Tagged: Toronto Blue Jays

A Rays Saturday Night

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While not entirely rested from the debacle that was Wednesday night’s trip to see the Charlotte Stone Crabs play in the FSL championship game (post forthcoming), I still ventured forth to the ol’ Trop to catch some big league action Saturday night. 

It was worth it.

It was Matt Garza figurine night, and, strangely, the real Garza was on the mound pitching. 

(I believe it to be much more fun to watch Matty on the mound in person than on the tv primarily because you see far less spit emitting from his mouth when you are sitting 30 rows away.)

I’ve never done a post where I include pics of a trip to a ballgame, so I hope that this is effective.  I have seen many of your posts so I’ll be pretty much imitating the mix of pic and story.

It was Hispanic Heritage night at the Trop and there were all things latino in attendance from mariachi bands to maraccas to beautiful Latin Ladies parading around the stadium. 

DSC00772.JPGThroughout the game players were announced alternatively in English and Spanish, which was different and, therefore, kind of neat.

I bought a few things at the team store (lots of clearance stuff): a World Series hoodie–yeah, we need those alot down here in Florida–and a Jonny Gomes t-shirt.  Still love the guy.  Still miss the guy.

Pedro Guerrero was there signing autographs.  I wasn’t terribly enthused as I can recall his days in St. Louis haunting the Cubbies. 

DSC00774.JPGI was there early with some friends and was sporting an ensemble of Evan Longoria jersey and Charlotte Stone Crabs hat.  I love that hat.  Very cool.

DSC00776.JPGThere were some strange sights at the stadium.  This guy must have thought it was ’70s night instead of Hispanic Heritage night.  He was decked out in brown suit, butterfly collared shirt, and…mutton chops.  Weird.

DSC00778.JPGEventually it was game time and we made our way to our seats on the third base line.  The crowd was amped up and the first inning provided lots of fireworks. 

Longo got a hit (that’s him at first).

DSC00779.JPGBen Zobrist came through too.

DSC00780.JPGThe Rays plated player after player after player after player, with Akinori Iwamura ending the inning after 4 runs had scored and the Rays had batted around.

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We certainly gave Matty a nice margin of error to work with.

He wouldn’t need any but one of those runs.

Garza was dominant throughout the night, striking out batter after batter and helping the crowed to get coupons for a free pizza the next day when he hit the 10 strikeout mark. 

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The crowd was raucous every time Garza set down a Blue Jay, and I found my own voice strained before the night was over.

Joe Maddon eventually lifted Garza in the 8th inning

DSC00799.JPG–nobody knows why, really–and the bullpen made it hold up with Russ Springer getting a nice strikeout,

DSC00801.JPGRandy Choate ending the 8th, and Dan Wheeler locking it down in the 9th.

The result?  A nice 4-0 Rays win. 

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Of course, the game was peppered throughout by the usual stuff that just makes me laugh:

Raymond being Raymond

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(Raymond is on top of the dugout in the Lucho Libre outfit)

The Chik-Fil-A “Find the Cow” contest

DSC00794.JPGand the Pepsi race (Aquafina won).

DSC00792.JPGI love that stuff…

The Rays win was memorialized, of course, by the Trop’s roof being lit orange, and that was that.

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It was a perfect night for a less than perfect team in a not even perfect season.  But no matter what, it was fun.

Fun.

And much more so because I could get home BEFORE 2:30 AM!

The only downfall of the night?

DSC00812.JPGGarza’s arm was missing!!! 

Luckily, the real Garza’s arm was on display all Saturday night at the Trop, and the Rays were able to ride it to a needed victory.

Ring of Fire Tour Begins In “T” for Two and Maybe Three….

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Toronto, that is.

Wow, what a difference a week and a half makes.

Just when things might have been looking rather bleak, the Rays have come out and, in their last 10 games, rattle off 8 wins.

That makes them the hottest team in the American League right now!

In fact, when fans and experts alike were looking at the team’s upcoming road trip as being extremely difficult and fraught with peril, our guys have done nothing more put together two impressive wins.

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Rays 12, Blue Jays 7

None other than Roy Halladay took the mound for the Blue Jays to kick off the Rays’ 7-game road trip.  And immediately it looked like it was going to be a loss.

Jeff Nieman was not sharp at all, giving up a Rod Barajas grand salami right away in the game.

I’ll admit, I was cursing at the tv and ready to walk away.  Glad I didn’t!

The Rays rallied to beat up the Doc and put together an impressive 12-7 win.  The guy who had no business getting a win, our default ace, improved his record to a more than impressive 12-5. 

You gotta imagine this guy is going to get some serious consideration–maybe along with Scott Feldman of the Rangers–for the Rookie of the Year award.

Carlos Pena remained hot by going yard for number 35 and Ben Zobrist knocked out his 23rd.

They looked like the Rays we love.

They looked like a team that wanted to win.

Most importantly, they looked like a team ready for October.

