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The Rays spend the last 4 days beating up on the lowly Kansas City Royals.  Well, except for that 1 game….you know that game, don’t you?  That stellar pitching performance by SP James Shields was wasted by defensive mistakes and offensive break down.  Aside from that it was a good series victory for the Rays and they gained some ground in the race for the AL East crown as the Bronx Bombers fell 3 out of 4 games to the Pale Hose of Chi-town.  But, didn’t you expect us to beat up on the last place Royals?  I certainly did.

The Rays will show us over the next 2 days what they’re made of, what intensity remains, what focus they have.  They now have a chance to gain more ground as the Boston Red Sox show up for a short 2 game set.  Look, at this point in the season if the Rays cannot come out like gang busters in their own hours for 2 games then I think it is safe to say the season will be in the bag.  If they cannot step it up a notch now for 2 games and an off day on Thursday why would we think they could in September?

Manager Joe Maddon finally sat a few guys that have been underperforming all season long.  BJ Upton, Pat Burrell and Dioner Navarro all had the day off while Gabe Kapler, Willy Aybar and Michel Hernandez got some game in.  With BJ out of the lineup Jason Bartlett got the #1 hole FINALLY and went 3 for 4, 2 RBIs, 2 runs scored, 1 free pass and was a HR short of the cycle.  JB likes the lead off and has earned the opportunity through a season of being one of 2 of the most consistent hitters the Rays have had all season long (Carl Crawford being the other). 

Slick Willy got the call at DH and blasted 2 HR’s – one from each side of the plate.  Going 2 for 5 but having only 1 strike out proves once again that Willy is a contact guy.  He will put the bat on the ball for productive outs when needed.  The Rays need to find a way to unload Burrell’s big ass contract! 

Hernandez had a nice day at the plate going 2 for 3 with a free pass, 2 runs scored and an RBI.  But most importantly no passed balls and no wild pitches.  This guy is the defensive answer at backstop for the Rays the remainder of the season.  The pitchers seem to like throwing to him and he is always in the game. 

I wouldn’t mind so much bringing BJ back to the lineup as I know how important defensively he is BUT he needs to trade places with JB period.  There is no question this is the right move.  Compare these numbers and make the right choice Joe!

 

  BJ                                                     JB

.244                   BA                          .337

.318                  OBP                         .387

.373                   SLG%                     .521

114                      K                            54

Tonight starts the test phase of the season for the Rays.  Their will to win will be tested and on display over the next few games.  I’ll be cheering for the Rays and hoping Joe makes the line up decisions that seem so abundantly clear to most Ray fans.  

Go Rays!

Post info: By Rays6 on August 4th, 2009
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SP David Price stepped onto the mound and into trouble from the start in game 1 of this 2008 World Series rematch against the Phillies.  Price was rocked in the first inning allowing 6 runs on 40 pitches including a 3 run blast by John Mayberry.  Price ran into another crooked number in the 4th inning by giving up another 4 runs.  Price again showed he had no “put away” pitch which is a very big disappointment.  He got out ahead and ran counts to 2 strikes then hung a pitch that clearly was not working, slider, over the heart of the plate for batting practice.  I am a bit perplexed as to WHY Price and C Dioner Navarro continued to throw the slider whilst it was getting hammered!  If Navi was calling for it Price should have shook him off!  If Price was shaking off Navi to get to it Navi should have ran out to the mound and told him to forget that pitch for tonight!  Where the hell is the leadership?!  Mr. Price may have just worked himself back to AAA with the impending return of SP Scott Kazmir.  If there was any question before who the odd man out may be this may have answered it.  Price clearly is not ready for the big stage yet.  Not only in this start but all of his starts have been hindered by high pitch counts and the inability to pitch deep into a game.  In AAA he really needs to find an “out” pitch!

The bullpen stopped the bleeding and finished the game strong once again.  RP Winston Abreu and Lance Cormier completed 4 2/3 innings allowing only 3 hits and 1 free pass while striking out 5.  This bullpen has turned its’ season around.  They were getting pounded at the beginning of the season now they are 3rd in ERA in the AL.  Nice job guys!  Now go and straighten out those starters please!

The defense had a large part of the blame for the crooked numbers put on the board.  Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena each committed their 7th errors of the season while BJ Upton committed his first.  This lead to 5 of the 10 runs scored being unearned!

The offense was pitiful against Phils SP Moyer.  They only managed 5 hits off a guy who tops the radar at about 80 mph.  As a whole the team was 2 for 10 with RISP.  Not much good went on here and Pat Burrell continues to struggle at the plate.  The guy who was signed to be the big RH power bat and protect Pena has now been bumped down to 6th in the line up due to his struggles.  Sorry but this was a bad signing!

