big-game pitcher and being able to shut down teams when his own team needs it.

Without Garza’s gutty performance, the Rays do not win tonight.

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Key Inning: The 8th

The 8th was crazy.

The entire game was a battle.  No team could really pull safely ahead. 

Rays were up by 3, then up by 2, then 3, then 2, then 1.

The the top of the 8th came and the bullpen decided it had had enough.  Randy Choate walked Ortiz, Grant Balfour walked two guys to load ’em, and JP Howell–what has happened to our splendid JP?–threw another wild pitch to tie up the game.

Jeez! I yelled at the plasma!  (Actually, I had some other words of choice but I don’t like to print that stuff)

Game tied at 5. 

The Rays fans were keeping the faith, though. 

In the bottom of the frame Carlos Pena–the only reliable guy these days–knocked a double. 

Ah, that NEVER QUIT Rays spirit.

Boston’s Ramon Ramirez seemed rattled at that point as he struggled to keep the game tied. 

The cowbells were ringing, the fans were cheering, I was screaming at the tv.  I could see fans banging the too-many-empty seats in front of them. Anything to make some noise!

It worked.

Pat “The Bat” Burrell lined a single to right to score Pena and give the Rays a 1-run lead.  It was nice to see Pat contribute.  He’s got that average up to a ******** .240 now. 

In all seriousness, though, Pat homered early in the game and then drove in what turned out to be the game-winning run.  I’ll take that.

But it wasn’t over.

Evan Longoria, batting 6th in the lineup (and I hate it, by the way), launched a long ball over the wall to increase the Rays lead to 8-5.

     

 

And the Republic rejoiced.

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3 Keys to the Game   

1– Don’t chase Beckett’s junk.  NOPE  The first two Rays hitters of the game chased off speed stuff that either bounced or was in the dirt to strike out.  Beckett got touched up, but his stuff was not that bad.

2–Garza’s gotta show that savvy.  YEP!!!  Matty showed that he is the real “big game” pitcher on this team.

3–The ‘pen must stop the Sox hitters.   YEP/NOPE  The bullpen did allow the Sox to tie it, but when they had to shut the door to end the game they were able to do so.  Not terribly impressive, though.

1 1/2 OUT OF 3 “YEP” = RAYS WIN!? 

OK!

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The Rays’ pitching staff was far from dominant tonight.  Garza did well, but even he had to leave the game under duress.  The bullpen bent heavily, but it did not break.

The offense was a big hero tonight.  We kind of had to outscore the Sox. 

Ok, sometimes you have to do that.

The end result is that the Rays got back to being 5 games out of the wild card and have given them a chance to win the series, something they desperately have to pull off.

Tomorrow’s going to be a big one. 

A chance to get to within 4.

I’d like an easier win tomorrow night, but I have to admit…

This is just too much fun!

 

Detroit Disaster

Things seem to be blowing up a big in MoTown. 

It isn’t end-of-the world type stuff, but it sure feels bad.

Today’s game seems indicative of a team that is losing that killer instinct that playoff teams must have.

The Rays had this one wrapped up. 

Then the Tigers unwrapped it.

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Bal-FORE!!!

Jeff Nieman had just completed 7 solid innings.  His performance paired with Saturday’s game from David Price gave the Rays back-to-back 7+ inning, quality start outings in Detroit–not the easiest place to win.

While there were runners on, the Rays still had a 3-1 lead and were ready to hand the game over to our awesome Aussie, Grant Balfour.

He got two guys out.

It was the third one that was a little tricky.

Placido Polanco teed off and launched one over the wall to give the Tigers the 4-3 advantage.  Fernando Rodney made it hold up in the 9th.

No, it wasn’t a 9th-inning wild pitch, but it was just as jolting.

Aren’t these games the ones we used to win?

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Good Starts, Bad Finishes

Today’s game seems to fit in well with the way the Rays have played recently. 

Sure, the starting has been somewhat spotty, but it is the relieving that is killing us.  And I thought that the bullpen was one of our strong suits in recent weeks.

Uh-oh.

Today it was Balfour.