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Rays 7, Blue Jays 3

The story here was twofold:

1) Carlos Pena hit out two to give him 37 on the year and, more importantly, 200 for his up and down career. 

Not too bad for a guy who had trouble latching on to a team before he landed in Tampa Bay.

2) James Shields finally got some run support!  And, apparently, he celebrated with……some ice cream

Ok.

As has been well documented in the Cowbell, Shields is a guy who never seems to get any help from his offense.  Well, they scored 6 runs in the first 3 innings for the guy, and he made it stand up.  That is definitely help.

I didn’t catch much of this game, but it was nice to see our guys follow up a great performance with one that was just as good. 

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Tonight, Tonight

The Rays will send the suddenly reliable Scott Kazmir (7 of his last 8 outings have been 6 or more innings!) to the hill against the guy we have seen too many times this year, and whose name I am getting sick of trying to spell, Marc Rzepczynski.

Kaz’s ERA is still a nightmare at 6.17, but his record is over .500 for the first time in a long time at 8-7.  He is trying to regain the “ace” label and, I have to admit, he has looked like one as of late. 

One of the biggest knocks I’ve had against this guy is the fact that you can’t count on him.  He’ll go 4 innings as likely as he’ll go 6.  7 is pushing it.

But lately he has been giving the Rays, and the Rays’ bullpen, plenty of innings.

They won’t need a whole lot tonight considering we have an off day tomorrow.  Hopefully Scotty can give us a solid outing, though, and we can complete the sweep.

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The Rays remain 3 games behind those darn Red Sox.  It would be nice to see them pick up a game there tonight considering the difficult series they are going to have to endure in Detroit over the weekend. 

But you take what you can get.

The Rays’ offense has been clicking, albeit via the long ball. 

Again, you take what you can get.

What I’m most proud of is the fact that this team is showing some serious resiliance.  They are not backing down.  And when people are counting them out, they are showing them that they are right back in.

Sweep ’em guys!

Struck Out

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This was a bad day.

On my end, unforeseen circumstances kept me from my plan to head over to the Trop to catch the game.

I’m wondering if that was such a bad thing. 

The Rays mounted little offense today behind a decent pitching performance from David Price, falling to the Rangers and Scott Feldman 4-0. 

It is a day that, hopefully, will not be looked on as being to big when considering our playoff chances.

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KO’d

The Rays–and their fans–came into today’s game riding high off of the 10-inning walkoff win last night.  Carlos Pena’s amazing performance in that game gave the Rays faithful reason to believe in this defense, this pitching staff, and this offense.

Today, only 2 of those 3 showed up to the ball park.

Carl Crawford and Gabe Kapler turned in exceptional defensive efforts, making important diving catches today, and David Price threw 7 strong innings (3 hits, 3 runs, 4 K’s). 

But the offense managed only 5 hits today, and 2 of those 5 were marginal errors that were ruled hits. 

A great big goose egg displayed the runs they scored today, only the 6th time they’ve been shut out this season.

But what makes the lack of hitting and scoring runs difficult to swallow is the fact that the Rays hitters showed no discipline whatsoever today.  Instead of a patient approach that can often be effective against young pitchers, the Rays looked like inexperienced hitters all day long.  They flailed away at poor pitches and watched the good ones go right by.

Evidence?

How about 15 strikeouts!? 

15 K’s!!!

That will cause any team to go down.

And while 11 of those strikeouts came from Feldman, the Rays also allowed Darren O’Day to strike out the side in the 8th and Frank Francisco to strike one out in the 9th.

YucK.

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Sweep Would Have Been Nice

Everybody loves a sweep, of course.

But when it comes at the end of a 9-game home stand to make the home team go 7-2 in a heated playoff race, it means that much more.

So what does it mean when it doesn’t happen?

And what does it mean when it doesn’t happen against a team you are fighting for a playoff spot?

And what does it mean when it doesn’t happen just before you leave home to go on an extremely difficult 9-game road trip?

This was a missed opportunity, no doubt.

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Lazy Sunday

The Rays have absolutely stunk on Sundays this year.  It’s difficult to figure out why.  It is one of those things that teams go through, I guess. 

I hate it.

They just can’t score on the 7th day of the week.  On their last 8 Sunday games, they have scored just 18 runs.

That’s about 2 a game.

Ouch.

And if you remove newbie Gregg Zaun’s grand slam from last Sunday’s 5-2 win against the Toronto Blue Jays, then you have the Rays scoring 14 runs in 8 games. 

Under 2 per game.

In those games the Rays have gone a terrible 2-6!

Again, maybe it’s just one of those things.  But it sure would hurt if “one of those things” kept us out of the playoffs.

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Maddon Not Concerned

In Joe’s postgame conference he gave off a very nonchalant attitude.

When asked if he was worried about the team’s offensive inconsistencies as of late, his answer was a short “No.”

When asked about the upcoming road trip being make or break, his answer was again, “No.”

