Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Look out! Here come the Rays!

The Rays put the rest of the AL East on notice last night.  They're back and they could be better than ever.  Jeff Niemann's gutsy performance against one of baseball's premier pitcher showed that the 2009 Rays have turned the corner and are ready to start challenging.  The Blue Jays have been an enigma all year, jumping out to a fast start and slowly coming back to earth.  The Rays have been the opposite, starting slow and working their way back into a 4-way race for the AL East and the Wild Card.  Last night, the two teams met for the first time at the Rogers Centre.  It was just a meeting of 2 teams on the baseball field, it was a meeting of 2 teams headed in different directions.  The Rays won round one. A win tonight and they leave Toronto in 3rd place by themselves.

Here are some things I noticed in the Rays 4-1 victory.

  • Catching Doc Halladay.  It was a tall order for a tall pitcher.  Taking the hill on the road against arguably the best pitcher in baseball.  The Jays expect a win every time he takes the hill.  However, Niemann was having none of that.  The Rays number 5 pitcher, whose own future was in question last week, took the ball and showed what he's made of.   He gave up only 1 run in 7 1/3 innings.  He showed why the Rays were able to trade Edwin Jackson in the off-season.
  • CC knows the score.  Halladay's reputation as a baller proceeds him.  Facing him is a tall order for any batter.  But, leave it to the guy on the Rays' roster who has batted against Halladay the most to show everyone else how it's done. Moments after fouling off one deep to right, Carl Crawford made sure and sent one to the North Pole.  That 2-run shot gave Niemann the ammunition he needed to beat Halladay.  For years, Rays fans have been watching Crawford's talent. Now, we're watching him grow into a true veteran leader who lets his bat do the talking.
  • Pat the Bat's homer.  I'll admit, I've been tough on Pat the Bat.  But, for the money he's making and his performance, you can't really blame me.  I know the neck injury has slowed him down a bit. I understand he's trying to learn how to be a designated hitter. I understand all that. However, he's an important part of this lineup.  If he can really get it going, this team is going to be tough to beat in the 2nd half.  Joe Maddon hinted toward that Sunday afternoon in his post-game comments.  Maybe last night's insurance homer began Pat Burrell's true streak.
  • Keep the pedal to the medal and take the series.  The Rays need to keep it going tonight.  Just because they won last night, doesn't mean they can let up tonight.  The Blue Jays are no push overs and they're a wounded animal right now.  Matt Garza needs to come out dealing and the hitters need to take advantage of a pitcher not named Halladay.

Monday, June 29, 2009

10 Things I'd like to see: Rays vs Jays

Now we're getting down to business. After over 2 weeks of interleague play, the Rays can finally do some damage to the teams ahead of them on their own.  The good thing is that the Rays took advantage of interleague play to catch the Blue Jays and keep right up with the Red Sox and Yankees.  The Rays have 12 games left before the All-Star break: 6 at home and 6 on the road. Of those 12, the Rays have 6 against the Toronto Blue Jays.  Over the next two weeks, the Rays have the opportunity to bury the Jays in 4th place in the AL East and turn their sites toward the New York Yankees.  That quest begins tonight in Toronto against one of the best starters in baseball Roy Halladay.

Last week the Rays did pretty good on my 10 things list.  They caught the Blue Jays, they continued their home dominance, Bossman stayed toasty, and the established a bullpen pecking order.  However, I'm still waiting to see Pat the Bat's streak that I've been hearing so much about.

Here are 10 things I'd like to see this week:

1. Rays Swagger.  Last year, the Rays were the new kids on the block in the AL East. Each night, they had to go out and prove that they weren't just a flukey team that got off to a good start. This year, it's about overcoming expectations.  The tough April start had many questioning the Rays run last year.  Now that they're starting to come back, it's time to see some of that swagger.  By swagger, I mean that feeling you get from watching a team that knows they're going to win.  We've seen what this team can do when they have that swagger, but we've also seen what they do when they don't have it.  They start pressing and making mistakes.

2. Show the Blue Jays who's boss.  Cito Gasten has really done a good job turning this Blue Jays team around since taking over last year.  They're a good team. But, are they as talented as the Rays? I don't think so.  I think the Jays strong start and the Rays slow start made it look like the Jays were for real. But, they've slowly been coming down to earth.  The Rays need to make sure they complete that fall to 4th and stick their foot on the Jays'  throats..  It's going to be tough on the road. I'd much rather see this series at the Trop.   

3.  Road Warriors.  Speaking of the road,  the Rays need to start getting that road record closer to .500.  As good as the Rays play at home, they need to start winning series on the road. They took a good step toward that by beating the New York Mets at Citi Field.  But, before that they dropped 2 of 3 to the Rockies and Yankees.  And don't forget about the forgettable Cleveland series at the end of May.  This week's slate of road games against the Blue Jays and Texas Rangers will not be easy.  But, the Rays need to really get it going on the road in order to make some headway in the division.

4.  No Lance Cormier. Nothing against the guy, he's actually been a real bright spot all year in the Rays bullpen.  However, I don't want to see Cormier.  Instead, I want to see the Rays starting pitchers to take it right to the late bullpen staff. No long relief.  Last year, it seemed like we'd go weeks without seeing Jason Hammel.  Let's got through a stretch until the All-Star break without the need for Cormier.

5. Pat's Streak.  I'm still waiting for Pat Burrell's hot streak. We've been hearing about it since the Rays signed him.  Joe Maddon even referenced getting Burrell hot.  Earlier in the season, other teams seemed concerned about Pat starting a streak.  Now, they're walking Ben Zobrist to get to Pat the Bat.  

6. More Toasty Upton. It seemed to work last week after Bossman's AL Player of the Week award. Let's try it again. I want to see Bossman continue his hot streak. He seems to be carrying this team right now.

7. Big bad Jason Bartlett.  Can this guy do anything wrong? Since coming over from Minnesota, he's been a man on a mission.  First, he took the Rays shortstop play to a never-seen-before level.  He's made it easier for Rays' starters to pitch to contact and taken away some of those "cheesy" hits that plagued the Rays in the past.  Now, he's become almost an unstoppable force at the late. He's consistantly driving in big runs, getting key hits, and making big hustle plays. He's become the true veteran leader on this team, showing day in and day out how to truly play baseball.

8.  Yankees in 3rd, Jays in 4th.  Later this week, the Jays and Yankees will face off at New Yankee Stadium in a 4 game set.  I would enjoy nothing more than watching those 2 battle for 3rd place behind the Rays and the Red Sox. It could easily happen.

9. No more attendance talk.  This one shouldn't really be a problem with the Rays on the road, but I really hate when Rays attendance talk makes it to the national level.  Matt Silverman got it all started with complaints about the attendance to the World Series rematch. However, it looks like Rays fans responded, coming out in full force over the weekend against the Florida Marlins. Of course, a Pat Benatar concert and a bobblehead giveaway didn't hurt anything.

10. No red caps on the 4th of July. I'm sure this probably a done deal, but I'd prefer not to see the Rays wear the red caps on Saturday.  The got pummelled last time they wore them and they look really bad. Please Rays don't do it!

Don't forget to buy some Rays gear for summer.  Amazon.com has plenty of stuff to help you show off your pride.  Below are just some of the selections I'm looking at. Click on the link and find some Rays gear for you or the Rays fan in your life.

Another milestone in sprint to All-Star break

The Rays in sweep over the Florida Marlins, combined with the Philadelphia Phillies handling of the Toronto Blue Jays put the Rays in a place they haven't been in a long time: Legitimately back in the playoff hunt.  They've passed the Blue Jays, taken sole possession of 3rd place in the AL East and are a season-high 7 games over .500. It's a nice place to be with only a couple of weeks until the All-Star break.

