You surely want to get excited about the series that starts tonight between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox.
You want to get hyped and break out the good snacks before settling down on the couch for a series between rivals.
You want to go through the ritual of getting mentally prepared for yet another series of insanity between to top-notch teams in the AL East.
You want to, but…
Let’s face it, the Red Sox are a long long long way from contending for the division. Heck, they have to crawl out of 4th place before they can contend for anything.
Sweeps Is Sweeps
You cannot forget the hard-to-watch destruction that was the 4-game series sweep the Rays handed to the Red Sox last month. On the one hand, you do not want to put too much emphasis on baseball in April, but you can’t discount it too much, either.
I mean, the Rays outscored the Rouge Sox in that series by a 24-9 score and dominated pretty much every facet of the game. They outhit the Sox, outpitched the Sox, and outstole the Sox.
Sadly, while that series was simply legendary, you can’t transfer those good times to this series.
The Sox are going to throw 2 of their best in this series (all due respect to Josh Beckett, he simply has not been himself lately).
Clay Buchholz (who is pitching RIGHT NOW!) and Jon Lester are having solid seasons. Their ERA’s are in the low-3’s and they are a combined 9-5 this year. They typically have good success against the Rays, which could bode ill for the good guys.
They Rays will throw Wade Davis (who deserves SERIOUS Rookie of the Year consideration) in Game 1, which is not an issue because he has pitched in many pressure-filled games this season. He will be followed by the stellar James Shields and Cy Young-esque Matt Garza.
The Sox pitching in this series might be good, but the Rays’ should be better.
The Secret? Stealing
In their series in April, the Rays stole the Red Sox blind. They took base after base with little resistance.
Carl Crawford, Jason Bartlett, and BJ Upton could not be stopped. And that could be acceptable, if you are a Sox fan, if those were the only guys who were swiping bases. However, the Rays rubbed it in by having Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Carlos Pena take bases as well.
The way the Rays will win this series, and the Sox will lose it, is if the Rays’ stealing success continues. But if the Sox keep the Rays off of the bases and prevent them from turning singles into doubles we could see another sweep, but this time from the bad guys.
Funny, when I started this post I thought of this series as yet another ho-hum series in 2010 a la the Royals or Mariners.
But when you look at the pitching matchups, the battles between base runner, catcher, and pitcher, and the drama that is Rays/Red Sox, I find myself starting to get more and more amped up.
Game 1 might not be looking so good thus far, but jeez I am starting to feel those competitive juices flow.
The Sox may be 8 1/2 back right now, but I would love to see the Rays bury these guys by the end of the series.
Ok, I’m officially pumped.
Sounds dirty, but it isn’t.
But it could get unpleasant, if the Rays’ typical west coast woes of the past are any indication.
The Rays head West in a pretty healthy situation. With so many clubs around the league getting pounded by the Disabled List, the Rays are downright lucky to head to Seattle with only Kelly Shoppach and JP Howell ailing.
Here’s a quick preview of what the Rays are looking at when they take on the Mariners in this week’s 3-game set.
Numbers, Numbers, Numbers…
Here’s some numbers for ya.
Neither of these sets of numbers indicate any level of success for the Rays against West Coast teams.
In 2009, the Rays went 12-21 against all of the teams from the AL West division. Yuck. That is some pretty horrible production for a team that finished just out of the wildcard spot. In fact, one could argue that it was the Texas Rangers’ dominance of the Rays late in the season that knocked them out of a playoff spot.
Against tonight’s opponent, the Mariners, the Rays went a pedestrian 2-4 in Seattle.
That certainly does not bode well for this evening’s contest.
These numbers look much better.
Super-3B Evan Longoria has torched the M’s over his short career at a .356 clip. He has only 1 dinger against them, but that average is pretty awesome.
Tonight’s Rays starter, James Shields, does not have the wins to show for his dominance of the Mariners, but his 2.37 ERA shows that he consistently keeps his team in the running for a W against those Mariners.
Our Boys in Blue might be able to miss King Felix in this series, but they will have to face a strong set of pitchers from the Mariners.
Justin Vargas is a strong pitcher with a 3.60 ERA so far.
Then there is Cliff Lee. Sheesh. Let’s hope that he is fatigued after his first dominant start of the season last week.
The Rays finish up with the pesky Ryan Rowland-Smith, a guy who seems to pitch very well against our guys.
What Will Be Successful?
How can we measure success on this 9-game road trip?
I don’t know.
On the Rays’ last 10-game road trip, the team went 9-1 and swept those hated Red Sox in Boston.
I don’t think that an 8-1 clip is realistic, so I think that the Rays could consider this trip a success if they come back to St. Pete with anywhere from a 5-4 mark on up.
If they DO go 5-4, they will have an overall record of 22-11.
I’d take that, for sure.
I’m really just too tired to put up a coherent post. So here are some things that ran through my mind as the games played out tonight.
—Pat Burrell might be turning around. His 2-run blast was HUGE.
—Wade Davis pitched very well against a really tough team. Great job.