As usual, Joe kept things positive. 

–“I’ll take 2 out of 3 from any team any time.”

–“Our effort today was fabulous.”

–“That was the best pitched game against us all season long.”

–He also heaped tons of praise on Price for keeping the team in the game and saving the bullpen.

Joe’s approach has worked the last two years.  But let’s hope he’s talking to his guys with a little more ugency in the clubhouse.

Maybe it’s the new hair that’s helping him stay mellow.

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I felt that this series was big for the Rays. 

It was.

Luckily, it was not a devastating series for us.  Sure, instead of picking up 3 games on the Rangers we picked up only 1, but the other way around would have really hurt. 

So we’ll take a 6-3 home stand and hope to make it a 6-3 road trip.  It’ll be tough.  Roy Halladay awaits us at the Rogers Centre tomorrow night and the Yankees are also lurking out there.

When the Rays get back to the Trop next week I think we’ll have a good idea of what kinds of plans to make for October.

Zaun Gone!

He deserved it.  The new 38-year-old catcher for the Rays got the pie in the fact he deserved after delivering an 8th inning PINCH HIT GRAND SLAM that put the game out of reach and allowed the Rays to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1.

Whew!

There were alot of elements that went into making this game a successful one for the home team, but the biggest moment had to come in that fateful 8th inning when Gregg Zaun almost non-chalantly took a Brandon League fastball over the right field wall.

And just like that, the Rays have won 2 in a row.

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Big 8th

The Rays went into the bottom of the 8th after watching one of the best 3rd Basemen in the league make a diving play on a hard hit ball from Rod Barajas

Evan Longoria must have gotten his guys fired up.

The Rays loaded the bases with one out against reliever Brandon League, whose split finger fastball and 96 mph heater were really getting the Rays’ hitters off stride.

Gabe Gross pinch hit with his robust .480 career average with the bases loaded (you read that right–I did a double take too!) and proceeded to strike out.

That brought up pinch hitter Zaun, who used to play with League when they were both with Toronto. 

Advantage Zaun.

The Rays’ new catcher worked the count full before uncoiling a very leisurely swing on an inside fastball and sending the ball out of the ballpark.

The Trop erupted! 

It was unbelievable.

You couldn’t tell anything special had happened by looking at Zaun’s face, though, as his placid countenance never changed throughout his jog around the bases and entrance to the raucous dugout.

It was something, though.  Maybe that spark a beleaguered team had been waiting for.

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BJ Beaned

The Blue Jays then hit BJ Upton, which caused a stir and invoked a warning from the home plate umpire.  Cito Gaston did not appreciate the quick trigger and came out to argue a little bit, but nobody was ejected.

Joe Maddon was also upset about the play and wanted to get in his 2 cents. 

It’ll be interesting to see if anybody remembers this HBP next week in Toronto when these two teams get back together.

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Garza Clutch

Matt Garza did not make things easy on himself today.  Not at all.

He went only 5 1/3 innings, throwing 103 pitches.  His line was solid:

         5 1/3 IP, 1 R, 8 H, 2 BB, 7 K

However, he found himself in dire straits several times throughout the game.  He left 2 on in the 1st inning in which he threw 30 pitches.  He left the bases loaded in the 3rd.  And he left 2 on in the 4th. 

He was downright lucky he did not give up more than 1 run.  Lucky to be backed up by solid defenders, that is.

BJ Upton helped to keep the game scoreless in the 3rd when he uncorked a solid throw to home plate from center field on a sac fly that should have scored a run.  He also made a great throw to home that beat the runner, but did not get Blue Jay out because of a solid collision at home plate. 

Garza deserved the win, though.  Hopefully this will build his confidence for his next outing against the Texas Rangers.

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Weird Play at the Plate

As mentioned, Dioner Navarro got bulldozed by Lyle Overbay on a play at the plate in the 5th inning. 

Upton’s throw arrived just as Overbay did, and while the Rays catcher did not drop the ball, the collision allowed Overbay to score the run.

It was weird, though.

Usually you see catcher and runner collide and somebody go flying somewhere.

That didn’t happen.  Instead, the guys hit each other and neither one moved.  They just hit and stayed where they were, like both hit a brick wall.

These are during the big hit.

     

These are right after they hit.  It looks like Overbay is still sliding, but he’s just stunned on the ground, not moving.  Navi is stunned standing up, not moving. 

      

Navi was off balance just enough that he couldn’t reach down to make the tag.  Overbay, on his back, simply reached over and touched the plate for the safe call.

Navi then hobbled around a little bit.  He stayed in the game, but I’m a little worried.

Like I said, it was weird.

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Three Keys to the Game

1–Rays’ hitters have to get to this kid right away.  NOPE  The Rays only scored 1 run against the Toronto starter before he left the game.

2–Run, run, run.  NOPE  The Rays did not steal any bases in the game.  That was a big reason why the Blue Jays’ starter pitched so well.