Now, they get the opportunity to take care of business themselves.  They're headed north of the border for a showdown with the Toronto Blue Jays that will show us exactly where this team is. Will it be easy? Hardly.  The Rays haven't been the best road team all year and the Blue Jays play tough in their dome.  Plus, Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay is coming of the disabled list just in time to cool down the Rays.

Earlier this year a Red Sox friend of mine on Twitter compared the 2009 Blue Jays to the 2008 Rays. He said there was no comparison because the Blue Jays lacked the "swagger" the Rays had both last year and this year.  Interesting.  We'll see what kind of swagger the Rays can muster up this week.

Here are some things I noticed from the Rays 5-2 victory and sweep over the Marlins:

  • J.P. Howell, fireman.  Have the Rays finally found their closer? Howell doesn't think so, but it sure is looking like he's Maddon's go to guy late in the game.  For the 3rd game in a row, Howell shut the door on the Marlins allowing the Rays to take the game.  He's got my vote.
  • Toasty Upton.  After the game, Joe Maddon was listing off the reasons the Rays are playing better now and one of those was "Upton getting toasty."  I have to agree with the skipper, this lineup is way more dangerous with Bossman hitting homers and getting on base. 
  • 100 homers, 100 stolen bases.  Maddon said yesterday that everyone always talks about the Rays speed on the base paths, but fails to acknowledge the team's power.  There's no doubt the rest of the league will take notice now.
  • Work in progress. David Price kept his spot in the rotation following Scott Kazmir's return, and he went out and proved he still belonged.  He did have some shaky moments, but all-in-all was able to keep a tough Marlins lineup in check.  He definitely looked better than he did the other night against Philadelphia.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

3rd Place and lovin' it

The Rays took a big step forward in their battle back into contention last night beating the Florida Marlins and at the same time catching the Toronto Blue Jays in the standings.  This weekend is setting up nicely for a big battle between the division rivals.  The Blue Jays got off to a hot start at the beginning of the season while the Rays were awfully cool.  Now, the roles are reversed and the Rays have the chance to correct on Monday. But, first the Rays have to get past the final game of interleague play and the Florida Marlins.

Here are some of the things I noticed in the Rays 3-2 victory:

  • Kazmir's return.  He's still not back to 2007 form, but wow, he looked a lot better last night than he had in awhile.  If Kaz can return to form, life will be good for the Rays and their fans. My favorite quote from Kazmir: "We have fans who have no idea how I can pitch. They think I'm an 89-90 mph guy with a horse (bleep) slider."  He's right. Some of the newer fans are going to see something really special if he gets his act together.
  • Team meeting.  As they said after the game, it wasn't their best celebration ever, but I sure enjoyed the team meeting after Willy Aybar's walk-off sac fly.  While it may not be the most exciting way to win a game, the fact that they battled and finished the Marlins off is a real good sign.
  • Killer Bullpen. Is it any coincidence that the Rays are playing much better now that the bullpen is lights out? These guys are making it easy to forget the early season struggles and J.P. Howell is really growing into a the 9th inning role.  Add Chad Bradford to the mix and the Rays will be breathing down the Red Sox necks in no time.
  • Pat the Bat Fail.  I was going to mention Pat Burrell's weight here, but a fellow twitter user advised that I shouldn't do that unless I'm willing to say it to his face.  Since I'm scared of him and his dog, I'll just point out the Marlins game plane in the 8th inning.  They actually walked Ben Zobrist with 2 outs to get to Pat the Bat.  I'm no expert, but that's a complete lack of respect... even more than me calling him fat.  How did Pat react to that disrespect? He struck out swinging, stranding 2 runners in a tie game.
  • Pat the Bat Fail, Part 2.  A Phillies blogger sent me a link about a discussion between Howard Stern and a porn star about her relationship with Pat the Bat.  Interesting.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Citrus Series and Trop Talk

In case you haven't noticed, the Rays are on quite a tear now. Leave it to some interleague play to get the team on the right track and they didn't disappoint against the Marlins in the 1st of 3 in the Citrus Series... Tropicana Field style.  The Rays didn't pick up any ground yesterday, since all the other AL East teams won, but like I've said before: Worry about your own wins this time of the year.  Keep winning and you'll pick up ground.

Here are some things I noticed:

  • A healthy B.J. Upton makes this offense look real good. I'm pretty sure last night was what Joe Maddon dreamed about all off-season when he planned Bossman's move to the lead-off spot.  I've got to give Maddon credit for sticking with Bossman even as he was hitting around .150.  If he can keep up this production from the lead-off spot, watch out, the Blue Jays and Yankees will be eating our dust.
  • Bye-Bye, Sonnanstine.  The Rays sent Andy Sonnanstine down to Triple-A Durham and activated Scott Kazmir, who will start tonight.  I thought Sonny had a chance to prove himself the other night, but giving up 4 runs in the 1st isn't the way to do it.  The Rays have a logjam at starter and Sonny was the odd man out.  I think the Rays are stashing Sonny down in Durham as insurance against injury.  Maddon says he wants him to keep pitching his innings.
  • The Submariner makes his return.  To me, the Chad Bradford acquisition last year was huge for the Rays bullpen.  That guy got them out of plenty of jams during the stretch run to the World Series. Now, he's back with the team and off the DL.  The Rays had to designate Winston Abreau for assignment. But, I'm happy to see Bradford come back especially with the series against Toronto looming.
  • More Trop Talk.  More volleys in the Rays stadium battle.  The Times reported today that all of the area's political forces are aligning to keep the Rays in St. Petersburg.  Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio doesn't even want to discuss a possible move.  The economy has given them an advantage, but this economy isn't going to last forever.  At some point, other suiters will emerge and the Bay Area political establishment will see the heat turned up.  
  • Even More Trop Talk.  Some sent me this link from wezen-ball.com, comparing the ABC report on Tropicana Field to the reviews it received when it opened.  Good read. On a side note, I attended the opening day party at the Suncoast Dome.  The highlight: watching Reggie Theus, in a Magic uniform, drain 3's from a make-shift court on the concrete floor. A few years later, I watched Guns N' Roses in concert from about a mile away.  Axl was pretty small.
  • I promise this is the last of the Trop Talk.  I participated in St. Pete Times chat yesterday concerning the stadium issue. Besides learning that there really wasn't much insight from the chat moderator and that Twitter is a much better communication facilitator than a newspaper chatroom, I found a link of interest.  A guy in the chat posted a link showing why he believes the Rays will move to Tampa, exactly where the park will be, and he even works out traffic issues. Very well thought out.
  • Facebook and Twitter.  Many of you know that I'm very active on Twitter about the #Rays. I've started a facebook page for Twitter Rays fans. I know it sounds a bit redundant, but I think facebook allows a different sort of sharing as opposed to Twitter. It gives us our own little group. To become a fan, go to this link.  And to follow me on twitter, go to www.twitter.com/m_weber
  • Michael Jackson and the Rays.  If you haven't done it yet, make sure your read my Michael Jackson and the Rays post.  You can get in on the fun comparing Rays players to Michael Jackson songs.  Clark said: Joe Maddon - Don't Stop Til You Get Enough and Grayson said: Dioner Navarro - Scream

Friday, June 26, 2009

Remembering Michael Jackson, Rays style

I hate to admit this, but last night's Rays game was a bit overshadowed by the death of Michael Jackson. It was a sad day for those of us who grew up in the eighties... the MTV age. 

