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.
So, the Home Run Derby is going on right now.
I just think that this is a great event. Can’t help it. I know that some people whine about it being meaningless or messing up guys’ swing, but I think it is great entertainment and I love watching it each summer.
Maybe I love it because guys’ I have rooted for have taken part in the derby over the years. Sammy Sosa, Andre Dawson, George Bell, Carlos Pena, and, of course, my favorite player of all time, Ryne Sandberg.
So I’ve had lots to cheer for over the years.
Who Ya Pickin’?
I decided to chronicle the derby as it goes along. Why? Mainly for my own fun rather than anybody’s real entertainment.
Here are my picks to win it:
I went with 3 guys just because it’s my blog and I can do what I want.
Chris Young Wow, this guy did not look comfortable at all. He hit one nice dinger, and that was it. I think he has a ton of talent and is going to be in more All-Star Games in the future, but this was a dismal display.
Matt Holliday Wow, that was awesome! He had 9 outs and 1 dinger. Then he proceeded to fire up the launch pad! Wow. He only ended up with 5, but one of those homers was 497 feet!! He is in second place right now. We’ll see what happens.
Miguel Cabrera He really launched some long balls. Wow. He sure showed what kind of a hitter he is: complete. I loved the long ball in the water that Big Papi said, “In the water…you see that?” Funny. Overall, a great performance.
Corey Hart put on a great display in Round 1. Honestly, I did not think he would do well at all. He blasted 13 homers and boy, oh boy, were they long! He had a 464-foot shot that was just majestic. Man, was it annoying to listen to A-rod talk while Swisher was hitting. I do not respect that guy at all, and to hear him try to talk about respect for the game makes me want to puke. Hanley Ramirez was great. I have to admit, though, after his disrespect of the game earlier this season, I was rooting against him. He sure showed me.
So, all I’ve got left is Miggy. I suck.
Miguel Cabrera Damn. This has been great to watch, but none of my guys did anything! Right now my wife is rubbing it in that she chose Big Papi and that he might win. There is a foot rub riding on it! Miggy really let me down. Don’t know who to root for now. Maybe Corey Hart.
Ramirez looks good. Wow. He is really surprising me. Not the biggest surprise, though. Corey Hart’s first round was something else. I’m rooting for Hart to move on to the finals and win it all. (Wow, Hart really stunk it up!)
Big Papi did not disappoint, that’s for sure. Man, that guy just launched moon shot after moon shot. Incredible. Ramirez just had nothing left in the tank (good!) and he could not find a rhythm in that final round. What I thought was pretty cool was watching Ortiz interact with his kid. It was really sweet.
Well, I’ve got a footrub to administer. I’m a loser…
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.
The Rays are now entering the final 6 weeks of the season.
They haven’t done so badly in the previous portion of the year, winning 67 games and finding themselves in the wild card hunt. While there are many teams out there within 7 games of first place of either their division or the wild card, the fact is that their seasons are pretty much over because of, oh, REALITY.
The Rays, though, are still going strong. Coming off of a 6-3 home stand, their confidence might be as high as it’s ever been.
They’re going to need everything they can muster in order to push through this brutal final portion of the season and make it to the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Strong Pitching Ahead
The Rays will find themselves taking on some of the better pitchers and pitching staffs between now and the end of the year.
It begins tonight against Roy Halladay.
It’s like Indiana Jones and snakes.
“Why does it always have to be Halladay?”
We haven’t fared that badly against him, but he did get the best of us the last time out.
Regardless, the Rays will be taking on many pitchers of his ilk in the final 6 weeks.
We are guaranteed to face Justin Verlander IN Detroit this weekend (he pitches tonight).
New York will more than likely throw CC Sabathia and/or AJ Burnett in one if not both of the final series we have with the Yankees.
Boston will have Josh Beckett on the mound in at least one of the final series we have with them.
Texas’ strong rotation will get another shot at us–with revenge on their minds and a playoff spot in sight, mind you–when we face them the final time in Arlington.
It’ll be questionable whether or not the Rays hitters will be able to weather the constantly strong pitching they will seemingly have to face in practically every series from now to the end of the season.