3–Keep hitting.  YEP and NOPE  Only 2 doubles and 1 homer against 7 singles.  I wanted to see the Rays manufacture some runs today, but they scored 4/5 of their runs after a grand slam. 

1/2 out of 3=RAYS WIN?

WEIRD, BUT WE’LL TAKE IT!

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Wild Card Update

The Rays’ weekend was not only successful because they won the series against the Blue Jays.  It proved to be successful when looking at the thing foremost in the mind of all Rays players and all Rays fans.

WILD CARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

We picked up two games on the Red Sox!

However, with the Rangers leapfrogging the Sox for the wild card lead, we, in effect, picked up only 1 1/2 games.

Either way, we’ll take it!

Thanks to the Texas Rangers’ potent lineup, the Rays find themselves 3 games behind the Sox and 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers.

Looking ahead, the schedule seems to favor the Rays immenesely:

Rays: 3 games against the Orioles

Red Sox: 3 games with Toronto

Rangers: 4 games with Minnesota

If we are going to make a move, this is the week. 

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Final Thoughts

The Rays get a day off tomorrow before fighting with the Birds of Baltimore.

This was a nice series for our Boys in Blue.  Taking 2 of 3 after losing to the best pitcher in baseball is a nice way to get through a weekend. 

Now we have to see them do the same or better against the O’s.

So THAT’S What It’s Like….The Appetite for Winning Returns

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It’s been awhile. 

In fact, the Rays haven’t been able to call themselves winners in exactly a week, not since they beat Seattle 10-4.

Whew, glad that 5-game losing streak is over.  It was starting to feel like the old days.

But with that great win comes great….hunger.  I’m expecting the taste of winning has whetted our guys’ appetites so that the hits can keep on coming.

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The REAL Hitting Arrived

The Rays’ offense finally showed up to the ballpark Saturday night.  It was as of our guys finally remembered the type of hitting that got them to the Series last year.

–They put together a clinic on patience, walking 5 times.

–They knocked 12 hits around the park.

–They scored 8 runs.

–They stole 2 bases.

–And they did it all WITHOUT A SINGLE HOME RUN!!!!

That is the hitting I’ve been waiting for.  Our guys have relied too much on the long ball over the last month or so, and to see them getting 12 hits against Brian Tallet, a guy who has NEVER had any success against the Rays this year, makes you feel good.

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Magic 5’s

In order to end this 5-game losing streak the Rays relied heavily on their best hitters.

The top three in the order, Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford, and Evan Longoria, did more than what a top three should be expected to do.

–They scored 5 runs between them.

–They knocked 5 hits.

–They drove in 5 RBIs.

It seems that lately one of our top three are hitting, while the other two wait their turn.  It was nice to see all of those guys working together at the same time for once. 

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The Pitching Worked

Scott Kazmir turned in a rare quality start, going 6 1/3 innings and giving up 3 runs on 5 hits while striking out 7. 

It was a pitching performance that impressed everybody in the stadium.  In fact, Cito Gaston, the Blue Jays’ manager, said that “He looked like his old self….He had good stuff.”

Not too bad, Scotty.

If Kaz can continue to pitch like this I can see the Rays starting to inch ever closer to that top wild card spot.

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What’s Happened During the Losing Streak

It’s tough to say that one losing streak, especially one as modest as a 5-gamer, could ruin a season, but this one is darn near of that magnitude.

During this last week the Rays have fallen to 11 1/2 behind the Yankees for the AL East lead.  With only about 5 weeks or so remaining, that lead is pretty much insurmountable.

Then again, if a man can eat a 12-pound hamburger in a Boston deli (Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel, good show), then anything is possible, right?

Worse yet is the fact that our guys have fallen further behind the Red Sox in the wild card.  While they did pick up a game last night to be just 4 behind, they were at one point only 1 1/2 games back.  Ther is certainly a sense of urgency right now. 

LET’S GET EATIN’ BOYS!!!!

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TODAY’S GAME

The Pitching Matchup

The Rays will hope that Matt Garza will be able to make a 1-game winning streak into a 2-game winning streak today against a team that he has dominated this year. 

The guy’s got a 1.91 career ERA against the Jays and an 11-7 career record at the Trop, so things look good. 

That’s one reason why I picked him up for a start on my fantasy team today–good numbers.

Toronto will throw that guy whose name nobody can pronounce, Mark Rzepczynski.  Unfortunately, he dominated the Rays a few weeks ago too.

Who’ll blink first?

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Three Keys to the Game

1–Rays’ hitters have to get to this kid right away.  Rzepczynski was really good against the Rays, but he only went 6 innings.  If the Rays can heighten his pitch count then they might be able to get into that beleaguered Blue Jay bullpen early.

2–Run, run, run.  With a kid on the mound, it is imperative the Rays’ base stealers (Bartlett, CC, BJ) get on and make him nervous.

