That title has so many meanings.
First, it is good to be back. Vacation was great. A week at a resort ain’t bad no matter what.
But, obviously, I have missed alot. Let me check that, I have not written about alot. I have missed nothing.
Second, it seems that “catchin’ up” is exactly what the Rays have been doing. They fought back in this tough division to take the lead by a game, only to fall back out of it before finding themselves back in the thick of it with a few strong games of late.
Here are some of the things I have seen over these last weeks.
The Rays have not given up on this season at all. As I mentioned, they took the division lead a week or so ago, despite a 7-game losing streak. Then, just as soon as they got the lead, they relinquished it to the Yanks again.
Even though they currently sit in 2nd place in the division, they could easily have packed it in. They overcame a mini-losing streak in the last few weeks before getting a nice start from Jeremy Hellickson his last time out (before today). Then they seemed to hit rock bottom, being shut out by the last place Orioles on Friday. Now they have won 2 in a row (again, behind a strong start from Hellickson) and find themselves wrapping up the weekend in the thick of it once again.
One Game Out
The Rays are sitting just one game behind the Yanks.
They are heading into a very difficult series with the AL West division leading Texas Rangers. There will be no easy wins there. The Rangers are as good as it gets, and the Rays will have to be on top of their game if they want to get closer than they already are.
Hellickson is Awesome
How good is this kid?
His win today pushed his record to 3-0. He has given up almost no hits in his starts; specifically, he has not given up more than 3 hits in any of his three starts. And he is still a kid. He has stopped any bad baseball played by the Rays to inspire them to wins in each of his starts this sesaon.
In other words, he is exactly what a contending team needs down the stretch.
DL? What DL?
You would have thought that the Rays would have faltered when 19 wins of their starting rotation left at the exact same time with shoulder injuries.
I know that I was very worried when Jeff Nieman and Wade Davis went on the DL together. However, Andy Sonnanstine and Hellickson have not missed a beat, pitching solid baseball over these last few weeks to bridge the gap to the two starters’ return from their respective ailments.
What’ll Joe Do?
Finally, there are some really important decisions Joe Maddon will have to make in the coming days.
First, he will have to decide what to do once Nieman and Davis return from the DL. Does he replace a hot Hellickson and solid Sonnanstine or does he ride the hot hand and send the incumbant starters to a “rehab” in the minors? You would think that Sonny’s move to the ‘pen is a foregone conclusion–he’s a great spot starter, but it is tough to rely on him longterm–but you really don’t want to send down Hellickson. Tough one.
The other decision will be what to do when Carlos Pena returns from his plantar faciatis issue. Maddon has already said that nobody from the bullpen will be sent down. So, does that mean Dan Johnson’s days are numbered? They might be. He has a ******** .405 OBP, but his average (.125) is pitiful, even when compared with Pena’s.
Caught up. Now let’s get ahead.
As many of you know, I have been pretty incommunicato this week due to a week of sipping cocktails poolside in Orlando.
It’s been a good week.
I wanted to say alot about the upcoming trade deadline, but it has been difficult to find the time, obviously.
However, I do have some ideas of who might be coming to the Rays, who might be leaving the Rays, and who will be staying with the Rays.
–With the rumor that the Yanks are near a deal to acquire Lance Berkman, I would say that the Rays have become the frontrunners for picking up slugger Adam Dunn. They could do worse, for sure. But I am not sure I would like to see the Rays give up players for a guy who will be here only for these final few months and more more. That said, his incredible walk numbers, batting average, and power numbers will be a welcome addition to the DH slot.
Honestly, there is not alot of talk about who the Rays might try to pick up. The front office has been very quiet on the subject. I think that the Rays could use a stronger DH, surely, but a stronger 5th starter and another bullpen guy (never have enough of those) would strengthen this team as well.
–Minor league pitcher Jake McGee will more than likely be moving on. He has great talent, but it still not 100% after arm injuries. He is young, and will likely recover completely, which makes him valuable as a future ‘pen guy or bottom of the rotation guy, a la Wade Davis.