Now, on to business.  The Rays were able to overcome a rocky start from Andy Sonnanstine to seemingly avenge themselves on the Philadelphia Phillies for last year's World Series defeat.  The Rays chalked up another important series win and actually gained a game on the Blue Jays and Red Sox who both lost.  If they can keep taking 2 of 3, the playoffs become more of a possibility.

In honor of Micheal Jackson, here are some of the things I noticed:
  • Man in the Mirror. I will give Andy Sonnanstine credit. He was able to overcome a disastrous 1st inning, settle down and pitch a great game.  However, I think his 1st inning was the most telling.  With his spot in the rotation on the line, he laid an egg and gave up a quick 4 runs. Fortunately for him, his offense bailed him out. I really thought he had the opportunity to come out strong and make it real hard for the Rays to drop him from the rotation.  I think he missed it and he's headed to the bullpen to make room for Scott Kazmir.
  • The Way You Make Me Feel.  Nothing like a love story with a baseball backdrop.  Ben Zobrist's wife Julianna sings the National Anthem and Zobrist shows his love with a homer in the 1st inning... his 16th of the year.  Zorilla is really becoming the story of the year for the Rays.  
  • Wanna be startin' something.  Zorilla may be the breakout player of the year for the Rays, but Jason Bartlett is showing signs of becoming a superstar.  Bartlett extended his hit streak to 19 games passing Quenten McCracken (remember him?) on the Rays list.  What's amazing is that the streak continued through an injury and Bartlett didn't seem to miss a beat. Jeter, you hear those footsteps behind you? It's the new premier shortstop in the AL East.
  • Beat it.  The Rays considering Hillsborough County for a new stadium? Not quite. But, it looks like the St. Pete Times got some of the spots under consideration by the ABC group. Three of the 5 potential spots are in Hillsborough: Westshore district, downtown Tampa, and the fairgrounds. Interesting.  The Rays didn't comment and it seems like there are still plenty of political hoops to jump through before the Rays could make a move across the bay. But, like I said, the stadium battle has escalated.

Here are some Rays players and the Michael Jackson song that goes with them:

Carl Crawford - Smooth Criminal
Pat Burrell - Remember the Time
Evan Longoria - Thriller
Scott Kazmir - Dangerous
Grant Balfour - Off the Wall
David Price - We're Almost There
B.J. Upton - Bad
Matt Garza - Happy

If you have any other Michael Jackson songs that go with Rays players, let me know.  

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Garza's game or Pat's swing

Picture courtesy of Tom Topping, Director and Head Coach of Nike Team Florida Hoops

I'm not sure which was more exciting: The game Matt Garza pitched or Pat Burrell's 407 foot blast into left center.  Both were something Rays fans were looking for after Tuesday night's game. Burrell's homer gave Garza all the ammunition he would need to finish off the world champions, 7-1. Tonight's the final game of the 3 game World Series rematch.  

The Rays can stay on track with a win as they prepare for a weekend series against the Marlins. Off the field, there's plenty of drama brewing.  The Rays have to figure out how they're going to get Scott Kazmir back in the rotation.  Plus, attendance has now become an issue for the first time this season as team president Matt Silverman's comment about this series gained more traction.

Here are some things I noticed:

  • Admiring Pat Burrell.  A couple of days ago, I said "nothing was more beautiful in Rays baseball" than watching B.J. Upton admire a home run. I may have to take that back. Pat the Bat's homer seemed to trump a Bossman homer last night.  Watching Pat the Bat actually do what he's paid for had a roaring affect on Rays fans.  The #Rays tag on twitter blew up and I personally got several text messages and a phone call. It seem there was plenty of excitement over that homer.
  • Just throw the dang fastball. Matt Garza says words from pitching coach Jim Hickey helped him get through the rough 4th inning.  He said he was relying too much on his breaking ball to avoid hits.  Hickey had to remind him what to do.  It worked. Garza got out of the inning without giving up a run.  When Garza's on, he's really got some filthy stuff.  The Rays need to get consistency out of him every start.  If he pitches like that every fifth day, the Rays will be back in the hunt even sooner than we thought.
  • Baserunning blunders.  The Rays seemed a little overly aggressive last night on the basepaths. Carl Crawford got thrown out trying to stretch a double in to a triple and Bossman got thrown out at the plate tagging on a fly ball.  Gabe Gross also got thrown out at third.  I don't think it's a real problem, but it was definitely noticeable last night.  I like the aggressiveness, as long as it's tempered with smart baserunning.
  • The crowd, Part deux.  The battle for a new stadium is taking on a whole new dimension.  The Rays finally took attendance frustrations public and the media and fans are picking up on it.  John Romano had an excellent column this morning on his thoughts.  10 connects reporter Preston Rudie did a story for the 11pm news last night.  Just remember fans, don't take it personally, it's all part of a PR war between St. Petersburg and the Rays.  Like any war, it's probably going to get bloody.  Until the Rays break ground on a new stadium, expect plenty more of this.  
  • Evan Longoria's Hammy.  Longo had to leave the game last night because of his hamstring.  I was a bit concerned at first, but after the game, Longo and Maddon seemed to believe it wasn't a big deal.  We'll see. Hamstring injuries are always a lingering problem.
  • Scott Kazmir, where do you go? When Andy Sonnanstine takes the mound tonight, it may be his last start for awhile. Kazmir is ready to get back in the rotation and someone's got to go.  The current consensus is that either Sonnanstine or Niemann will go to the bullpen.  Niether is expected to be sent down.  With all this drama, I really hope we get the 2006/2007 Kazmir in the rotation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Video Post: James Shields bobblehead

The Rays sent over a "Big Game" James Shields bobblehead. It's Sunday's giveaway to the first 10,000 children under 14.  I'm not sure it looks too much like him. I thought the Dioner Navarro bobblehead was more of a likeness of the player.

This message was sent using the Picture and Video Messaging service from Verizon Wireless!
To learn how you can snap pictures and capture videos with your wireless phone visit www.verizonwireless.com/picture.
Note: To play video messages sent to email, QuickTime® 6.5 or higher is required.

Price making Rays Kazmir decision easier?

Maybe David Price isn't as ready as fans thought.  At the end of spring training, the Rays made the decision to send Price back down to AAA to work things out.  After a rough start in April, many fans were calling for Price to help in the starting rotation.  Fans from other teams were wondering why the Rays playoff rookie phenom was toiling away in Durham.  It turns out, maybe the Rays knew what they were doing.  The Philadelphia Phillies (the same team that beat the Rays in the World Series) jumped all over price in the 1st inning putting up 6 runs.  Of course, it wasn't all Price's fault.  The Rays seemed to have left their defense at Citi Field in New York.  All in all, it was one of those nights you'd like to forget your team ever played.

Here are some things I noticed:

  • David Price to AAA?  The Rays said when they brought him up that he was there to stay.  But, Scott Kazmir is ready to return and the Rays need to make room for him.  Jeff Niemann is out of options.  That leaves Andy Sonnanstine or David Price.  Before last night's game, I was leaning toward Sonnanstine going to the bullpen or Durham.  Price's performance did open a small crack for the Rays to send him back to Durham without really losing face.  Another option: A trade.
  • At least Gabe Kaplar and Jason Bartlett remembered to show up.  Bartlett extended his hit streak to 17 and Kaplar knocked him in for the Rays lone run.  I was going to give the AL's Player of the Week (B.J. Upton) some props until he ran past that ball in center field in the 4th inning.  Don't forget, Bossman, they're always watching.
  • Jamie Moyer owns the Rays.  Moyer reminds me of "Eddie Harris," the old pitcher in Major League that did whatever he could to keep his edge and continue to pitch.  The Rays really had no answer for him.
  • Small crowd for the game.  Uh oh.  The dreaded attendence issue is coming up again.   Last night's crowd of 19,608 was far below what the Rays expected for the World Series rematch and they didn't let us forget it.  Matt Silverman said the team was "perplexed" on last night's crowd.  Joe Maddon said, "the mood lighting wasn't very good."  To be honest, I don't have the answer to the attendance issue.  Maybe it's the stadium.  Maybe this isn't a baseball market.  But, be ready Rays fans, the team is going to push the attendence issue in the battle to get a new stadium.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

10 Things I'd like to see: World Series rematch

I must admit, I can't really hate the Philadelphia Phillies too much.  Sure they beat the Rays in the World Series last year, but I like to reserve my intense dislike for teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. In fact, my father grew up in New Jersey, a Phillies fan and the Phillies were the only team I got to see as a kid when we went up during the summer.