The Rays attempt to put this horrendous performance in the past as they send SP Matt Garza to the bump in game 2.  Now, same prediction as the last game he pitched – if he keeps it in the park, Rays win.  If not rays will struggle.  This is a very simple formula, keep the ball down and away and mix in the occasional buzz on the hands to keep them honest.  Go Rays! 

Post info: By Rays6 on June 24th, 2009
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“The key will be Garza keeping the ball in the park.  Garza has given up 10 HR to date while giving up only 19 all of last year.  If he keeps in it we win – simple.  If not, we’re in for a battle.”

That my friends was my statement in yesterday’s blog.  What did SP Matt Garza do in the rubber game of the 3 game set?  Garza allowed 3 long blasts that cost the Rays 4 ER and the game/series.  That gives Garza 13 long balls given up to this point in the season.  He gave up only 19 all of 2008. 

The offense wasn’t much help either.  Our #3 and #4 hitters continue to try to pull pitches that are outside and low.  Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria combined for a whopping 1 for 8 with 5 K’s with 0 runs scored and 0 RBI’s.  As professional hitters these guys must see what the opposition is doing to them and adjust to it.  Until they can prove they can spread the ball around the field do not expect to see an inside pitch to either of them.  If I was the opposing pitcher they see nothing but off speed down and away.  

Ben Zobrist came clutch in the top of the 9th by knocking in BJ Upton and Carl Crawford with a single to close the gap to 1 run.  Jason Bartlett provided the other run by banging out a triple and scoring on a Dioner Navarro single.  

This team is looking more like the .500 team they have been predicted at being this season.  They cannot get any clutch hitting from their big bats.   The pitching has been average to below average.  If these guys don’t turn that corner soon and start to make some ground they will see themselves sitting in 4th place at the end of this season. 

Post info: By Rays6 on June 19th, 2009
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The Tampa Bay Ray offense put on a power display in the finale of the 3 game set against the LA Angels.  The offense put up 15 hits, 7 for extra bases including 4 home runs.  Carlos Pena, Dioner Navarro, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford all went deep while Navi, Ben Zobrist and Reid Brignac checked in with doubles.   Gabe Gross chipped in 4 RBI’s in his 3 for 4 performance while swiping a couple of bags as well.  Gabe has been swinging the bat well lately as he’s getting more regular playing time.  Now that Matt Joyce has been sent to Durham with the activation of Pat Burrell Gabe should be able to keep his groove on as he gets time in the OF. 

SP David Price threw out a mixed bag of good and bad.  He did not figure into the decision as he had to be lifted after 4 1/3 innings due to a very high pitch count (105).  To be honest he got into a lot of trouble in the first inning with a base hit and 2 walks to load the bases but wriggled free without any damage.  Here’s how mixed his performance was – 6 K’s with 6 free passes.  He was brilliant one minute and couldn’t hit the zone the next.  I attribute this to youth and as the season develops so will David.  The bullpen backed Price by going 4 2/3 allowing only 2 hits, 2 free passes while striking out 6. 

Grant Balfour was credited with the win, his 3rd of the season; half of what he won all of last season.  This is really indicative of the issues our starting pitching has had going deep into games.  There have been at least 3 guys that struggle to get through the 5th inning Niemann, Kazmir and Sonnanstine.  You can now switch Price with Kazmir and add him to that list. This presents the obvious issues for the bullpen being worn out early in a lot of games.  On the upside Niemann has shown much better location as of late allowing him to conserve pitches and go deeper in.  Sonny I think will always be hit or miss and I think he will find himself in the pen upon Kaz’s return.  Price should work it out like Niemann has and, when this happens, will solidify a brutal 5 man starting rotation.

The Rays host the Washington Nationals this weekend at The Trop for 3.  This series should be a “gimme” for the Rays and allow them to, at least, keep pace if not make up some ground.  See you at The Trop!

 

Post info: By Rays6 on June 12th, 2009
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The Rays opened the 3 game set with the LA Angels struggling to recover from an early error by Carlos Pena that led to 2 unearned runs.  SP James Shields pitched well enough to win this game and should have.  Shieldsy went 6 1/3 innings scattering 10 hits but only allowing 2 ER (4 total) while striking out 3.   Shields was victimized by several bloop hits and dribblers that really were not indicative of how well he pitched.  Out of those 10 hits there were several excellent pitches that halo hitters just managed to get the bat on.  The bullpen was lights out in completing the game.