—Reid Brignac has done great things for the Rays this year. His power surge as of late has really lifted this team. But he is a man without a country. Or a position, anyway. He is a middle infielder in an organization full of ’em. Jason Bartlett is too beloved by the Rays management to go anywhere. Sean Rodriguez is the future 2b of the Rays (though he is kind of the present-day 2b of the Rays as well). Brignac does not fit in. He will somewhere else.
–This might be a longshot, but Wade Davis might be moved. If he can bring in a solid bat, he will certainly be moved with the pitching depth the Rays have in the minors.
—Jeremy Hellickson will be moved when hell freezes over. ‘Nuff said.
—Jason Bartlett ain’t goin’ anywhere. His arrival catapulted the Rays to the playoffs in 2008. They expect a return to form in these final months.
–Minor league veteran Dan Johnson might lead the International League in slugging numbers, but that just makes him more valuable as a late-season callup for the Rays than a bargaining chip. Plus, after Carlos Pena’s departure next season, he might inherit the 1b job.
It’s late, but I wanted to get some thoughts down before the trades start a-flyin’. I’m returning from poolside soon and I can’t wait to see what the Blogosphere’s intrepid writers have to say on the subject of the tradewinds.
I’m really just too tired to put up a coherent post. So here are some things that ran through my mind as the games played out tonight.
—Pat Burrell might be turning around. His 2-run blast was HUGE.
—Wade Davis pitched very well against a really tough team. Great job.
–The weather was just ridonkulous. All the Rays were bundled up big time. Then there is Captain Underbite, Kevin Youkilis. He is either immune or just that foolish, but he’s out there with short sleeves. Well done?
–Bases Loaded. Nobody out. And the Rays get out of it!!!! Holee Cow!!!
–This was a great win. Happy to see the boys stay strong and pull out the W in strange circumstances.
—James Shields kept the emotions in check all game long. He pitched great. Sure, he gave up a 2-run homer late, but it did no damage whatsoever. He was composed and kept the Sox hitters off balance all game long.
–I laugh to myself when I hear the Red Sox fans try to get into Longo’s head by shouting “Eva.” It was great tonight because the Rays’ microphones were picking up on some of these fans’ shoutings (I am sure they were pretty lubricated by this point in the night). As they shouted at Evan, he promptly launched one into the Green Monster for what amounted to the game winning run. Well done EVAN.
–The Red Sox fans were funny tonight. God bless ’em, they wanted a win big time tonight. In fact, one of the more redeeming qualities about those who love the Red Sox is that they stick with their team until the end. I know that is something I learned as a Cubs fan growing up and it has certainly served me well as a Rays fan.
But every time a Sox player put wood on ball, the crowd would erupt, hoping it was going to be “the” hit. There were a couple of late homers that made me nervous for sure, so they were almost right.
–The poll during the game tonight was, “Who is the Rays’ chief competition for the division this year?” Results:
Blue Jays 10%
I think that Boston will give the Rays a big run this year, despite the results of these first two games. The Sox are just too darn good to go away.
–I can’t believe that the Mets and Cardinals played 20 innings! The Cards had position players pitching and pitchers playing left field. Awesome.
–Congrats to those Rox. A No-Hitter from Ubaldo Jiminez. That guy is just awesome.
Thinking of Tomorrow
—Matt Garza is having a great year. A GREAT year. a 1.13 ERA!? 2-0 record? A .179 Opponent Batting Average? Amazing. But…
–The Rays seem to falter just when they are getting hot. And they are hot now. And…
–As I already said, the Red Sox are TOO DARN GOOD!!! WE HAVE TO SCRAPE AND CLAW JUST TO GET A WIN AGAINST THESE GUYS!!!
–Tomorrow will be interesting…
–Definitely time to get some sleep.
Rays 9, Yankees 3
And it wasn’t that close.
David Price, the Rays’ phenom 24-year-old lefty, led the team against the invaders from NYC and gave them more than they could handle.
The offense didn’t want to be outdone, so they put their best bat forward and put up 8 earned against the Yanks’ big offseason acquisition, Javier Vazquez.
