Tagged: 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.