3–Keep hitting.  Let’s focus on singles and doubles.  Homers are nice, but singles and doubles cause death by a thousand cuts.  Let’s do that.

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The Rays will see the Blue Jays as soon as next week, so a strong showing here will go a long way towards building their confidence for that series.  Plus, it sets them up nicely for a showdown with the Baltimore Orioles, a team that they should beat up on this week.

Wins are key. 

We’ve got to get as many as we can now.

I would hate to forget what winning tastes like….again!

4th Time Not the Charm

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The Rays had beaten the Blue Jays and ace Roy Halladay three consecutive times this season.

There would not be a fourth.

The home crowd was raucous on a Friday night, welcoming back the Rays from an arduous–and unsuccessful–West Coast road trip.  We received BJ Upton posters and with them came a little bit of hope that we would see a win tonight.

I was happy to be in attendance, excited to see some in-person baseball for the first time in a while. 

Well, hope was crushed, happiness was scattered, and the excitement left right around the 2nd inning.

My friend Ginny at The Watercooler said she wished she could have been there tonight. 

Be happy you weren’t.

Blue Jays 5-2.

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The Pitching

Halladay owned the Rays tonight, throwing 8 innings and giving up only 1 earned run while striking out 7.  He walked none, which is strange for a pitcher against the Rays because while they might strikeout alot, they also walk alot. 

Halladay had it going.

James Shields was not sharp at all tonight. 

I can’t tell you how he was missing with his pitches, having been there in person and not seeing replays and such on tv, but with the way the Jays were rocking him it seemed he had little to no command out there. 

Lyle Overbay took him deep in the 1st, and Adam Lind did the same in the 3rd.

Both Halladay and Shields threw 111 pitches, with Shields throwing more strikes than Doc.  However, the better pitcher showed his fact tonight and he was not wearing Rays blue as Halladay diced the Rays lineup every which way.

Guess he’s not too worried about his trade status anymore, huh?

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No O

As usual, the Rays were ineffective in the batter’s box.  While they outhit the Blue Jays 9-8, they were easily outscored.  Typically, the Rays did a great job of getting hits when they did mean anything and finding a way to knock themselves out of an inning.

One way they disappointed was on the basepaths.  Carl Crawford and BJ Upton both were throwing out trying to steal (when was the last time both guys got a CS?).  CC was thrown out in the 1st trying to make something happen, no biggie there.

BJ was gunned down, though, in the 8th inning after Gregg Zaun had homered to make the game 5-2.  So instead of a man on 1st with none out, there was nobody on with 1 out.  Needless to say, nothing else happened that inning and the Rays went easily in the 9th.

I don’t mind the aggressive running.  When the bats aren’t working you’ve got to do something to manufacture runs.

My problem is that when we get opportunities, we blow them.  In the 4th Carlos Pena and Pat Burrell struck out (as usual) consecutively to end a rally.  BJ’s CS ended a potential rally too. 

We aren’t good enough to waste chances, but our hitters continue to do just that. 

What else can Joe Maddon do except run guys in situations where running might not be the best idea?

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Three Keys to Tonight’s Game

1–Rays’ hitters must be aggressive, or be passive, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!!!  NOPE  Since there is no good way to measure this except in Win or Loss, we have to fail the Rays here.

2–Shields must get strike 1.  YEP   Shields threw plenty of strikes, but his command was so far off at times that it didn’t matter.  After the first 3 innings he had given up 5 runs, and with the amount of run support he typically gets, well, it was game over, man.

3–More hits, less homers.  NOPE  The Rays hit one dinger tonight, and had 8 other hits.  But they scored their only other run via the sac fly.  So those other hits were pretty much meaningless because they did not cash in.

RESULTS:  1 out of 3 correct=LOSS

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The Rays probably faced their most difficult opponent of the next 9 games tonight in Halladay.  That is a good sign.  He’s out of the way and now, maybe, the wins will start to come. 

It is pointless to dwell too much on the hitting negatives from a game against one of the best pitchers in baseball. 

However, we have to be depressed a little about the poor outing by our own ace.  

His inconsistency is indicative of where this team is headed.

And we’ve got 5 losses in a row to prove it.

Time for the Rays to Start Winning

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It’s enough already. 

I can’t take it.

It’s time to get a winning streak going.  To start becoming relevant in this playoff chase.

The Rays are welcoming the Toronto Blue Jays to the Trop this weekend.  They do so with arms wide open because the Jays just might be what the doctor ordered.  They are a team that is disjointed and unfocused, and they are coming to our house.

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Pitching Matchup

       

The Jays will throw THE MAN Roy Halladay (12-5, 2.78) against the Rays Friday night.

No problem.

The Rays have only beaten the Blue Jays in all three of the games in which Hallday has pitched, most recently in the extra inning Rays win in which both Halladay and Matt Garza threw complete games and dominated the other.

The Rays were just a little better. 

Let’s hope they’re a little better tomorrow too.