But, just because I don't hate 'em, the way I hate the Yanks and Sox doesn't mean I don't want to see the Rays put a boot on their throat and kick this struggling team while their down.  The Phillies are on a 6-game losing streak, a streak I'd like the Rays to make 9.  Maybe a little revenge is in order while the Rays try to climb back into the race.

Here are 10 things I want to see this week:

1. More home dominance.  The Rays can't afford to lose too many more series at home.  They've got to continue the dominance they've established at home.  All the teams in the AL East, except for Boston, have won 21 games at home.  The Rays need to keep pace with New York and Toronto if they are to climb back.

2. Bossman's bat.  B.J. Upton was named the AL Player of the week after hitting .429 with 2 homers and 9 RBI's in 6 games.  He's raised his batting average to .240 and is looking like the guy Joe Maddon thought he could be at the top of the order.  I'd like to see Bossman continue his hot streak at the Trop.

3. Better starting pitching.  Except for James Shields, the last trip through the starting rotation was rather weak.  Even the normally unflappable Matt Garza had his struggles against the Colorado Rockies.  With the way the bullpen and offense is going, the Rays can become real hot if the starting pitching starts giving some real solid innings.  As it is, they seem to be giving up one or two bad pitches that are costing them games.  David Price and Matt Garza can set the tone with the first 2 games of this series against the Phillies.

4. Pat Burrell vs his old team.  We've been waiting all year for Pat the Bat's streak to start.  Now, would be as good of time as any against his old teammates.  Between the slow start and the injury, Rays fans haven't seen much out of Pat the Bat. I'd like to see him really turn it around.

5. Catch the Jays and the Yankees.  The Rays are just 2 game behind the Yankees and 1 game behind the Blue Jays.  These last 6 interleague games at home are the opportunity this team needs to propel itself past the Jays and Yanks.  I'm still looking for a sprint to the All-Star break. That spring can start this week against the Phillies and Marlins.

6. Bullpen roles more defined.  Even though Joe Maddon would probably argue this point, I'm beginning to sense a pattern in the bullpen.  It looks like J.P. Howell has become the closer and Dan Wheeler the set-up man.  Howell's pitching lights out and Wheeler looks much better than he did earlier in the season.  With Chad Bradford's return coming, the bullpen picture may clear up even more.  As long as Maddon can trust Joe Nelson and Randy Choate to get lefties out before the ninth inning (I'm not sure I do),  I think we'll see Howell in the closer role.

7.  The Return of Scott Kazmir.  Regular readers of mine know that Kazmir is still on of my favorite Rays.  I've been following his progress almost religiously since he went on the disabled list.  He had a real good start in Durham and the team expects to have him back by the end of the week. That brings up all kinds of questions concerning the starting rotation.  Who's place is he going to take?  Andy Sonnanstine seems the most likely candidate, but can the Rays pull the plug on him right now? We'll see. Maybe a trade is in the works.  Either way, it's going to be interesting to see what they do.

8. Gabes picking it up.  The Gabe Kaplar / Gabe Gross combination has really picked it up over the last few weeks.  I'm hearing less and less complaints about them and it seems that Kaplar is finally picking it up at the plate. As for Gross, he's become a real gem in right field, making runners think twice before taking an extra base.  A hot Gabe tandum (can't believe I wrote those words) can really make the bottom of the order click.

9. Dioner "Pinkeye" Navarro.  My friend, Sam, has a game he plays whenever Navarro comes to the plate.  It seems like the more insults he hurls at Navarro, the more likely he is to get a hit or knock in a run.  Well Sam's going to have to keep those insults going.  This has really been a disappointing year for the catcher.  However, as his .200 partner Bossman has show, a hot week can really changer perceptions.

10.  Zobrist defending 2nd base.  When Akinori Iwamura went on the DL, it looked like it was for the year.  The opportunistic Ben Zobrist took advantage and pretty much made 2nd base his.  He beat out Willy Aybar for the everyday opportunity and got himself tucked right into the number 5 spot in the batting order. Now with word that Aki could return before the end of the year, Zorilla is going to have to be even more opportunistic and prove to the Rays that this position is his for keeps.  It's going to get real interesting.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bossman's beautiful swing

For my money, nothing is more beautiful in Rays baseball than watching a B.J. Upton home run swing.  Watching the Bossman admire a deep shot to left after a fluid swing is like watching poetry in motion.  And it's even better on a day like Sunday, when its a big hit in a big ballpark. Bossman's homer to the 2nd deck of the Citi Field couldn't have come at a more opportune time. The Rays have had trouble playing from behind all week, and had just lost the lead.  Bossman set things straight and continued his hot streak.  We may finally be seeing the Bossman that Maddon's been looking for in the leadoff spot all year.

With the 10-6 win, the Rays bats and the bullpen helped make sure that the Rays finished the road trip at .500. Now, the Rays return home in a World Series rematch against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • Starting pitching still slumping.  While James Shields did his part to get the starters out of their slump on Saturday, Jeff Niemann did nothing to keep it going.  He pitched on the "verge of disaster," as Todd Kalas put it, all afternoon.  National League rules made it easy for Joe Maddon to go to the bullpen early and pinch hit for Niemann.  The Rays are still have trouble getting the starters, the bats, and the bullpen all playing well at the same time.
  • Bossman/Crawford/Longo drop it like it's hot.  The 1-2-3 batters were almost unstoppable yesterday going 11-16, 7 runs scored, and 7 RBI's.  The Rays aren't going to lose too many games with those guys playing like that.  The Rays offense really struggles when both Crawford and Longoria are slumping.  Hopefully, yesterday's performance was a sign of things to come.
  • Pat Burrell, National League DH?  I just enjoyed watching Pat the Bat get 2 at-bats in a National League game.  He led off the 8th inning with a hit and then ended the inning with an out.
  • Jason Bartlett's hit streak.  I've been remiss in pointing out Bartlett's 16-game hitting streak. The man is a monster this year.  The fact that he's picked up right where he left off before his ankle injury is remarkable.  If that man doesn't make the All-Star game, I'm calling it a travesty.
  • The middle of the AL East is starting to clog up.  The Rays are only 2 behind the Yankees and 1 behind the Blue Jays.  It's setting up for a sprint to the All-Star break.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pena and Shields prove Rays ain't done yet

Picture courtesy of Rebecca from www.puristbleedspinstripes.com.

I'm going to admit it. I was pretty bummed watching Johan Santana cut through the Rays line-up with precision yesterday. It didn't matter to me how good James Shields was pitching, I thought that the one run the Mets got in the 2nd inning would be more than enough for Santana.  It was a script that had been written over and over again the past three days.  The starter gives up a couple of runs early and the Rays can never catch up.  Even when Jason Bartlett and Gabe Kaplar hit back-to-back doubles to tie the score, I wasn't convinced.  