Pena committed his 6th error of the season (2 all of last year) by getting stuck in between hops on a grounder hit by the lead off halo, local product, Chone Figgins.  The defense of the Rays has been suspect this season unlike last.  A lot of errors on easy plays have been committed by guys with better than average gloves, including Pena.  To make any move the Rays MUST clean this up!

The bats of the Rays faced a tough opponent in the Angels SP Weaver.  He was spot on in this game.  The big bat for the Rays was wielded by Ben Zobrist once again.  Zorilla was the only Rays to have multiple hits in this game going 2 for 4 with a HR, 2 RBI and 1 run scored.  Zobrist is definitely making a case for himself for a trip to St Louis.  He has stepped in, played multiple positions and continues to produce at the dish for the Rays when all else seems to be failing.  Nice job Zorilla!

Our offense has been struggling from the get go of the season.  A few guys got off to fast starts but have since cooled significantly.  Pena and Evan Longoria come to mind.  Although Pena is doing exactly what he always does, a lot of K’s, unproductive outs, low BA and the occasional HR, I think everyone had high hopes after his fast start.  Longo also had a fast start but his BA is falling at the speed of light (0 for 2 with 2 BB last night).  BJ Upton and Dioner Navarro have shown little to no penchant for any type of offense.  Gabe Kapler and Pat Burrell are the worst signings by the new Rays front office to date. 

The good news – with all this and the inconsistency of the Rays bullpen we are still only 6 games out!  The Rays need to plug in the best line ups they have and STOP worrying about all these computer stats and match ups.  Put Zobrist on 2nd, Joyce in RF and Aybar as DH vs RHP and Zobrist in RF, Aybar at 2nd base and Dillon as DH vs LHP and there you go!  As guys come off the DL guys like Kapler and Gross can be DFA’d, traded, something.  I’d also place Michel Hernandez behind the dish and leave him there.  He is a better defensive catcher and the pitchers seem to respond better to him than Navarro. 

Well, I know, just a dream.  A dream by a frustrated fan and I am sure I’m not alone.  The Rays will try to rebound from the game 1 defeat and I from my ongoing frustration. 

Post info: By Rays6 on June 10th, 2009
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Interleague play opened with the Rays traveling south to Miami to face the Florida Marlins in the so called “Citrus Series”.  The Rays scored early and often bating around the order in both the 2nd and 3rd innings.   The Rays in total banged out 17 hits 6 of which went for extra bases.  The home run barrage began with Dioner Navarro knocking his 2nd HR of the season just over the RF wall in the 2nd inning. Carlos Pena then launched a no doubter into the RF seats a few batters later in the 2nd.  Gabe Gross connected for his 2nd HR of the season in the 7th inning.  Navi had his best game of the season so far going 4 for 6 with 2 runs scored and 3 RBI’s.  His performance finally catapulted his BA over the Mendoza line. Gross also had a nice game at the dish going 3 for 5 with a walk, 2B, 1 run scored and 4 RBI’s all added to his big blast.  The Rays offense showed a lot of aggression and did not let the Marlins pitchers off the hook for any mistake they made.

SP Andy Sonnanstine had his 2nd nice outing in a row – this is a good sign that Sonny as worked out the “kinks”.  Sonny went 6 strong innings allowing only 5 hits, 1ER wile striking out 2.  In my eyes the most important stat was 0 walks allowed.  Sonny had his pinpoint control and was hitting his locations precisely.  This was a very nice starting pitching performance – welcome back Sonny!  The Rays rested their bullpen using only 1 RP to finish the game.  Newly promoted RP Dale Thayer follow Sonny and had an equally impressive outing.  Thayer pitched 3 innings allowing 3 hits and 1 ER – and again 0 walks!  Thayer has not velocity on his pitches going all the way to 95 mph.  From there he can dial it down to 82 mph.  In his first outing it is clear he definitely has the talent to succeed at the MLB level.  We’ll keep an eye on his next few outing and see.

This was a tremendous overall performance by the Rays.  The Rays seemed to have been carrying over some of the energy from the previous night’s walk off win.  With this victory and losses by the rest of the AL East the Rays move to within 4.5 games of first place.  This is going to be a tight race all the way to the end with 4 teams fighting it out all the way to the end.  The Rays send SP Jeff Niemann to the mound in game 2 to continue the winning ways!     

