Tagged: Jason Bartlett

Trayde Winds A-Blowin’

As many of you know, I have been pretty incommunicato this week due to a week of sipping cocktails poolside in Orlando. 

It’s been a good week.

I wanted to say alot about the upcoming trade deadline, but it has been difficult to find the time, obviously.

However, I do have some ideas of who might be coming to the Rays, who might be leaving the Rays, and who will be staying with the Rays.

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Who’s Comin’?

–With the rumor that the Yanks are near a deal to acquire Lance Berkman, I would say that the Rays have become the frontrunners for picking up slugger Adam Dunn.  They could do worse, for sure.  But I am not sure I would like to see the Rays give up players for a guy who will be here only for these final few months and more more.  That said, his incredible walk numbers, batting average, and power numbers will be a welcome addition to the DH slot.

Honestly, there is not alot of talk about who the Rays might try to pick up.  The front office has been very quiet on the subject.  I think that the Rays could use a stronger DH, surely, but a stronger 5th starter and another bullpen guy (never have enough of those) would strengthen this team as well.

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Who’s Goin’?

–Minor league pitcher Jake McGee will more than likely be moving on.  He has great talent, but it still not 100% after arm injuries.  He is young, and will likely recover completely, which makes him valuable as a future ‘pen guy or bottom of the rotation guy, a la Wade Davis.

Reid Brignac has done great things for the Rays this year.  His power surge as of late has really lifted this team.  But he is a man without a country.  Or a position, anyway.  He is a middle infielder in an organization full of ’em.  Jason Bartlett is too beloved by the Rays management to go anywhere.  Sean Rodriguez is the future 2b of the Rays (though he is kind of the present-day 2b of the Rays as well).  Brignac does not fit in.  He will somewhere else.

–This might be a longshot, but Wade Davis might be moved.  If he can bring in a solid bat, he will certainly be moved with the pitching depth the Rays have in the minors. 

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Who’s Stayin’?

Jeremy Hellickson will be moved when hell freezes over.  ‘Nuff said.

Jason Bartlett ain’t goin’ anywhere.  His arrival catapulted the Rays to the playoffs in 2008.  They expect a return to form in these final months.

–Minor league veteran Dan Johnson might lead the International League in slugging numbers, but that just makes him more valuable as a late-season callup for the Rays than a bargaining chip.  Plus, after Carlos Pena’s departure next season, he might inherit the 1b job.

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It’s late, but I wanted to get some thoughts down before the trades start a-flyin’.  I’m returning from poolside soon and I can’t wait to see what the Blogosphere’s intrepid writers have to say on the subject of the tradewinds.

Back soon!

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Speedy Post: Nice Win Gets Rays Closer to First

The Rays ended the month of June with a really nice win against a team they HAVE to beat if they want to be in the running for a playoff spot, the Boston Red Sox.

Their 9-4 thumping of the Sawx Wednesday night was pretty darn impressive, as the run output from Boston was augmented with some meaningless runs late in the game. 

Matt Garza did just what the Rays needed him to do: shut down the opposition.  He gave up only 6 hits in his 7 innings and looked in command throughout.  He ran out of gas in the 8th inning, but it didn’t really matter at that point because the Rays had a commanding lead.

I had thought that the Rays would be able to beat down Daisuke Matsusaka, but it didn’t really go that way.  He was far from impressive, but he was also far from dominated by the Rays offense.  It was the Sox ‘pen that fall apart, namely Manny Delcarmen

And, let’s face it, you can’t win if your bullpen stinks on any given night.  Luckily, the Rays’ hitters were able to take advantage of Delcarmen’s lack of control.

What really helped to force the Sox pitchers hands was what has helped the Rays to beat Boston 5 out of 9 games thus far this season:

 Stolen Bases!!!

The Rays were able to run on Sox catcher Jason Varitek fairly easily, stealing on 2 of 3 base attempts.  That might not sound like alot, but when NONE of the stolen bases were taken by guys with last names of Upton, Crawford, or Bartlett, then you are talking about some really good base running.  (Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist were the thieves in the game)

If you are a Rays fan, you are not only happy with the result of the game but also with the fact that Tampa Bay sits just 1 game behind the Sox for second place in the AL East and only 2 games behind the Yanks for the division lead. 

Unfortunately, if they aren’t careful during this tough 4-game series in Minnesota, they might give up all the ground they gained last night. 

It will be up to Jeff Nieman and the Rays hitters to start July off the same way they finished June: with a win.

Speedy Post: Rays/Red Sox Game 2

 

So…last night stunk.

How else do you describe an 8-5 loss?

And it wasn’t that close.

The Rays find themselves 2 games behind the Red Sox for second place and 3 games out of first.  Nobody said that the AL East was going to be easy, but the Rays as of late have made everything look more difficult than it needs to be.

