Monday, August 31, 2009

Pending Implosion?

If you thought the past few games were rough, get ready. It could get worse.
When a middle reliever starts questioning game strategy after a heart-breaking loss, you can just feel the implosion coming. The comments in question came from Grant Balfour, who gave up the game-winning 3-run homer to Placido Polanco.
Balfour said, "They come out and say can I pitch around him. I don't want to pitch around Granderson to be honest. I feel like I'm pitching on the defense them. I wish I never even got that in my head."

It sounds like the players aren't too happy with management these days. And that's the part of the equation that ownership didn't figure when they decided to trade Scott Kazmir. In order for this team to be successful, the players have to "believe." That was the rallying cry last year. Now, the Rays have put some doubt in their players head. They don't believe. They're not drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid.

John Romano of the St. Pete Times wrote a column this morning about the impact of losing players on the team from last year to this year. He talked to Johnny Gomes, Cliff Floyd, and Eric Hinske.  I think Hinske (who's on his way to another AL East Division crown) had the most telling quote of the piece.

He said, "The one thing that the guys upstairs on the computers can't assess is clubhouse chemistry. They can look at all the numbers they want, but chemistry in the clubhouse is a huge deal."

I think he's right. Chemistry and belief are something that the Rays need to place a premium on if they're going to compete with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.  This year, both are in short supply. Unfortunately, the team could use a little bit before facing the Red Sox this week.
Here are some things I noticed in the Rays 4-3 loss to the Tigers:

  • Niemann still battling. Give credit to the starting pitcher yesterday. He battled like a champ for 7 innings.  Niemann is the one guy who seemingly still believes. He did exactly what he was supposed to, giving the Rays shut down innings and matching Tigers' ace Juster Verlander pitch for pitch. He gets to do it again on Friday.

  • Aki-san homer. I've got to be honest, I didn't realize Akinori Iwamura hadn't hit a homer all year. It was good to see him go opposite field yesterday.

  • Red Sox aren't discounting the Rays. The Red Sox are ready to put the wild card chase to bed this week. They shuffled their rotation so the Rays would get a rotation of Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz. The Red Sox have the chance to pretty much end the Rays wild card chances this week.  Andy Sonnanstine will get the nod on Tuesday.

  • September call-ups. Expect to see some additional faces starting Tuesday.  Sonnanstine, Perez, a catcher, Wade Davis and a couple of others could be joining the team.  This is the depth Andrew Friedman was talking about when he said they could afford to trade Scott Kazmir. We'll see on Tuesday.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

More reaction from the Kazmir deal

Now that the dust has settled a bit and Andrew Friedman has had time to give his reasoning, it's time to take another look at the Friday deal that sent Scott Kazmir to the Angels for 2 prospects and a player to be named later.

Let's start with how the Rays handled the trade. The Rays were way behind the curve from the get go on this one. News first broke via an Angels beat writer on and spread like wildfire via social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.  So instead of getting a call from the GM, reporters hearing about the rumors had to confront Kazmir who actually asked if they were "joking." Joe Maddon didn't have anything to say. In fact, the team said there wouldn't be an announcement until after the game. Even though he was all but gone, there sat Kazmir next to David Price on the bench during Friday night's game.
Following the game, the Rays sent out a press release making it official without giving any sound.  We got a couple of quotes from Andrew Friedman in the newspaper and then the message started taking shape.
"We have depth in starting pitching," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "And while it would be a great luxury to keep a deep reserve there, our budgetary constraints as a low-revenue club dictate that we allocate our resources to bolster areas where we may not be as deep and make sure that we can expand our competitive window."

That quote makes perfect sense, unless you're talking about a team that was just 3.5 games behind the wild card leader at the time the trade was made. If you take them at face value, that means the Rays place their "budgetary constraints as a low-revenue club" over being successful on the field.  That's where my problem lies.

I'm fine making moves to help make budget and keep the payroll down. I applaud ownership for what they've been able to do so far.  I'm fine with tough off-season moves. I'm fine with not picking guys up during before the trade deadline. But this trade, at this time, just tells me that the budget trumps giving the team a chance to win.

The Rays can talk all day and night about "future" considerations when it comes to trading Kazmir. But, they're discounting the fact that they may not always be in a playoff race. This is only the second time in the history of the team that the Rays have contended so late. You can have all the talent in the world, but a couple of ill-timed injuries, a rough schedule, or a division opponent getting red hot all make it tough to contend year in and year.  Just as last year was special, this year is special.Why waste it by unloading Kazmir right now? I have no doubt there are teams that would be willing to take on his salary next year for the chance to see the Kaz of old.

Despite what people keep writing, the Rays did not have to make that trade on Friday.  That trade could've waited until the off-season. But the Rays had a willing partner that was willing to absorb the rest of Kaz's salary this year, so they made the move. They save money on this year's payroll and say that Andy Sonnanstine and Wade Davis will do a fine job of replacing Kaz in the rotation.

The Rays proved to me on Friday something that I didn't want to believe: they're the same team they always were. My eyes were opened up a bit and the luster of the "Rays" has worn off.  This team considers the budget more than they do going to the wild card. Last season caught them off guard, just as it did the fans. They thought a couple of well-placed pieces could get them over the top. Instead they were left realizing they had too much money tied up in a team that wasn't in first place. So, they sold.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"This decision goes against every bit of passion in a competitor's soul"

Normally this time of day, I'm writing a recap of the previous night's game.  But since the players decided to take the night off in honor of Scott Kazmir's last game, I'm not going to justify that garbage with a post.  Not that I blame them. If management seems to think 3.5 games are too much to overcome, why shouldn't the players.

Maybe I'm not the most sophisticated of fans. Maybe I don't care about the "business" of baseball.  Maybe I have too much of a "win now" philosophy.
I think John Romano summed up my thoughts in his column from the St. Pete Times this morning:

"This decision goes against every bit of passion in a competitor's soul. When you have a chance to win, you do whatever possible to take advantage. By completing this deal, the Rays have sent the opposite message."

That's where the problem lies for me. The message.

Other sites are looking at the bright side of the deal.

The Rays Party chooses to look more at the "Rise of Wade Davis" as opposed to the loss of Kazmir. I agree, that's one way of looking at it. But if Wade Davis was a better option than Kaz, he would've already been here. No matter how you look at it, Davis is not going to push the Rays over the hump and in to the playoffs.

The guys over at DRaysBay say this deal really didn't affect the Rays playoff chances too much one way or the other.  They say that this deal kills any notion that the Rays front office cares about public perception.  And finally, they're excited to see what the front office can do with extra cash in the off-season.

Like I said, I understand the Rays playoff chances weren't the greatest. But fan reaction isn't the only thing to consider.  The Rays also have to consider the reaction of their own players and players around the league.  This kind of move shows a front runner mentality that won't be easily overcome. And maybe this kind of move will be more common than you think. There's no guarantee that the Rays won't try to move Carl Crawford this off-season.

Bye-bye, Scotty. Bye-bye, season.

Shocked. That's the emotion I felt when I heard the first rumblings of the Scotty Kazmir trade. Why trade Kazmir? Why now? Why trade a starter when the wild card is still up for grabs?

The mechanics of the trade are simple. The Rays moved the franchise's all-time wins leaders for 2 prospects.  The Anaheim Angels get Scott Kazmir. The Rays get left-handed pitcher Alex Torres, third-baseman Matt Sweeney, and the ever popular "Player to be Named Later." To boil it down: The Rays, in the middle of a playoff hunt, traded for prospects.

To say I'm upset about this turn of events is an understatement. The Rays were getting ready to face a do or die stretch of their season.  They are still in a playoff hunt.  They were 3.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox with 6 games remaining against them. And instead of facing the stretch head on, management trades one of the starting pitchers. Not only that, they trade a starting pitcher that's actually looked good his last couple of starts. Kazmir was someone who could actually help the team now.

As it stands now, it looks like the Rays' front office threw in the towel. I know that some are saying the Rays were looking toward the future. I know that some say the Rays are just selling high. But, I say they're giving up. Does anyone actually think the Rays couldn't get an AA pitcher and a single-A 3rd baseman in the offseason?  Why the rush?