–The weather was just ridonkulous. All the Rays were bundled up big time. Then there is Captain Underbite, Kevin Youkilis. He is either immune or just that foolish, but he’s out there with short sleeves. Well done?
–Bases Loaded. Nobody out. And the Rays get out of it!!!! Holee Cow!!!
–This was a great win. Happy to see the boys stay strong and pull out the W in strange circumstances.
—James Shields kept the emotions in check all game long. He pitched great. Sure, he gave up a 2-run homer late, but it did no damage whatsoever. He was composed and kept the Sox hitters off balance all game long.
–I laugh to myself when I hear the Red Sox fans try to get into Longo’s head by shouting “Eva.” It was great tonight because the Rays’ microphones were picking up on some of these fans’ shoutings (I am sure they were pretty lubricated by this point in the night). As they shouted at Evan, he promptly launched one into the Green Monster for what amounted to the game winning run. Well done EVAN.
–The Red Sox fans were funny tonight. God bless ’em, they wanted a win big time tonight. In fact, one of the more redeeming qualities about those who love the Red Sox is that they stick with their team until the end. I know that is something I learned as a Cubs fan growing up and it has certainly served me well as a Rays fan.
But every time a Sox player put wood on ball, the crowd would erupt, hoping it was going to be “the” hit. There were a couple of late homers that made me nervous for sure, so they were almost right.
–The poll during the game tonight was, “Who is the Rays’ chief competition for the division this year?” Results:
Blue Jays 10%
I think that Boston will give the Rays a big run this year, despite the results of these first two games. The Sox are just too darn good to go away.
–I can’t believe that the Mets and Cardinals played 20 innings! The Cards had position players pitching and pitchers playing left field. Awesome.
–Congrats to those Rox. A No-Hitter from Ubaldo Jiminez. That guy is just awesome.
Thinking of Tomorrow
—Matt Garza is having a great year. A GREAT year. a 1.13 ERA!? 2-0 record? A .179 Opponent Batting Average? Amazing. But…
–The Rays seem to falter just when they are getting hot. And they are hot now. And…
–As I already said, the Red Sox are TOO DARN GOOD!!! WE HAVE TO SCRAPE AND CLAW JUST TO GET A WIN AGAINST THESE GUYS!!!
–Tomorrow will be interesting…
–Definitely time to get some sleep.
To say that was a great game would be an injustice.
It was an AMAZING game!
All the drama that came with the fact that it was Opening Day was overshadowed by the drama that came at the end of the game.
Sure, the smoke from all the pyro hung in the air all game long, but it was easy to see that this was a game to remember.
The guys were ready to play after the intros, and they sure played their hearts out.
(Alas, I was able to get pictures from most of the game before my camera’s battery died! Dang it! And pardon the HIGH view, I decided to downgrade on tickets to upgrade the thickness of my wallet)
You cannot complain about James Shields’ pitching performance. It was his first outing of 2010, he had a wife who was abou to give birth…yeah, I would say that what he did Tuesday night is just fine.
6 IP 3 R 9 H 2 BB
I know that the 1,83 WHIP and 4.50 ERA aren’t sexy, but he kept things from getting out of hand. He gave up 3 home runs–but they were all solo shots–the perfect type of home run to give up.
Kevin Millwood pitched well also, but he reached his 100-pitch limit much earlier than Shields did, going only 5 innings in his debut.
The Big Inning
Every game has an inning that affects the outcome.
I felt that the 9th inning was the inning that changed the course of this game. But it was NOT the bottom of the frame, but the top.
Rafael Soriano’s laconic performance nearly cost the Rays the game. He entered with the Rays trailing by 1 with the objective of keeping the deficit just that small.
It seemed he did all he could to fail at that objective.
If it were not for several great plays in the inning, the Rays certainly would not have been mobbing CC at home plate at the end of the game.
Soriano gave up a double to Garrett Atkins, a single to Cesar Izturis (was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt) and had a botched double play put runners at the corners with 1 out.
If Atkins scores, the game is probably over.
Instead, Evan Longoria saved the game with a great play to get Atkins at the plate.
With two outs and runners in scoring position, Soriano got Miguel Tejada to scorch one right into Carl Crawford’s outstretched arm.
And we want to trade this guy? No CC means the Rays sit at 0-1 instead of 1-0.
Longo Goes Long—OH!
(Ok, this pic is cool, isn’t it? It is like Longo is Lording over everybody at the Trop)
My goodness, did that ball land yet?
I’ll admit, from my perspective in the nosebleeds it was tough to get an idea of how far the ball was going. I knew it was gone, but how far it went was beyond me. I was too busy celebrating to watch the ball land, anyway.
Turns out, it was the third longest dinger in Tropicana Field history. It landed several rows up into the party deck!
I don’t want to belabor the amazing-ness that is Carl Crawford, but wow.
I thought it was incredible when he killed those Red Sox in 2003 with a line drive long ball in the bottom of the 9th to get an Opening Day win.
But this was just as great.
Following his great catch in the top half of the 9th and an almost-walk-off from Kelly Shoppach, Carl delivered a great line drive into right field that secured the game.
I almost fell down the 596 stairs I had to climb to get to my seat.
