Tagged: More Cowbell

Not Really in the Spring Swing

I’ll admit that I am not entirely happy about the Rays start so far this spring.

1 Win

4 Losses

1 Tie

That ain’t exactly a baseball beginning to howl about. 

I understand that it is spring and that teams are not working hard to win games.  They are simply trying to “get their work in,” as the saying goes.

I get it.

But if both teams are not trying to win, and if both teams are just getting work in, then why is it that the Rays seem to be on the losing end of 4 out of 6 games? 

This offseason is one of the most memorable in the history of the Rays franchise.  They brought in prime time players (maybe PAST prime time players…) and lost parts of the playoff foundation.  Heck, they lost major parts of the franchise’s heart, but that’s another rant…

I think that I–along with most Rays fans–were hoping for some kind of explosive start to the spring that would take away the hurt of losing guys like Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Matt Garza. 

It hasn’t happened.

But that’s ok. 

Baseball’s back, right?  Spring has begun.  Plenty to whine about.  Plenty to cheer about.  Plenty to write about.

It feels good to feel bad!

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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.

ALDS Dud

What a great day.  It was amazing.

What a horrible day.  It was amazingly terrible.

It was that kind of a day.  Exhilerating and frustrating.  A sea of conflicting emotions.

The Rays took it on the chin today against the Texas Rangers, 5-1.  They deserved the loss in every possible way.  They came out lethargic on the mound, lazy in the field, and uninspired at the plate.

David Price was clearly outdueled by Cliff Lee, as Davey gave up runs in four consecutive innings.  Forget about the unearned runs, Price looked as bad as the 5-1 loss did.  He labored through his outing and ended up giving up 2 home runs (Nelson Cruz crushed one while Bengie Molina put one in the left field bleachers as well) and no chance to his fellow mates.

It isn’t as if he was helped in the field, though.

Evan Longoria had several poor throws to first base, one of which skipped by a terrible Carlos Pena for a key error in the game.  Another throw from Jason Bartlett also got by Pena, eventually leading to a run.

At the plate, sheesh.

The Rays struck out 13 times. 

13!!! 

In a playoff game, no less.

Pena had three of those K’s, one that came looking early in the game when the Rays had the bases loaded.  BJ Upton and Rocco Baldelli struck out twice each to help lead the team to their Game 1 loss.

There are alot of things that make me angry about this game. 

I’m going to remember the fun I had, though.  I loved cheering on my boys.  I loved hanging out with my wife and my buddies during our pre-game tailgate.  Those things are what I’ll take away from today.

I certainly hope that the Rays will take some positives away from today as well and find a way to get a big W during tomorrow’s inexplicable daytime playoff game.  Thanks MLB.

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Keys to the Game

#1 David Price needs to give 6 strong innings.  That surely did not happen.  Price might have gotten little support at the plate and in the field, but he brought alot of the grief on himself.  The team paid for it.

#2 Make Lee work.  Nope, no good there.  He cruised today.  At times it looked like the Rays hitters were swinging at anything that was thrown, forget whether it was near the plate or not.  They managed 5 hits against the guy all day long.   

#3 Capitalize with a capital C.  Again, no good.  They had runners in scoring position all day long.  Early in the game, the Rays had the bases loaded with one out.  Pena struck out looking and Baldelli looked terrible in his inning-ending K.

          0/3 Keys Turned = LOSS

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Maddon’s Lineup Decisions…

I’m getting tired, so I’ll keep this part short.

What the hell, Joe?

Barlett leading off?  He hasn’t done that much over the last week or so at all.  So why do it now?  I know he hits lefties fairly well, but Bartlett hasn’t been right all season long. 

Baldelli starting?  Why?  A few months ago he was an advisor with the team.  A month ago he was at Single A.  And now he starts Game 1?  I don’t get it.  And you bat him above Zobrist, who you hit 7th?

It was yet another strange lineup put forth by an unconventional manager.  If it worked, nobody would have cared.  But it didn’t. 