Wednesday it was old reliable, JP Howell.

I know we’re talking about two games here, but these are two games that the Rays HAD to have. 

Instead, these two wins were transformed into losses, making the Rays playoff squad slowly looking like they are transforming into also-rans.

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Unlucky 7

The Rays came into the last 7 games having gone 6-1 in their previous 7 games.

Things were good.  Really good.

Our guys were starting to get hot just when they needed to and no team in the league wanted to play them.  They were a playoff team.  Taking the wild card was just a formality.

Then something happened when Texas shut us out on a Sunday.

Since then we are 3-4.

What is worse is that up to last Sunday we were in the wild card hunt.  We had narrowed the gap to 3-3.5 games.

Now?

The Rays stand 5 full games behind the Red Sox in the wild card race, and 2.5 behind the Rangers.

October might be a mere 4 weeks or so away, but it has never felt so far out of reach.

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Kazmir Update

I read the recent MLB.com article about Scott Kazmir and how he felt about being with the Angels.  It was a nice fluff piece profiling the newest left coast acquisition.

He sounded happy.  He sounded excited.  He sounded like he had already forgotten about his time in St. Pete.

When he reference the Rays, he did so to springboard into what he thought his current team could do.

“I got a taste of it last year. You want to go all the way. The Angels are a team that can do it year in and year out. It says a lot about the organization.”

Maybe it says alot about our organization too.

Pizza and a Donut

Just wait, it’ll make sense in a minute….

The Rays were set up perfectly. 

All of the elements were there.

Big series win, wild card contenders in tight games.

The Rays were in an ideal position.

To fail.

Luckily our guys ignored all the warning signs and focused on playing the Raysball we are all used to, coming away with a dramatic win against the lowly Baltimore Orioles.

Whew!

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Pizza: The Pitching

The Rays’ pitchers put out a decent performance.  While they allowed 4 runs to score, they struck out 10 O’s and prevented the big inning from occurring.

The 10 Ks gave everybody in attendance a free pizza Wednesday.  It’s a promotion the Rays have going with a local furniture store and a well known pizza joint.

David Price looked both really good and really shakey. 

The Good: He struck out 5 and allowed only 2 runs.

The Shakey: He threw 102 pitches in only 5 innings.  His WHIP for the game was a balky 2.00 and he threw only 59 strikes in the game.

He did pitch well enough to earn his 6th win of the year (6-5), which is what the Rays need.  W’s are what will get them to October. 

The bullpen did a well-enough job.  They did permit 2 runs, but it could have been worse. 

Grant Balfour was a stud tonight.

JP Howell was just great in the 9th.  I know he gave up a hit and walked a guy, but he also struck out the side. 

For the last out of the game he made Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters look just silly with his breaking stuff.  He was dominant as always.

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Donut: A Win is Worth Its Weight In Dough

 

Or is it D’oh!?

After every win Rays fans can go to Dunkin’ Donuts to get a free donut.  Not too bad.  I’ll be picking mine up tomorrow morning with a coffee on the way to work.  Deeelish!

The Rays have now put together a 3-game win streak.  They haven’t done that in a while.  In fact, the last 3-game win streak came about 2 weeks ago.  Then came more losing than winning.

With two more against the O’s you have to get kind of giddy about the Rays’ chances.  They might be able to sweep this squad heading into the HUGE weekend series against the Rangers

The wild card leading Rangers.

A collapse the next few days will ruin that, so let’s hope that Gregg Zaun’s pregame ear-drum rupturing music in the clubhouse will continue to keep our guys sharp (it’s a tradition Zaun started Sunday, and look what happened there!).

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Just For Men

Rays manager Joe Maddon did something unthinkable for a dude before today’s game.

He dyed his hair.

Jet black.

He certainly looked younger, and maybe it rubbed off on oldie but goodie Pat Burrell because that old guy launched a ball that could have put a hole in a tin shed.

 

In fact, all of the Rays’ bats caught fire as BJ Upton and Gabe Gross also went deep.  The Rays pounded out their 5 runs on 12 hits and looked impressiving doing it.

