Tagged: Kansas City Royals

April’s Showers Not So Bad

Of course, all that was raining on the Rays during the month of April were W’s.

17 of ’em to be exact.

The Rays came out of April with a 17-6 record. 

Wow.

Not only is that the best in the American League, it is the best record in the MAJORS. 

Now,let’s recap.

Who doesn’t have the best record in the league?

        Yankees

        Red Sox

        Phillies

(I just wanted to make sure that was clear.)

Sure, this season is just one month old, but you have to start somewhere, right?  Last year, the Rays got off to a 9-14 start and, in the competitive AL East, pretty much sealed their doom early.  They made a run near the end of the season to put themselves in contention for a wildcard spot, but injuries and bad baseball–and the aforementioned poor start–gave them no wiggle room for mistakes. 

This kind of a start means that when that inevitable slump comes for the Rays, they WILL have some room for error.

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Amazin’ Pena

Sure, the Rays lost to the Kansas City Royals last night.  But not for lack of effort by one Carlos Pena.

He made a great play to take away an extra bases hit down the line early in the game.  Then he turned in an incredible “falling-into-the-dugout” grab of a foul ball in a 1-0 game to support his pitcher.

  First Baseman Carlos Pena #23 Of The Tampa Bay Rays Falls

That level of effort is why the Rays are not only the best team in the league right now, but also because watching them (in person or on tv) is one of the most entertaining 2-3 hours you can spend in your day.

Gradin’ the Tradin’: Part II

The first post I put out a few days ago was only to rate the trades that occurred on Friday, the trading deadline day. 

However, I got a few e-mails asking me why I left out one trade or the other.  They got me to thinking….why NOT go through the notable trades from the trading deadline and just before? 

I enjoyed arguing with some of you through comments and e-mail about what you thought of some of the trades.  Good times…

This post might be more for me than anybody since I LOVE trades and how they affect teams.  I think they are something that is utilized by baseball better than any other sport and is part of the reason why this game is so grand.

Again, I’m primarily looking at the team that is the bigger part of the deal, though in some cases I grade both teams.

So without further adieu….here is part deux. 

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Deal:  Reds trade Edwin Encarcion et al to the Blue Jays for Scott Rolen

Analysis:  It seemed that Encarnacion never really got it going in Cincinnati.  He hit a load of dingers last year, but the average the last few years was never really what Dusty Baker wanted (.209 in 2009).  I don’t see him being the 3B of the future for the Jays, unfortunately.  However, from what I’ve read about the two young pitchers who were also sent to the Jays, the real value might be there.  These two pitchers might make an impact on Toronto this season, which would make the Jays winners here.  The Reds get an aging 3B who might be able to help out a little next year.  While the Reds play in a strong offensive park, the fact is that Rolen is 34 and has seen his best years pass him by.

Grade:  Reds–C+   Jays–B+

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Deal:  Jerry Hairston, Jr. to the Yankees for a Single-A catcher

Analysis:  This just doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.  Of course, the Rays are notorious for making the “not a big deal” trades that end up getting them a bunch of wins.  Maybe the Yankees have been taking notes.  They already went into the Rays’ playbook to make a deal for Eric Hinske earlier in the year, after all.  Hairston, Jr. has speed and versatility.  For those reasons he might be a nice guy to have on a team.  A National League team.  I don’t see him helping the Yanks out too much.  Then again, New York didn’t give up much, either.

Grade:  B-

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Deal:  Brewers deal to get Claudio Vargas from the Dodgers

Analysis:  The Brewers needed a starter.  A good starter.  They needed somebody to help them contend with the Cubs, Cardinals, and, suddenly, the Astros.  Instead they dealt for a bullpen guy in LA who they actually had not that long ago and dumped because of his ineffectiveness.  They didn’t give up much, but they didn’t get much, either.

Grade:  D-

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Deal:  Cubs get John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny from Pirates

Analysis:  This is a case where I think both teams won out.  The Pirates got a young hurler in Kevin Hart and a strong piece of the bullpen in Jose Ascanio.  The Cubs needed a starter in Gorzelanny (he’ll start this week) to fill in for Ted Lilly and they needed a strong lefty in the ‘pen in Grabow who will take the place of the Tommy John-bit Neal Cotts.  Grabow will complement Sean Marshall in the bullpen and add some stability to a shakey group.