Of course, Andrew Friedman and company could have a master plan.  They say they don't make moves in a vacuum. But, if that's the case, they handled today real poorly.  The rumors started flying hours before the game and we didn't get official word until after the game with a short press release saying a bunch of things we already knew. Kazmir had to find out from reporters in the locker room before the game!

And even if I do accept the premise that this was "just business," what about the team? Think about the message this kind of move sends to the team.  To me, the team looked shell-shocked. They didn't want to be there. If Scotty gets sent west, who's next? We're all one team. Right?

I hope this is more than just a salary dump. But, to be honest, something really stinks here.  This is only the 2nd time the Rays have ever contended this late in the season and here we are doing the same thing we did before last year. To me, it's as if the curtain has been pulled back on the wizard.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Resistance is futile. Robo-Los makes cyborg debut!

In what has to be the coolest giveaway of the year, the first 10,000 kids on Sunday, September 6th will get "Robo-Los." I guess this is a sneak peak of what baseball would've looked like if the substance abuse policy was not created. Eventually, players would've turned from drugs to help their bodies improve to robotic parts to make the stronger, faster, and better than their human counterparts. It may have started with a few cyborgs, until eventually players had their brains transferred into robots to create the ultimate baseball battling machine.

Stuffed Zorilla!

Check these guys out! The Zorilla Gorilla is going to be available at Tropicana Field starting 9/1 and until supplies last. These little guys cost $20 and the proceeds will go to the Rays Baseball Foundation. Get them while they last. Thanks to the Tampa Bay Rays facebook fan page for posting this picture.

Do or die time for the Rays down the stretch

I'm ready. Are you? 

The Tampa Bay Rays are getting ready to face a stretch that the team has never seen before.  For only the 2nd time in their history, the Rays are going into September in the middle of a playoff hunt.  But, it's a little different this year.  The Rays aren't trying to hold anyone off.  This year, they're chasing.

The good news: The Rays have a schedule favorable to make up ground.  The bad news: The Rays have a schedule that could knock them out of contention over the next 17 days. Three playoff teams. Seventeen games. Starting tonight, each pitch becomes do or die. Each at-bat takes on new meaning. There's no room for error. There's no room for mistakes.  The Rays are on the outside looking into a room where nobody wants them.

The next 17 days are going to be a roller coast ride for both the team and their fans.  This is still uncharted territory for the Rays.  They've never chased the way they're chasing now.  In the lean years, Rays' fans longed for a chance to chase a wild card berth.  

This team has the talent to pull together a nice run.  The question is: Can they?

Here are 5 things the Rays need to do to make that run:

1. Defense, defense, defense.  As each out gets magnified in this chase, the Rays can't afford to have the defensive lapses that have plagued them all season.  Last year, the defense was a big key to helping the pitchers.  This year, the defense seems to give the pitchers a little more work.  The return of Akinori Iwamura should help in the infield.  But, the Rays need to stay focused. Some of the defensive lapses seem to come from lack of concentration.

2. Deep starting pitching. If we start seeing a lot of Randy Choate, Brian Shouse, and Russ Springer then get ready to watch the Red Sox and Yankees in the playoffs.  The Rays need strong starts to set up the Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, J.P. Howell combination in the late innings.  Scott Kazmir has looked like the Kaz of old lately. Now, the rest of the guys need to return to the dominant form that carried them to the World Series last year.

3. No more offensive slumps.  All year, the Rays have been battling slumps in their lineup.  Except for Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford, all of the hitters have been streaky. That has to end now.  The Rays lineup needs consistent at-bats from everybody 1 to 9.  Last year, the Rays lineup looked like murderer's row every day.  This year, opposing managers have exploited weaknesses in that row each and every night.  It's time to shore it up and put some fear into the guy on the mound.

4. No off nights.  For some reason, the "off game" has plagued the Rays all year.  I'm talking about the games that they don't even seem to show up for.  Games where the other team's starting pitcher looks like Cy Young and the Rays are baffled from the get go.  There's no room for that kind of game any more.   There's no room for coasting through a game for the first three innings.  Each game counts. Each inning counts. Each at-bat counts.

5.  Get some breaks.  Let's be honest, the 2008 Rays seemed to get a lot of lucky breaks. Just ask the Red Sox fans, they'll tell you. While I believe you make much of your own luck, the Rays need a little bit of the charm now.  

The next 17 games aren't for the faint of heart. It's going to be a roller coaster ride that starts tonight.  We'll truly find out what this team is made of.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

It's a tale of two cities this morning.  In Boston, the picture of David Ortiz's walk-off homer swing graces the sports page. Here, it's J.P. Howell walking off the mound with his head hung as Rod Barajas circles the bases on his game-tying homer.  In Boston, the fans are celebrating a win on the same night the Rangers and Rays lost. Here, we're staring at September with a 4 game deficit.  In Boston, they're making trades to shore up the eighth inning. Here, we're still not sure what to do in the 9th.  In Boston, they're preparing for a post-season battle with the Yankees. Here, we're looking to 6 games in September to make up ground.  

Baseball is a remarkable game.  The Rays were just 2 outs from completing a sweep of the Blue Jays. Instead, they're left wondering what could of been.  Meanwhile, the Red Sox and their easy September schedule could prove that April was much more important than we thought. Don't get me wrong, the Rays are still in this.  But, all this team has shown me this year is their ability to flirt the big boys.  Every time they seem to get close, they can't close the deal.  And that's what September's going to be all about.  Can this team close the deal or will they end up just short like last night and the entire year.

Here are some things I noticed in the Rays 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays:

  • Beam me up, Scotty Kazmir.  Another good performance from the lefty. He posted 10 strikeouts for the first time in more than a year. If I have any criticism of Kaz, it was the pair of doubles he gave up in the 6th.  The Rays really needed a shut down inning after Gabe Kaplar's 2 run shot.
  • Umpire Craziness. I was getting ready to criticize the Rays bats a little bit, but I think I'll cut them some slack since they had to deal with 3 different home plate umpires.
  • JP Howell. Not that I'm making excuses, but I'm not sure bringing Howell in the 8th was the best idea.  For some reason, I like Howell better when he starts the ninth. However, Joe Maddon was trying to save Dan Wheeler, so JP got the call in the 8th and did his job before the 9th inning meltdown.  Just remember Rays fan, no closer is perfect. It's not an easy job and even the best sometimes get hit.
  • Speaking of closing.  Last night was the 7th time the Rays failed to close out a sweep on the third game of a series.  Think about that in comparison with their place in the standings.
  • Double Play Machine. New Longo nickname?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I guess the Rays won last night?

That's what the computer, newspaper, and TV reports told me last night. Of course, I couldn't see it myself because the game wasn't broadcast on Sun/FSN. It's amazing how the change in fortunes of a team can change a fan's temperament. Just two years ago, I had no problem if a game wasn't on TV... especially a game in August. Usually by this time, the Rays had already had their "fire" sale and were playing a bunch of call-up Triple-A'ers.  Last night, I found myself especially bothered that the game wasn't on TV.  It reminded me of those Saturday night concert games last year that were blacked out because of their starting time. On the bright side, I'll now get to watch Sunday's game against the Detroit Tigers.