James Shields (7-8, 3.79) will look to improve on his recent bout of inconsistency by toeing the mound against a team he has faced twice this year.  In one start he lost 5-0, but pitched 7 innings.  In the other start he pitched 7 innings as well, but the Rays lost 3-1.

For some reason Shields has entered the grey area between ace and unreliable starter.  The Rays seem to have alot of those right now (see Scott Kazmir and David Price). 

A solid pitching performance tomorrow night will go a long way towards giving this squad a little more confidence as they come off a West Coast trip that was anything but fun.

They need Shields to come up big Friday night.  He is a great Tropicana Field pitcher, so we should be able to count on him.

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Three Keys to Friday’s Game

1–Rays’ hitters must be aggressive, or be passive, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!!!

It can be confusing.  There is no good way to beat Halladay.  How the Rays have done it 3 times this season is beyond me.  With a pitcher like him, you choose a strategy……..and then throw it out the window.

2–Shields must get strike 1.  I have noticed that Shields tends to miss with strike 1 too often.  For a guy who relies on his changeup, missing with strike 1, and thus removing the change from the at bat for the next few pitches, is grounds for danger.

3–More hits, less homers.  Halladay won’t be beaten by the long ball.  The Rays have relied on this too much the last two weeks (more on this in a future post).  Let’s string together some singles and doubles and see what happens.

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Win, Baby, Win

(This might be the new go-to pic for Rays wins!)

The next six games will serve as a great opportunity for the Rays to climb out of this funk and get back into the playoff hunt.  They face the Blue Jays for 3 and the Baltimore Orioles for 3 after that.

The Blue Jays come in having lost 2 in a row and splitting their last 10 games down the middle (5-5).  They were beat up by the surging Yankees pretty good too.

Add to the mix the fact that they are reeling a little bit from various factors.  They were unable to move Doc Halladay, the fans have begun to turn on them, and the clubhouse is a place where hope goes to die.

Players in the Jays dugout have been questioning management about the lack of movement on Halladay’s part and the loss of 2-time All Star Alex Rios to the White Sox for nothing.  (He was claimed off waivers a few days ago)  Lyle Overbay voiced his displeasure at losing such a talented young man for nothing in the papers recently. 

This is a team that has lost its way.

An equally lost team is the Orioles.  They have lost 7 of their last 10 and seem to have passed all of their players through waivers, most notably Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, and Danys Baez.  Nobody feels safe in that clubhouse.

Perfect time to lower the boom.

Let’s burn ’em up, Rays!

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……..

Pitching a Fit: The Suddenly Poor Rays Rotation

I should be posting about the amazing win our guys got yesterday against the Toronto Blue Jays. 

I wish I could feel good about how the Rays fought back from being down 8-0 to win the game 10-9 in 12 innings. 

 

I watched it, it was exciting, it was amazing, IT WAS THE BIGGEST COME BACK IN THE FRANCHISE’S HISTORY!

For the second time this season, the Rays were able to stage the biggest comeback in their short history.  I’m happy to say I was able to watch both of them.  I’m disgusted to say that our friends at that big sports network didn’t lead with the Rays’ win, and, in fact, pushed them to the THIRD game to be discussed out of the AL East–the Yanks were talked about first and the Sox second, of course.

But I’m not going to talk about any of that, because there is something that has been going on the last month or so that is really pushing me over the edge.  It is something that is putting the Rays in position where they HAVE to stage comebacks almost every game these days and if they dont, they lose.

Our pitching stinks.

More specifically, our starting pitching stinks.

Ok, maybe “stink” is a strong word, but it ain’t good.

I don’t know what happened to our usually reliable guys, but they have fallen into a pit of despair (or maybe that’s me) that has caused our stalwarts to be rocked and our marginal pitchers to be destroyed.  Rookies are both leading and hurting this rotation and veterans are not getting supported.

So consider this post a semi-rant about how our guys need to step up the rest of the year.  I’m talking about what they’ve done thus far in the seasons and taking a look at what they’ve done the last month. 

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James Shields

Season Stats:             6-6    3.70 ERA    1.28 WHIP    98 K    30 BB    141 IP

Stats the Last Month:  0-1    4.58 ERA    1.35 WHIP    26 K    9  BB     39.1 IP

Breakdown:  Shields has been our most reliable starter this season by far.  He was the Rays’ opening day guy the last two years and he has earned it.  He does not walk alot of batters, making them put the ball in play.  He is not a big strikeout guy either, but his changeup is an equalizer, often causing hitters to hit weak groundballs to the infield.  He has not gotten much, if any, run support this season, getting more than 3 runs in a game only 9 of his 20 starts this season.  No pitcher can succeed with such poor support.

What He Needs To Do:  While I would like to argue that he is fine and just needs to do what he’s been doing all season, the numbers say differently.  While his walks are pretty much in line with what he’s done all year, his ERA and WHIP are poor as of late.  Most of that is a pitcher’s fault.  The Rays offense has scuffled as of late, but if “Big Game” James doesn’t work harder at shutting down opposing teams on his own then the Rays will not move on to October.