Grade:  A for both teams (especially because of the mad kung fu skills of Gorzelanny)

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Deal:  Royals get Josh Anderson from the Tigers

Analysis:  This guy was got for cash.  That’s it.  Typically these deals are non-issues.  This one fits in with that characterization.  So why are we talking about it?

Grade:  Who cares?

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Deal:  The Giants get Freddy Sanchez from the Pirates

Analysis:  The Pirates are becoming to be old hat in these trade discussions.  With that said, the Bucs are doing the right thing.  Sanchez was scheduled to make $8 mill next year.  That’s too rich for a team with so many holes.  I was hoping that the Rays would get this guy–he’s one of my faves–so that they could move Ben Zobrist’s rocket arm and huge bat to right field.  Alas, not to be.  This move will probably lead to the Giants releasing Rich Aurelia and his salary.  Sanchez will help the Giants.  The Pirates got a pitcher in Tim Alderson who will help them–in the future.

Grade: B+

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Deal:  Phillies land Cliff Lee from Indians 

Analysis:  C’mon, do we have to talk about this one?  I was hoping the Rays might get active here, and they were, but not as active as the Series champs.  They got Lee, gave up some guys they’ll miss, and promptly saw him throw a complete game shutout.  ‘Nuff said.

Grade:  A

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Deal:  Mariners get Jack Wilson from Pirates for a bunch o’ guys

Analysis:  The M’s got the shortstop they had hoped they had in Yuniesky Betancourt.  When they realized Betancourt was a flop defensively, they shipped him to Kansas City–where he’s struggled.  Wilson is a solid piece of the future puzzle for the M’s and will get them some wins in the future.  The guys the Pirates got will be helpful, but not too helpful right away.  Ronny Cedeno is flopping right now and catcher Jeff Clement was not sparking the way the Mariners wanted.  I thought that the addition of Clement might lead to the Bucs moving Ryan Doumit–to the Rays.  Not so.  Oh well.

Grade:  Mariners–B+    Pirates–B

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Deal:  White Sox get Mark Kotsay, Red Sox get Brian Anderson

 

Analysis:  No doubt, the White Sox won this trade–right now.  The White Stockings got a premiere pinch hitter who can play almost any corner position.  He is a veteran who can fit in immediately with is new team and pay dividends as they push for October.  The Red Stockings got a supreme underachiever in Anderson.  He might develop, though, into a guy who might be the utility outfielder Rocco Baldelli is supposed to be.  With JD Drew on his way out (c’mon, folks, he’s hurt, like, ALL THE TIME) this might be a good add–next year.

Grade:  White Sox–B+    Red Sox–B+ (potentially)

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Deal:  Giants get Ryan Garko for Single-A pitcher

Analysis:  Garko was a fan fave in Cleveland, but he was going to be up for big money in the off season.  So he was shipped.  He was taking playing time away from guys the Indians really wanted to see and they did not view him as a piece of the future.  He has a gift for being offensive–in a good way–and should help the Giants offense get going.  The guy Cleveland got will be good two years from now.  That’s something to be happy about in Clevelend–and there isn’t much these days.  However, the move will give more AB’s to superstar-in-the-making Matt LaPorta

Grade:  B

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Deal:  Matt Holliday goes to St. Louis

Analysis:  Waste of time to talk about.  He’s hitting .529!!! 

Grade: A+ (and it sickens me to say that)

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Sorry if the pics got a little weird there at times.  I’m as distracted by the strange moments of our favorite sport as anybody.

I think that runs down most of the more notable trades that have occurred the last few weeks (and a couple of not-so-notable trades). 

I think that this time of year is the most captivating of any sport out there.  Teams are fighting for division titles.  Others are scrambling for wildcard berths.  Franchises are deciding whether to buy or sell.  Squads are scouting for both this and next year–and with a do-or-die attitude.

It’s just great.

And the waiver-wire trades are going to get going soon too.  Teams have to make waiver deals before August 30th if they want that guy to be eligible for the post season.

And the countdown begins.

 

And if anybody asks me about the Julio Lugo deal……..

Big Mouth in the South: He got the Joba done

   

Despite the hyper Yankee hurler’s resemblance to a certain fish, tonight it was the Rays who were biting.