Here are some things I would've noticed had I been able to watch the game:

  • Carlos Pena... on fire! Yesterday, I described him as "toasty." Today, he gets the "on fire" designation for his 2 homer night.  He now has 37 homers on the year, 200 in his career, and 117 in a Rays uniform. Not bad for a guy who barely made the squad in 2007.  Over the last couple of weeks, Pena has really stepped it up not only at the plate but as a leader as well. This is what leaders do. Hopefully, Pena can do this all the way to the playoffs.
  • James Shields and some run support. I'm glad the Pena and Burrell show gave some runs to Shieldsy. I was getting tired of the "run support" garbage defending Shields.  "Big game" needs to find some more moxy like he had last night to keep this team going.  The Rays have to be able to pencil him in for a win every fifth day to catch the Red Sox and Rangers.
  • Carl Crawford's back. I love CC, but it really irks me when I start hearing his complaints about too many games in a row on turf. I understand your back hurts, just take a couple days off and we'll see you in Detroit.
  • Playoff watch.  The Rays didn't gain any ground last night because the Rangers and Red Sox both won. Get used to that. It's hard to pick up ground on teams when you're not playing them unless you go on a 10 game or so win streak.  September 1st to September 13th will probably decide this team's playoff chances.
  • Some comparisons to last year. At 125 games this year, the Rays are at 69-56.  The 2008 Rays were at 77-48, eight games ahead of this year's pace.  The 2009 Yankees are 1 game ahead of the 2008 Rays pace.
  • The 95 game mark.  I still say the Rays need to win 95 games to make the playoffs. Right now, that means they need 26 wins in the next 37 games. It can be done.
  • Programming note. Friend of the blog "Sam from Tampa" will be guest hosting on 1040 AM Espn radio this afternoon.  Even though he's a U of M guy, he knows his Rays and will be giving plenty of air time to the Rays.  Take a listen, starting at 3. Here's the link: 1040 ESPN.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back in the saddle

To my loyal readers: I apologize for my abrupt absence from the Rays' blogosphere. For the past week, the Rays were on the back burner in my life. However, I'm climbing back in the saddle today to give you the Rays Revolutionary opinion on the state of the team!

Last night, the Rays battled back from plenty of adversity in yet another battle against the Toronto Blue Jays and their ace, Roy Halladay.  They did a good job of staking a lead against Doc early, only to see it evaporate with a Rod Barajas grand slam.

Fortunately, Carlos Pena once again put the team on his shoulders and knocked his 35th homer of the year.  Pena lead a devastating offensive comeback that showed no resemblance to the farce we saw on Sunday.

And you've got to give credit to Jeff Niemann. He really battled back after the nasty 2nd inning, took control, and pitched like a veteran.  If all the Rays pitchers can summon that kind of grit, the playoffs are a no-brainer.

Here are some of things I noticed in the Rays 12-7 victory of Toronto:

  • The hunger. I will say one thing about the 2009 Rays, they certainly don't let the Toronto Blue Jays off the hook too often.  Last night's victory was one of those that showed me the type of grit and determination this team is going to need to make it to the playoffs. The only problem is that we need to see that every night.  At this point, every game is a must win and should be treated as such. A bad inning out in the field needs to be countered with a good inning at the plate.  A good inning at the plate needs to be followed by a quick inning in the field. That is what will get the Rays back into the playoffs. Last night, the team showed no signs of folding after that Grand Slam.
  • Toasty Pena.  Pena's hot bat is going to translate all the way down the lineup.  Managers are starting to fear him again and that only means good things for Ben Zobrist and Pat Burrell.  Both need to make the other team pay dearly for their fear of Pena.  As for Carlos himself, he needs to keep it going and continue to carry the offensive load for this team.  It will go a long way in catching the Boston Red Sox or the Texas Rangers.
  • Crawford's Back.  The Rays are saying that Crawford's back isn't serious and he should be back in a couple of days. That's very important. The Rays are going to need CC in the upcoming days. If he's not available by the time the team gets to Detroit, the Rays may have to make a roster move.
  • James Shields, do your thing. Don't worry about run support. Don't worry about anything but getting Blue Jays out. I know you've had a run of bad luck this year, but now is the time to start running good. Keep your head in the game and let it fly.
  • Which mullet is better? Gregg Zaun or Jeff Niemman. I'm not sure. But, I'm already working on mine. Expect some pictures in a few months.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rays on life support.

Matty from St. Petersburg sent me a simple text after last night's game: Time to write an obituary for this team.  I'm not sure I agree, but this team is definitely on life support now.  Showing the same sort of passiveness that permeated the west coast trip, the Rays came out and laid another egg at home.  Granted, they were facing Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay.  But, the ol' Doc didn't have anything to do with the 5 runs given up in 3 innings. That was all on "Big Game" James Shields.

At least some of the Rays understand what's at stake.  Carlos Pena called a team meeting before the game to discuss the need to "pause" and not overreact to recent result.  Carl Crawford showed his leadership on the field, going 4 for 4 with only a homer away from the cycle.  BJ Upton went 2 for 3 and had a couple of nice defensive plays. And catcher Gregg Zaun introduced himself to fans at the Trop with a homer.

But in the end, it wasn't enough. This game started at 7:38. It was over by 7:45. Spotting Doc Halladay a 2 run lead won't win you too many games against the Blue Jays. Starting pitching like that brings us back to the Devil Ray days, when guys who shouldn't be starting for the Durham Bulls used to grace the roster.

The Rays are really running out of time. Last August, the Rays lost 7 games all month. Last night, they tied that... and there's still half of the month left. Let's hope the Rays can finally create that mythical "run" we've been looking for all year.

Here are some things I noticed in last night's 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays:

  • Middle of the lineup goose eggs. The 4 through 7 hitters didn't have too good of a night. They only accounted for 1 hit- and that was from Willy Aybar who didn't even start.  With that kind of production out of the middle of the order, it's no wonder Carl Crawford can go 4 for 4 and only score once.
  • Ben Zobrist's bat. I know it's vogue to criticize Pat the Bat and BJ Upton for their miscues at the plate, but Zorilla hasn't made an appearance in awhile.  He's only got 4 hits in his last 10 games. His average has dropped from .294 to .282.
  • PtB's stiff neck.  That's not a good sign. Honestly, I was hoping this guy wouldn't turn out to be a bust. But if he goes on the DL with another stiff neck, I'm going to have to give him the "bust" label for the 2009 season. Maybe he can turn it around next season.
  • Zaun learning the pitchers or the pitchers learning Zaun. I'm just going to throw this out there: The Rays starters haven't looked too comfortable since Zaun took over primary catching duties. Don't get me wrong, I like the guy. He brings a spark to this team. But, I'm just wondering if changing catchers mid-stream is causing just a little bit of problems for the starters.
  • The Angry pitcher takes his act to Durham.  It didn't take long for the Angry Pitcher's act to get tired here.  The Rays optioned Jeff Bennett to Durham last night.  Looks like Reid Brignac is going to make a Tropicana Field appearance. You know the season's getting rough when I'm actually looking forward to Brignac bringing a little energy to the team.   
I would also like to thank Southernmojo and djberg on Twitter for volunteering to help me with the Twittering the #Rays fan page on facebook.  I would like to bring a little diversity to that page for a little extra value instead of rehashing all of my thoughts.  If you haven't become a fan, go click on it and get a quick "facebook" dose of the Rays.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What the Rays need to do to make a "run"

The last week has been real tough for the Rays and their fans. The joy of sweeping the Boston Red Sox and gaining ground in the wild card race was swiftly destroyed by a nightmarish west coast swing from Seattle to Anaheim.  Just when we were ready to start printing playoff tickets, the Rays revert back to the 3rd place team they've been pretty much all season.

So, what now? Andrew Friedman believes this team still has a run in them.  He believes they have a run that could make September really special. I'm not as convinced as Friedman is.  But, this is major league baseball and stranger things have happened. This team certainly has the talent to do it, but can they put it all together and make this a memorable run to the post season.

