July 2008

Rays have Sweep Brooms broken by Jays

 

 

Blue Jays 9, Rays 4

 

 

Sundays are usually full of kids running the bases, and adults trying to gain a few minutes of calm after the kaos of chasing said kids for 9 innings of a game.  You always see the Rays’ pitchers come out and toss a few minutes getting loosened up for the game.

 

Most of the staff comes out and either do a side session with Pitching Coach Jim Hickey, or just gets stretchedfor the game by doing some casual long toss, then some guys wander over and give some of the fans autographs.  I usually pop open my laptop and check out the daily Rays Pregame notes to see if anything interesting pops out at me.

 

Well, today’s edition had an interesting note.

 

Troy Percival had just been brought back to the active roster, and Gary Glover has been put on the 25 day DL for a  mild calf strain. What is so interesting is the fact Glover is tossing the ball not even 10 yeards from me at this very moment. And he is not showing any signs of pain or pulling back at all. He is squatting down and taking pitches, and seems to be in normal sprits. I have a feeling, the press release got to the Internet faster than the coaching staff got the word to Glover.

 

At gametime, there was no Gary Glover on the bench, or walking with the guys to the back  Bullpen clubhouse behind Section 140 in the Trop. Glover usually follows the group of Trever Miller, Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival into the back area to stretch, relax and just focus for the task later in the game.  I know teams use this kind of mirror tricks all the time to keep a guy who is out of options, or think are still very much in their future plans.  But couldn’t they at least pulled Glover before going out and stretching, and showing their cards to the fans and the media?

 

 

A year ago today, Edwin Jackson was going for only his 2nd win of the season by pitching 6 innings against the Yankees. That game saw the Rays post 14 runs for Jackson in his winning effort.  Only his second win.

 

And some fans’ are tense and eager to throw him away this year and he was going for his 6th today to even his record at 6-6. And do not forget, Jackson lost 2 decisions to blown saves earlier in the season. With those 2 wins, he is  almost on level with James Shields and Matt Garza for total wins.

 

Jackson pitched  4.1 innings today, and is only the second Rays’ starter to not got 5 innings in the last 34 starts. Jackson seemed to stay out of trouble early today with doubles plays in both the 1st and 2nd innings. But the damage had already started in the 2nd, when the Bluejays scored their first run of the game on Jackson.

 

Jackson went to the mound today seeking his career high 6th win.  Edwin was also pitching on 10 days rest, the largest  pitching gap in his career. The Rays are 8-3 when he lasts 6 innings, but 0-7 when he leaves the game early.  People seem to forget, this is the same Jackson who ealier in the season had 20 scoreless innings, and had a 2-0 record for the team. 

 

Unlike Scott Kazmir and Andy Sonnanstine, Jackson is a converted outfielder who took up pitching in the minor leagues. He is going about the same path as an ex-Ray who did pretty well on the World Series stage. Astros’ Brandon Backe was also a converted pitcher who helped the Astros get to the World Series and pitched a classic 1-hitter in his only start.

 

I think with the improvements over last year, and the constant adjustments he is making on the mound, Jackson is becoming a better pitcher every time he goes out to the mound for the Rays.

 

 

Evan Longoria has done more for this squad this season then the statistics show. He has garnished extreme attention from the MLB community for his defense, and for his power at the plate. Longoria hit a grand slam in Sat. night contest that is going to be a huge highlight on the Rays 2008 season review clips.

 

Longoria, hits his 18th homer of the season in the 3rd inning, was only a small part of the action for the Rays in the 3rd.  Toronto starter John Parrish got in trouble early in the inning by Akinora Iwamura reached on a infield single to start the inning, and removed on a force out at second on a B J Upton single.

 

Upton then stole second and went to third on a throwing error by Parrish on a pick-off play at second. Carl Crawford grounded out to first, but Upton scamped home to bring the score to 3-2.

 

Parrish, then in the span of 6 pitches gave up the homer to Longoria and Carlos Pena, his 15th of the season. Pena;s homer traveled 425 feet and hit the second pane of windows in dead centerfields’ restaurant before coming to rest on the turf. All Rios did was look up at Pena’s blast, knowing he did not have a play on it. These two blasts put the Rays up front for the last time in the contest 4-3.

