Yesterday's whipping at the hands of the Chicago White Sox left a sour taste in my mouth during today's off day. All day discussions among Rays fans have been about how bad the team is playing and how it looks like they really were one year wonders. The consensus seems to be that Rays needed the day off and the trip to the West Coast to get themselves together and refocused on their defense of the American League Pennant. It's not going to be easy for the team. They're not going to sneak up on anybody. Everybody's going to be gunning for them. Everybody's is going to scout them. Now is the time for the team to come together and get on track. It begins tomorrow night in Seattle.
With that being said, here are 10 things I want to see out of the Rays in Seattle (assuming I can stay up late enough to watch the entire game):
- Quick Start- The Rays need to jump on the starters early. I'm tired of this 5 minute 1st inning stuff. Don't let the starter get comfortable. Make sure he knows from the first pitch that he's not facing some second rate AL West team, he's facing the AL Champions! A team on a mission! A team to be reckoned with.
- Small Ball- Back to Rays baseball. The homer is fun and I enjoy the horn followed by "Feel the Heat," but let's face facts... this isn't a home run team. This team needs to get base runners, move them over, and hit them in. This team needs to quit relying on the long ball all the time. When you get up to the plate, don't think about changing the game with one swing. Instead, go up there and figure out how you're going to get the runner over or in. Once you start moving runners, you'll start seeing better pitchers and the homers will take care of themselves.
- Get the guys out you're supposed to get out- Every team has them. You know the guys that are easy outs every time through the order. The good fielding shortstop that can't hit good. The guy called up from AAA to cover for an injury. They have names like Gardener, Anderson, Lilibridge. They're guys you wouldn't recognize on the street and you barely recognize them on TV. These guys need to be dispatched... with a vengeance. I don't want this faceless bunch getting on base. I also don't want them scoring runs. I want them out. And I want them out, yesterday!
- Throw Strikes- Seems like a simple proposition, but it seems that Rays pitchers have had a little bit of problems in this area. It's not just the starters. The bullpen is just as guilty. These guys need to throw strikes early and throw them often. Get ahead of the batters. Let them know you mean business.
- Lose the slumps- I'm tired of the slump excuses. It ends now. That means you, Pat the Bat! Both Gabes, get your slump buster going! Willy Aybar, get it done! Dioner Navarro, start wrecking the ball! Bossman, getting really going! I want to see some solid hitting from the entire lineup... including the bench players. I'm tired of excuses. Start knockin!
- Good base running- I've seen some sloppy base running so far this season. There's no excuse for men paid to play professional baseball to see some of the Little League mistakes I'm seeing out there. I'll forgive a guy who has blazing speed, but Kaplar, Gross, Pena... you guys need to keep the fundamentals in mind. Don't get thrown out and blow a rally! Be aggressive, not stupid.
- Quick, low pitch count innings- Would it be too much to ask for a quick 1,2,3 inning from the starters. Go out there, get the three guys you're supposed to get and go back to the dugout. I know these are professional hitters. But when your team rallies to get you back in the game, don't blow it by allowing a cheap run in the next inning. I don't want to even see a pitch count graphic on TV until the 6th inning.
- The 2008 Wheeler, Balfour, and Howell- Look, I appreciate what you guys did last year. But, last year is over and now it's time to separate the men from the boys. I want to see you regain your 2008 form Prove to the entire league that this bullpen wasn't just a one hit wonder last year. Show the fans that love what you did last year that it wasn't a fluke. Show that grit and determination that made the Bay Area fall in love with this pen.
- A save from Troy Percival without any drama- Look, we know Maddon's going to run you out there again. There's no use fighting it. So, why night show us fans that you still have a little left in the tank. Show us why the Rays thought they could go into the year with you. Show us that you're over that injury that you used as an excuse last year. Show us you're more than a washed up, has-been that has some sort of blackmail material on Maddon. Do it, Percy! Show us!
- Some attitude- You did it last year. When the Yankees tried to push you around in Spring Training, you fought back. When the Red Sox tried to intimidate, you fought back. Nobody respected you. They laughed at the little team in St. Petersburg trying to keep up with the big boys. The Yankees knew they'd catch you in the 2nd half. The Red Sox banked on you folding down the stretch. But, all along, you maintained that us versus the world attitude and proved them all wrong. But, now that attitude's gone. You're like Rocky III, a champion who hasn't been tested. You've got all the trophies, rings, and banners... but, you've lost the attitude. Do something to get it back. Make it us versus the world again and you'll be successful!