Here's what I believe needs to happen for the Rays to make a run at the wild card:

  • Home domination.  For the most part, the Rays have been money at home this year. However, there has been some times when they've played rather lackadaisically at home.  The last time was the Yankees series. That kind of play has to stop now.  The Rays aren't going to win every home game from here on out, but they better win most of them if they want to make a run. Boston doesn't lose much at home.  The Rays have to lose even less than that now.
  • Killer instinct from the starting pitchers.  I'm specifically referring to the staff "aces:" James Shields, Scott Kazmir, and Matt Garza.  A team like Toronto should be looking at the pitching match-ups right now and quaking in their boots.  The Blue Jay fans should be wondering how they got so unlucky to get these three guys in a row at Tropicana Field.  Instead, these guys scare nobody. They're just 3 guys the Rays are running out there for a 3 game series. I don't want to see anymore flopping around the mound, hitting the ground with your glove, dirty looks at the umpires, screams in frustration, etc.  Go out there like you have a pair and take care of business. We've seen it from each of you in the past. I want to see it again.
  • Put the ball in play.  One thing that really frustrates me about this team is the strikeouts.  Last year, they did such a good job of putting the ball in play to make things happen.  This year it seems like strikeouts are always killing rallies.  We just got done watching the Angels' brand of baseball. They don't strikeout. They slap the ball into holes and before you know it, they've scored three runs. Then, they hit you with the long ball. This applies to the usual suspects, along with certain others who seem to fall in that trap.
  • No extra outs.  The 2008 Rays were praised for their defense and their mental approach to the game.  The 2009 squad seems like the Bad News Bears out there at times.  Take pride in your defense. Don't force the issue. Do the right thing when the ball comes to you. Extra outs always seem to come back to bite you, so don't take the chance.
  • Enough with the walks already.  Honestly, I'm tired of the walks.  I'm tired of leadoff walks. I'm tired of 2 out walks. I'm tired of close walks. I'm tired of 4-pitch walks. I'm tired of all of them. Somehow, someway... this pitching staff needs to figure out how to throw strikes.
  • Have fun.  We heard the other day that Joe Maddon told B.J. Upton he needs to have fun.  That goes for the rest of the team as well.  Go out there an play ball. This team is way more uptight than last year's squad was.  Look, you have nothing to lose. You're in third place. Why put all the pressure on yourselves?

I also solicited some twitter advice for the Rays and what other people want to see.

TheBrainStem is looking for more productive outs from this team and would like to see Pat the Bat play some outfield.  Maybe that's a good idea. Get PtB in the flow of the game and see if it helps him become the monster we hoped he would be.  I'm definitely on board with the productive outs. I'm tired of the double plays all the time.

Pixie1212 is looking for more hustle/killer/instinct/desire/focus- whatever you wanna call it. I would like all of those wrapped in a nice 9=8 motto and taped all over the clubhouse.  Maddon did a good job of motivating overachievers last year. Can he figure out a way to motivate some underachievers this year?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Off Day Fun: Bossman Junior visor giveaway on Sunday

Just days after B.J. Upton was demoted to the number 9 spot and complained that it was a "kick in the face"... the Rays are giving away Bossman Junior Visors to the 1st 10,000 kids 14 and under. The giveaway is during this Sunday's game versus the Blue-Jays.

I've got to admit. I like it. I wonder how much grief I would get if I wore it out in public?

Disapointment settles in

I'm finally experience a new emotion as a Rays fan: Disappointment.  Never in the history of the team have I ever really felt this level of disappointment in the Rays.  The World Series? Nah. The fact that they were so far beyond my expectations last year lessened the sting.  This west coast trip was like a tornado ripping through my expectations.  When it all settled in Anaheim yesterday afternoon, I finally realized that I'm looking at a team that's probably not going to make the playoffs.

Coming into this year, I scoffed at the experts who picked the Rays 3rd in the AL East. The pitching rotation was pretty much intact.  The Rays added a few bats to the lineup.  The young guys were a year more experienced. BJ Upton was going to be the best lead-off hitter in baseball. Pat the Bat was going to bring a power element to the Rays that was going to benefit both him and Carlos Pena.  Evan Longoria was going to cruise as the AL MVP. And the Rays were going reaffirm the new AL East pecking order... showing the Yankees that money can't buy a championship.

Yet, here we sit. 114 games into the season and the Rays are chasing a wild card. They're 10 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and 3rd among 3 teams in the wild card standings. With a chance to pick up some ground over the last week, the Rays folded and went right back to the mediocrity that they've shown all season.

Of course, this team could still get hot and make a run. It's happened before. But, was there anything that really showed us this week that the Rays are capable of making the type of run needed to get back into this thing? I'm not sure there was.  All that I'm sure of is that the Rays are in third place this morning and that each day that goes by the playoff hopes grow dimmer and dimmer.

Here are some things I noticed in the Angels 10-5 victory over the Rays:

  • Carlos Pena, team leader and home run leader. I will give Pena credit for picking up his game yesterday. He looked like a man trying to get his team out of a funk by example. Unfortunately for 'Los, his power surge was wasted with a homer by the 8th guy in the Angels lineup.
  • Jason Bartlett, the good and the bad.  You really can't argue with 4 for 5 from the leadoff guy, unless the throws a ball away and gives up an extra run. Or maybe he lets a flyball drop between him and the left fielder. Don't get me wrong, I love 4 for 5... but, the Rays need tight defense more than offense from their shortstop.
  • Jeff Niemann's day.  Give the big man credit,  he was able to keep the damage to a minimum most of the game. But just like Price and Garza before him, he fell victim to the Angels lineup. Some may complain that Joe Maddon pulled Niemann too early. To that, I say didn't you watch the other games against the Angels?
  • Bullpen problems. The bullpen seems to not be immune to the funk going around the team. Grant Balfour served up a nice one to Gary Matthews, Jr to blow the Rays lead.  Dan Wheeler didn't fare much better.  Kevin Kennedy seems to believe that the lack of quality starts is causing the bullpen to fall apart.  I just think they've got the same funk going as the rest of the team.
  • The Angels are really that good. I've been harping on how bad the Rays look, but let's face it... the Angels are a pretty good team in their own right.  That team comes at you from every different angle. It doesn't matter who's up to bat. It doesn't matter how many outs there are. That team knows how to win games.  The Boston Red Sox took the same 6-game west coast road trip in May and went 2-4.  The Yankees got a series in Seattle coming up... and in September, they get to do the Seattle/Anaheim roady.  If the Rays are close enough to strike....

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

One more day in west coast nightmare

The last few days have become a nightmare for Rays fans.  After winning 5 of 6 at home against the Royals and Red Sox and picking up some ground in the wild card race, the Rays have completely fallen apart during the 1st 5 games of their west coast swing.  Right now, they've only won 1 of 5. Two of the games were winnable. The other 2 were blowouts. Last night was a blowout... even after it started so promising.

Like I've said before, anything can happen before the end of a baseball season.  Right now, I think the Rays are at the lowest point in the season.  All year there's been "time" to come back. But that "time" is ticking away and the Red Sox seem to be back on track. The Rangers are still out there and Seattle's beginning to make a move in the wild card standings.

Maybe today the Rays can end their little west coast nightmare with a win in a getaway. It would make the return home trip a little more tolerable. And it might give Rays fans a little sliver of hope in a season that's rapidly become a letdown.

Here are some things I noticed in the Angels 6-0 victory of the Rays:
  • Yes, the Angels are that good. While it would be easy to blame the Rays for all their woes this week, a tip of the cap is due the Angels. Like the Yankees, you got to respect how good they are. They keep coming at you. They make you pay for your mistakes. They seem to be flawless. The Rays had trouble in Anaheim last year, so it's no surprise they're having trouble against one of the hottest teams in baseball.
  • Dr. David and Mr. Price.  Things fell apart quickly for the Rays rookie. After 4 innings of no-hit ball... a single up the middle lead to a complete breakdown. The Angels aggressive base running and timely hitting allowed them to put up 3 on the Rays in the blink of an eye. They did it again the next inning making it an almost insurmountable lead.
  • Glad Gregg Zaun decided to show. It seems like the Rays crusty new catcher was the only guy that decided to show up offensively... getting two hits off Ervin Santana. Evan Longoria got the only other hit.
  • So long my old friend. Troy Percival will be calling it quits. Percy made a clubhouse appearance yesterday with the team. He told reporters that his body just isn't able to do it anymore.  I know Percy was a favorite whipping boy of Rays fans, but he was an extremely important piece to last year's squad. He helped the Rays early in the season both on the field and off the field. He was one of the veteran leaders that helped the young Rays realize their true potential.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rays make sure status quo remains in AL East.