They were diving after every (seldom used) breaking pitch Joba Chamberlain threw.  They were swinging away at every 89 mph “off speed” pitch that came their way.  And they were simply blown out of the water altogether by every 92+ mph fastball.

It wasn’t pretty.

About as pretty as gutting, well, you get the idea.

The Rays managed only 2 runs on 6 hits tonight.  None of those runs were charged to Joba and only 3 of those hits were his as he went 8 strong innings, striking out 5 and walking only 2. 

It wasn’t the Rays’ night.

It wasn’t the Rays’ series.

Our guys needed a strong showing in this three-game set against the first place Yanks if they wanted to maintain hope at making it two Octobers in a row.  While they fought back valiently to take game two of the series 6-2, the offense failed to show up in the rubber game tonight.  Again.

The only push the Rays gave the Yankees was in the 9th inning when Carl Crawford tripled and Evan Longoria went yard.  The Rays were able to get two on before Mariano Rivera struck out Michel Hernandez to end the game.

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Garza Pitched Well

The Rays wasted a great effort by their ace-in-the-making and devil-in-disguise Matt Garza

MLB Player Photo - Matt Garza   

He almost matched Chamberlain pitch for pitch in his 7 innings of work. 

He was almost awesome baby! 

He was almost a PTP’r!

(note the well-planned and heavily thought out <ahem-lame> espn basketball theme here)

Almost didn’t get us there, though. 

He did allow a triple to Derek Jeter in the 1st (who later scored) and a long ball to Robinson Cano (a strange at bat during which Cano fouled a ball off his shin, had to get looked at by the trainer, before launching one to the right field seats).

Other than those two issues Garza pitched almost as well as he did Friday night against Doc Halladay. 

Except, you know, this time he lost.

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Where’s the O?

It is getting really old.

Seriously.

It seems that unless a Rays starter holds the opposition to 2 runs or fewer they have a tough time winning the ballgame.  God forbid a starter give up <gasp> 3 or 4 runs in a game.  If that happens the game is just simply over.

I know our guys have a tendency to come back.  However, as I have argued again and again, you have to “come back” in two situations:

                1) if your starter gives up too many runs

                2) if your offense scores no runs to begin with

It seems that since the All-Star Break the Rays have had plenty of both.  Even when they win games one of the two caveats above come into play.

It’s getting tired, guys.  It really is.

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Royal Pains (not the tv show)

The Rays can do nothing but look ahead.  (As many of us Rays fans will be doing)

The Kansas City Royals come to town for 4 big games.  I know it is a little melodramatic to call games against the Royals in late July “big”, but they are

A sweep here, or taking 3 of 4, will go a long way towards getting the Rays back into the race. 

Although they lost a game to the Yankees and currently sit 6 1/2 out, they seem to be on the verge of holding serve against the Red Sox (losing last I checked) which would keep the Rays only 4 back of second place and the wildcard spot.

It’s gotta happen now.

Time’s running out.

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Tradin’ Places (or the most overused title to describe trades in mlb)

Lots of trades today.  Some interesting, some we don’t care about, and one that was upsetting a little. 

I would argue that all teams involved today made their teams better.  Except the Pirates.  But then again when did they ever make a move to get better?

I have some ideas on a few moves the Rays should make before Friday’s deadline.  I’m teasing it now for tomorrow’s post just in case it happens overnight. 

Tradin’ post tomorrow (another overused title to describe trades in mlb–sue me!).

“O” No? “O” Yes!

For three games now, the Rays Offense took its time showing up to the ballpark. 

For three games now, the “O” hasn’t been able to really kick in until the 6th, 7th, or 8th innings.

For three games now, the Rays Offense has been able to beat the Royals bullpen on the way to a series sweep of Kansas City at Kaufmann Stadium.

Better late than never.

The Rays improved upon one of baseball’s best records since the end of April (43-23) and closed the gap in the AL East to 4 1/2 games by biding their time against the Royals’ effective starters and demolishing the Royals’ terrible bullpen.

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The Pitching

Matt Garza told reporters that he wanted to get back to “dominating” opposing teams.  That he was tired of talking about it and was ready to do it. 

Guess we’ll wait til next time to see that, huh Matt?

