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.

1 Comment:

JMS said...

Zobie is the man, Dillon always plays pretty well, and seems to be able to hit, bullpen is hot, and the team isn't playing that well yet is winning because of team effort. Fun to watch when you know they have a chance each night because always someone picking the other up. Your right about Nationals fans, few of them showed up this weekend, glad we beat them, but man you have to feel bad for them. They look like the old Devil Rays. Acta yanks starters early and it cost him just like it did the Rays earlier this year. Keep it up Mike.

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