 

 

Scott Kazmir

Season Stats:              4-6    6.69 ERA    1.72 WHIP    58 K    40 BB    74 IP 

Stats the Last Month:  0-2    5.08 ERA    1.34 WHIP    23 K    11 BB    28.1 IP

Breakdown:  The easy thing to do these days is pile on Kaz for his performance.  He has underachieved significantly and rarely puts his team in position to win.  He is a guy who usually throws 100+ pitches through 4 2/3 innings and has to struggle just to get out of the 5th.  His walks are ridiculous and his strikeouts are well off his career average.  Sure, he’s been hurt this year, but nobody comes back to form more slowly than Kaz does.  Of course he’s the subject of trade rumors, the Rays cannot afford to pay him his $10 million he is due to earn next year if he continues to perform like this. 

What He Needs To Do:  Strange as it may seem, Kazmir has been turning it aroundIn Kazmir terms, anyway.  As you can see, his ERA is improving as is his WHIP.  He is not letting guys get on base these days and he is working harder at not letting them score.  He is still nibbling at the corners, thus accounting for his high walk and low strikeout totals, but he seems more cognizant of pitching instead of throwing.  In three consecutive outings he has gone more than 6 innings!  You have to go WAY back to find the last time he’s done that.  I think that he might be turning it around and if he does, will be a solid contributer the rest of the way.

 

 

Jeff Nieman

Season Stats:               9-4    3.61 ERA    1.36 WHIP    59 K    38 BB    99.2 IP 

Stats the Last Month:   3-0    1.98 ERA    1.10 WHIP    15 K    5 BB      27.1 IP

Breakdown:  As I’ve been saying all year long, Nieman is making Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon look like geniuses for keeping him over Jason Hammel coming out of spring training. This guy has been BY FAR the Rays’ most dependable and successful starter lately as he leads the rotation in wins and ERA.  Throw into the mix his massive 6’9″ frame and he is just plain ol’ intimidating.  His strikeouts are a little low and his WHIP is a tough high, but this guy knows how to pitch and could/should get consideration for the AL’s Rookie of the Year award.

What He Needs To Do:  As you can see, over the last month Nieman has been dominating.  Since his “demotion” in the Texas series by Joe Maddon to the long relief role so that Matt Garza could get an extra start, the big Texan has come out with a vengence.  You know that when he toes the mound you are going to get a quality start as he has gone 8, 9, and 7.1 innings in his last three starts.  Let’s hope that some of that success rubs off on the other Rays rotation rookie.

 

 

David Price

Season Stats:               3-4    5.60 ERA    1.72 WHIP    54 K    32 BB    53 IP

Stats the Last Month:   2-2    7.15 ERA    1.81 WHIP    21 K    13 BB    22.2 IP

Breakdown:  I would like to say we have to be careful with this one.  That we should just bring him along slowly.  And, to a certain extent, we should.  You can’t totally compare him to Jeff Nieman because Nieman has had more years in the minors than Price has to get ready for “the show.”  But, I don’t think anybody expected these types of performances from Price.  His power pitching is showing up splendidly as he strikes out more than a hitter per inning, but his control is terrible.  The guy who was supposed to be the ROY in the AL is not even the best rookie in his own team’s rotation. 

What He Needs To Do: Well, let’s not jump off bridges here.  Despite the negative numbers, he is still a young pitcher who is suffering growing pains.  He’ll get there.  But probably not this year.  The question becomes how long do we continue to throw him to the wolves this season?  It is not like he’s showing much improvement.  If you look at his numbers from the last month, they are just plain ugly.  And he has 3.0 and 1.1 inning stints in two of his last three outings.  He might help alot in the bullpen in the playoffs, but right now he is not giving the Rays what they need from him.

 

 

Matt Garza

Season Stats:               7-7    3.68 ERA    1.20 WHIP    116 K    50 BB    129.2 IP

Stats the Last Month:   3-2    3.90 ERA    1.33 WHIP    31 K      11 BB     31 .1 IP

Breakdown: Not many teams’ rotations get much better 1-3 than Shields, Garza, and Nieman.  Garza has been a stud for this team, putting his guys in position to win every time out.  It is rare to see him put forth a bad effort, though his last three outings have been less than adequate.  Though he often battles his emotions on the mound, he has come a long way since last season when emotion would push his performance to the breaking point.  He is second among starters in ERA, WHIP, wins, Ks, and IP.  Not too bad.  He is somebody to count on.

What He Needs To Do:  Garza has slipped a little bit his last four starts.  Granted, Friday night’s 9-inning gem is something that can catapult him to the next level the rest of the season (I hope), but his three previous starts were poor.  He seems to fall between Kazmir and Nieman in that he will go out there and throw 5 innings sometimes but will usually give you 7-8 strong innings.  If the Rays are to succeed, we are going to have to see more of the latter and less of the former.