 

After a Marc Scutaro 3-run homer in the 5th, Jackson exited the game losing 6-3, Jason Hammel and Trever Miller pitched the next two innings giving up 3-runs on 3-hits to sink the Rays into a deeper hole.

 

Hammel pitched 1.2 innings and  gave the Jays’ run on a Rios liner to right. Miller then came in and relieved Hammel and walked 3 straight Jays’ hitter before Adam Lind hit a Sacrifice Fly to score the final Jay run and push the lead to 9-4.

 

A bright spot for the Rays saw Jonny Gomes playing in rightfield and he made several great plays out there and contributed at the plate. Gomes hit a ground-rule double down the leftfield wall that had Lind, playing leftfield stunned that it did not go out on the fly. Gome also walked in the game and  this game began a series of starts where Gomes will see more action due to mostly left-handed pitchers starting for the in-coming Oakland A’s. 

 

Upton and Gomes also stole bases on Sunday, with Upton collecting his 28th of the year, and Gomes getting his 7th of the season. Upton is currently 3rd in the AL.  Gomes is also 7-8 in steal situations this year.

 

Al Reyes and Troy Percival pitched the last two innings for the Rays, each having good outings.  Reyes, who had been rocked a bit the previous night, went 1.2 innings and thre 10 strikes on 15 pitches. This stat tends to show maybe Reye was shaking off the rust last night and might still have a good 40 games left in his arm this season.

 

Percival saw his first action since coming off the DL and pitched the 9th inning for the Rays throwing 17 pitches, with 12 being strikes. Percival did give up 1 hit to Scott Rolen and hit Kevin Mench. But Percival got Greg Zaun to ground out to Ben Zobrist, who threw to Pena for the 3rd out of the inning.

 

From the end of the 3rd inning, the Rays did not score any runs in this ballgame. In the 4th inning, Gomes walked and stole second and went on to third on a throwing error by Zaun. Gomes  then tried to score on a Zobrist fly to shallow centerfield and was thrown out at the plate by Rios to end the Rays threat.

 

In the 5th, Crawford doubled to deep center and Longoria walked before Pena popped out to second to end the inning. In the 6th, Willy Aybar singled to lead off the inning, and stole second on a wild pitch by Jays reliever  Jason Frasor. The Jays then retired 9 straight Rays to garnish the victory.

 

As you can see above, the Rays had scoring opportunities the rest of the game but did not capitalize on them.  The Rays stranded 5 baserunner in the game, all 5 in scoring position at second or beyond.  

 

  

 

Rays escape with Victory # 57

 

 

Rays 6, Blue Jays 4

 

 

Last night, MC Hammer rocked the Trop with his songs and his high energy dancers. This group had all the energy of 3 Energizer bunnies with some pink fluff to spare. It was one of the best visual concerts I have even been to in my life.

 

Hammer had his music programmed, so he did not have to move around band members or stage equipment. The entire stage for set up for “Hammertime”, and he delivered a lights out show for the Trop fans.

 

I was especially looking forward to a old sone called, “They put me in the mix.” It is a great song with some expanded bass and awesome backbeats. It was also a favorite of mine when I was a skaterat a long time ago.

 

 

Last night’s game was a pitcher duel as expected. We all knew that the first pitcher to blink and show some form of weakness would be the loser in this contest. And the game lived up to it’s billing totally. Toronto ace, Roy Halladay was consistent on the mound for 6th inning.

 

In the Rays bottom of the 6th, the game took a turn for the Rays when Ben Zobrist led off the inning with a single to left. Akinora Iwamura then pushed a bunt single down the third baseline that hugged the white chalk before resting in fair territory for another Rays’ hit. It was Aki’s 15th infield hit of the year.

 

Carl Crawford put down another bunt single to the pitcher to load the bases and set up the drama for Carlos Pena. Pena responded by driving a single to the opposite field and score Zobrist. With the Rays up 1-0, and the bases again loaded Evan Longoria came up and on a 0-2 pitch drilled a grand slam to left.

 

With the bases empty,  B J Upton reached on a infield single to thrid, while Dioner Navarro put down another beautiful bunt to get on for the Rays. Zorbrist ended the Rays inning by grounding out to first.

