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.

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