Then came Carlos Pena's monster shot.  It doesn't get any better than that.  Facing a tough pitcher in a tough ballpark, Pena put his team on his back and made sure James Shields ace performance wouldn't go unrewarded. And what a performance it was.  He only gave up 1 run on 3 hits.  He retired 14 Mets in a row after giving up a double to Joey Cora in the third.

The Rays go at it again today.  A win and they finish the 6 game road trip and 3-3 before heading back to the Trop for some home cooking.

Here are some things I noticed:

  • Playing with the lead.  Pena's home run gave the Rays their first lead in 4 games.  Since the first game in Denver, the Rays have unsuccessfully been playing catch-up.  Yesterday, they finally caught up.  Granted, it was only a 1-run lead, but against Johan Santana that seemed almost insurmountable. 
  • Longo's slump.  One reason the Rays have been having trouble catching up is Evan Longoria's little mini-slump. In the past four games, he's just 3-14.  This team is a lot more potent offensively when Longo's knocking the ball all over the park.  I'm not sure yet if he's being pitched differently or if the hamstring injury has somehow affected his swing.  Right now, his average is down to .299.
  • Crawford's bigger slump.  CC is also slumping a little at the top of the order.  National League pitching doesn't seem to agree with him.  Since this round of interleague play started, CC is 3-for-29.  The Rays have trouble generating offense while CC and Longo are slumping.
  • Big outs from the bullpen.  Dan Wheeler has taken a lot of heat this year, but he really looked solid in his last couple of outings.  Following the long rain delay, Wheeler went out and got a 1-2-3 inning from the Mets to keep Shields' lead intact.  There was no drama, no concern, just a workman-like hold.  J.P. Howell made things a little tougher on himself, giving up a 2 out hit to Carlos Beltran.  But, he made David Wright look bad and struck him out to end the game.
  • Zorilla's insurance run.  Ben Zobrist continues to come up big in the clutch.  With 2 outs in the top of the ninth, he tacked on an insurance run with his 15th homer of the season.  Zorilla is becoming a fan favorite here in the Bay Area, yesterday he showed a national audience why.
  • More Cowbell.  Looks like the cowbell craze is catching on past Tropicana Field.  Last night, I flipped on the Marlins/Yankees game and what did I see?  Marlins fans sporting orange cowbells and ringing them to cheer the team.  At first, I was offended that the Marlins would rip the Rays off.  Then I realized, who cares? If it upsets Yankee fan in Florida, I'm all for it.  Plus, the Marlins beat the Yankees allowing the Rays to pick up a game in the AL East.  

Happy Father's day to all the fathers who are reading this right now.  Baseball and fathers just go together.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Not enough innings

Maybe the Rays problems these last few days comes down to one problem: Not enough innings.  I know they play things a little different in the National League, but the Rays don't seem to realize that both leagues play nine innings.  For the 3rd game in a row, an early inning power surge against the Rays starters turns in to a hole the offense just can't climb out of.  For the 3rd game in a row, the Rays painfully, slowly, try to mount a comeback but come up just short.  The only conclusion I can draw is maybe there's not enough innings.

The Rays are playing much like they have the entire season.  As soon as they gain some traction (like a 6 game win streak), they turn around and give back what they gained.  The All-Star break is right around the corner and time is running out on the Rays.  Right now, they're closer to last place than they are 1st place. There isn't much margin for error in the AL East and if they're going to become contenders for a playoff spot, they're going to have to get going.  Maybe they used up all the magic last year.  Maybe the April start was too much of a hole to climb out of.  We'll just have to wait and see.

Here are some things I noticed:

  • More long ball from the starters.  I guess I wasn't really surprised that Andy Sonnanstine figured out a way to give up a monster homer at the homer graveyard better known as Citi Field.  Not only that, it was a 3-run blast by a guy (Brian Schneider) who hadn't hit a homer. And even worse than that, he hit it to the long part of the park and proved to anyone who thought you can't hit a homer that it is, indeed, possible.  The early homer has really hurt the Rays in this 3-game losing streak.
  • Slow offense.  The offense hasn't seemed in sync these last few days.  Granted, there has been some flashes of brilliance, but it's not coming together for some reason.  Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena seem to be striking out in big at-bats.  Carl Crawford seem to have cooled off, as well.  While the Rays may have questionable pitching in some places, the offense is the part of the game that needs to stay at a high level.  Four run leads in the 3rd inning should not be insurmountable.  If they keep looking that way, the starters are going to press more.
  • There's still time.  The Rays can still salvage this road trip this weekend.  A .500 road trip through 2 National League parks is not all that bad.  If they can win the next two, and then come back to the Trop for some home cooking... they may be able to gain some ground.
  • No hole.  The St. Pete Times said this morning that Stu Sternberg says he doesn't see any glaring hole on this team that they can improve themselves dramatically by bringing someone in. That means don't expect the Rays to make any big moves over the next few weeks.  I tend to agree with Sternberg.  While I do think the Rays could use a closer, I don't think that would really add too many wins at this point.  The team needs to concentrate on getting the best out of the talent they have.  Plus, a healthy Scott Kazmir could be a big boost to this rotation.
  • Pat Burrell a bust?  I was having a discussion with Matty from St. Pete yesterday and he posed the question: At what point do we have to consider Pat the Bat a bust?  I'm not sure it's time, especially considering the injury, but I'd really like to see those hot streaks I heard so much about in the off-season.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter.  You can do that by going to www.twitter.com/m_weber. You'll find all kinds of good Rays talk and plenty of good Rays fans. 

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rays limp out of Coors Field

When the series started, the Rays and Rockies were two of the hottest teams in baseball. The Rockies had won 11 straight, the Rays 5.  The Rays broke the Rockies streak at 11, but then over the next two days got them started on another one.  The Rockies beat the Rays in games 2 and 3 with solid starting pitching and capitalizing on Rays starter's mistakes. Now, the Rays head to visit CitiField for the first time and a date with the New York Mets.  The rest of the AL East seems to be handling the National League fairly well, so the Rays can't afford to drop 2 or more to the Mets.  They need to shore up the road attack and get another winning streak going.

Here are some things I noticed:

  • Starting pitching.  The Rockies Ubaldo Jiminez showed the importance of starting pitching yesterday.  He controlled the Rays keeping them off the board after a 2nd inning run.  That's no easy task against a lineup as potent as the Rays. On the other hand, both Matt Garza and David Price made mistake pitches that gave the Rockies just enough cushion to finish off the Rays.

  • Closer. I know this is touch subject for some people, but did you see how Hutson Street looked against the Rays in the ninth?  Yesterday, he was staring down the barrel of a loaded shotgun with Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena up, no outs, and 2 runners on.  What did he do? He struck them both out and, in doing so, pretty much ended the Rays comeback chances.  A guy like Street gives teams a chance to shorten the game. The Rays don't have that guy.  The Rockies do.

  • Forgot about them National League rules.  The Rays started to mount a little mini rally in the 4th inning. Gabe Gross and Jason Bartlett hit back to back singles, setting the stage for Dioner Navarro to knock in a couple of runs.  The only problem? He wasn't going to see anything to hit.  The Rockies decided to take their chances with Matt Garza, who not only struck out, but looked real bad doing so.