Garza was plagued by walks (5) in his 5-inning stint today, giving up 3 runs and 6 hits along the way.  He wasn’t fooling anybody today and was lucky that the damage wasn’t worse.  His walks led to a bases loaded 1-out jam early in the game that he was able to escape by inducing a double play grounder. 

In this series, the Rays’ starters were pretty poor, with the exception of Scott Kazmir (that’s for you, Ginny).

The Royals’ starters were solid, today being led by Luke Hochevar.  He made the Rays look silly at times, flailing away at pitches that were near the zone or watching pitches in the zone go right by.  He struck out 9 Rays, something that our guys had better improve upon if they want to succeed in their playoff hopes.

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Bullpens Were the Story

The Rays had it, the Royals didn’t.

Poor Royals manager Trey Hillman must have been getting tired near the end of this game, as he had to continually change pitchers from one batter to the next, seeing little success each time. 

It was the same line of relievers for the Royals in just about every game: Ron Mahay, John Dale, Ramon Colon, Juan Cruz, and Jamey Wright.  Cruz took the loss in two of the games with Wright getting saddled with today’s loss. 

The Rays, on the other hand, saw alot of success from its ‘pen.

Sure, Joe Maddon made more pitching changes than Hillman did in the series, but his relievers were far more effective.  Plus, his selection was more varied.  Only two Rays relievers, Randy Choate and JP Howell, saw action in each of the three games.  JP Howell was most impressive, saving each of the Rays’ three wins.

The Rays relieving corps managed to get the win in each of the games in the three-game set, get a hold in each of the games, and, as mentioned, save each of the games.  What is more incredible is that they allowed only 8 hits and only 1 run in the series.

Not too shabby.

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Rays Hitters

For the second game in the series, the Rays did not go deep–they didn’t have to.  Timely hitting and good baserunning led to the sweep.

Ben Zobrist has been hitting the cover off of the ball lately, extending his hitting streak to 9 games with an early-inning single. 

What is most impressive is that he has a streak of 5 games in which he has gotten 2 or more hits!  Don’t forget he missed a grand slam in the 9th by about a foot and a half.  This guy totally deserved that All Star spot and might get some more recognition before the season is over.

Carl Crawford did his usual damage today.  He is really on a tear since the All-Star Break, and understandably so.

 

He scored the tying run after a series of events that typified what CC can do in a game.  After ripping a single into left field, Crawford scared pitcher John Bale enough to get a few throws over to keep him close.  One throw went into right field, allowing CC to motor around to 3rd base.  Carlos Pena’s single scored him and tied the game.

Carl’s 46 stolen bases this season have been a real catalyst for this team.  In fact, he has more steals than 7 MLB teams do as a whole! 

Impressive.  Most impressive.

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Walkin’ Yes Indeed

One of the keys to the Rays’ success in this series against an improving Royals team has been the team’s propensity for walking.  The Rays did not score runs easily in the series, which makes every little move more magnified.  When hits and run opportunities are at a premium, the team must utilize another method for getting on base.

Walks.

The Rays coaxed 15 walks from Royals pitchers in the series!  Whenever you looked up, a Rays hitter was on base.  That can help to offset the large amount of Ks the team had.

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The Wrap-up

In all, the team put together a decent series.  It was a sweep after all.

The walks and timely hits along with the relentless pressure put on opposing pitchers on the basepaths led to some very exciting games. 

This was Rays baseball at its finest.

Now it is off to the Windy City (though I can tell you from experience that it isn’t so windy these days as much as it is hot and gross) to play 4 games against the second-place Chicago White Sox. 

Let’s hope the Rays play their game and keep this winning streak alive.

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.

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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

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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 Have “Easy” Matchup with the Royals’ Greinke

      VS

Tonight our Rays will face one of the best pitchers they’ve seen all year, in fact, one of the most effective pitchers in all of baseball.

No problem.

The Rays take on the Royals tonight.  Scott Kazmir will square off against the heralded Zack Greinke.

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The Pitching Matchup

Greinke has been a stud in the Royals rotation, winning 10 games for a poor team.  He leads the AL in ERA with an miniscule 2.12 and has one of the best WHIP for a starter in the league at 1.08.

 

Guys do not get on base against Greinke, and if they are lucky enough to get there, they do not score.