The Rays send righty Matt Garza to the mound tonight with the hopes of earning a split in the truncated 2-game series.  He has done well and done poorly in two starts against the Red Sox, but there is something tonight that Garza has going for him.

Nobody on the Red Sox team who might start tonight has faced the spitfire righty, emphasis on the SPIT.

In fact, only 6 guys on the Red Sox roster have any at bats against Garza and only Adrian Beltre is hitting over .261 against him. 

In other words, Garza is due for a good start in a big game against a tough team tonight.  As long as the youngster can keep his emotions in check, of course.  That certainly seems to have been a challenge for the Rays as of late.

The Red Sox will send Daisuke Matsusaka to the mound.  The Rays have had moderate success against the guy with the exaggerated windup, though Ben Zobrist (no hits), Jason Bartlett (.143), and BJ Upton (.077) have had significant struggles.

I would expect to see John Jaso behind the plate (he’s a lefty and has yet to see Matsusaka), Reid Brignac at SS (he has yet to face Matsusaka), and either Kelly Shoppach (.400) or Willy Aybar at DH (.333) tonight. 

Will BJ start?  Who knows?  He didn’t start yesterday, but he did end up getting into the game late.  Manager Joe Maddon said it was not a punishment, but, well, we can all read between the lines. 

No matter who starts, the Rays will have to be patient.  Matsusaka thrives when opposing batters jump on his early pitches.  If the Rays hold back and wait for their pitch, work the count, draw some walks, I think we will see them even the series and get to within one game of second place yet again.

But if the Rays’ hitters are overly aggressive and Garza struggles with his emotions, we can expect another ugly game, for sure.

Prepping for the Draft, Rays Style

Major League Baseball will put on its draft tonight as every team around the league looks to improve its club

And if all goes well, these teams will see the fruits of their collective labor in, oh, say, about 3 or 4 years. 

What!?

Yeah, come on, you know how it goes.  This ain’t the NFL or NBA.  These guys who hear their seemingly anonymous names called tonight won’t really find themselves on major league rosters for some time now.

Despite this, teams will be taking very seriously the goings-on that will occur at 7 pm Eastern Time.

A good draft tonight can turn a team like the 2007 Tampa Bay Devil Rays into, say, the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

That 2008 squad became potent with the development of one great draft pick, Evan Longoria, and the shining of another, BJ Upton. In fact, the Rays’ success can be attributed quite squarely on the fact that they have drafted well during the Stuart Sternberg era as 10 of the 25 guys on the roster are homegrown.

Manager Joe Maddon and General Manager Andrew Friedman have said this week that they will be looking at the middle of the field as the focus of their draft. We can take that to mean, I assume, catcher, second base, shortstop, and center field.

I am not an expert on amateur baseball players, so I won’t pretend to give a list of great college and high school players who can have an impact on the Rays in the near future.  However, I will say that a guy like Zach Cox, a guy who can play 3B and 2B, would fit well with what Maddon and Friedman would like to see on the roster in the future. 

The Rays have the 17th overall pick in the draft, and the rumor is that they have targeted a catcher who, at one time, was Stephen Strasburg‘s battery mate–just like every other team in the draft.  So, we can’t expect Bryce Harper to don a Rays uni any time soon. 

However, a move for a catcher such as this would make sense considering the fall of Dioner Navarro, the question marks surrounding Kelly Shoppach, and the high hopes–yet unrealized potential–that plague John Jaso

You would think that the Rays would be pretty satiated at the middle infield positions.  They have Jason Bartlett firmly ensconced at short.  At second base they have multiple options: Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez, and Reid Brignac.  In the minors, the Rays have Eliot Johnson and Tim Beckham, though the latter 20-year-old seems to be a few years away as he is toiling at Single-A Charlotte.

Center field is a place that seems to be in question.  BJ Upton mans the spot right now, but soon his arbitration clock will run out and he will become an unrestricted free agent.  Then the Rays will have to decide whether or not to pay him what he thinks he is worth.  Desmond Jennings has center field skills, but he might already be in left field after the Rays (potentially) lose Carl Crawford.  Cuban defector Leslie Anderson was just promoted to AA Montgomery and could be with the big club in the next year or so if his fast rise continues. 

Whichever way the Rays decide to go, I think we can rest assured that it will be the right way.  They have not accrued what Baseball America has deemed the #1 ranked minor league system by accident.  And with 6 picks in the first 98 of this year’s draft, the probability is high that the Rays will put together yet another successful group of recruits.

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Update: 8:24

The Rays are coming up at pick 17. 

The rumor is that they might choose a P/OF Bryce Brentz.  Who knows what position he might play as a pro.  Bryce Harper was supposed to be a catcher, yet the Nats have already made it clear he will be an outfielder. 

However, should the Rays find INF Zach Cox still available at 17 (he is a top 10 projection), I think they will go with him.  This guy is a left-handed hitting power hitter who has the defensive ability and range to play at the hot corner or at 2B. 