Just like that, all is right in the world of Red Sox Nation.  Yankees lose. Check. Red Sox win at Fenway. Check. Rays lose on the west coast. Check. The reason Red Sox fans can be so smug this morning is that they woke up and realized their 6 game losing streak didn't really hurt them that bad.  They're still in 1st in the wild card standings. They're still within striking distance of the Yankees. And the Rays missed the opportunity to slingshot themselves past them into the wild card driver's seat.

It's time to face facts. The Rays are not a playoff team.  They lose games they should win. They're not getting quality starts out of their starters on the road.  The bullpen is a ragtag group of other people's has-beens. The center fielder is moping. The high priced DH doesn't come through in the clutch. The manager's forcing lineups. And they just can't get the bounces.

I'm not writing the season off, just yet.  But time is running out on these guys. If they're going to turn the corner, they need to do it now.  Pitching performances like we saw from Matt Garza last night and Scott Kazmir the day before are unacceptable.  The starters have to go out there and give their team a chance to win. The Rays need to make their own luck.  They need to stop hanging their heads and get angry... show some heart.

The Rays are doing just enough right now to keep us interested. For every step forward they take, they go back a step. That's not going to be enough to get it done. At some point someone's got to step up and say: We're not going out like that! I'm not sure who that person is, but they better hurry up. Time is wasting and everything is right in Red Sox Nation.

Things I noticed from last night's 8-7 loss to the L.A. Angels:

Just a few more inches higher, please? Ben Zobrist was so close, yet so far.

Matt Garza turns in to Scott Kazmir. Honestly, that was the worst I've seen Garza pitch all year. The Angels really could've broken this game open in the 4th when Garza went into full meltdown mode.  Fortunately for him, Lance Cormier came in and got a double play ball to keep the damage to a minimum.  The Rays can't afford those kinds of starts from Garza. 

No love from the bottom half of the order. The radio guys kept harping on this last night. One hit from the bottom 4 of the line-up.  That's unacceptable.  It's hard to keep a rally going when you've got that kind of dead zone going.

The Willy Aybar at 2nd experiement. Still a failure. I'm not sure why Maddon keeps running Aybar out there at 2nd base.  Last night his error gave up an early run and in a 1 run ballgame that could be the difference in the game.  Of course, we'll excuse those kind of miscues if we get the Applebottom Bat... instead, we got 0-3 with 2 strikeouts.  One thing this experiment is showing me: Expect Akinori Iwamura to take his rightful place at 2nd when he comes of the DL. Ben Zobrist will probably become the everyday right fielder.

MVB, almost a cycle.  Jason Bartlett knocked off the hard part of hitting for the cycle: the homer, triple, and double.  He couldn't close the deal in the 8th, striking out in his final at bat. The Rays have never had a player hit for the cycle.

Entertained in Anaheim. If nothing else,  Angels versus the Rays series are always entertaining. I would love to see these two teams and their managers get the chance to battle it out in a postseason series. It would be fun to watch.

B.J. Upton. Really? You're better than that. 

Monday, August 10, 2009

Seattle series leaves a sour taste

As many of you know, I'm a regular optimist when it comes to the Rays. The glass is always half full and there's always tomorrow. But, this morning, I'm feeling especially pessimistic about this team's chances of making the playoffs. The "it's early argument" is over. Now, it's time for "it's getting late."

Each time the Rays make a little progress, like sweeping Boston at Tropicana Field, they seem to take leave it on the table and regress just enough to stay in 3rd place.  This weekend was the perfect opportunity to take the wild card position by storm. Instead, a combination of bad luck and bad play keep the Rays at 1 1/2 behind the Red Sox and Rangers.  If anything, the Rays have shown an inability to get over the hump and to the next level.

And if you're wondering where the Rays may end up at the end of the season, look no further than the 2008 New York Yankees.  Last year's Yankees squad was just good enough to be dangerous, but never good enough to get over the hump.  All year they just seemed to hang behind the Red Sox and the Rays. When they got a little traction, something always knocked the back.  They always looked threatening without ever really threatening.  At 111 games last year, the 2008 Yankees were 60-51... the same record the 2009 Rays hold today.

Mathematically it's not over for the Rays, but they're running out of chances.  Teams have to make up ground when they can.  This weekend, the Rays gave up a golden opportunity to a Seattle Mariners team ready to make its own mark on the wild card hunt.

Here are some things I noticed in the Rays 11-2 loss to the Mariners:

  • Will the real Scott Kazmir please stand-up? I like Scott Kazmir. He's probably been my favorite player on the Rays for the past few years. I cannot forget the way he owned batters and the way we counted strikeouts every time he came to the mound.  Like the Rays, Kazmir seems to take a step back every time he gets some success. His pitching is like a microcosm of the season.  The Rays gave him a 2-1 lead, but he could not keep it... giving the runs right back on a Franklin Gutierrez homer. Not Kazmir's brightest day. Rays fans can only hope *yesterday* was the anomaly, not his 2 previous performances.  Like it or not, the Rays need Kazmir this year.
  • Bad luck. One big difference between this year's team and last year's team is plain old luck.  Last year's Rays had it, this year's team doesn't. A perfect example was Pat Burrell's at-bat in the 1st inning. Bases loaded with one out, all PtB has to do is hit the ball hard to the outfield and a run probably scores. Instead, PtB's liner up the middle gets snagged and Evan Longoria gets doubled up.  Rays score 0 in the 1st.  If that ball gets through, it could've been a whole different game.
  • Getaway days. Rays Index pointed out on Twitter after the game that the Rays are 6-13 on road getaway games... 4-13 in their last 17. Something doesn't seem to be working there.  Maddon may want to try something different.
  • Scheduling Seattle. I'm usually not one to complain about scheduling, but how did the Rays get 6 games in Seattle and only 2 games against them at home? 
  • The Angry Pitcher wears out his welcome.  It didn't take long to figure out why Bobby Cox had no more use for the Angry Pitcher in Atlanta. Jeff Bennett really likes to walk guys. If he isn't walking them, he's hitting them. If he isn't hitting them, he's giving up grand slams.  All the walls were trembling in fear after Russel Branyon's homer.
  • Bossman batting 9th.  B.J. Upton doesn't like batting ninth.  In fact, he calls it a "kick in the face." Look, Bossman, I'm going to give you some free unsolicited advice: Keep quiet!  The Rays fan base already dislikes your "work ethic." Spouting complaints about your batting order position isn't going to gain you any friends. In fact, you should model yourself after Jason Bartlett.  Instead of saying anything about his position in the batting order, he just went out and performed. 

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rays shake off Saturday morning loss Saturday night

One sign of a good team is the ability to shake off a rough loss and come back and get 'em the next night. That's exactly what the Rays did last night at Safeco Field in Seattle. Instead of dwelling on "what could of been" the night before, the Rays took care of their own business and, thanks to the New York Yankees, got themselves within 1 1/2 games of the wild card lead. 

"Big Game" James Shields finally got some run support, gave it up, and then got some more... before turning it over to the bullpen to finish the job. The offense even tacked on some late runs to make sure that the Mariners didn't have any thoughts of another comeback.

Here are some things I noticed in the Rays 10-4 victory over the Mariners:

  • Big Game and his runs. Run support has been a major problem for Shields this year. In fact, until last night, he hadn't won a game in 8 starts. While I understand the frustration, I still think Shields has some responsibility in his struggles. He still has a tendency to give up sloppy innings here and there... innings that come back to haunt him.  He gave up a couple of sloppy innings last night, but the offense picked him up.
  • Longo/Pena combo.  Maybe it's just me, but these two are starting to get a little "toasty."  Nothing but good can follow when they're hitting homers in the same inning.
  • More arms. The Rays are playing with an extra bullpen arm instead of a bench of a position player.  I really don't think it will be a problem unless someone gets a minor injury. The fact is, Joe Maddon hasn't used Joe Dillionaire much at all. Might as well use his roster spot for a pitcher.
  • 4pm game. I, for one, am happy today's game goes down at 4.  These late night games can play havoc on my sleeping schedule.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Two new Rays become elder statesman for playoff run

As the Rays left St. Petersburg for Seattle, the roster only contained one player older than me: Brian Shouse. Tonight, before they play the Seattle Mariners in game 2 of the 3 game series, the Rays now have 2 more players older than me on the roster: Gregg Zaun and Russ Springer. I'm not saying these guys are old, but Springer was once traded for Jim Abbott, the one-armed pitcher. Zaun has been to the World Series once and that was before the Tampa Bay Devil Rays played their first game.