In the end, there was not much to complain about.
If you are a Rays fan, of course.
Price Was Scary Good
Price went out and simply gave the Rays his longest–and one of his more solid–performances of his young career.
7 2/3 IP 3 ER 7 H 3 BB 7 K
Through 6 innings, however, Price threw only 66 pitches. Aside from a double in the 2nd that brought home 2 runs by Alex Rodriguez, there was nothing scary.
When he reached the 8th inning, Price admitted he began to press a bit, which led to a bases-loaded jam and another run given up. But Lance Cormier came into the game and ended the frame with a strikeout.
It was an almost-effortless performance from a guy who is the Rays’ NUMBER 4 PITCHER!
Big Inning: The 4th
The Rays almost batted around in the bottom of the 4th against Vazquez.
A few doubles, a few singles, a stolen base from BJ Upton, and a huge blast from Carlos Pena gave the Rays all the runs they would need for the rest of the game (5).
While the home run was fun, I was more excited about the double that just eluded left-fielder Marcus Thames’ glove from the bat of Jason Bartlett. It was one of those moments that you were hoping would happen (him missing the catch) and it led to two big runs. Whew!
Sleeping Bats Awakened–Look Out!
Pena had been hitting terribly this season. And he had been suffering from a power outage, with no balls of his bat threatening to leave the yard. It was nice to see him take one out against a tough pitcher like Vazquez.
The other area the Rays are getting no production from is DH. I am going to lay off the Burrell Bashing–for now–and simply say that Willy Aybar’s big 2-run home run in the 6th was a respite from worrying about what to do with the DH position. After striking out horribly earlier in the game, it was great seeing him rip one down the line and out.
The Rays are going to have a tough one against the Yanks and CC Sabathia. Even though CC got knocked around pretty good by the Red Sox on Opening Day part 1, everybody knows he is a tough hombre.
The Rays are sending out youngster Wade Davis, who will make just his 7th start of his young career. He had to work hard to beat out Andy Sonnanstine for the 5th starter job, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against a tough Yankee club.
I’m excited. Can you tell?
Rays Manager Joe Maddon announced this morning that the competition for the 5th starter spot in the rotation would go to the young righty Davis over the slightly older right-hander Andy Sonnanstine.
Davis the Entire Time
It seemed a foregone conclusion heading into the season that the Rays would go with Davis instead of Sonnanstine or a free agent to be named later. His salary is more affordable for the Rays than a free agent and he has had much more recent success than the incumbent Sonnastine.
While Davis put up 4 quality starts out of 6 in 2009, Sonnanstine spend much of last season at AAA Durham working on his delivery–and failing at making that delivery more effective as he struggled before settling his ERA down to a manageable 4.40.
Decision NOT Supported by Spring’s Stats
This spring, however, both pitchers had their share of ups and downs. Sonnanstine started out poorly before putting together an 8-inning scoreless streak. That streak made him the favorite to take the final spot in the rotation, as did his 2.00 ERA in 9 innings pitched. And Davis did little to elevate himself about “Sonny” as he put up a 1-1 record in 9.2 innings and a 10.24 ERA.
However, Sonnanstine’s limited experience in the bullpen–compared to Davis’ zero experience in the bullpen–made him a more likely choice to leave the rotation. Sonnanstine made it clear following the announcement at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte that he was disappointed not to be a member of the rotation at the start of 2010. He told reporters that he was a starter at heart.
Sonny a True Pro
What was more memorable about Sonnanstine’s reaction today was that while his disappointment was palpable, he reiterated that he is a “team guy” and will work hard to make the Rays successful from the bullpen.
Davis has some success last season that led to a 2-2 record and 3.72 ERA and several double digit strike out games. Clearly, that potential helped Maddon make his final decision.
So, the rotation is set. It will look more than likely look like this heading into Opening Day:
This will certainly be one of the younger staffs the Rays have ever put together and will easily be one of the youngest–and most talented–in the majors.
The MLB trade deadline will hit us this Friday, July 31st.