Cubs are up.  Rays coming up…

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Update: 8:32

Cubbies took a pitcher.  Rays have their pick (Brentz) and a top-tier infielder (Cox) available.

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Update: 8:37

Rays took neither Cox nor Brentz.  Instead they took Josh Sale, a guy that the MLB Net guys seem excited about.  He is a college guy (Gonzaga) who plays the outfield.  Apparently he will play a corner outfield spot who will hit for some decent power and has little speed.  He sounds like a nice future RF, but it would be pointless to pontificate on where he will play as his major league debut is still several years away.  However, as a college player (as David Price was) his future might arrive a little sooner than many might think. 

Should this guy progress faster than most, then we might see a near-future outfield that could have Desmond Jennings, Leslie Anderson, BJ Upton, Ben Zobrist, and this kid in the mix.  Not too shabby. 

However, it should be noted that the Rays went neither middle infield NOR best available with this pick.  Peter Gammons has guessed that this pick might be more motivated by $$ than anything else, which makes sense.  Remember, the Rays were unable to sign two of their first three picks in their draft last year. 

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Update: 9:55

The Rays closed out their participation in the first round of the draft by taking a catcher with the 31st pick: Jason O’Conner.  The experts said that this guy should be more versatile than a catcher has a right to be, which might mean that Maddon can see him playing middle infield or catcher.  He is from the great state of Indiana, so he’s got that going for him. 

So the Rays got (maybe) their catcher.  That certainly was something that most Rays fans were looking for considering the current state, and franchise depth, of the position.

Rays and Red Sox Get Ready to Throwdown

       VS       

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.

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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. 

Damn.

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Pitching In

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.

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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.

Yikes!

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Closing Thoughts

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.

Utter Domination

Rays 9, Yankees 3

And it wasn’t that close.

David Price, the Rays’ phenom 24-year-old lefty, led the team against the invaders from NYC and gave them more than they could handle. 

The offense didn’t want to be outdone, so they put their best bat forward and put up 8 earned against the Yanks’ big offseason acquisition, Javier Vazquez

In the end, there was not much to complain about. 

If you are a Rays fan, of course.

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Price Was Scary Good

Price went out and simply gave the Rays his longest–and one of his more solid–performances of his young career. 

        7 2/3 IP    3 ER    7 H    3 BB    7 K

Through 6 innings, however, Price threw only 66 pitches.  Aside from a double in the 2nd that brought home 2 runs by Alex Rodriguez, there was nothing scary. 

When he reached the 8th inning, Price admitted he began to press a bit, which led to a bases-loaded jam and another run given up.  But Lance Cormier came into the game and ended the frame with a strikeout.

It was an almost-effortless performance from a guy who is the Rays’ NUMBER 4 PITCHER!

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Big Inning: The 4th

The Rays almost batted around in the bottom of the 4th against Vazquez.

A few doubles, a few singles, a stolen base from BJ Upton, and a huge blast from Carlos Pena gave the Rays all the runs they would need for the rest of the game (5). 

While the home run was fun, I was more excited about the double that just eluded left-fielder Marcus Thames’ glove from the bat of Jason Bartlett.  It was one of those moments that you were hoping would happen (him missing the catch) and it led to two big runs.  Whew!

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Sleeping Bats Awakened–Look Out!

Pena had been hitting terribly this season.  And he had been suffering from a power outage, with no balls of his bat threatening to leave the yard.  It was nice to see him take one out against a tough pitcher like Vazquez.

The other area the Rays are getting no production from is DH.  I am going to lay off the Burrell Bashing–for now–and simply say that Willy Aybar’s big 2-run home run in the 6th was a respite from worrying about what to do with the DH position.  After striking out horribly earlier in the game, it was great seeing him rip one down the line and out. 

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Today’s Game

The Rays are going to have a tough one against the Yanks and CC Sabathia.  Even though CC got knocked around pretty good by the Red Sox on Opening Day part 1, everybody knows he is a tough hombre. 

The Rays are sending out youngster Wade Davis, who will make just his 7th start of his young career.  He had to work hard to beat out Andy Sonnanstine for the 5th starter job, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against a tough Yankee club.

I’m excited.  Can you tell?

1 and Oh MY!

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)

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The Pitching

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. 

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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.

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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! 

Holee Cow! 

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Carl’s Moment

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.

Pandemonium, folks. 

I almost fell down the 596 stairs I had to climb to get to my seat. 

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3 Keys to a W

1–Shields’ Composure.     Check.  He gave up 3 dingers, yet no more than that.  Quality start. 

2–Get the Long Ball Workin’.     Check    Longo took one out–WAY out–and Shoppach’s almost dinger helped make the difference. 

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.

So…

2 Keys Checked = Rays Win!

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Final Thoughts

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.