 

 

B J  Upton had another caught stealing last night against the Blue Jays. Upton, who leads the majors with 12 caughts stealing situation this season, was out significantly on the play.

 

I have said it before, sometime this team give too much leeway to Upton on his baserunning decisions. Most of his baserunning blunders have been self-imposed  because of ill advised leads or bad jumps. But this steal was a perfect example of the cather knowing his tendencies and reacting to them without a flaw.

 

                            

 

Cliff Floyd  has gone 6-20 in the last 6 games. He has also srated in 5 of the last 10 games, and with a single on Friday night, snapped a 0-20 streak  with men in scoring position.

 

Floyd expanded on his streak by 1-4 with his 7th homer of the year. The homer would provide a cushion for the Rays later in the game. Floyd has a .340 average lifetime at the Trop.

 

 

Rays starter Matt Garza pitched 7.2 innings of 2-hit shutout ball before giving the ball to the Rays bullpen. Garza got 6 strikeoyut on 102 pitches to get his 8th win of the season.

 

Garza pitched a brilliant game mixing his pitches against the Jays and retired the first 6 batter to face him before Scott Rolen singled to leftfield.  Garza then retired the next 12 Toronto batters before giving up a single to  Matt Scutaro to start the 7th inning.

 

Garza was replaced by J P Howell in the 8th inning. Howell got ther last out of the inning and was replaced by Trever Miller to start the 9th inning.

 

The 9th inning turned out to be the big inning for the Jays. Miller, who had come on to relieve Howell gave up two  quick hits to put Adam Lind and J oe Inglett on second and third with no outs.

 

Miller was replaced by Al Reyes, who had just come off the DL with shoulder tendonitis on Friday night.  Reyes quickly gave up a single to Marc Scutaro that scored both Lind and Inglett.

 

Then Reyes got Alex Rios to pop out . Reyes then serving  up a ground-rule double to  Matt Stairs to right that hopped over the short wall  by the Bullpen Cafe’ area. That put Scutaro and Stairs in scoring position with 1 out.

 

Dan Wheeler came on without a huge amount of warmup time and got Rod Barajas to ground  out to second base. The play scored Marc Scutaro and the Jays slimmed the Rays lead to 6-3.

 

Wheeler then gave up a double to Lyle Overbay that scored Stairs and cut the lead again to 6-4. Wheeler then got Rolen to foul out to Navarro for the last out and secure his 4th save of the year.

 

All in all, it was an intersting game for the Rays. For the first time in a while, the Bullpen did not come through for the team and gave up 4 runs in less than an inning. But the Rays defense stiffened and got the 57th victory of the year for the squad.

 

The Rays did show that they are overcoming their problem with hitting with men in scoring position, but still left  7 men on base, 3 in scoring position.

 

Last night’s come-from-behind victory was their 25th of the season, which is ranked 6th in the AL. The Rays also improved to 17-11 in 1-run games, only the Ranger at 19-11 have a better record than the Rays in the major leagues this season.

 

Since the Rays swept the Jays at Disney World April 22-24th, they are 20 games over .500.  They entered that series in 5th place in the AL East at 8-11.

 

 

Rays break Pitching Duel for Win

 

 

Rays 2, Blue Jays 1

 

 

We learned a few very valuable facts last night at the Trop.

It would take 264 million gallons of gasoline to fill the Trop, and people will go absolutely nuts for gas.  The Rays and Hess Express gave out 23,706 $5 dollar gas cards last night. To top it all off, if you had  known the above number, you could have won $1500. worth of liquid gold.

The second thing we found out, is that the Rays formula for winning still works. Simple plan of putting the bat on the ball, and transferring the ball from glove to glove can get you wins.

Simple actually, but recently simple seemed oh so hard and foreign to the team. But an injury replacement player gave the Rays their life support for another day. 

 

                                     

 

Best thing about the bottom of the 7th inning, you can stretch out a bit and get ready for the Rays surge to a victory. Most nights we have not had to wait so late in a game for such drama, or have we?

There is something about the Rays and having 2 outs before we can get something going. And tonight was no different. After Cliff Floyd and Dioner Navarro posted out for the Rays, Eric Hinske drew one of three walks issued by Toronto starter A J Burnett last night.