C’mon Joe.

 

Catching Up

That title has so many meanings. 

First, it is good to be back.  Vacation was great.  A week at a resort ain’t bad no matter what.

But, obviously, I have missed alot.  Let me check that, I have not written about alot.  I have missed nothing. 

Second, it seems that “catchin’ up” is exactly what the Rays have been doing.  They fought back in this tough division to take the lead by a game, only to fall back out of it before finding themselves back in the thick of it with a few strong games of late.

Here are some of the things I have seen over these last weeks.

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Rays Resilience

The Rays have not given up on this season at all.  As I mentioned, they took the division lead a week or so ago, despite a 7-game losing streak.  Then, just as soon as they got the lead, they relinquished it to the Yanks again. 

Even though they currently sit in 2nd place in the division, they could easily have packed it in.  They overcame a mini-losing streak in the last few weeks before getting a nice start from Jeremy Hellickson his last time out (before today).  Then they seemed to hit rock bottom, being shut out by the last place Orioles on Friday.  Now they have won 2 in a row (again, behind a strong start from Hellickson) and find themselves wrapping up the weekend in the thick of it once again.

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One Game Out

The Rays are sitting just one game behind the Yanks. 

They are heading into a very difficult series with the AL West division leading Texas Rangers.  There will be no easy wins there.  The Rangers are as good as it gets, and the Rays will have to be on top of their game if they want to get closer than they already are.

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Hellickson is Awesome

How good is this kid?

His win today pushed his record to 3-0.  He has given up almost no hits in his starts; specifically, he has not given up more than 3 hits in any of his three starts.  And he is still a kid.  He has stopped any bad baseball played by the Rays to inspire them to wins in each of his starts this sesaon. 

In other words, he is exactly what a contending team needs down the stretch.

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DL?  What DL?

You would have thought that the Rays would have faltered when 19 wins of their starting rotation left at the exact same time with shoulder injuries. 

I know that I was very worried when Jeff Nieman and Wade Davis went on the DL together.  However, Andy Sonnanstine and Hellickson have not missed a beat, pitching solid baseball over these last few weeks to bridge the gap to the two starters’ return from their respective ailments.

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What’ll Joe Do?

Finally, there are some really important decisions Joe Maddon will have to make in the coming days.

First, he will have to decide what to do once Nieman and Davis return from the DL.  Does he replace a hot Hellickson and solid Sonnanstine or does he ride the hot hand and send the incumbant starters to a “rehab” in the minors?  You would think that Sonny’s move to the ‘pen is a foregone conclusion–he’s a great spot starter, but it is tough to rely on him longterm–but you really don’t want to send down Hellickson.  Tough one.

The other decision will be what to do when Carlos Pena returns from his plantar faciatis issue.  Maddon has already said that nobody from the bullpen will be sent down.  So, does that mean Dan Johnson’s days are numbered?  They might be.  He has a ******** .405 OBP, but his average (.125) is pitiful, even when compared with Pena’s.

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Caught up.  Now let’s get ahead.

Rays Streakin’ Heading into Break

We’re Streakin’!!!!

I don’t know how today’s game will go. 

What I do know is that over the course of July, the Rays have been playing as well as they have all season long.

And that is saying something.

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FLEX SCHEDULE

Heading into Interleague play, back in June, the Rays sat with a supberb record of 32-12.  They were 20 games over .500 and playing the best baseball in the league.  They were the talk of the league and considered a shoo-in for the playoffs. 

Then disaster hit.

The Rays became human.

They started to lose at a Devil Rays-esque pace.  Over the course of 30 games the Rays won only 12, falling out of first place in the AL East, out of the wildcard spot in the AL, and into the spot they finished in last season: 3rd.

It was heartbreaking.

Then something weird happened.

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FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!!

In the final game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, BJ Upton pulled a, well, BJ Upton, and loafed after a ball in the gap. 

After being called out by Evan Longoria on his lack of hustle, BJ threw a temper tantrum. 