What is scariest about Greinke is his penchant for the strikeout.  He has struck out 129 guys in 127 innings, an impressive pace for a starter.  This is particularly upsetting because the Rays have been susceptible to the K all season long. 

In fact, Greinke told Tony Fabrizio of the Tampa Tribune:

 

The way I look at their lineup, they’ve got a bunch of power and a bunch of strikeouts. One or the other is going to win, probably.  I feel like with that team, if you pitch good you’ll win, and if you pitch bad, they will crush you.

 

He’s right.  The top Rays’ hitters are also guys who strike out a fair amount (Upton, Longo, Pena), something that could play to Greinke’s strenghts tonight. 

But if Greinke is off a little, as he has been recently, they Rays should be able to go Rocky 4 on him and “crush him.”

In fact, the Rays seem to do well against the league’s best, taking down no other than Roy Halladay both times they have faced him this season.  It is the little known pitchers with little experience that, inexplicably, give the Rays fits. 

Kazmir has had a rough year.  Not only has he been beat up this year physically, he’s been knocked around in games as well.  He’s basically been bullied by the teams he’s faced this year. 

He stands at 4-5 with an unsightly 7.11 ERA.  Hitters (unbelievably) are hitting .302 against him.  He is not striking guys out like he usually does and his longevity in a game is often a toss up–nobody can count on him going more than 5 innings.

I am hoping that my friend Ginny at The Watercooler will be rooting extra hard for Kaz tonight, because he is going to need all the good vibes he can get in order to turn his season around. 

You can catch some excellent points on this pitching matchup by heading over to the “Matchup Master” at The Pitcher’s Duel.  I think what he has said about Kaz turning his season around after so much time off is dead red.  I’m hoping that Kaz proves him right tonight.

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The Hitters

The Royals batters surprisingly knocked James Shields around last night, scoring 7 runs off of him in 5 1/3 innings. 

And he was our ace.  Yikes!

It is going to be up to Kaz to be agressive in the strike zone in order to keep the Royals on the defensive.  If he falls behind in counts, then the Royals will be able to wait for that straight fastball and knock the cover off of it.

He needs to keep an eye on Billy Butler and Alex Gordon.  Gordon just returned from the DL, and you know he will be looking to hit the ball hard. 

The Rays displayed some serious power last night, playing an almost perfect offensive game–even if their run scoring was a bit tardy.

They hit two big flies (Burrell and Longo), walked at the right times, worked deep counts, and scared the bejesus out of the Royals’ pitchers on the basepaths.

You know, typical Rays baseball.

Only Dioner Navarro (let’s hope he gets out of that season-long slump tonight!) and Ben Zobrist have modest numbers against Greinke in their careers, with our big boppers Carlos Pena, Longoria, Crawford, and Upton being pretty much dominated by the Royals hurler.

Like I said before, we have them just where we want them.  Don’t worry.

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Three Keys to the Game

—Rays hitters can’t wait for Greinke to throw them something.  They need to be aggressive.  Last night they could work counts, tonight they cannot.  Greinke throws first pitch strikes.  If you fall behind 0-1 or 0-2 you are going to be in trouble.

—Kazmir needs to keep the Royals hitters on their heels. Throwing lots of first pitch strikes like Greinke does will help with that. 

—The Rays wll have to do the little things to score.  Greinke does not give up runs.  So the Rays will have to utilize their speed more than ever to win this one.

 

Last night was an ugly win.  They count as a win just the same.  However, the Rays cannot hope to get another ugly win tonight.  Tonight they will have to be sharp. 

After all, they are facing one of the best pitchers in the game.

Rays Win Ugly

The All-Star Break was tough.  On all of us.  There was nothing to do!

(This is Daisy taking a nap with her Rays collar on)

Tonight’s game made waiting 4 1/2 days for meaningful baseball totally worth it.

The Rays made a dramatic comeback against the Kansas City Royals tonight, overcoming a 4-run deficit to take an 8-7 win in game one of this suddenly compelling series.

The Rays were led by their typical studs (Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford) and an emerging one (Pat Burrell). 

Our Boys by the Bay went out of their way to lose this one, giving the Royals offense plenty of opportunities to score runs.  If not for their resilience, the Rays would have lost big tonight. 