It is a fun time of year as teams who think they are still in their respective races “buy” what they can while teams that are already looking ahead to 2010 (or 2011, 2012, 2013…) “sell” what they can to prepare.
We have already seen some interesting moves take place early in the trading season what with Matt Holliday moving from the West (A’s) to the Midwest (Cardinals), Rafael Betancourt going from low altitude (Cleveland) to way up in the air (Colorado), and Julio Lugo being lucky to go anywhere (Cardinals).
Other than those deals nothing notable has really happened.
It is with all this in mind that Ginny at The Watercooler and Bob at More Cowbell are putting together the first (of many) co-posts where we will look at certain aspects surrounding our beloved Tampa Bay Rays.
First up, the trade deadline and which Rays players could/should move before Friday.
We are not really debating on whether or not something will happen with each of the players discussed. We are Rays fans. We know NOTHING is going to happen.
What we are doing is looking at the team’s needs, current player performance, and the potential for a move to occur.
It is pure fun.
More Cowbell and The Watercooler are putting on our General Manager’s hats to see if something can be done to help our guys reach October, and the World Series, for the second consecutive year.
So enjoy our hypothetical (and pathetic-al) attempt at doing a job we’re never ever going to have!
Dioner Navarro C
2009 Stats: .226 13 2B 5 HR 25 RBI 2 SB 266 AB
Keep or Cut?
I am sure Ginny will agree, this is a tough one. Navi is one of the bigger fan favorites at the Trop. He and his family have gone through alot during his time with the Rays and that has kind of bonded fan and catcher together.
Looking at it from a purely baseball point of view, though, I think that Dioner needs to go. The Rays need to look into either moving him or finding somebody (Victor Martinez from the Indians?) to take his place. His stats are some of the worst in the league for a catcher.
Navarro has had a roller coaster career with the Rays. Two years ago he was brutal, hitting just .227 with a .286 OB%. Terrible. Last year he was a big reason why the Rays went to the playoffs, handling the staff well and hitting .295 with a .349 OB%.
If we keep him it will be because he handles the staff’s pitchers deftly. The Rays might also think that he’ll bounce back next year.
The Gabes: Gross and Kapler RF
Gross 2009 Stats: .271 11 2B 1 3B 5 HR 28 RBI 6 SB 177 AB
Kapler 2009 Stats: .250 13 2B 1 3B 4 HR 23 RBI 3 SB 124 AB
Keep or Cut?
These guys have worked in tandem to create a very effective platoon in right field for the Rays. No doubt, you lose a little bit defensively when Gross is in the lineup, but you gain that much back with his bat. Right now it is just the opposite with Kapler.
I think that the rightfielder of the future for the Rays is already on the team. I just don’t know who exactly that will be. It might be Ben Zobrist, Fernando Perez, Desmond Jennings, or even BJ Upton himself (with one of the latter two taking center). It will not be Gross or Kapler in 2010.
With that in mind, I think that either one is expendable. I wouldn’t trade either one of them now, though, unless putting them in a package deal can land us another starter or a catcher. Gross would probably fetch more on the open market than Kapler would. But since Akinori Iwamura is hurt and Zobrist is playing well at 2B, I would keep them both.
KEEP BOTH (for now)
Randy Choate or Brian Shouse LH Relievers
Choate 2009 Stats: 0-0 2.25 ERA 4 SV 16 IP 15 K 5 BB 1.00 WHIP .198 BAA
Shouse 2009 Stats: 1-1 3.77 ERA 0 SV 14.1 IP 9 K 3 BB 1.40 WHIP .298 BAA
Keep or Cut?
Choate has had an amazing year with the Rays. His stats show how well he’s pitched and watching him in action backs them up. His Batting Average Against is stellar. When he is brought into a game to face a left-handed batter you can pretty much assume that Choate will get the out. Lefties are hitting just .189 against him this year. He is just the kind of guy that Joe Maddon loves.
However, we already have that guy in Brian Shouse. Or do we?