This set the stage for Ben Zorbrist to come up and swing at the first pitch he saw last night, and deposit it in the rightfield stands for a 2-1 Rays lead. Before his homer, Zorbrist had gone 5-30 (.167) since coming back up for the Rays.  Timely hits have been the life and death of the Rays this season. It was Zorbrist’s 4th homer of the year for the Rays.

 

Grant Balfour has been a huge clutch guy for the Rays since he came up from Durham on May 29th. He has appeared in 16 of 39 games since his call-up. Balfour last night earned his 4th save of the season and has now  fanned 36 in 23.1 innings. Grant has fanned 36 of 87 ( 41.3 %) batters face this season. 

 Balfour had another perfect 9th inning to preserve the win for the Rays, who moved back into a tie with Boston for the lead in the AL East. With Boston playing the tough L A Angels, it is a chance for the Rays to pick up valuable games and wins.

 

 

           

 

 

Jame Shields won his first start of the second half to up his record to 8-6 for the Rays. Shields pitched 7 innings of 4-hit 1-run ball while throwing 105 pitches. Shields is now 5-0 lifetime against the Bluejays. Shields is also now 5-1 since he came off the suspension for the Boston brawl in June. He currently ranks 3rd in the AL with a 2.13 ERA at home.

 

 Some people in the crowd were mumbling that Maddon should have let Shields finish the game, but Maddon has October in his foresight, and a rested Shields is a valuable commodity come playoff time.  Also, Shields is the oldest starter on the Rays staff this season at a young 26 years of age.

 

By limiting his pitchers now, Maddon can orchestrate a manuver where his staff will not be going through a “Dead Arm” period come playoff time. This is a new concept in the Rays terminology sine we have never been in contention this late in a season.

With the pitchers only going a set number of pitches or innings, the staff will not be totally drained and fatiqued come the end of the regular season. Even with a expanded roster in September, experienced arms might be the key to the Rays getting the needed wins to push for a playoff berth and beyond.

So kudos to Joe and his staff for beginning to think like a team in contention and starting to conserve his young staff’s valuable assets.

 

The Rays have 2 of the top 5 guys to get caught stealing in the AL right now. B J Upton is number 1 with 11 CS, while Carl Crawford is sitting at 7 this year.

 

 

 

Last night, Carl Crawford did not even get time to settle in at first before he was caught in a rundown play between first and second base.  A J Burnett caught Crawford shuffling his feet towrd second, and got him off balance enough to force him into a run down for an out. It almost looked like Crawford was looking at his shoetop right before Burnett threw the Ball to Lyle Overbay at first base.

Akinora Iwamura also was caught stealing ( 3 ) second in the 7th inning after a fantastic bunt single down the third baseline. Aki set a ball perfectly down the line at thrid that hugged and tugged the line, but stayed fair all the way to the bag. It was Aki’s  15th infield hit of the year.

 

Dioner Navarro went 1-2 last night with a double to deep left center in the 2nd inning. Navarro  threw out Alex Rios trying to steal second in the 6th to end the inning for the Bluejays. Navarro is coming off a fantstic All Star game appearance where he had several key plays and threw out a base runner.

 

The Rays before the game reinstated  pitcher Al Reyes to the roster. A roster move did not have to be made since the Rays sent Reid Brignac back to Durham after Sunday’s game in Cleveland.

 

With Evan Longoria (22), Dioner Navarro (24), and Scott Kazmir (24), the Rays became the first team since the 1986 NY Mets to have 3 players under the age of 24 on the All Star roster. 

All 3 played significant roles in the AL’s 4-3, 15-inning win in Tuesday.  Kazmir became the 7th youngest pitcher lifetime to win an All Star game.  Longoria’s ground-rule double in the 8th inning was the first RBI by a rookie in an All Star game since Tom Tresh in 1962. Navarro contributed a outstanding throwe to second to throw out a NL runner, and also got a key single in the 15th inning for the AL.

 

 

Rays Report Card 1-5

 

 

 

Best thing about making a lst about the first half is trying to explain to the Yankee and Boston fans that we are not going away this year….or in the near future.

I am proud to say this is the final blog about the Top 5 things that needed to happen in the first half for the Rays.  I think we all know they went above our expectations in so many levels, but now they are home and need our support for a stretch run. Remember, we only have a handful of homestands left in the year to throw a few monkeywrenches into the fire, so get out here and clank those bells for the Rays.