3 Keys to a W
3–The Rays Republic Must Represent. Nope Sorry Republic, I thought that the Trop was WAY too quiet all game long. Of course, I was sitting in the Swiss Alps, so I might have missed some of the cheering.
Gotta get at least 2 of the 3 Keys in order to get a W.
2 Keys Checked = Rays Win!
I’m looking forward to this season even more. The Rays were more than impressive Tuesday night, not only because of their offense and clutch hitting, but because of their resilience.
That resilient spirit was what helped the Rays take the AL East in 2008. Game after game was decided because the Rays refused to give up.
Can’t wait to see how Matty does tonight.
The day has come.
We weren’t sure it would get here. It seemed so far away all the time. We slogged through the winter and waited patiently through games that didn’t count.
But now it is here.
The Rays will be taking on the Baltimore Orioles tonight at a SOLD OUT Tropicana Field.
People weren’t sure if the Trop would sell out. They questioned the dedication of baseball fans in the area.
I say, look at the record-high unemployment rate and shut the hell up you insensitive idiots.
We will have 36,973 screaming fans packed into the Trop tonight (I am proud to be one of them) and the place will be rockin’.
James Shields vs Kevin Millwood
Shields will be making his franchise record third start on Opening Day for the Rays. His results have been a mixed bag. Here is what Shields has done on Opening Day the last two seasons:
@ Balt 7.0 IP 5 H 2 ER 3 BB 2 K Win Rays Win 6-2
@ Bos 5.1 IP 9 H 5 ER 5 BB 2 K Loss Rays Lose 5-3 (2 HR given up)
Overall, Shields’ stats on Opening Day:
1-1 Record 12.1 IP 14 H 7 ER 8 BB 4 K 5.20 ERA 1.81 WHIP
The numbers aren’t great, but every season presents a new path. And if you look at what Shields did against these same Orioles in 2008, things look good.
Millwood was a stud for the Texas Rangers last season. He went 13-10 with a 3.67 last season, making him a coveted free agent among pitching-strapped ballclubs such as the Orioles.
However, Millwood has been shelacked by the Rays over his career. His numbers?
2-2 1.57 WHIP 6.16 ERA
As I did throughout last season, here are my Three Keys to a Rays W:
Shields’ Composure. James Shields might have the nickname “Big Game” because of his performances in certain, well, big games, but he is also a guy who can get rattled from doing too much. He needs to do his thing and get that fastball and changeup working.
Get the Long Ball Workin’. I think that in home openers the adrenaline is high and guys find it tough to get the little hit. Swining for the fences is way too common. So if the Rays can connect on a few fastballs and get ’em over the fence, that will bode well.
The Rays enter 2010 with higher expectations than they have ever had before. Surely, 2009 was thought to be a big year for the Rays as they were coming off of their 2008 World Series berth. Fans were sorely disappointed with how things went in 2009, however.
The Rays did little to improve the team for 2010, but they really didn’t have to do much. The emergence of Sean Rodriguez (NOT S-ROD PEOPLE!!!) and the addition of closer Rafael Soriano should be enough to push the Rays into contention again.
The Rays set a franchise record for Spring Training wins (21). They open the season against Baltimore.
Those are TWO things that they did before their World Series year of 2008.
Whatever happens, baseball is back and I, for one, am stoked to be heading to the Trop this evening to see what the Rays have in store for us.
Let’s Go Rays!
Joe Maddon just named the guy who will toe the mound on Opening Day 2010 against the Baltimore Orioles.
It seems a little anti-climactic, but I am sure you can guess who it is.
For the third season in a row, James “Don’t Call Me Jamie” Shields will open the season for the Tampa Bay Rays. His third appearance on Opening Day breaks a record he had held with Scott Kazmir and Wilson Alvarez.
Shields is coming off of a slightly disappointing season where he got double-digit wins (11) again, but also got double-digit losses (12). HIs ERA of 4.14 is much higher than it should be for a true #1 starter.
So what can we expect from the righty with the devestating changeup?
Here is what Shields has done in his first two Opening Day assignments.
@ Balt 7.0 IP 5 H 2 ER 3 BB 2 K Win Rays Win 6-2
@ Bos 5.1 IP 9 H 5 ER 5 BB 2 K Loss Rays Lose 5-3 (2 HR given up)
You have to admit, those are two very different starts. Then again, you have to admit that those are two very different types of teams. Neither of those previous statements bode well for the Rays on Opening Day 2010.
Overall, here are Jamie’s stats on Opening Day:
1-1 Record 12.1 IP 14 H 7 ER 8 BB 4 K 5.20 ERA 1.81 WHIP
Those numbers are tough to look at.
However, let’s keep in mind that each of those starts occurred on the road. And one of those starts, against the Orioles, was against the team that he will face on Opening Day this year.
That is the beauty of baseball, isn’t it? You can look at numbers and feel just sick to your stomach, or you can bend them a little bit to make you feel a little better.
I prefer to bend ’em like Beckham, so to speak.
Shields is going to nail down the first Rays win of 2010 on Opening Day.
On a side note.
I want one…
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.