  • One game at a time. I've said it over and over again the season.  The Rays need to climb back in this thing one game at a time.  The Rockies are a hot team.  Sometimes it's real tough to get anything going against a team like that at home. Now, they've got the Mets.  The Rays need to get some good starting pitching from Andy Sonnanstine, James Shields, and Jeff Niemann.  It seems to me that is now the missing link.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Scott Kazmir: Charlotte Stone Crab

Last night, Rays lefty Scott Kazmir took the mound for the Charlotte Stone Crabs. Even though Kazmir is the latest Tampa Bay Ray to make a cameo appearance for the team formerly known as the Vero Beach Devil Rays, for some reason this one was more interesting to me.  Maybe it's because Kazmir, despite his troubles, is still one of my favorite Rays.  Before the Rays turned the corner last year, he was the one guy that could draw me to a game.  Nothing was more exciting then watching Kaz rack up "K's" at Tropicana Field.

If last night is any indication, we may get to see the 2007 version of Kaz again, real soon.   He was on a 65 pitch limit.  He struck out 5, allowed 3 hits and only 1 walk in 5 innings of work. He came away with the win.  Now, if he can bring that back up here... the Rays could be in business.  

But, what does that mean for the rotation? Outside of a trade, I honestly don't know what the Rays are planning. Conventional wisdom would say that Kazmir would return to his spot in the rotation and Price would go back down.  However, the Rays have said before that once Price is up, he's here to stay.  If Andy Sonnanstine continues to pitch well, you can't do anything with him. And Jeff Niemann has proved he's an everyday starter. 

I guess it's a good problem to have.  They may sneak Kazmir in the bullpen for a little while as a hedge against another injury to a starter.  Of course, that means a bullpen arm will have to go and Chad Bradford is getting ready to come back also.  It's going to be an interesting lead up to the All-Star break as far as the roster goes.  Stay tuned.

Here are some pictures and links to the video of Kazmir's start in a Charlotte Stone Crabs uniform.  10 Connects Sports reporter Travis Bell went down there took the video. I grabbed the screen shots.

Clip 1: Highlights and soundbite from Kaz
Clip 2: Full postgame interview with Kaz

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Who's the hottest team in baseball? The Rays, of course.

The Rays didn't waste any time last night establishing that they are, in fact, the hottest team in baseball right now.  Evan Longoria set the tone with a 1st inning homer and by the 2nd inning, the rout was on.  The Rays came into the game winners of 5 in a row, but they were facing a red-hot Colorado Rockies team that had won 11 in a row. Something had to give, and last night, it was the Rockies.

Things are looking up for the Rays now.  They're getting solid bullpen pitching at the same time their offense is getting healthy  This could be the streak we've been waiting all year for.  But, as I've said, they need to keep thinking just one game at a time.  The standings will take care of themselves.

Here are some things I noticed:

  • Rays look good playing at Coors Field.  I don't know how the rest of this series is going to turn out, but to me, it looked like the Rays looked real comfortable playing in Denver.  They knocked the ball out of the park 5 times and when they weren't doing that they were spraying triples, doubles, and singles all over the place.  Of course, the way the Rays were hitting last night, they may have looked good anywhere.
  • More strong bullpen.  I must admit. I was concerned when Joe Maddon went to Mr. Spock (Joe Nelson) in the 6th. I wasn't sure the Vulcan changeup would work so well at Coors Field.  Boy, was I wrong.  Nelson went out there and struck out three.  He was a very important bridge between Jeff Niemann and the back end of the bullpen.  He kept the Rockies at bay in a park where anything can happen.  Don't discount the bullpen's role in this streak.
  • Starting pitching. Jeff Niemann's start won't go down as one of his better performances, but he did do some things well. He was able to pitch out of a jam in the bottom of the 2nd, giving up only one run after the Rays had scored four.  After a big offensive inning, it's important for the pitcher not to give a bunch back.  Niemann was able to hold off a mini-rally from the Rockies to keep the rout on.
  • Gabe Kaplar's magic.  Can this guy do anything wrong? As early as last week, people were calling for his head when Matt Joyce was sent down to the minors.  He's responded by hitting homers in the four consecutive games.  He just missed hitting for the cycle last night with a double.  Credit Joe Maddon for sticking with him through the slump.  His performance last night was a good example of what he was brought in here to do: Kill lefties.
  • The curse of Steve Carlton lifted.  I'm going to officially declare the curse of Steve Carlton lifted. The Rays seem to be handling lefties as well as righties. As long as Kaplar's hot and Burrell gets it going, I don't think we'll see any more teams bringing up minor league lefties to face the Rays.
  • Jason Bartlett doesn't let us forget he's back.  So far this year, we've seen some guys come back from injury start real slow (namely Longoria).  But, our shortstop picked right up where he left off before the DL going 2 for 4 with an RBI.
  • Ben Zobrist love.  This guy is hands down is well on his way to owning this town.  The Zorilla love extends all over the country now as people are taking notice of the Rays new starting 2nd baseman.  I hope his wife's agent figures out a way to market this into some CD sales.
  • No National League love.  The New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays all won their interleague games last night.  So, the Rays gained no ground.
  • Scott Kazmir, Charlotte Stone Crab. If you're so inclined, Kazmir is starting for the Charlotte Stone Crabs on a rehab stint tonight.  You'll want to make sure you're their early because he's scheduled to throw just 65 pitches.  Hopefully, we'll get to see some pictures.  Kazmir could return as early as next week.  That means the Rays are in for some tough decisions when it comes to the rotation.  I suspect either Sonnanstine or Kazmir could go to the bullpen, but I'm just not sure what the Rays are planning.
Don't forget to join me on twitter at www.twitter.com/m_weber  You'll get my real time Rays updates as they creep into my head (or I retweet from others).

There's still  time to get in on Father's day gifts.  You can check out my father's day post for great ideas.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Report: Renovating the Trop too expensive

Here's a link to the story we did on 10 Connects News at 11 last night during the off night. It looks like the Rays are basically telling St. Petersburg that renovating the Trop would be too expensive.

I agree. This team is going to need a new facility in the near future. The battle lines are beginning to take shape. Right now, everyone seems to be working together. But, when push comes to shove, the Rays are going to want to move the team. The only question will be: Will it be at another location in St. Petersburg, another part of the Bay area or completely out of town. It's going to get worse before it gets better.

Monday, June 15, 2009

10 Things I'd Like to See: Third Place Edition

The Rays have finally done it.  They've climbed out of the 4th hole in the AL East and are now tied for 3rd place with Toronto Blue Jays.  They're 5 games out of 1st place in the division and 3 games out of the Wild Card spot. Now, it's time to keep it going.

Over the weekend, the Rays did pretty much what they were expected to do and sweep the Washington Nationals. I can't help but feel for that team's fans.  Nothing seems to bounce their way.  Matty from St. Petersburg suggested the Rays were have good luck, I suspect it was more of the Nationals bad luck.  However, the Rays did get good performances from Gabe Kaplar, the Bullpen, and, of course Ben Zobrist.   The Rays are also starting to get back some of their starters. Pat Burrell returned to the lineup and Jason Bartlett will be back this week for the Colorado game.  

Here are 10 Things I want to see this week:

1. Keep 3rd place.  It's been a season long climb from 4th to 3rd place in the AL East.  The Toronto Blue Jays came out of the gate on fire. Now, they seem to be coming back to earth.  The Rays need to pass them up and stay above them for the duration of interleague play.  Then, they can send a message when they face them 6 times before the All-Star break.

2. Bullpen dominance.  It's no coincidence that the Rays bullpen has heated up and the Rays have won 5 in a row.  22 1/2 innings without a run is nothing to sneeze at.  I'd like to see that group keep it up, on the road against teams that didn't used to be called the Expos.