Shouse’s numbers do not stack up with Choate’s at all. He gets lefties out to a .235 clip, but righties are hitting .325 against him. That pretty much means that Shouse is in for one batter and that is it. Choate has made righties hit only .200 this year.
I think that Choate is a keeper, but since we already have JP Howell, Shouse is now expendable. I know that Maddon has said that he is excited about having a “toybox of lefties” in his bullpen, but 3 is a crowd. Choate stays. Shouse goes.
Choate: KEEP Shouse: CUT
Andy Sonnanstine RH Starter (currently at AAA Durham)
2009 Stats: 6-7 6.71 ERA 81.2 IP 50 K 22 BB 1.52 WHIP .305 BAA
Keep or Cut?
Sonny is doing very well with Durham (2-0, 3.35 ERA) since his demotion a few weeks ago. However, as well as he is doing there is just about how horribly he did here. Maddon kept waiting (as did we all) for Sonnanstine to turn it around, to turn into the guy we loved last year. He was a great alternative to the flamethrowers already in the rotation, but when teams are hitting .305 off of you something has to give. It did. Andy’s at AAA.
He needs to stay unless there is some great trade the Rays can pull off of which he is a part. BUT, if the Rays are able to put him in a deal then we still have Wade Davis at AAA who can come up and be the next Sonny.
KEEP, UNLESS THE DEAL IS GOOD THEN CUT
Scott Kazmir LH Starter
2009 Stats: 4-6 6.69 ERA 74 IP 58 K 40 BB 1.72 WHIP .289 BAA
Keep or Cut?
Ahhhh, Kaz. This guy was the golden child when he was acquired from the New York Mets a few years ago for nothing more than our ace at the time, Victor Zambrano. It was such an amazing deal for the Rays and such a terrible deal for the Mets.
It’s still a good deal for Tampa Bay as Kaz developed in the ace for several years and came up big in big games last season. However, he has developed an inability to go past the 5th inning and recently has developed the inability to get guys out. It is not a good sign for the team’s current #2 starter.
He has quite a fan following (I know Ginny at The Watercooler is especially infatuated), but that is no reason to hang on to the guy. When you look at his performance you see that he is improving here in the second half of the season but that his “improvement” is still worse than many #5 starters in the league. Kaz is slotted to make $10 mill next year. He says he signed the contract to give the Rays a “bargain” and ensure that he would be able to play out his contract in Tampa Bay.
I say let him. I know it sounds crazy, but this guy has talent. It is just off a bit. I have ranted and railed at how sick of his ineffectiveness I am, but he could come back next year and become the All Star he was last year. He is one of the guys who got it all started here, and I respect that. He wanted to stay with the Rays before they were good. I doubly respect that. I want nothing more than to see him return to form. I’ll have to hope for that.
Wade Davis RH Starter (currently at Durham)
2009 Stats (at Durham): 8-6 3.22 ERA 114.2 IP 103 K 47 BB 1.29 WHIP .229 BAA
Keep or Cut?
I’ll be honest, I don’t know a great deal about the Rays’ top pitching prospect. I know that when the Rays drafted him, Davis was supposed to be part of the new wave of Rays pitchers who would arrive in the majors and dominate. He was supposed to team up with Jeff Nieman and Mitch Talbot to form the best homegrown 1-3 of any rotation in the league. Nieman is here. Talbot is hurt. It’s Davis’ turn.
If the Rays make any deal for a substantial return (Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez anyone?) then Davis is more than likely going to have to be part of the package. My gut says “do it.” I believe in NOW in alot of ways, and this season is the NOW for the Rays. Contracts are going to start kicking in soon and it won’t be long before the Rays and owner Stuart Sternberg have to dump some salary. We’ve got to do it now. If there is a way to make a deal for people who will get us to October this year, then do it.
I don’t know if that deal really exists. If we get a pitcher, it will be for about 7-8 starts the rest of the season. If we get a catcher, he’ll have to learn the staff and adjust his hitting to our stadium. In the end, a deal for a pitcher and catcher might not help us as much as we might think. And it would be stupid for a team with cash restrictions to give up an uber-talented and VERY cheap pitcher for that.