Guess we should be glad Joe didn’t go for the “Touch of Gray” dye.  (Is that funny?  I don’t know what I meant by that, but it seemed to fit…)

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Overall, this was a great win.  The Rays could easily have let down against a far inferior team.  Instead they came out and put the pressure on the young O’s pitcher.

The Rays bats were alive.

The Rays pitchers were focused.

Pizza and Donuts for everybody!

Tradin’ Post: Rays Edition

I had a few ideas of moves that the Rays should consider before the 4 pm trade deadline hits today. I know that this post has a shelf life (about 6 hours), but I think that talkin’ trades is one of the fun parts of this game we love.  I wanted to spend a little time on it.

Of course, NOTHING I write about here is coming true. 

But I did a little digging and a little research to see if something out there made sense for my Rays that could get them to the post season again.

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Guys to Get: Catcher

One of the needs the Rays have falls right behind the plate.  Our catcher position has been brutal offensively.  Dioner Navarro and Michel Hernandez have combined to hit about .228 with 6 home runs and 38 RBIs. 

Not the type of production you can live with from ANY position.

In their defense, so to speak, those two guys have played some great defense this year and really called some solid games.  That is worth its weight in gold and will probably keep both of them at the Trop for the remainder of the year. 

BUT

If the Rays made a move I think that there are two guys who would fit VERY VERY well.

 

Ryan Doumit

 

 .255   5 HR   20 RBI

Doumit is better known for his offense than his defense.  He broke out big time for the Pirates last year (.318/ 15 / 69 / 34 2b).  He has had some setbacks with his health this year, missing time several times over the course of the season.  However, the production he has been able to put up in spite of only 109 at bats is phenomenal for a catcher.

He’s 28 years old, which means that he is getting ready to enter his prime offensively.  I am sure his defense can come along if coached properly. 

And keep in mind that the Bucs just trade for Jeff Clement with Seattle.  Clement was a highly touted catching prospect for the M’s and just might have made Doumit expendable.

He has a team-friendly contract that puts him under team control until 2013.  Hmmmmmm….sound like a Rays-type of player?

 

Kurt Suzuki

.285   6 HR   47 RBI   1 error

This is the guy I’m most excited about.  And it might be a long shot for the A’s to drop him.  But he is only 25 years old, has some pop in his bat (26 doubles!), and does not make errors.  He calls a good game and, if you’ve watched him play much, is nimble around the plate.  He is a tough out and will draw a walk from time to time.

His contract is league-minimum right now and for next year.  In 2011 he becomes arbitration eligible–something the Rays should be able to buy out after Pat Burrell’s contract is off the books. 

He could bring alot of stability offensively to the catcher position and maintain the defensive prowess behind the plate we have been used to.

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Guys to Get: Reliever

I don’t think that that the Rays have a big hole anywhere on the team right now.  Surely, the starting pitcher has been quite inconsistent, but you don’t want to make any trades to shore that up (especially with Cliff Lee gone and Roy Halladay ridiculous).  Our other position players have done just fine–offensively and defensively.

I look at the bullpen as a spot where we could improved.  Specifically, our 7th and 8th inning guys.  I love Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler, love ’em.  But they have not put together the most consistent seasons this year.  And you can’t have guys who are inconsistent come into the game to hold the lead for JP Howell.

It is with this in mind that I nominate the two following guys for acquisition.

 

Rafael Soriano

1-2   1.88 ERA   65 K   18 BB   15 SV   12.19 K/9 (!!!)

This guy is just a dream, more than likely, because the Rays are probably not going to throw the money he will be scheduled to make next year at him.  He should make 6.1 million next season in the final season before he becomes a free agent.  He is 29 and is coming off a shakey year in 2008. 

He has shuttled from setup guy to closer all year long.  But wow.  What a drastic difference if you could get hitters looking at Soriano’s 95mph heat in the 8th and Howell’s 85 mph “heat” in the 9th.  The Braves don’t mind moving him because they have….

 

Mike Gonzalez

MikeGonzalez7.jpg Mike Gonzalez after getting his 39th consecutive save! image by klingreen

3-3   3.06 ERA   60 K   20 BB   9 SV   12.06 K/9 (!!!)