Upton was removed from the starting lineup for the next handful of games, something that BJ and manager Joe Maddon said was because of injury, but the rest of the fans with any baseball acumen knew was an unpublished suspension.

And the Rays took off.

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BACK ON PACE

Since the fight, the Rays have gone 9-3 against some of the better competition in the league, the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox, and a team they SHOULD beat, the Cleveland Cav-, um, Indians.

A win today will move the Rays to 54-34, right back to where they were about a little over a month ago. 

20 games over .500 again.

They would have the second best record in the AL and (possibly) get to within 1 game of first place, behind the New York Yankees.

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Jeff Nieman is on the mound today.  He is 16-4 since last July.  Pitchers cannot be much better than he has been the last year. 

The Cleveland Indians are, well, a team that is on the downturn, let’s say.

20 games over .500 would look pretty good going into a mid-season rest.

How much longer could this streak of good play go?

We’ll see…

Rays Awaiting All-Star Selections…Me Too!

All those weeks of voting. 

All that repetitive SUBMITTING and REFRESHING of your screen (25 times per visit).

All that hoping.

And Sunday at noon we will all find out if it was worth it.

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Last Year’s Game Was Truly Classic

As you know, TBS will announce the All-Star rosters Sunday at high noon, and I, for one, am a little nervous.

I am sure you can guess why.  The Rays never get alot of love from the Midsummer Classic.  It has been rare to find more than the one obligatory Ray on the All-Star roster each summer.

Last year was different, though, as the Rays had a ******** 7 players put on the roster. 

Of course, Rays manager Joe Maddon was in charge of rounding out the rosters after the fan vote.  But you would have gotten alot of beef if you tried to mount an argument that any of the Rays in last year’s group was undeserving.

(click the links below to see my thoughts on these stories last July–then again, I am sure you have better things to do, so…)

And who can forget the fun that came with the Final Man Vote?  Sure, Carlos Pena did not win the vote (Brandon Inge did), but he eventually got in due to an injury. 

And what do ya know, a Ray won the game’s MVP award.

American League All-Star Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Rays robs a home run from National League All-Star Brad Hawpe of the Colorado Rockies during the 2009 MLB All-Star Game at Busch Stadium on July 14, 2009 in St Louis, Missouri.

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Encore, Encore!!

So what are the Rays going to do for an encore?

Well, first of all, Joe Maddon more than likely will not be managing the AL side.  So that might mean that 7 Rays will not make the game.

That’s fair.  7 is alot.

However, I think that the Rays should certainly get at least 4 All Stars for this year’s game.  There are 4 guys who are very deserving and have earned their spot.

They are:

Evan Longoria

(voted in as a starter)

.292, 12 HR, 55 RBI, 12 SB

 

Carl Crawford

(at last check, was being voted in as a starter–cross those fingers!)

.318, 60 Runs Scored, 29 SB

 

Rafael Soriano

(not many relievers have been as dominant as he has)

2-0, 19 Saves, 1.57 ERA, 1 Blown Save

 

David Price

(he SHOULD be the starter of the game–who else has been as good?)

11-4, 2.92 ERA, 90 K, 1.20 WHIP

I think that John Jaso (has come on like gangbusters after being called up) and Reid Brignac (the AL’s leading pinch hitter) might get some consideration, but it is a snowball’s chance that they would make it.

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Let’s CC What Happens

As I said, 4 Rays in the game should be a given.  But Rays fans know how it works. 

No respect=Few players in the game

But the team has had a solid first half of the season, even if they have faltered as of late.  That should translate to increased respect and, hopefully, increased numbers in the game.

No matter what, I am really hoping that Carl Crawford will get into the game as a starter.  I am confident that if he relinquished his lead as a starter that the AL manager will still choose him as a reserve. 

But the longtime Rays left fielder has never made the game as a starter, and this would be a perfect way to cap his career as a Ray, should things not work out the way most Rays fans want them to and Carl leaves the team at the end of the season.

High noon.  See ya there.