3.  Road Warriors.  Over the past couple of weeks, the Rays have reestablished their domination at Tropicana Field.   Right now, they're 21-12 at home.  That's the kind of record a team needs to stay in contention.  However, the road record needs to pick up.  The Rays are 13-19 on the road. They need to get that mark up to .500.  This week would be a good week to start.

4.  Cool down at Coors.  The Colorado Rockies have won their last 11 games.  That's a hot team! The Rays are going to have to cool that heat down starting on Tuesday.  The Rays don't want to let the Rockies keep their momentum going.

5.  Improving Starting Pitching.  As well as the bullpen has played the last week, the starters are having some problems.  It's not like they're completely getting blown out of games, but they are giving up some early runs and getting hit.  As I've said before, this group is very streaky this year.  Jeff Niemann can start a good streak on Tuesday by putting up a good performance.

6.  Vicious Lineup. Too bad that Bartlett's return coincides with Interleague Play.  No DH means Joe Maddon won't get to show off his new and improved Vicious Circle lineup that includes Ben Zobrist now.  I would suspect that Bartlett will bat behind Zobrist in the #6 hole followed by one of the Gabes (probably Kaplar on Tuesday).

7.  Beating the National League at their own game.  The Rays have been solid against the National League this year, so far winning 5 of 6.  They need to continue to do that this week if they want to continue in the hunt.  

8.  Keep the swagger.  The Rays need to keep the swagger going that they've reestablished in the last few days.  No game is over.  No game is un-winnable.  Bad breaks happen, but we'll make better breaks.  Or as Joe Maddon likes to call it 9=8.

9. Marketing Zorilla. If I'm Ben Zobrist's agent, I'm trying to get him as many endorsement deals as I can.  Rays fans are really on-board with this guy.  During yesterday's broadcast of the game, I saw Zorilla shirts (Rays Index had the first), Zorilla signs, and a lot of Zorilla love.  Seriously, this guy has exceeded all of my expectations for him this year.   He took advantage of the Aki injury to play himself into the lineup as the everyday 2nd baseman.  I haven't noticed much of a defensive drop-off, even though I would say some hits are going through that probably weren't with Aki.  But, I will says his offense is making up for it.  A power, switch-hitting 2nd baseman isn't something you find every day.

10.  Joe Dillionaire stays.  While everyone else is on the Zorilla bandwagon, I've hitched on to the Joe Dillon wagon.  While he hasn't got much playing time lately, he seems to have made an impression on the front office.  The Rays have kept him around even as Pat Burrell and Jason Bartlett have returned.  He's probably fortunate that he can play many different positions... a trait Joe Maddon loves.

Don't forget to check out my Father's Day gifts for the Rays fan in your life.  Plenty of choices to get your last minute order in.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Washington Nationals: Ghost of Devil Rays past

I'm not sure how many Washington National fans are out there.  But, last night I kind of felt a kinship with them.  Watching Nick Johnson drop that fly ball and then watching a .177 hitter arm swing the winning run over the left field fence reminded me of years gone by.  Some may say its the Rays good luck that lead to that win.  As a fan of the team formerly known as the Devil Rays, I know better.  That's what happens to bad teams.  The Rays may be having a disappointing season in compared to last year, but they're light years ahead of a team like the Washington Nationals.

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • Gabe Kaplar's place on the team.  I heard plenty of chatter yesterday about the decision to send down Matt Joyce instead of getting rid of Kaplar.  Last night he came through. But, that's not why I'm good with the decision.  Let me explain: The Rays have NO  margin for error when it comes to their roster.  They can't go get guys they need in the middle of the season (like Boston and New York).  They made the decision in the off-season to bring in Kaplar to face lefties. That's a decision they're going to have to live with through the entire season. If the Rays were to have cut him yesterday.  He would be exposed to waivers and someone could pick him up.  Then, your without an option in the outfield.  Say Carl Crawford or BJ Upton gets hurt.  Then, you're stuck without an outfielder, especially since Ben Zobrist is playing 2nd.  I know it hurts to watch Edwin Jackson pitch well while Joyce plays yo-yo with Durham.  But, I think in the long run, the Rays have a long term solution in right field.  He'll be out there longer than Jackson will find success with the Tigers.
  • One run game.  The Rays took a 1-run game.  Joe Maddon seems to think that's the key to turning around the season.  I agree.  The more of those they win, the quicker they move up the standings.
  • Starters slump. The Rays starters seem prone this year to starts and hot streaks as a group. For whatever reason, it seems as though when Shields and Price/Kazmir struggle, Garza struggles. They also pitch well as a group. You can even through Niemann and Sonnanstine in that mix. Maybe that's why every time the Rays get a win streak, it's followed by a losing streak.  At least on this little "starters slump" the Rays are winning.
  • Interleague Drama.  The St. Pete Times reported this morning that the Rays forced the Clearwater Threshers to abandon their bobblehead promotion featuring the Philadelphia Phillies World Series starters.  That's great. I love the "not in my backyard" approach.  There's no reason we should be seeing Phillie giveaways in Clearwater.  

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rays bring out the big sticks to get back to .500

It's really becoming deja vu this season. I'm writing another morning post talking about how the Rays have climbed back to .500 and are looking to keep it going. Last week, the Rays swept the Kansas City Royals to climb a little bit above .500 before the New York Yankees knocked them down a pet.  This time, it was the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim who fell victim to a Rays team, who's been pretty hot at Tropicana Field.  The Angels seem to be a mirror of the Rays.  A team that can't quite find its way.

The good news? The Rays bats are coming alive.  They put on a home run derby and Joe Maddon thinks Evan Longoria is looking better at the plate.  Now, the Washington Nationals come to town. They've only won 16 games and only 6 of those were on the road.  This would be an opportune time for the Rays to get another real win streak going.

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • Home Run Derby - Rays Style!  The Rays gameday production staff wore out the horn and "Feel the Heat" homer theme song last night.  Four homer including a big one by Evan Longoria.  It broke his post hammy injury slump.  In only his second year, Longoria has become the heart and soul of this team. So, it's no surprise that the Rays were able to put on an offensive show with a little Longo thrown in.
  • David Price pitch count.  Watching Price right now reminds me of watching Scott Kazmir last year.  It seems he's so worried about pitch counts and strike outs that he's not letting his talent take over.  I'd like to see some more mound presence from the rookie. I really hate having to count pitches with everyone early in games. I will give Price props for coming back in the 3rd and 4th inning and being much more efficient.
  • Navarro's 3 RBI night.  Most of the people I talk to are getting real tired of the catcher's performance.  But, just as the mumbling turns to a roar, Pinkeye (as some of my friends call him) showed us glimpses of why he's the starting catcher.  He had a 2 RBI double and a homer. Unfortunately, all that did was get him back to .200.  Do you think the Rays knew something in the off-season when they went to arbitration with him? That may have been one of the most underrated moves in the off-season.  The only question is: Who could replace him? I don't think the organization has that guy, yet.
  • The reinvention of Randy Choate.  This guy's quickly becoming one of my favorites out of the bullpen.  He's also up there with Joe Dillionaire as one of my favorite "New Rays."  He just goes out there and gets the job done.  Kind of like Trevor Miller did last year. He hasn't pitched many innings but he comes up big when he does.  Props to Grant Balfour and Joe Nelson for doing their job and not blowing the lead.
  • Joe Dillionaire survives.  I was concerned that the Rays might make Joe Dillionaire the sacrificial lamb for Pat Burrell's return.  But, it looks like Dillionaire's going to stick with the team.  The Rays sent Matt Joyce back to Durham to clear up a roster spot for Burrell.  I don't think Dillionaire's going to see much action in the near future, but he obviously showed the Rays he's worth keeping, for now.  If the Rays part ways with Dillionaire, he'd be exposed to waivers. And what major league team wouldn't want to have Dillionaire on their roster.  Oh yeah, welcome back, Pat the Bat.
  • Pedro and the Rays.   Rays Index posted a link to a Dominican paper saying that Pedro Martinez worked out for the Rays.  We called to confirm and the Rays said no.  Then a little while later, they called back and said he worked out for one of their scouts that had a previous relationship with the scout.  For the record, I think where there's smoke, there's fire. I'm not saying the Rays are going to sign Pedro, I think they were doing their due diligence. What does this mean for the team? I'm not sure. It could go many different ways, but we'll have to keep our eyes on it.