He is 31 but seems to be finally hitting his stride with the Bravos.  He is a lefty, but he would be a great replacement for either (or both) Randy Choate and Brian Shouse.  He has been moved from team to team over the course of his career, playing middle reliever, setup guy, and closer at each stop.  The Braves have been pleasantly surprised at his output this year and have alternated between Soriano and him as the closer all season long.

His contract is more manageable for the Rays next year–his final contract year–as he should make 3.45 million.  He has a quirky delivery but he can strike anybody out at any time.  Not too bad for a setup guy.   

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Guys to Go

For reasons mentioned before, I think that the Rays could throw in these guys to any deal just to help sweeten it.  I don’t think that any of the players mentioned below will work for one-to-one straight up trades, but they are certainly salary dumps and add-ons that could help any deal go through.

Brian Shouse

His value has taken a hit since his return from the DL.  His ERA has balooned to above 5.00 and he is not getting the one guy Maddon allows him to face out.

 

Dioner Navarro.

He is not recovering from his slump.  He is trending in the wrong direction.  As a switch hitter he does fine against lefties, but against righties he hits only .190.  Not good.

 

Grant Balfour

I love the guy.  He leads the team in holds, but he is not reliable.  He’s given up 6 runs in his last 10 appearances.  That is not a consistent set up guy.  He is a free agent after this year.

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The Red Sox have pulled 4 1/2 games in front of the Rays for second place in the division with the Yankees up 7 games!  Time is ticking.

I don’t want the Rays to make any drastic moves that will affect negatively our ability to win next year.  That is one of the things that makes me proud of our front office–they do NOT succumb to peer pressure at all.  If they think we can make it to October, the deal will be done, but only if it does not hurt us next year or the next two years.

Only 6 hours and counting!!!

In It Til the End: Rays Just Can’t Pull Off Another Comeback

Gawl-ee.  I HATE losing to the Sox.  White, Red, don’t care.  I hate it. 

The Rays and White Sox tried to give everybody in the crowd–and in my home–a heart attack tonight as their battle went right down to the wire. 

“Down to the wire” almost doesn’t do it justice.

The Rays battled throughout the entire game to get to within 1 run.  In the 9th, Bobby Jenks came on to close it out for the Sox.  He got two quick strikeouts and then couldn’t end it.

Three consecutive baserunners reached base, Pat Burrell via a walk, Willy Aybar with a hit to left, and Gabe Gross with a walk.

Jenks could not finish the game!

It was set up for another dramatic Rays victory!  One base hit from our next batter, one of our best batters in Jason Bartlett, would put the Rays up 5-4 and allow JP Howell to close the game for us. 

4 wins in a row were waiting for us.  Right there.

Jenks worked the count to 3-2.  Bartlett fouled off the 6th pitch.  The 7th pitch was wide of the plate.  It was going to be a tie game!!!

But Bartlett swung.

And he missed.

Darn.

What a game.

Meaningful baseball in Tampa Bay in July.  For two consecutive years  Wow.  What HAVE we been missing!?

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The Pitchers

David Price was NOT the David Price we saw defeat Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays 11 days ago by allowing only 1 run in 6 innings while striking out 7 and walking 1.

This David Price went 6 innings, giving up 4 runs, walking 2, and striking out 6.  It was not a terrible performance, but it wasn’t enough to get the Rays the win.

He gave up three home runs to Paul Konerko (no, don’t worry, only one of them was fair) and a few dink and dunk hits here that led to his, and the Rays’, demise. 

 

He was “supported” by the long ball and little else.  The Rays hitters were only able to muster 3 runs, all via the deep fly.

Price was outpitched by the Sox Gavin Floyd.  He went 7 strong innings, striking out 7 Rays and giving up only 3 hits and 3 runs.  Floyd did the job the Rays needed Price to do.  He bent, but didn’t break. 

Price bent, and started to splinter a little bit.

