Tagged: Matt Garza

Hey…It’s the REAL Rays

 

Finally the Tampa Bay Rays showed up in the 2010 ALDS.

Through Games 1 and 2 there was some team on the field playing against the big league Texas Rangers, but it surely wasn’t the Rays.

This imposter team had put up one measley run and only 8 hits in two games while giving up 11 runs AT HOME, no less.

Apparently, the REAL Rays were waiting in Arlington, Texas.

Want proof?

6 runs.

11 hits.

0 errors.

2 home runs.

1 W.

Now THAT’s Rays baseball.

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Emotions Were High

Around my home, the stress and worry levels were really high.  We were wondering if we were about to see the final game of the Rays season.  The final game of Carl Crawford’s career in a Rays uni. 

There’s going to be at least one more.

What was great to see was while MY emotions were out of whack, the Rays’ were not.

There was Matt Garza calmly rebounding from an early run given up to retire Ranger after Ranger. 

There was Joe Maddon keeping his temper in check, even after a few blown calls by the umpires tonight (seriously, blue, you didn’t see Elvis Andrus come off the bag on his stolen base attempt while Jason Bartlett had the tag on him?  Seriously?). 

This game was tight until the 9th, so the cooler head was going to prevail.

The cooler head and the guy with the bigger bat.

Luckily, that was the Rays on both account.

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Cameraman Longo

What was awesome to see was the Rays in the dugout messin’ around as they did all season long. 

Watching Evan Longoria with a waterbottle holder on his shoulder, mimicking a cameraman’s pose, “film” the goings-on of the 9th inning.  The guys around him were cracking up and suddenly everything was loose. 

The Rays were back.

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The Rays Were Clutch

There were many events in this game that epitomized the Rays season, without which the Rays would be headed back to St. Pete with their heads held low.

–Carl Crawford had two big catches in the game, keeping the Rangers in check and preventing run-starting rallies.

–John Jaso had the biggest hit of the game in the 8th against the Rangers’ closer.  Why isn’t this guy starting every game?

–The slumping and sub-Mendoza-line Carlos Pena took one down the right field line to drive in pinch runner Desmond Jennings with the game-tying run.  Then Pena knocked one over the fence in the 9th to ice the game away.

–In addition to CC’s defense, Crawford hit a big home run in the 9th to put the Rays up 4-2 and take the pressure off of Pena.  The loss of pressure made it just that much easier for the big first baseman to take one over the fence.

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3 Keys to a W

#1 Emotion–The Rays kept theirs in check AND loosened up the dugout in the process.  Look out Rangers.

#2 Hit–11 hits and 6 runs make it clear that the bats were warmed up tonight.

#3 Patience–Colby Lewis did not walk a whole lot of guys this season.  He walked 5 Rays tonight.  That helped to put more pressure on the young righty, and it helped the Rays to a W.

          3 out of 3 Keys Turned = W

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Game 4 is tomorrow.

How will it go?

If the Rays performance today is any indication, the Rangers have alot to worry about.  They needed to put these guys away today. 

They didn’t.

The Rays can be really streaky, and the losing streak appears to be over.

It’s Do or Die Time

This could be it.

Or not.

Like all Rays fans, this Saturday is not quite a day for resting.  We have been on the edge of our seats since the final out of the disasterous Game 2 in St. Pete when the Rays went down with a whimper, 6-1.

So the anticipation is about to reach a fever pitch.

(Good movie, by the way, even if it IS about the Red Sox)

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The Pitching

Joe Maddon will trot out our last gasp in the form of righty Matt Garza

This guy should give the Rays a great chance to take a necessary step towards Game 5.  He has had great success in the playoffs, winning the ALCS MVP against the Red Sox in 2008, but the pressure will never have been greater for the guy.

They will go up against Colby Lewis (a guy who helped me to my second fantasy baseball championship this season, by the way).  Lewis was a game under .500 (12-13) on the season, but his ERA was at 3.72.

What worries me most is that he struck out nearly 200 hitters (196).  That bodes ill for the Rays, who led the league in Ks.

The only number that matters today, though, is runs.  The Rays need to give up one less than the Rangers.

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The Lineup

Thanks, Joe.

The Rays will trot out the type of lineup that has helped them win 96 games this season. 

    Jaso

    Zobrist

    CC

    Longo

    Joyce

    Johnson

    Pena

    Upton

    Bartlett

I’m happy with this lineup, no matter the handed-ness of the guy on the opponents’ mound.  These guys know how to look for good pitches and how to work the count. 

Upton and Bartlett at the bottom of the lineup help Joe’s boys get some production from the latter third of lineup leading back to Jaso at the top.

I love it.

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3 Keys to a W

1–Emotion.  It might be said too much, but Matty needs to keep his mind in the game.  He dominated the Rangers at the Trop this year, but he was roughed up in Texas.  That can’t happen.  But it can’t be just Garza who keeps emotion in check.  Hear me, Joe?

2–Hit.  ‘Nuff said.  8 hits in two games stinks.

3–Be Patient.  Honestly, Lewis does not walk alot of guys (65 this year).  But the Rays know how to walk.  They have to get him to miss the zone throughout the game and they have to get to the Rangers’ ‘pen early.

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I don’t know how this is going to turn out. 

Like most of the country, though, I know that we haven’t seen the best of the Rays yet in this series.  It would be a shame for them to go out of the postseason without showing MLB fans just how good this team really is.

I’ll be on the edge of my seat throughout the game.

Nervous for sure.

It Was Meant To Be: Garza Says No, No, No…

I’m on vacation.  So there is no way I should have seen this game.

It was meant to be, then, considering the Rays happened to be on ESPN as a nationally televised game.

It was meant to be that I happened to be in a golf club while the game was playing.

Enough about me, though. 

Matty did it.

He did it.

After the ridicule that has come with being no-hit 3 times in two years, Matt Garza lifted the Rays from mediocrity to superiority.

Matt said after the game that his mechanics felt off.  He said that he felt terrible while warming up.

Yet he went out there and faced the minimum (his lone walk being erased by a double play) while dominating the entire time.  While his fastball did not exceed 93 mph pretty much all night long, his command was impeccable.  He was placing that fastball on the outside part of the plate throughout his 120 pitches, dropping in a few curve balls here and there for good measure. 

The Tigers’ hitters did not know what to expect.  Take the 9th inning, for instance.

The first two hitters fell behind 0-1 after Garza caused them to foul off fastballs on the outer part of the plate each time.  However, when Austin Jackson came up with 2 outs in the 9th, Garza dropped a curve on him. 

The pitch might have missed, but the tone of the at bat was set.  Nobody knew what was going to be thrown next, or where it would end up.

Credit the execution to Matt Garza.  But be sure to give props to Kelly Shoppach for calling a game that was darn near perfection.

All of the offense Matt would need came off the bat of Matt Joyce, who knocked a grand slam in the unfamiliar role of DH.  In fact, before the game started, the newspapers were talking about how Joyce was slightly uncomfortable in that hitter’s role. 

It was meant to be.

After Garza’s last start against Cleveland, he got plenty of credit for tossing 1-hit ball.

He was one hit better than that tonight.

Let’s face it, it was meant to be.

Nice job Matty.

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.

Rays/Red Sox/MLB Late Night Musings

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.

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Game 1

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.

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Game 2

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:

     Yanks    70%

     Sox       20%

     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.

Colorado Rockies Starter Ubaldo Jimenez Delivers To The Atlanta Braves

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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.

Five Battles to Watch for in Spring Training

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:

DH

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.

 

2B

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.

 

RF

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.

 

5th starter

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.