The Pitching Performances

James Shields was not sharp tonight, giving up 7 runs in 5 1/3 innings.  He threw 105 pitches in his shortest outing since May 14th and only his third start in 20 that he did not go at least 6 innings.  He allowed 11 hits in the contest–this to a Royals offense not known for its hitting.

He had some flashes of dominance, though.  In the bottom of the 2nd inning Shields gave up a leadoff double to Miguel Olivo.  He then induced three straight ground balls, one of which was fielded masterfully by Ben Zobrist to strand Olivo at third and allow no runs. 

It was the bottom of the 3rd that did the most damage.  Shields struggled with his command (I’m sure he’ll say he was rusty, and rightfully so) all night, and in that frame he allowed a two-run single and a three-run home run to Mike Jacobs.  Five runs in all came around to score, and the Rays were in trouble.

Brian Bannister was equally shakey, giving up 4 runs (2 earned) in his 5 innings of work.  He walked 4 and gave up 7 hits.  Obviously the break did some damage to each team’s starter’s control.

Then the fireworks started in Kaufmann stadium.

The Hitters

Pat Burrell (ie the struggling Pat Burrell) took Jamey Wright deep in the 7th, bringing in both he and Zobrist.  That cut the deficit to 7-6. 

Tampa Bay Rays' Pat Burrell(notes), right, celebrates with third base coach Tom Foley after hitting a two-run home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals Friday, July 17, 2009, in Kansas City, Mo.

 In the 8th, the Rays looked dismal, getting caught on two quick outs.  But Carl Crawford–who had a great game–singled to left, bringing up a scuffling Evan Longoria.  Longo had been very selective up to that point in the evening.  Almost to a fault.  He worked several 3-2 counts, only to fly out each time.  He was taking pitches that he typically would park over the left field fence.

Not this time.

He jumped all over fireballer Juan Cruz to rip a huge home run to left field.  The crowd was silent–my house was not!  I celebrated with my Rays as Longo rounded the bases and did his very strange home run dance with Willy Aybar in the dugout.

SIDEBAR–I want to comment on CC really quickly.  He had a great game at the plate, going 3-5 with an RBI and 3 runs scored.  He also had a steal.  But what he did best was keep the pitchers worried.  They continually checked on him, something that at one point caused Juan Cruz to throw a wild pitch.  Cruz worrying about CC also led to Longo getting a FAT fastball down the middle that he parked into the left field bleachers. 

 I’m telling you, this guy is our MVP.

JP Howell did his thing in the 9th, shutting down the Royals in order.  Two groundouts and a strikeout ended what was a very entertaining–and heartstopping–ballgame. 

Took Them Too Lightly

The Rays–and, admittedly, this Rays fan–totally overlooked what is an up-and-coming Royals ballclub.  Instead of bearing down on the Royals pitchers, the Rays appeared a little timid.  Too timid.  They were taking pitches they usually mash, and swinging at poor pitches on 3-2 counts. 

Shields finally got more than his typical 3-run output from his offense, but his poor perfomance put the Rays in position of having to score 8 runs just to have a chance to win. 

This was not the Rays baseball we were used to, and to have success in the second half the Rays must not take teams such as the Royals lightly anymore.

Three Keys

—The Rays needed to be mentally ready.  NOPE.  They were not ready for this game until around the 5th inning.

—The Rays must be selective at the plate.  YEP.  They coaxed four walks from the starter and worked deep counts all night. 

–The Rays must give Shields 4-5 runs.  YEP.  But they needed 8 to win the game.  So this one is kind of a wash.

Moving On

This is one of those garbage wins that, strangely, Joe Maddon loves.  He always says that ugly wins are fine by him.  That his team needs to know how to win ugly games. 

Well, this one was one of the ugliest and best wins of the year.

Let’s go get another one tomorrow.

Baseball Back in Full Swing–Rays Begin the Second Half, PLUS New Stadium Thoughts

        VS

Baseball for the Tampa Bay area has begun again!

Let’s rejoice! 

The Rays will start their second half of the season tonight at Kaufman Stadium as they take on the Kansas City Royals.  This begins a series that, in my opinion, the Rays must have.

Tampa Bay begins this series 6 1/2 games behing Boston for the division lead and 3 1/2 behind New York in the AL East.  Right now, they are the team that is outside looking in and if they want that to change by the time October rolls around, the Rays have got to win–and even sweep–series such as these.