Both of these guys bring a wealth of big league experience to the team. Both have been many places and have seen many things. Arguably, the biggest thing they bring is veteran leadership to a team who is seemingly lacking in that department. Both guys will undoubtedly tell the Rays young players how hard it is to get to the postseason and how it's even harder to be successful in the post season.

Zaun is very familiar with the AL East as a whole. He's been in the division since 2004, so he knows exactly how to call a game against the Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Orioles.  He also provides an improved alternate at catcher as Dioner Navarro continues to struggle.

As for Springer, he's spent most of his time in the National League. He's coming from Oakland 4.10 ERA in 48 games. He's know for his feud with Barry Bonds a few years back.  He hit Bonds rather than let him hit a homer off of him while chasing Hank Aaron. Sounds like he's got a little fire that may do the bullpen some good.

I've been saying that the Rays need some *spark* or *fire* to really get going. Maybe these two guys are just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, we may have seen the last of "The Greatness that is Michel Hernandez" and Joe Dillionaire. Both were DFA'd this afternoon to make room on the roster.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The number 36 is the key to unlock a Rays postseason

Many people asked me who I was  rooting for this weekend between the Yankees and Red Sox. To be honest, I don't really care who wins that series. For the Rays it's more important to keep their eyes on the team in front of them, instead of the team's their chasing.  That's because I believe the Rays will make the playoffs with 36 more wins, no matter what the Red Sox and Yankees do.

I know the 1st week of August is a little early to start talking "magic numbers" in baseball. But yesterday, Times writer Marc Topkin said he believes the Rays need to win 40 games to make the playoffs. To me, that number was a little bit high. Forty wins out of the next 54 games would put the Rays at 100-62 for the season. That would mean that either the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, or even another team would've won 99 games. Recent history suggests the wild card threshold isn't that high.

I went back 5 years in AL history and here's what I found:

Wild Card Wins
2008 Boston 95 
2007 NY 94
2006 Detroit 95
2005 Boston 95
2004 Boston 98

As you can see, the most wins for a wild card team in the American League in the last 5 years was 98 for the 2004 Boston Red Sox. It averages out to 95.4 wins a year for the wild card.  But, the wins for a team doesn't necessarily show the whole picture. It's also important to look at the the wins of the team behind them. This shows a much different picture.

2nd in Wild Card
2008 New York 89
2007 Detroit 88
2006 Chicago  90
2005 Cleveland 93
2004 Oakland 91

As you can see, the threshold becomes even lower.  Looking at that, the most games an American League team has had to win to make the playoffs is 94. The 2005 Cleveland Indians had the most wins of any team in that stretch and failed to make the playoffs. The average is 90.2 wins... so, history suggests 91 wins is usually enough to get the wild card.

The most wins ever for an American League wild card berth post-expansion was the 2001 Oakland A's who won 102 games. However, their closest competitor that year was the Minnesota Twins, who won only 86 games.

For the Rays this means if they win 36 games out of their next 54, they should make the playoffs.  That means .666 ball from here on out... 2 out of every 3 games. That may sound like a tall order, but last year the Rays played .750 ball in August.  A good run over the next couple weeks will go a long way in determining whether the Rays make the playoffs or not. 

Rays wins, not what Boston, NY, or Texas do is the key to the playoffs. They need to win the games in front of them and let the race play out. In the end, if the Rays win 96 games and miss the playoffs... all you can do is tip your cap to the Yankees and Red Sox and wish them well.

So, you had a bad day!

I'm guessing the person who was driving this car in Brandon today wasn't enjoying themselves too much today. Ha! Go Rays!

Rays send message to AL: We're not going away

For Boston Red Sox fan, Tuesday and Wednesday was going to be the chance their team needed to finally put away the pesky Rays.  It was a chance to show that the standings are correct, the Red Sox are a better team. It was a chance to show that last year was a fluke and those "Devil Rays" in Tampa were still the little brother of the AL East. It was a chance to show off their new 1B/DH/Catcher. A chance to show off their new bullpen phenom.  A chance to right, what to them was wrong.  

But, the Rays had other plans. The Rays showed the Red Sox and their fans that they're not going anywhere. They're in it for the long haul. They showed that the Red Sox are not going to cruise their way into the playoffs this year. They're going to have to battle, every night, with the Rays right on their tail.  Tuesday night was a marathon test of wills.  Wednesday night was the shorter sequel. In both cases, the Rays prevailed.

The series when was nice and provides the perfect momentum going into a 6 game west coast swing.  For the Rays, it's all about the game in front of them. Win today's game and worry about tomorrow when it get here.  The Rays have had some other momentum swings during the season, but failed to take advantage. Let's see how they play this one out.

Here are some things I noticed in the Rays 6-4 victory over the Red Sox: 

  • Starting pitching.  It looks like the starters are beginning to bear down.  David Price looked like a veteran last night, cutting through the Red Sox dangerous lineup with precision. He really did a number on the reigning AL MVP, Dustin Pedrioia. He retired him 3 times and got him to strand 3 runners. That's the kind of performance that's going to win games in August. 
  • Answering the call. I was very impressed how the Rays offense was able to answer back every time the Red Sox scored. Jason Bay hit a solo shot in the top of the 2nd and Carlos Pena answered with a 2-run shot in the bottom of the inning.  Victor Martinez homered in the 6th. Pat Burrell answered with his own solo shot. And when the Red Sox scratched one across in the 7th, Jason Bartlett answered.  The Rays offense never left Price out to dry.  They picked him up each time he gave a little. That will go a long way in helping the starters' confidence.
  • "He-who-must-not-be-named-closer" It's real refreshing to see JP Howell embrace his new roll with such success. It's amazing how easy the end of the game becomes when you got a guy who can go out there and get outs.  His emergence as "he-who-must-not-be-named-closer" has swung the advantage toward the Rays in close games.
  • PtB answers his call.  Joe Maddon repeated what I've been saying: The Rays need PtB to get hot to be successful here in the endgame.  Last night, PtB did his job... getting a solo shot to answer a Red Sox run. If PtB and Carlos Pena can both get hot, look out! This team's going to do some serious damage.
  • Yankees or Red Sox? With no game tonight, you may want to turn on the Red Sox vs the Yankees on the MLB network tonight.  The question is: who to root for?  My gut instinct is to say root for the Yankees because the Red Sox are the team directly in front of us. However, the Rays seem to play better against the Red Sox, so it might be beneficial to see the Yankees lose ground and get closer. Either way, the Rays must take care of their own business. It doesn't matter who wins that series if the Rays lay a west coast egg.
  • 35 games. That's how many games I believe the Rays have to win to get to the playoffs. It's not going to be easy, but it will sure be fun.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Caught on Tape: @RaysUpdates catches some fans sharing some "choice" words

Our buddy @Raysupdates on Twitter posted this video today. It's an argument between a Red Sox fan and a Rays fan. While it doesn't come to blows, it's always fun watching these kind of altercations... in a "train wreck" sort of way. 

WARNING: Video does contain foul language. Watch at your own risk.

Longo brings spark Rays were looking for

All night, I was looking for the spark.  Something that showed me the Rays realized how precarious their situation was getting this year.  For the most part, I didn't see it.  Up and down the Rays went. Striking out. Grounding out. And flying out.  In the 8th, Evan Longoria looked like he had the spark... hitting a homer to tie the game.  But, then the Rays offense continued to putter and got no runs even with a bases-loaded, no out situation.

Then comes the bottom of the 13th.  By then, the game had become a battle of the wills.  Neither the Rays nor the Red Sox were giving an inch.  Each team was deep in their bullpen. The Rays had cleared their bench.  The rally energy was gone. Every one was looking for the big hit to end the game.  