The Rays bullpen did its usual amazing job, giving up no runs in the final 2 innings.  In their last 4 games the ‘pen has allowed only 1 run.  Not too bad.  This bullpen has certainly been a strength for the club, as it stands at the best in the Americna League and third best in the Majors. 

It’s a shame it is getting used so much.

One disturbing stat is that the Sox were able to get the leadoff man on in 6 of the 8 innings they hit.  Those types of numbers almost always lead to a fat L.

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The Hitters

The Rays were able to put together only 3 hits while Price was in the ballgame.  Granted, they were of the home run variety, but 3 hits in 6 innings is something for an opposing pitcher to be proud of, not hitters. 

Ben Zobrist extended his hitting streak to 10 games (way to go Ben!) with a dinger in the 2nd innings.  And boy did he hit it.

 

Carl Crawford put his own spin on the home run ball by slicing a ball deep into right field.  Scott Podsednik jumped the fence (guess he was trying to do his best Carl Crawford At The All Star Game impression) and the ball ricocheted back into center field. 

That’s all CC needed. 

He turned up the motors and raced around for his first inside-the-park home run since April of 2005.  In the dugout he was sweating buckets, but smiling nonetheless.

Our reigning Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria, rounded out the Rays’ scoring by simply LAUNCHING one into the left field seats.  The ball was high and got out of there in a hurry.  That made it 4-3 and gave all Rays fans hope that another comeback was on the way.

Alas, it was not to be.

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The Defense–or, WHY IS WILLY PLAYING 2ND BASE!?

Strangely, the defense was a big disappointment tonight.  Sure, all of the White Sox’s runs tonight were earned.  But the Rays had 3 errors, with Willy Aybar in the middle of them all.  Surely, part of the reason is that Willy was playing second base tonight.

In the 1st inning Scott Podednik stole second.  Michel Hernandez’s throw was a little bit in the dirt and skipped into center field.  Podsednik went to third base and eventually scored the game’s first run.

Where was the backup when the ball skipped by Jason Bartlett?  Willy was standing there, but he didn’t field the ball.  Hernandez got the error, but Aybar could have helped.

Early in the game Aybar couldn’t dig the ball out of his mitt to turn an important double play.  This allowed the Sox to score another run later in the inning.

In the 7th, Aybar outdid himself.

The situation was tense because Grant Balfour was trying to work out of a jam.  He got the ground ball he needed for the first out of the inning from Alexei Ramirez.  Aybar booted it.  Podsednik moved to third and suddenly the Rays had runners at the corners with nobody out.

The next batter was Jermaine Dye.  Balfour induced a foul ball fly from Dye, something that could be fielded for the 1st out of the inning.  Dye has been mashing the ball as of late, after all.  So this was a big play!

Willy overran it. 

Luckily, Dye struck out on the next pitch.  Balfour then got Konerko to ground into an inning-ending double play that Aybar WAS able to get out of his mitt.

For every Aybar mishap, though, there was Zobrist in right holding a runner at third on a fly ball because of his rifle arm and Longoria diving towards the third base line to snag a grounder and step on third to prevent another run from scoring.

Aybar did not do us any favors tonight, though.

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Three Keys to the Game

Price’s pitch count and pace.  YEP/NOPE.  Price worked at a decent pace at the start of the game, but slowed considerably in the 2nd and 3rd innings.  That was when things got hairy and the pitch count mounted.  He was out by the end of the 6th.

Play Raysball–run, take pitches, scratch out runs.  NOPE.  The Rays played LONGball, with the White Sox actually taking a page out of the Rays handbook and running and scratching out runs.

Get to the bullpen early.  NOPEFloyd went 7 strong and then the Sox were able to turn it over to their effective setup guys (22 holds between them!) and closer (22 saves!).

2 1/2 out of 3 NOPES=Loss 

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What a game.  You almost didn’t mind losing one like this because it was so entertaining! 

Almost.

The road will not get easier from here as the Rays take on three straight lefties in the next three games.  The Rays are 15-19 against lefties.

Nobody said it would be easy, did they?

(Happy Birthday Jen

Rays Look to Avenge April Sox Slaughter

   VS   

Last October these two teams met to decide who would move on to the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox.