Post info: By Rays6 on May 23rd, 2009
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WOW – nice game!  The Rays managed a split with the Oakland A’s Thursday night riding the clutch bats of Ben Zobrist, Dioner Navarro and Carl Crawford.  With the Rays down 5-3 in the bottom of the 9th (thanks BP!) Zorilla got the call off the bench with a man on first.  Zorilla vaulted a 1-1 pitch into the RF seats to tie the game for the Rays and save the bull pen!  Dioner Navarro followed the Ben Zobrist show to the dish and spanked a ground rule double down the RF line.  After a BJ Upton walk Carl Crawford stepped up with the winning run 180 feet away.  CC drilled a liner right over the head of the pitcher to CF scoring Navi and sealing the walk off victory.  WOW – what a nice come back!  Zobi has really turned himself into a valuable member of this team.  When he first got here a few years back I honestly did not see him lasting long.  He couldn’t hit and his fielding was marginal.  Now he IS the definition of “super utility man”!  Congratulations Zorilla – your hard work is evident and has made a lot of us fans!

SP Matt Garza had another nice outing but unfortunately was left with a “no decision”.  Garza went 6 2/3 scattering 7 hits, 4 free passes and 2 ER while striking out 8.  Great K/BB ratio but would really like to see Matt cut down the walks.  Although I will say the umpiring overall has been poor behind the plate this series.  A few of these guys made pitches that were perfect, I mean absolutely perfect, and the ump failed to make the call. 

The bull pen failed once again after a great starting pitching performance.  In 2 1/3 innings pitched the Ray bullpen gave up 5 hits and 3 ER.  This bullpen seems to have 2 rotations going:  Shouse, Wheeler, Percival and Cormier, Balfour, Howell.  The other RP are thrown in when/where needed.  The combo of Cormier, Balfour and Howell has been overall much more effective as evidenced by an average ERA of 3.17 as compared to 5.17 for Shouse, Wheeler and Percival.  Not sure if the Rays planned the combinations like this intentionally but maybe they should consider re-evaluating.

Aside from the already mentioned offensive performances Jason Bartlett banged out his career high 6th HR!  Nice power display this year JB!  Keep it going!

The Rays ended this home stand with “WOW”!  That is the component that’s been missing this season.  There is no “WOW” or excitement.  Some days they just seem like they’re grinding out another 9 innings.  I know they want to win but it doesn’t show on their faces like it did last year.  The hunger, the desire, the big magic…. 

Hopefully last night’s big walk off victory will send the Rays on their 7 game road trip on a magical high and they’ll start to remember what it felt like last year. 

See you in Miami!

Post info: By Rays6 on May 22nd, 2009
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Hey Ray fans!  Thought I’d report my thoughts on what I’ve seen to the quarter point in the 2009 season. 

Grade A = Evan Longoria, Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena off to fast starts.  Longo is currently on pace for 184 RBI’s.  JB improving all aspects of his offensive output currently leading all AL shortstops in BA.  He is on pace for 20 HR as compared to 1 all of last year.  CC is off and running on the base path leading all of MLB in stolen bases and on pace for 100 steals!  Carlos is knocking the cover off the ball hitting out 14 HR in the first quarter leaving him on pace for 56 dingers for the season.  

Grade C = Pitching, pitching and more pitching.  This is the area I feel is most change form last season – the consistency from 2008 appears to be gone.  The only consistent pitching performances we have come from Matt Garza and Lance Cormier.  James Shields and JP Howell have recently stepped up their performances so hopefully they are turning the corner as well.  Our starting pitching has been the main issue.  The average ERA of our starting 5 is 5.39 with 2 over 7.  Numbers like this will wear out the bullpen and not give your team a chance often to win games. 

Grade F =  BJ Upton, Dioner Navarro, Gabe Kapler and Pat Burrell have all failed to live up to their expected performance.  They really haven’t even come close.  BJ was supposed to come out of the shoot blazing’ but he is only batting .177 with an OBP of .282 – not blazing’!  Navi is a mere shadow of the all star performer he was last year with a BA of .178 and poor defense behind the plate.  Burrell was signed to give us the power from the right side of the plate that we lacked last year and protect Pena.  To this point he has 1 HR, is batting.250 and is on the 15 day DL.  I even saw Baltimore intentionally walk Pena to get to Burrell – not much protection there!  Kapler has just been a nonfactor to this point in the season with a BA of .193.  He really hasn’t brought anything to the table to speak of – he has been an average defender and below average at the dish.  

So we have some guys having career years and others that cannot even hit the Mendoza line.  We have 3 out of 5 starting pitchers that cannot consistently go 5 innings a start.  What does this all equate to = Mediocrity. 

The first quarter of 2009 has given us a team that is merely average as a whole. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.  Look, these guys learned how to win as a group last year.  Now they are learning how to live up to expectations and adjust to adversity.  This is a vital lesson in this young group’s growth toward the champions they will soon be.  I believe in this team and the “Ray Way” and we’ll check back in to see if any of these grades improve by the mid summer classic.