It's moments like this that are the difference between good players and great players.  The great ones know they have to put their team on their back.  The great ones know that it's up to them. They know what they did before wasn't enough. They know they have to shake off their earlier failures and live for this moment. And that's what Evan Longoria did last night.  He responded. With his arms raised watching the ball go out of the park, Longoria once again showed what makes him so special. Longo showed why, at 23, he's one of the most popular players in the American League. He showed why he's the bane of Red Sox nation. Now, let's see how the rest of the team responds to that kind of leadership.

Here are some things I noticed in the Rays long 4-2 victory over the Red Sox:

  • Run Prevention rules. Before Longo's heroics, run prevention was the rule of the day.  The Rays pitchers and defense did a real good job of keeping the Red Sox from getting a rally going. Their 2 runs came off of solo shots from the normal Rays killers: Kevin Youkillis and Dustin Pedroia. But, other than that, the Rays kept them at bay with good pitching and solid defense.  If the Rays are going to be successful in catching the Red Sox and Yankees, run prevention is the key.
  • Line-up changes.  Joe Maddon kept his Sunday line-up intact for last night's game.  Jason Bartlett led off and B.J. Upton went down to the 7 spot. Meanwhile, Willy Aybar got the DH duties and Pat Burrell came off the bench. I'm not sure that the switch provided the "spark," I was looking for. The Rays entire offense looked listless against Jon Lester.  Bossman couldn't get anything going and Aybar's big play was a ground-rule double error (more on that later).  
  • The case of the equipment bags in the bullpen.  Although I don't like it, the umpires made the right call according to the rule book.  The fact remains that the Rays needed to push those runs across, regardless of the play before.  Not only that, the equipment bags shouldn't have been there.
  • The Red Sox upgrades aren't really that intimidating. The Red Sox were active at the trade deadline, getting Victor Martinez from Cleveland. But, to me, the Red Sox lineup was just as intimidating with a healthy Mike Lowell at 3rd and Youk at 1st.  Judging from last night's game, these teams are still pretty evenly matched.
  • Send the Red Sox to New York beaten and broken. The Rays have the opportunity to send the Red Sox up to New Yankees stadium beaten and broken.  Hopefully, they can keep that spark going tonight and finish them off.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The 2009 endgame begins today

The endgame of the 2009 season begins tonight at Tropicana Field.  The Rays have 56 games to make up 5 games on the Boston Red Sox... and that's just to make the playoffs.  Whether we like it or not, it's no longer early. It's no longer a long marathon.  There's no longer time to make up ground later.  The Rays must turn it on now!

We can already see that Joe Maddon's thinking about the endgame. Yesterday's insertion of Willy Aybar in the DH spot and Jason Bartlett in the leadoff spot shows that skipper knows he's run out of time to get "streaky" players hot. Each game must be treated as a must-win.  Do the Rays have to win every game on the schedule? No. But they can't let games like Sunday get away from them. The offense can't take nights off. Pitchers can't work through their troubles.  All in all, it's crunch time.

So buckle up and get ready!  We, as Rays fans, have never got to see our team "chasing" in the last couple months of the season. Last year, the Rays were the hunted. This year, the Rays are the hunters.  I think this team has the roster to make up the ground and get in the playoffs. The question is: Do they have what it takes mentally to grind out a five game differential over the next 56 games?  And that's how Joe Maddon will earn his paycheck this year.

Here are some things I noticed in the Rays 10-4 victory over the Royals:

  • Applebottom jeans, boots wit da fur.  Willy Aybar is a man of few words. Instead, he lets his bat do the talking for him. And, if yesterday was any indication, Willy's ready for a run to the playoffs. Aybar rewarded Joe Maddon's decision to start him at DH with not one, but 2 homers from each side of the plate. Aybar has now made Maddon's job of filling out the lineup card a little more difficult tonight.  Should he listen to the angry villagers and go with Aybar over Pat Burrell? Or will he keep his right handed DH in the lineup to do what he's supposed to do: hit lefties.
  • Batting first, playing shortstop, Jason Bartlett.  Another Ray who decided to reward Maddon for a little change in the lineup.  MVB, as he's called in some circles, went 3-4 with 2 runs and 2 RBI's in the leadoff spot. More importantly, he started the game with a walk to get a 2 run rally started against Zack Greinke. How many times have we seen B.J. Upton start the game with a ground out? This is another place where Maddon will have to make a tough choice today. Stick with Bossman or go with the hot bat? Judging by his comments: I think we'll see a batting order change today.
  • Scott Kazmir, trade deadline acquisition. I know it's only been 2 starts, but the change in mound presence from Kazmir has been night and day over the last couple of starts. It's almost as if Mark Buerhle's perfect game inspired him in some strange way.  The Kazmanian Devil didn't go deep into the game, but he provided 6 solid innings and left the bullpen in good position. A solid Kaz during the endgame will be much more valuable than any trade deadline acquisition the Rays could've made.
  • The Greatness that is Michel Hernandez.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention Hernandez's first ever triple.  He's another guy pushing for more playing time.
  • Some 2008 vs 2009 comparisons. If you inserted the 2008 Rays after 106 games into the 2009 standings, the 2008 Rays would be in 3rd place. They would be 1 game behind Boston and 1 1/2 behind the Yankees. But, the 2008 Rays got really hot in August. They went 21-7. They only lost 2 games in row once in the month.  The Rays need that kind of August this year.

Monday, August 3, 2009

From near history to sad meltdown

View of James Shields from the upper deck.

We weren't talking about it, but we sure were thinking about it. Going into the 8th inning James "Big Game" Shields was tossing a no-no. He needed only 6 outs and I was going to be there for history. But somehow, as they have a few times this season, the Rays figured out a way to completely meltdown... ending a game that could've been special in a not-so-special way.

You have to give credit to Shields. The man was a pitching machine for most of the game. For those of us at the Trop, the excitement grew with each out.  Too bad the offense couldn't get anything going for Shields.  It just felt like 1 run would be enough.  But, maybe that was too much to ask.

If anything, yesterday's game tempered my enthusiasm about this team's chances of making the playoffs a little bit.  The complete lack of offense and the terrible defensive execution late in the game marks a stark contrast to what we saw last year.  If the Rays can't finish a game like this, at home, against the Kansas City Royals, what chance do they have head-to-head versus the Yankees and the Red Sox.  The next couple of weeks will be very telling.  The Rays have to have an almost perfect August to make a playoff run. Yesterday's game was not a good sign of things to come.

Here are some things I noticed in the Rays 4-1 loss to the Royals:

  • Not saying "no-no."  This was the first Rays game I had been to where a pitcher took a no-no so long into the game. The fans were into the game, yet the talk was at a minimum. You could tell people were taking notice because nobody was leaving their seat... even to go get food. The stairs were empty and the movement was kept to a minimum. Too bad we weren't rewarded.
  • Gross not laying out. I'm not going to blame Gabe Gross for not laying out on John Buck's soft liner.  I'm going to blame the offense. I have not doubt Gross would've laid out for that ball if the Rays are up 2 or more to nothing.  But in a 0-0 game, he made the right play.
  • Dioner Navarro's troubles.  I haven't been incredibly hard on the Rays catcher since early in the season, but things are not going well for the catcher.  It's one thing to slump a little bit at the plate. It's another to slump a little bit on defense, but that error in the 8th was an absolute mental error.  Trying to go for the double-play instead of the sure out cost his team a run... maybe two.  That was *not* an example of the "run prevention" Andrew Friedman was looking for at the trade deadline.
  • Little league play. To compound Navarro's error, Jason Bartlett made his own mental mistake in the 8th. The Royals perfectly executed the "little league" play where you attempt a steal at second with a runner on third.  The runner at 1st stops half-way and induces a rundown... while the runner at third goes home. Perfection for the Royals. Nasty for the Rays.
  • Royals hideous bullpen. I'm sure the Rays figured, like I did, that there was no need to get to starter Brian Bannister because the Royals bullpen is so hideous.  However, Royals manager Trey Hillman hedged his bets... letting Bannister go an extra inning and then bringing in closer Joakim Soaria to finish the job. It could've backfired on Hillman, except the Rays let the Royals put up 2 insurance runs in the top of the ninth. I liked the Rays chances down 2 runs with Soaria in the ninth.  4 runs was a little much to ask.
  • Bossman gunned down.  How big was the play where Mitch Maier gunned down B.J. Upton at the plate? To me, that was the turning point in the game.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Strange jersey sighting at the Trop

As I hurried up to my seats in the upper deck on Sunday to catch the game with my family, I made a quick stop at the Rays store on the third base food court. It's not the big store, it's the smaller one. Imagine my surprise when I found, not 1 but 2 odd-colored Rays jerseys staring at me. I had to do a quick take.  So, I did what any good journalist/blogger would do... I pulled out my cell camera and took a picture.