The Bad News: The Road
Like the dystopic novel from Cormac McCarthy (a good read, if not depressing; check it out), the Rays will have to travel frightening pathways away from home sweet Trop for 21 of the final 39 games this season.
Their road record thus far?
On those trips they will go to Toronto, Detroit, New York, Boston, and Texas. I don’t know if you noticed, but those are all teams that are clamoring for a spot in the final 8.
They ain’t going to be easy to beat.
The Rays have won 67 games thus far this year. If they have a realistic time in those final 21 games, we can probably expect 9-11 wins.
If we take the mid-point of that projection, then that would give the Rays 77 wins.
However, we have to figure that winning 10 of 21 games against competition such as that might be tougher than we think. And the Rays have had their issues on the road, obviously.
The Good News: Home
(yeah, it’s a stretch–so sue me!)
Unfortunately, the Rays only have 18 games left at the Trop this year.
And, double unfortunately, they will spend most of those 18 games facing playoff-type teams in Boston, Detroit, and New York.
The Rays record at home?
The most wins of any team in the majors!
And when you figure that during “crunch time” the Rays will play 12 of their final 15 games in the friendly confines of Orange Juice Central, then we should be feeling pretty good.
I can see our guys having the carrot of a playoff spot dangling there to be taken as they fight for it in front of 30,000+ every night in St. Pete.
It can be oh so sweet.
But they cannot ruin it on the road.
The Rays begin battle tonight sitting just 3 games behind the Boston Red Sox for the wild card spot in the AL. Texas is just 2 games in front of the Rays, effectively making this a three-team race for the final space.
Our Boys in Blue will face those two teams 9 more times before it is all said and done.
You couldn’t ask for more.
If things go well, those 9 games will be some of the biggest of the season, by far.
But things HAVE to go well on the road, that is the key.
If they don’t, then we’ll be hoping to play spoiler for teams we could have, and should have, beaten.
So let’s buckle in and get ready for a fun ride down a bumpy road.
The best things in life ain’t free, eh?
Ah, well. The Rays did not make any moves at the trade deadline. Despite two glaring needs, the team was unable to do that trade that might have helped to shore up some weaknesses for the final playoff push.
I don’t know that moves HAD to be made. This team stood pat last year and was able to utilize the huge talent it had to make it to October. This year’s iteration of the Rays is not much different, and should be able to ride its talent–both here in the majors and in the minors–to a division crown or wildcard berth.
It ain’t gonna be easy, though.
Even though I can’t look at any moves the Rays made, I wanted to take a look at the multitude of moves made yesterday and grade how each move should help each team.
Deal: Red Sox trade for Victor Martinez
Analysis: Jason Varitek has not been what the Sox have needed this year. Sure, he’s led the team as an old grizzled veteran should, but little more than that. Add in the fact that Mike Lowell’s hip is not long for this season and you have a need at catcher and first base. Well, the Red Sox filled those needs with the addition of Martinez. One of the more coveted players available at the deadline, the versatile Martinez might just be the piece that complete the playoff puzzle for the Sox
Deal: White Sox trade lots of young arms for Jake Peavy
Analysis: Initially this looks like a great deal. The White Sox were able to rekindle interest in moving Peavy late Friday (interest that waned early in the season) and finally consummated the deal. Why Peavy would want to pitch in hitter-friendly US Cellular Field in a new league is beyond me, but he had his reasons to waive his no trade clause. The Sox got a pitcher who is not ready to pitch now and might not be ready for several more weeks. The Padres got a plethora of arms that should help them long term.
Deal: Twins acquire Orlando Cabrera
Analysis: I don’t like Cabrera. Let’s get that out of the way. I don’t like the way he tried to make some lame point in the playoffs last year against the Rays. I am glad Grant Balfour struck him out, though. Why do I say all this pointless blather? Because this is a perfect move for the Twins. And if I’m saying that with the way I feel, then you know it is good. The Twinkies needed a strong shortstop, and they got it. He will hit 2nd in the lineup ahead of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer and will help that offense really get going. And his defense will be welcome in the Metrodome–especially if you saw the bumbling of Brendon Harris in last night’s game.