Post info: By Rays6 on May 21st, 2009
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pena

Man, what a game between our Rays and the NY Yankees!  This game was a pitching dual du jour.  I have to admit going in I was a bit nervous about Rays SP Andy Sonnanstine.  We know he gives up hits but usually manages to limit the damage giving the team a chance to win.  My concern was with the type of hits he may give up – if he kept the ball up there may have been multiple launches out of the new yard.  BUT – Sonny pitched like no one thought he could, no one but himself that is.  He was masterful for 7.1 innings.  He kept the ball low and hit the outside edge like I can never remember him doing before.  He out pitched the Yankee ace Burnett who was also very tough.  The problem came in the 7th inning when the Yankees managed a couple bloop hits and ended with runners on 2nd & 3rd and 1 out.  Sonny was removed and Dan Wheeler came in to strike out Jeter with very impressive stuff.  JP Howell then entered and the flood doors opened.  JP gave up a walk to the first man he faced loading the bases with 1 out for Teixeira.  Tex lined an opposite bases clearing double down the left field line to tie the score.  This was hard to watch as Sonny pitched possibly his best game of the year.  But this has been part of the issue all season long – an unreliable bullpen, at least not nearly as reliable as last year.  Grant Balfour ended up gaining his first ‘W’ of the season and Troy Percival earned his 5th save – albeit not without his usual drama.  After allowing a 1 out double to Damon, throwing a WP to allow him to advance to 3rd with 1 out he managed to get Tex to fly out to short RF and induced Matsui to fly out to LF to end the game. 

The offense faced an outstanding pitching performance from AJ Burnett as well.  But the offense came through in a few crucial situations to eek out 3 runs off him.  Dioner Navarro had much better at bats going 2 for 3 with an RBI.  The big blow came off the bat of the MLB HR leader Carlos Pena when he belted a line drive into the RF seats in the top of the 10th inning.  Offensively this was not a huge game but I thought the Rays clearly had some better at bats and had some key hits in good situation s to plate some runs.  The Rays are going to run into good pitching through out the season they key is to continue to do what they did last night – make it happen when they can. 

This night was a good overall performance from the Rays.  If it were not for a “hiccup” from Howell this would have been a shutout. But look, not much went wrong on any side of the ball last year for the Rays but this year they are having “hiccups” on all sides of the ball.  The difference will be how they respond and adjust.  If they cannot we will not see October.  If they respond and pick up the pace we should cruise into the post season.  This is a young team now faced with adversity.  They must adjust!  That being said I expect JP to come out guns a blazin’ the next time he is called upon.

Keep it moving Rays!

 

Post info: By Rays6 on May 7th, 2009
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The Rays staged a late inning rally to earn a split in the short 2 game series with the Orioles Tuesday at The Trop.  Key hits provided by season long quiet bats provided the spark need to back another nice pitching performance from Matt Garza.  Garza went a very strong 8 complete innings giving up only 4 hits, 2 BB and 3 ER while striking out 2.  Unfortunately for Matt 2 of the 3 hits were HRs providing all the scoring for the O’s.  Matt had a few location issues early, hence the HRs, but recovered nicely to shut down the O’s. 

The silent but deadly bats I referred to are those of Dioner Navarro and BJ Upton.  Needless to say these guys have not been performing up to expectations to this point in the season.  But, today when they were called upon to get the big hit they came through!  Navi kept a rally going by knocking out a 2B creating a 2nd and 3rd situation and would score 2 runs.  BJ laced a 2 out, 2 strike pitch to LF for a 2B and an RBI and would eventually score on Evan Longoria’s bases loaded single.  Yes, Longo is keeping his hot hitting going in the early part of May by going 2 for 4 with a 2B and 3 RBIs to add to his MLB lead.

This was a nice game to watch. Seeing the Rays go down early and to watch them come back little at a time against an Oriole pitcher who was spot on was great.  The O’s SP Uehara threw 92 pitches, 72 for strikes – that is an amazing ratio.  But, the Rays remained patient and made him work in the later innings.  They eventually got pitches to hit and they took advantage.  This game could go a long way in the contest Wednesday in NY facing AJ Burnett.  Burnett can be that dominating as well but with patience he can be had as evidenced by a 5.40 ERA.

So, off to the new Yankee stadium for a short 2 game series with the Bronx Bombers. This is, in my humble opinion, a very important series.  I’d say to start making any noise in this AL East we need to walk away with nothing less than a split in NY and a series victory in Boston.  We’ll see…

 See you in NY!

Go Rays!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Post info: By Rays6 on May 6th, 2009
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