So, what do you think? I may have to do some more research on them tomorrow, but I wanted to get the pictures posted to see what Rays fans thought of them. I actually think the blue one isn't too bad. I'm not as sure about the red one. 

Jeff Niemann, Rays' Ace

Jeff Niemann is the 1st Rays starter with double-digit wins. Let's repeat that, Jeff Niemann is the 1st Rays starter with double-digit wins. Not James "Big Game" Shields, not Matt "ALCS MVP" Garza, and certainly not Scott "AL Strikeout King" Kazmir... nope, it's Jeff "barely made the rotation because I'm out of options" Niemann.

Over the past couple of month, Niemann has become the most consistent pitcher of the starters. He's big. He's in control. And he's looking real good.  The Rays front office has been criticized all year for trading Edwin Jackson to the Tigers, but Niemann keeps showing why he's the #5 starter for this team.

Here are some things I noticed in the Rays 7-1 victory of the Kansas City Royals:

  • The Rays love playing the Royals. For some reason, the Rays absolutely own this team. They're 8-0 against the Royals and have outscored them 49-19. It's too bad they can't play like this against the other last place teams in the AL. The Rays have had trouble with both Oakland and Baltimore this year.
  • Scoring Early.  The Rays again set themselves up nicely, by jumping to an early 3-0 lead. Jason Bartlett got it going with a triple in which he scored on an error. That seemed to be more than enough for Jeff Niemann.
  • Run Prevention.  Andrew Friedman says that was the Rays motto in the trade deadline and the Rays are keeping it going.  Carl Crawford nailed Royals catcher Brayan Pena at the plate... keeping a crucial run off the board. Pitching and defense... pitching and defense.
  • The Angry New Pitcher. The Rays didn't waste any time getting Jeff Bennett, aka The Angry New Pitcher to the mound.  The came in for the last 2 outs of the ninth.  I saw Jason Bartlett run over to ANP and make sure everything was cool after he couldn't get to a grounder.  ANP's reputation precedes him.
  • Today is Scott Kazmir bobble head day for the children. I already have mine at my desk, but my kids will get theirs.  
  • Chicago White Sox vs AL East. The Yankees have lost 3 in a row, including an absolute annihilation at the hands of the Chicago White Sox. Ozzie Guillen really has his boys playing well against the AL East powerhouses. They're 8-2 against the Rays and Yankees combined. The good news for the Rays: They don't have to play them any more.  However, the Yankees still have 4 games versus the Sox and the Red Sox have 7.  Go Ozzie!
  • Red Sox brutal schedule. In case you're wondering about the Red Sox, their schedule goes like this: @TB, @NY, DET, @Texas.  Time for the Rays to make up some ground.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

New Rays relief pitcher really hates the Yankees

The Rays today signed righty relief pithcer Jeff Bennett.  The Braves recently released the 29-year-old a non-playing injury.  According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bennett punched the dugout wall during a June 24th game against the Yankees. He broke bone in his left hand and had to get surgery.  The Braves suspended him and quit paying him. Bennett filed a grievence and MLB said the Braves had to either pay him or allow him to become a free agent.  That's where the Rays found him today... and our good friend Mr. Spock, Joe Nelson finds himself in Durham for the next month or so.

Here's a link to some video of the Rays new pitcher when he spontaneously developed a bloody nose while pitching:

Here's a look at a blog from the AJC, where they recapped Bennett's night when he broke his finger: Mark Bradley Blog from June 26

I also found this article from after the game. Aparantly, Bennett was in such a rage that he forgot punching the door until he saw the dent and his hand started swelling. He pushed the bone back into place and then pitched another inning. He said he was "ashamed and embarrassed."... At least he's got a high pain tolerence. Maybe he can teach Scott Kazmir a thing or two.

No Deadline Deals. Rays say, so what?

Flo Rida peformed after the game. The Rays are 12-1 in concert series games. Apple-bottom jeans, indeed.

For the 2nd year in a row, Rays fans expecting some "big move" from the front office were left disappointed at the end of the trade deadline. No last minute deals. No Victor Martinez. No Roy Halladay. While a couple dozen players changed uniforms, the Rays stood pat.

Andrew Friedman said the Rays wanted to focus on "run prevention." He says he believes the team has the in-house options on offense. They may have just needed to shore up some pitching and catching. 

It's not that they didn't try. Friedman said they had some things going, but couldn't find the right fit. I'm fine with that. The Rays aren't the Yankees or Red Sox. They can't supplement their team mid-season. Don't forget, the the Red Sox held back on some moves in the off-season just to prepare for the deadline.  

While on the surface it looks like the rich got richer and the Rays couldn't keep up, just remember that the season isn't decided on the last day in July. Both the Red Sox and the Angels made moves last year that didn't help them get to the World Series.  There's still plenty of baseball left to play and the current roster has to show the front office that their faith in them is justified. 

We may have seen some of that last night.  The biggest public enemies right now among Rays fandom seems to be: Pat Burrell, Dioner Navarro, and Carlos Pena.  All three came up big last night showing that they've still got some worth to the team and can help lead this team past the Red Sox and Yankees.

Here are some things I noticed in the Rays 8-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals:

  • Staking an early lead. One thing that's really bothered me about this team since the All-Star break is their lack of runs early.  It seems like they're always playing from behind. Last night B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford got hit... and Carlos Pena knocked them in for a 3-run homer in the bottom of the 1st. The Rays never looked back.
  • PtB: Public Enemy Number 1. I guess now that Troy Percival is out of the picture, some Rays fans need someone to hat. Well, Pat Burrell has become the man. PtB is now getting booed at Tropicana Field. Many complained that the Rays need to dump him or at the least bench him. While I'm not pleased with his production, dumping him or benching him does nothing at this point. The Rays need him to get hot. The only way that's going to happen is if he gets at-bats. Maybe in a few weeks we'll look at his triple last night and say that it was where the "streak" began.
  • Dionar Navarro, dead to the fandom.  Outside of Scott Kazmir, the catcher position has been the biggest source of rumors when it comes to the trade deadline.  The Rays were linked with Victor Martinez, almost from the start. I, for one, am glad he went to the Red Sox... so I can resume my dislike for him.  As for Navarro, I don't think Martinez would've been an upgrade defensively. While his bat would've helped, I don't think he was worth the price. As for Mr. Navarro, he knocked one out of the park. Maybe the rumors shook him up, just enough.
  • Looking good, Mr. Price. He was throwing a ton of strikeouts, but he did keep the game in control and went 7 innings. Those are the kinds of performances we need to see from the Rays starting pitchers every night if the Rays are going to climb back into the race. Now, if we can just see 3 or 4 of those in a row from the starters.
  • Bye-bye, Mr. Spock. I'm not sure why, but it appears Joe Nelson and his Vulcan change-up are headed to Durham. The Times said Spock learned about it after the game. The Rays said they would make a corresponding move today.
  • I know the Rays are playing the Royals. But, this series could go a long way toward building some momentum.
  • 39 wins to go. The Boston Red Sox needed 95 wins to get the Wild Card berth last year. I'm using that as a benchmark for this year.  After last night's win, they need 39 more to get to 95.

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