The Rays will see Kansas City 6 times in the next 2 1/2 weeks, so the teams are about to get well acquainted with one another. 

They swept the early-June series from the Royals in impressive fashion–but that was at the Trop. 

Big Series to Win–Especially on the Road

While the Royals have fallen on hard times this season, they do ok at home.  Their record of 22-24 is not terrible for a team that is currently playing .420 baseball.  When you combine their ok home record with the Rays dismal 18-26 road record you can see how this series might sneak up on the Rays if they take it too lightly. 

As I’ve said in an earlier post, the Rays must take these two series against the Royals.  They play many games the rest of the season against the Royals, Orioles, and Blue Jays and must take the majority of those games to keep pace in the East.  That will take the pressure off the games they play against the Red Sox, Yankees, and Tigers.

The Pitching Matchup 

The Rays send James Shields to the mound to face off against the Royals’ Brian Bannister

 

Shields has put together a solid season at 6-6 with a 3.42 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP.  I believe right now he is the Rays’ best starter.  His record could be much better if he could get some run support, however.  The Rays have scored more than 3 runs for James only 8 out of 19 starts.  Hard to get a winning record when your team is not hitting behind you.

Shields was dominant in his last outing against KC, getting the win after giving up only 2 runs in 8 innings and striking out 8.  He gave up only 6 hits in that game. 

Bannister has suffered the same fate as Shields.  He enters the game at 6-7 with a 3.66 ERA and, like Shields, a 1.26 WHIP.  His team has scored more than 3 runs in a game only 7 out of 16 games.  In his last game against the Rays in early June he took the loss after giving up 8 runs in 3 2/3 innings.  He can be touched up, especially by this Rays offense.

Keys to the Game

—This game–and this series–can go in the Rays favor if they make sure they are mentally ready.  How often have we seen teams take on a team they consider inferior only to lose 2 our of 3? 

—Bannister does not give up alot of hits or runs, but he also does not strike out alot of guys and he does walk a fair amount of hitters.  This plays to the Rays strengths!  Rays hitters need to take alot of pitches and be selective.  Singles and doubles will win this one.

The Rays must give Shields 4-5 runs to work with.  While I believe that 3 runs will be enough to win tonight against a fairly anemic Royals offense, why take the chance?  The offense needs to push 4-5 guys across the plate–doing so will guarantee a win. 

The top Rays hitters (Longo, CC, and Pena) have all hit the Royals VERY well, with only Ben Zobrist having trouble with them (.190 average).  That should bode well.

It is great having real baseball back in full swing.

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A Few Thoughts About Our New Proposed Stadium

Alot of people are buzzing today about an article that appeared in the Tampa Tribune (free plug) this morning about the Rays’ possible new stadium. 

I was quite excited to read it and thought I’d throw something into today’s post about it.

Apparently, the intrepid committee (read: joke) of researchers have been looking into the best new spot for the future (never) stadium.

Originally, I thought that the stadium they wanted to build on the water in downtown St. Pete was a great idea.  It would be outdoor with plenty of gizmos put together to keep you from feeling the killer heat of the Florida sun (from the sail across the top of the stadium to individually cooled seats).  I thought the location was terrible, but beautiful, and I thought outdoor baseball would be fun to experience in Florida.

You can see from an artist’s rendering, it would be awesome.  Somewhat similar to AT&T stadium in San Francisco.

They even did a promotion at the site where Carlos Pena hit balls from the proposed home plate into the water over the future right field.  It was kind of neat to watch on the news, and everybody got a kick out of it.

Then the craziness started with people complaining about this and that.  The idea has pretty much now been scrapped.

What a shame.

Now the committee is coming up with new spots, one of which is about 10 minutes from my home and which I hadn’t heard about until thi s morning.  In fact, I am arguing that I “called it” (I did!) while driving around a few weeks ago and saying that the best place for the stadium would be right by our football stadium and the Yankees’ minor league stadium

The researchers say that that spot is ideal because it is near the most people.  It also has several malls nearby, plenty of parking, and is accessible by highways and major roads.  The downtown St. Pete area has none of these benefits. 

It might get scrapped again, but I’m hoping that this will be its…. 

 What?  No good? 

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?