Things seem to be blowing up a big in MoTown.
It isn’t end-of-the world type stuff, but it sure feels bad.
Today’s game seems indicative of a team that is losing that killer instinct that playoff teams must have.
The Rays had this one wrapped up.
Then the Tigers unwrapped it.
Jeff Nieman had just completed 7 solid innings. His performance paired with Saturday’s game from David Price gave the Rays back-to-back 7+ inning, quality start outings in Detroit–not the easiest place to win.
While there were runners on, the Rays still had a 3-1 lead and were ready to hand the game over to our awesome Aussie, Grant Balfour.
He got two guys out.
It was the third one that was a little tricky.
Placido Polanco teed off and launched one over the wall to give the Tigers the 4-3 advantage. Fernando Rodney made it hold up in the 9th.
No, it wasn’t a 9th-inning wild pitch, but it was just as jolting.
Aren’t these games the ones we used to win?
Good Starts, Bad Finishes
Today’s game seems to fit in well with the way the Rays have played recently.
Sure, the starting has been somewhat spotty, but it is the relieving that is killing us. And I thought that the bullpen was one of our strong suits in recent weeks.
Today it was Balfour.
Wednesday it was old reliable, JP Howell.
I know we’re talking about two games here, but these are two games that the Rays HAD to have.
Instead, these two wins were transformed into losses, making the Rays playoff squad slowly looking like they are transforming into also-rans.
The Rays came into the last 7 games having gone 6-1 in their previous 7 games.
Things were good. Really good.
Our guys were starting to get hot just when they needed to and no team in the league wanted to play them. They were a playoff team. Taking the wild card was just a formality.
Then something happened when Texas shut us out on a Sunday.
Since then we are 3-4.
What is worse is that up to last Sunday we were in the wild card hunt. We had narrowed the gap to 3-3.5 games.
The Rays stand 5 full games behind the Red Sox in the wild card race, and 2.5 behind the Rangers.
October might be a mere 4 weeks or so away, but it has never felt so far out of reach.
I read the recent MLB.com article about Scott Kazmir and how he felt about being with the Angels. It was a nice fluff piece profiling the newest left coast acquisition.
He sounded happy. He sounded excited. He sounded like he had already forgotten about his time in St. Pete.
When he reference the Rays, he did so to springboard into what he thought his current team could do.
“I got a taste of it last year. You want to go all the way. The Angels are a team that can do it year in and year out. It says a lot about the organization.”
Maybe it says alot about our organization too.
Tonight our favorite lefty (all respect to D. Price, but that title still belongs to Kaz) took the bump to show that he was all healed up.
Recall that Scott Kazmir left the team in late May (22nd to be exact) with a strained right quad. After a few fairly successful rehab stints he returned to great fanfare to take part in the latest edition of the Citrus Series.
It went well.
What little of it there was to see.
One cannot overlook the strong command that Kaz showed tonight. He threw 92 pitches, 61 of them for strikes. He struck out 5 while walking only 1 and giving up a mere 4 hits. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t pitched in the month of June. While he did not receive a decision in the game (the Boys in Blue pulled out a patented walk-off sacfly job), he played a huge part in getting the Rays six games over .500.
But was tonight truly successful?
Part of the reason for concern with Kazmir this season (and last season) was his high pitch count which often led to early exits from games. Despite his newfound health, he still chucked 92 pitches and exited after only five innings.
Perhaps that was just knocking the rust off after being on the shelf for so long.
Rust or no, Kazmir did tonight what he has done the last two years. Give us five solid innings, then fade into the background.
No doubt the Rays, or any team for that matter, need its starters to take the game into the 6th and 7th innings. Especially when that starter’s stuff is as electric as Kaz’s was tonight. But getting to the 6th or 7th inning has been a struggle of monumental proportions for Kazmir, and it is starting to become more and more worrisome.
In nine starts this season, Kaz has gotten into the 6th or 7th innings only four times. FOUR TIMES!
Looking back over his last three years (including this year) Kazmir has been trending in the wrong direction as far as his ability to take games deep.
In 2007 Kazmir went into the 6th or 7th inning 24/34 starts (71% of the time).
In 2008 he went that deep 14/24 starts (52% of the time).
This year? He’s gone that far in a game 4/10 starts (40% of the time).
If you watched the game tonight–or any of his starts the last two years, actually–you see what the great Joe Magrane geniusly pointed out: Scotty doesn’t miss many bats. Foul ball after foul ball plague Kaz’s starts, and while he does get his strike outs, they come at a cost.
Tonight the Rays used four relievers…in a win…with each of the four pitching a full inning. Thankfully, “Big Game” James gave the team 6 2/3 innings (96 pitches, by the way) last night. While the Rays used four relievers in that game as well, it was in 1/3- or 2/3-inning stints.
The bullpen has to great affinity for the longhorn lefty. They know they will get plenty of work in a Scotty-started ballgame. The recently summoned Chad Bradford got into a game right away tonight.
Granted, Kazmir has never been a complete game guy. You have to go back to June 6, 2008 to find the last game he went 8 innings and July 3, 2006 to find his last complete game. But isn’t that the biggest thing preventing him from becoming a true ace?
It is obvious the fans love him. This blog is a Kaz fan. But counting on him to give 5 innings on a good night and 6 innings on an exceptional night is no way for a #2 starter to be acting.
For the Rays to do some damage and reach October again they need their version of Kid K to start missing some bats and start pushing his starts into the latter parts of ballgames. The Rays all-time leader in strikeouts and wins has a no-ceiling level of talent. He is undoubtedly one of the better lefties out there and has provided this team with plenty of success.
But it sure would be neat to watch the final pitch of the ballgame come from the hand of the guy who is still the Bay’s favorite lefty.
Indeed, the Kaz is back.
Photo credit to TBO.com.