Deal: Tigers get Jarrod Washburn
Analysis: Washburn was not going to be able to help the Mariners make the playoffs this year. And he was going to ask for more money than the M’s would be willing to pay him after the end of this season. For them, this is a great move. For the Tigers, this move makes sense. They will now have a solid 1-3 in the rotation. Plus, the move enabled them to keep pace with the moves the Sox and Twins made within the division. But can Washburn keep up his torrid pitching? I don’t think so.
Deal: Braves and Red Sox exchange 1B: Adam Laroche and Casey Kotchman
Analysis: The Braves have fallen out of love with the guy they acquired for Mark Teixeira not that long ago. Why? They want more home runs. Kotchman has just 6 this year. But the guy is hitting .283 and plays a decent 1B. Laroche, on the other hand, struggles to hit .250 and only has 13 dingers this year. Each guy has only around 40 RBIs. This is kind of a non-deal–much like the Jeff Francoeur for Ryan Church deal earlier. What are the Braves thinking?
Grade: Braves–C Red Sox–B
Deal: Marlins trade for the Nats’ Nick Johnson
Analysis: Everybody seems to love Nick Johnson. I don’t get it. He’s a marginal hitter, and ok fielder, and he might actually be slower than our own Pat Burrell. What’s the deal? When the Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez was told of the trade, he reportedly pumped his fist and yelled “YES!” Why? This might help the Marlins shore up their infield by moving Jorge Cantu to 3B and allowing Johnson to man 1B, but that’s about it. But, the Fish did not give up much for him so…
Deal: Rockies get Joe Beimel from the Nats
Analysis: Make fun of the Pirates all you want, at least it seems they are getting a direction in mind for the franchise. The Nationals don’t have a clue. They dumped a solid lefty bullpen guy in Beimel to get two youngsters–one of which, I read, is recovering from surgery. Ugh. This deal should help the Rox, but not that much.
Deal: Dodgers send minor leaguer 3B Josh Bell to O’s for closer George Sherrill
Analysis: I’m looking at both sides of the coin on this one. The Dodgers acquire a solid closer who has been more and more consistent as the season has gone on. Thus, right now the Dodgers have one of the more potent 8th- and 9th-inning guys out there. The Orioles got a guy I hadn’t heard much about, but about whom I read is something special at 3B. Melvin Mora won’t be long in an O’s uni, so getting Bell, who might get a callup sometime next year, plays out perfectly for Baltimore. This team is going to be pretty exciting come next season.
Grade: D’s–B+ O’s–B
As with any trade that went down in the last few days, we will have to wait and see how things go. Of course, the Cardinals have gotten immediate returns on their move as Matt Holliday has TORN IT UP since his arrival in St. Louis.
Lots of the deals above included young minor leaguers. Their value is not entirely quanitfiable just yet, but it may be sooner rather than later.
Either way, Friday was lots of fun.
Even if the Rays did do nothing.
It is time for fans of baseball and good guys in baseball to step up and vote in Carlos Pena.
In an era when it seems it can simply be assumed that a slugger “juiced” at one time or another, Carlos Pena stands as a player who has always gone about it in the right way. He has bounced around from town to town before finally finding his home in Tampa Bay and giving the fans something to scream about.
Without him there is no World Series last year.
Without him there is no playoffs this year.
Ignore the inordinate amount of K’s and his fairly low batting average. His OPS is one of the tops in the league and his slugging % and on base % are solid.
And if you want to ignore the numbers, then just look at the smile. The guy loves and respects baseball.
Ok, maybe not that smile….
There’s a reason for everybody to vote Pena.
Red Sox fans, he played for you guys for a little bit. Get him in!
West Coast folks, he was in Oakland and Texas for a spell. Get him in!
Midwest people, he played quite a while in Detroit. Get him in!
I don’t know that there will be many guys who will cherish being a part of the All-Star team more than Carlos Pena.
Vote now and vote often.