Remember, if you want to follow all of my Rays musings in real time, follow me on Twitter. We've got a nice little community of Rays fans and baseball fans going there.  Not only can you chat with Rays fans, you can also watch Yankee fan meltdown in 140 characters or less as the Red Sox own them.

Also, it's still not too late to get your Father's day gifts. I've laid out some links for some creative Rays gifts for the Rays fan in your life.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rays eyeing Pedro Martinez?

Thanks to Rays Index, we got tipped off about a report from the Domincan Republic that the Rays had worked out pitcher Pedro Martinez.  We checked with the Rays and here's what we found:

Rays eyeing Pedro Martinez | 10connects.com | Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater

Nice win, now get me another

The Tampa Bay Rays did what they could to put the memory of their 3-game losing streak behind them last night at Tropicana Field.  Carlos Pena put the team on his back with  a rally starting hit in the 2nd followed by a homer in the 3rd.  The Rays won the game despite not getting the best pitching performance from Jeff Niemann. The bullpen and the bats were able to pick him up and bring the Rays a much-need win.  Now, they just need to do it again.  The Rays are not in a position to lose anymore series at home.  They need to finish this one off tonight and then feast on baseball's worst team: The Washington Nationals.

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • Carlos Pena takes control.  Early last night, Pena was playing like a man possessed. Sometimes the Rays first baseman can get lost in the shuffle. Nobody really criticizes him when the team's not playing well. But, in the absence of some of the other starters, it's up to Pena to pick the team up and inspire them.  He seemed to do that last night at the bat and in the field.
  • Bullpen looked good. One constant about the Rays bullpen this year has been its inconsistency. Some nights, like last night, they're able to pick a struggling starter up and guide the team to the promised land.  Other times, they're blowing 2 run leads in the eighth to the New York Yankees. Last night's performance is something we're going to have to see more of if they Rays are going to climb back in the playoff hunt.   Lance Cromier, Jason Isringhausen, Joe Nelson, and Dan Wheeler only gave up 3 hits, no runs, and 1 walk over 5 2/3 innings.  That's what we need to see from those guys, every time out.
  • Dioner regressing.  In case you missed it, our stellar catcher has once again gone below the .200 mark  (.197).  He needs to get that back up before Sunday.  That's when the Rays give out the Dionar Navarro bobblehead doll.  It could end up be a collector's item for obscurity.
  • Pat and his new goatee.  Pat Burrell and Jason Bartlett are both going to get some work with the Charlotte Stone Crabs.  Pat the Bat will play tonight and then be evaluated for a return on Friday.  However, the schedule shows 6 out of the next 9 games in National League parks.  That mean's Pat the Bat's services may not be as needed. I'm not sure if the Ray can stretch the rehab assignment.  The main concern for me: Joe Dillionaire.  He could become the roster casualty when Pat the Bat comes back.
  • Really missing Bartlett.  Whenever I watch Reid Brignac, I'm reminded what it must be like for Red Sox fan, not having a real shortstop.  Brignac brings nothing to the plate and then turns around and makes errors in the field.  I can handle a hitti]ng shortstop that can't field or a fielding shortstop that can't hit. I can't deal with a guy who can do neither.  Jason Bartlett's going to get some work with the Stone Crabs on Friday.  He could be back real soon.
  • Kaz attack? Another of the wounded warriors is working his way back.  Scott Kazmir will do a little pitching simulation on Friday.  That could lead to a minor league start.  It looks like we may have to plan a road trip down to Port Charlotte this weekend. We could see better baseball than we will from the Nationals.
Don't forget to check out my Father's Day gifts post. You'll find all kinds of links to cool Father's day gifts for the Rays fan in your life.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Picture Post: Can I buy a Longo here?

Saw this on a co-workers desk Couldn't resist. Immediately thought of Longo's school.

This message was sent using the Picture and Video Messaging service from Verizon Wireless!
To learn how you can snap pictures and capture videos with your wireless phone visit www.verizonwireless.com/picture.
Note: To play video messages sent to email, QuickTime� 6.5 or higher is required.

Video Post: Navarro bobblehead in newsroom

Navarro's bobblehead came in the newsroom. Here's a video preview...from my desk. If you look closely at the picture, you'll see he has a little a dirt on his uniform and on his chin... Not included: A case of pinkeye!

This message was sent using the Picture and Video Messaging service from Verizon Wireless!
To learn how you can snap pictures and capture videos with your wireless phone visit www.verizonwireless.com/picture.
Note: To play video messages sent to email, QuickTime� 6.5 or higher is required.

Back where we were a week ago

The Rays have done it again.  They teased us with a 4-game win streak... climbed above .500... and even had a chance to gain some ground in the AL East. Instead, here we sit, 3 games later, disappointed and back where we started. 29-31, two games below .500 and 6 games behind 1st place.  All year we've been saying it's too early.  But, is too early turning to too late? To reach last year's 97 wins the Rays would have to 66-36 over the rest of the season.  That's a big hill to climb. Of course, there's always the wild card.  But, the Rays are going to have to consistently beat the Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays to accomplish that... a feat they couldn't accomplish this weekend.

Am I going to give up on the team? No.  The baseball season is too long and so many variables are in play to write the team completely off. Am I concerned that the Rays may get shut out of the postseason? Absolutely.  This team is seemingly too talented to miss opportunities.

Here are some things I noticed:

James Shields = No run support.  I'm not sure what it is about "Big Game" James Shields that shuts down the Rays offense. But, right now, he's getting 4.2 runs per game.  That's just ahead of Matt Garza, who's getting 4.1 runs per game.  Both of these guys have 8 quality starts and only 9 wins between the 2 of them.  

Ben Zobrist is a man among boys.  Where did this guy come from? Just when I think he's getting ready to slide back, Zorilla knocks another one out of the park.  He's quickly becoming a fan favorite and there are even campaigns to give him write-in votes for the All Star game.  Who can complain about a guy who can play all the positions he can, switch hits, and kills the ball?

No More Chad Orvella.  I just threw this one in there because I saw a blogger earlier in the year asking if the Rays should consider Orvella for a big league call up.  As far as I'm concerned, that guy never needs to be in a Rays uniform again.  I don't care which crappy pitcher we signed to replace him... as long as he's gone.

LeVon Washingtion to shore up the Gator fanbase?  I'll admit, I'm not much of a baseball draft guy. If the Rays are picking first, I'll check it out.  But, I don't get into the baseball (or football) drafts the way other people do.  I do, however, want to offer my quick, uneducated thoughts on LeVon Washingion.  As soon as I read his bio, it sounded like the Rays were reaching out to Gator fan and Gainesville in a big way.  It's almost as if they're taking a page out of the Buccaneers late-nineties playbook.  We all know that football is king in Gainesville, but what if the Rays could get some people watching their games.  Maybe they start by watching a local boy, and it turns into a new fanbase.  That's a great untapped market.

Rays Revolutionary treated by Truly Nolen © Layout By Hugo Meira.