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The Rays are built to be a winner.  They have a great balance of pitching, fielding, bullpen, and offense.  They are the prototypical team, in my opinion.  But when one of those elements get out of wack, the team suffers.

I think the team is suffering now.

The starting pitching must step up over the remainder of the season if they want a chance at October.  As you could see, their numbers over the last month are brutal.  Only Nieman and Garza can be considered as having impressive numbers. 

The other three guys have let the team down.  Sure, the offense has not been there and that might be why the wins are so low. 

However, there is a reason why the Rays have had to come from behind so manytimes in the last few weeks.  Their pitchers are letting them fall behind.

The Rays sit at 5 1/2 out.  That’s not bad.  But they will enter a crucial series with the Yankees tomorrow and a big series with the Red Sox next week.  They cannot allow these powerhouse teams to get out in front early.

They are not the types of teams that yield 8 run comeback wins. 

They are the types of teams that kick you when you’re down and keep you on the ground.

I’d like to see us get in the first kick over these next couple of games.

Our starters have to be the ones to do it.

Remember how good October felt?

Perfect Follow-Up for the Rays

    VS   

The Rays got a hit and a walk in the first inning.

So that drama is over now.

What is more important is that they got a bloop single from Evan Longoria in the 10th inning to drive in two runs and give the Rays the final margin in a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays and Roy Halladay.

It was perfect.

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Good Ol’ Fashioned Shootout

Both Halladay and the Rays’ Matt Garza fought hard throughout the game.  Their stats were nearly identical, with both guys throwing 9 innings, giving up 2 runs, and only giving up a handful of hits.  Garza walked none and struck out 9, earning the win, while Halladay struck out 10 and walked 3 in a no decision.

It was like a shootout at the OK Corral, as Doc Halladay and Garza stared each other down, waiting to see who would blink first.  Neither did.

But Scott Downs did.  He took the loss after giving up a hit to BJ Upton, walking Carl Crawford, and then allowing a bloop hit to Longoria.

Longo had been worked into a 2-strike count at the time, but he put good wood on the ball to drop it in front of a diving Joe Inglett.

Sometimes I think that Longo literally has ice water in his veins.  He does not get rattled.  He is one cool cat when it counts.

dosequis.jpg

(This guy is cool)

JP Howell dominated the bottom of the 10th to get his 10th save in his first game as the Rays’ official closer.

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Curtains for the Doc?

The entire game played out as if it were the last for Halladay in a Toronto uniform.  He received standing ovations after every inning and the crowd would cheer him on in every big–and medium, for that matter–situation that arose.

While nobody knows the fate of Halladay right now, there was plenty of speculation during the broadcast and plenty on the blogs and websites out there. 

Lots of people were holding signs.

      

Every tv shot of General Manager JP Ricciardi on the phone was met with thoughts of what deal he might be listening to.

To his credit, none of it fazed Halladay.  He went out there and threw an amazing ballgame.  However, it may very well be these types of ballgames that are the impetus for his desire to leave.  How often can you throw 9 innings and strike out 10, giving up only 2 runs the whole time only to walk away with a no decision?

(I hope that you are taking notes on this Rays, ahem James Shields!)

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Where’s the Offense, Guys?

The Rays have been struggling mightily in the run-scoring department. 

In the month of July, the Rays have scored more than 3 runs only 7 times in 19 games!  That is beyond inept. 

During that time the offensive stalwarts of the team have been beyond horrible: 

–Evan Longoria has managed to hit only .179 with 3 homers

–Carlos Pena has hit .183 with 30 strikeouts and 2 homers

–BJ has hit .223 with 2 homers 

–Jason Bartlett has hit .262 while riding high around .350 and up most of the year

This will not get it done down the stretch, no doubt.

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Final Thoughts

The Rays got a nice win tonight, but so did the Red Sox and the Yankees.  That leaves Tampa Bay still 6 1/2 out. 

The pressure on our guys will only get worse with every passing game, and if the offense does not get in gear they will find themselves watching the playoffs on tv instead of from the field.

 

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Next Up:

The Rays play Saturday at 1:00 pm.  Early game.   Kind of different for our guys.

We will send out David Price, who owned the Blue Jays the last time he saw them. 

He will be opposed by Brian Tallet, who was owned by the Rays offense.

Hmmmmm, should be interesting.

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Odds and Ends

–According to MLB.com the Rays may be interested in shipping Scott Kazmir in order to free up their money situation for the acquisition of Indians pitcher Cliff Lee.

–Another rumor has the Rays inquiring on the availability of Indians C Victor Martinez (this deal would make sense considering the extreme lack of offense coming from behind the plate these days–Sorry Tribe Chick).

–The Rays are giving away t-shirts to the first 10,000 fans wearing Rays gear to 5 games during the next home stand.  I am really excited for Monday’s game against the Yanks because I need me one of these: