Monday, July 27, 2009

It's Time: Rays need to step-up or sit down

It's crunch time for the Tampa Bay Rays.  The 1st place New York Yankees come to Tropicana Field tonight for a 3 game set. The Rays are 6 1/2 games behind them for 1st place and 4 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox for the Wild Card. 

The Rays are running out of excuses... and time. They need to take this opportunity not only to gain some ground, but to send a message to the rest of the league that they're not going away. They have to show their best games are in front of them.  They have to show that their stud pitchers still have it.  They have to show that they can keep up with the monstrosity that is the New York Yankees.

Will it be easy? No.  The Yankees are playing their best baseball in years.  They've got their top 3 starters going against the Rays top 3 starters.   The Yankees bats are hot.  The Rays bats have been lukewarm at best. Tonight's series could be the difference between playing in the post-season or missing out a year after the World Series trip.  This series will show if these Rays have the same swagger that their counterparts from last year did.  At 7:08 tonight, we'll start learning a lot about this team.

10 Things I want to see this series from the Rays:

1. Dominant starting pitching.  We still haven't seen too much in the way of dominant starting pitching all year from the Rays.  James "Big Game" Shields needs to live up to his nickname and put some goose-eggs on the board. I don't want to hear about run support or any of that. I want to see domination of one of the toughest line-ups in baseball.

2. Early leads. Since the All-Star break, the Rays seem to meekly go about their jobs in the first three innings. It doesn't matter who's pitching... a rookie or Roy Halladay.  The Rays need to get going early this week.  They can't let AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia fly through their order the first time.  Make them work.  Make them think. Get some runs.  Don't wait for the 8th inning to try and mount a comeback.

3.  Solid defense and concentration.  Against a team as hot as the Yankees are right now, every out counts.  The Rays need to get every out they can and not let any go.  The Yankees will make you pay for runs.  They will make you pay for mental mistakes.  The only remedy is to not make them.

4.  Take what you can get.  At times, the Rays seem to be up there swinging for the fence every chance they get.  Leave that to the Yankees. Instead, go out there and play some small ball. Runs are going to be at a premium.  The Rays need to do what they do best and take what the pitcher gives them.

5. Hot. Hot. Hot.  The Rays offense has been an enigma all year.  When they're hot, they're really hot.  When they're cold, they get handled by rookie lefties.  All that has to end tonight.  Slumps are no longer part of the vocabulary.  When you're chasing the Yankees and Red Sox this late in the season, you don't have time to wait for some to get "toasty."

6.  Outfox the Yankees.  Joe Girardi has had it pretty easy the last couple of weeks. The Yankees are peaking and making his job that much easier.  I'd much rather have Maddon in crunch time than Girardi.  That being said, I think the Rays need to make sure Girardi's uncomfortable in the dugout.  The Rays know what they need to do for that.

7.  Bullpen dominance.  Of course, these games may come down to the Rays bullpen versus the Yankees bullpen.  We've seen some brilliance out of the bullpen as of late.  They need to keep it going.  He-who-must-not-be-named-closer will probably see some big action against some of the toughest bats in baseball.

8.  Give me some swagger please.  We saw it all last year.  We've seen flashes of it this year.  The Rays need to find some of that swagger they had last year.  That feeling you got, that they wouldn't be pushed around by their big brothers in the AL East anymore. 

9.  Home Field Advantage.  The Rays have been a much better team at the Trop this year, they need to make sure they establish that again. It may not be a sell-out, but the Rays have been able to make the Trop feel very hostile.

10. 9=8.  If nothing else, go back to what got you going last year.  All nine players need to make sure they have their "A" game on tonight.  The Yankees aren't going to give the Rays anything.  The Rays are going to have to show they want it, and then take it!


Matty said...

In their last 16 road series, the Rays are now 4-12 in the final game of the series. Horrible. Get ready to be 7 1/2 back after this series. The Rays will either win Shields or Garza's start, and then Kaz will get killed. Being completely objective, what have you seen from the Rays this season that would make you think otherwise?

Michael Weber said...

Being completely objective: 30-15 at home tells me that the Rays are not too shabby at home. Both the Yankees and Red Sox have played more games at home. I think they can take this series.. it's not like they're the Kansas City Royals or something.

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