When the dust cleared, the Tampa Bay Rays had disposed of the Chicago White Sox in four games, winning the series 3-1.

Tonight the Rays and Sox square off again in the first game of a four-game series.

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The First Meeting

The Rays and Sox locked horns back in the second week of the season, with the Rays losing 3 of 4 games.  The Rays were outscored 28-13 in the series, which culminated in a 12-2 loss.

Ouch.

At that time the Rays pitching was a shambles and the offense was poor.  I was lucky enough to catch the 6-5 win the Rays squeaked out on the Friday of the series, watching Evan Longoria knock a Grand Slam deep into the left field bleachers. 

But that was all that was good about that series.

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Different Team Now

The Rays were an amazing home team last year, ending the season with one of the best home records in baseball.  They were not that strong on the road.  So, it was something to see when the Rays went into “The Cell” and beat the Sox two in a row to clinch their first ever playoff series.

While the Rays are still weak on the road, they are a different team now in a lot of ways.  Different from last year’s playoff team and different from the team that faced the Sox earlier this season. 

Our guys have a stronger knowledge of how to win games than they did last year when they took two straight from the Sox in Chicago.  Their bullpen is a little stronger than last year’s team and their offense is much better.

The Rays differ from the team that played the Sox in April in that they have become one of the best squads in the league over the last few months.  Only two other teams have better records since the end of April.

None of that bodes well for the ChiSox. 

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The Pitching

The Rays send southpaw David Price (3-3, 4.70) to the mound to face off against righty Gavin Floyd (7-7, 4.44). 

Price hasn’t pitched in 11 days, not since he threw a 6-inning gem against the Toronto Blue Jays in which he gave up only 1 run, walked 1, and struck out 7. 

The time off might be good for the youngster who should be well rested and able to give some innings to a staff that used its bullpen a fair amount against the Royals.  Plus he was able to go into the Break thinking about the things he did well and how to repeat them.

Floyd has been roughed up his last few starts, giving up 10 runs in 13 innings. 

He also can be prone to the long ball, giving up 2 in his last start.  But when you look at his numbers at U.S. Cellular Field, the guy is money.  He has a 2.55 ERA there this year in 8 games. 

That could be a problem for the Rays.

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Miscellaneous Stuff

The Rays are coming off of a 3-game sweep of the Royals in Kansas City.  That is no small feat.  The Royals are a decent team that the Rays caught at the right time.  Confidence in the Tampa Bay locker room has never been higher as they trimmed the Red Sox division lead to 4 1/2 games.

The White Sox took 2 of 3 from the lowly Orioles, but they were blown out Sunday by a 10-2 score.  Their bullpen gave up 5 runs in 4 2/3 innings.  Ozzie Guillen is good about motivating his guys, but stuff like that sticks in everbody’s minds.  Let’s hope that’s the case tonight. 

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Three Keys to the Game 

Watch Price’s pitch count and pacing tonight.  He tends to throw lots of pitches in a few innings.  When he does that, he is not sharp.  When he economizes, he dominates.  Plus he needs to work quickly.  Slowing down causes him to think too much which leads to problems.

—Floyd doesn’t walk alot of guys, nor does he strike out a ton of guys.  What he does well at The Cell is not give up runs.  So the Rays will have to play Raysball and take advantage of every opportunity they can get.

Get to the bullpen early.  The Rays defense and pitching needs to keep the game close so that they can get into the White Sox bullpen that got hammered yesterday.

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I love playing the White Sox.  Part of that is my days in the past (and present) as a Cubs fan who loves to see Chicago’s South Siders lose.  It’s a fun rivalry, and I’ve personally brought it with me and applied it to the Rays/Sox games. 

The playoff series last year still sticks in my mind as being amazing.  Who can forget Grant Balfour telling Orlando Cabrera to sit down after striking him out?  Classic Balfour

The bottom line is that this is a big series for both teams.  The Rays need to keep their momentum going after the sweep of the Royals so they can catch up with the Red Sox.  The White Sox can’t afford a bad showing as the Twins are hot on their heels in the AL Central.

Let the fun begin!