See you at the ballpark:

 

5). Starting Lineup leads off with 3 lefties:

 

I am so glad that Rays Manager Joe Maddon corrected this before it got us in a huge hole. I understand the logic of having Akinora Iwamura leading off for the team. He is a contact hitter who currently is batting .274 , and is has hit safely in 14 of his last 16 games, even during the losing streak Aki was hitting. Aki also leads the club with 14 infield hits this season.

Carl Crawford seems to me to be a more natural hitter at the 2 spot, but he is still a bit too aggressive at the plate. Putting him number 2 actually seemed to calm him down a bit, but his average has suffered this season for the first time in his career. He recently went through a 0-25 streak and  is still 6th in the AL in runs scored with 62.

Crawford also recently got his 300th career stolen base, making him only the 9th player in the modern era to hit that peak before his 27th birthday.

B J Upton batting 3rd has broken the lefty hex and put a legitimate right-handed up in the lineup. This makes it more difficult for peole to try and pitch around him with Carlo Pena behind him. B J  has used this spot to produce  61 walks, 27 stolen bases and he has reaxhed base 150 time this year. All these statistics put Upton in the top 10 in the AL.  Upton is batting .409 over the last two season when he doesn’t strike out.

 

Grade………………………………………. B-

Crawford and Upton needs to develop better plate discipline in the  2nd half to give the Rays better baserunning opportunites with men in scoring position. Aki is coming out of a fly ball curse to finally driving the ball on the ground for basehits and give the Rays’ runners a better chance to advance on the play.

 

4). Long Term Deals or extensions tfor the anchors of the team:

 

I have to publicly commend the Rays fron toffice for several deal this year to shore up the squad for the future. I particularly like the James Shield contract. It showed an eraly committment by the team to tis youg players. But we had no idea what else they had cooked up…

The contract for Scott Kazmir surprised alot of people. It was a pleasant surprise for me, and one that I thought was long over due, but negotiations can be like that sometimes, agents do not always work in harmony with the teams. And the Evan Longoria contract is looking like more of a bargain ever day now. To lock up these 3 guys is a huge committment to the fans and the team for the next 5 years or so.  Great job Rays front office!!

 

Grade………………………………………………………..A

Only thing better would be a extention for Crawford before the end of the season.  I think a nice offer to J P Howell would also be in the best interest of the club. And maybe a 2 or 3 year contract for Eric Hinske might make everyone in the stands cheer Andrew’s name.

                      

3.) A Healthy Rotation could be a Monster for our division:

 

The Rays have one of the youngest starting rotation in baseball. There is not a single starter older than 26 on the squad. That will bode well for them in the next few years as the rotation will have upgrades and not huge changes based on free agency. A remarkable statistic is that although Andy Sonnanstine has the most wins (10)  for the Rays this season, he also had allowed the mosr run against him (66), and gotten the best support by the Rays offense ( 3.47 runs per start).

Edwin Jackson, long considered by most Rays fans as the most inconsistant on the staff is actually one of the best improved pitchers over the last year in the majors. Considering that Jackson had a losing record last season, his 5-6 mark this year is a massive improvement. Jackson also has 9 quality starts htis season, 1 behind Shields and Matt Garza.

 

Grade………………………………………………………………..A

I think Jackson and Kazmir will be turning up a notch the rest of the year for the team. With the rosters expanding in Sept., you might see David Price and maybe Wade Davis up here pitching for the Rays down the stretch. 

 

2). Health,Health, Health:

 

The Rays have lost 93 games each due to the injuries to Rocco Baldelli and Chad Orvella. They lost  Carlos Pena for a finger injury for20 games, and Jason Bartlett should be ready to come back soon after missing 9 games.

The Bullpen has lost Troy Percival for only 11 games this year. But Gary Glover missed 14 games for shoulder tendonitis, and Al Reyes has missed 25 games for shoulder tendonitis. Cliff Floys (29 games), Matt Garza ( 16 games), and Scott Kazmir (30 games) have been lost this season to injury.

 

Grade………………………………………………..C for injuries.

 But an “A” to Ron Porterfield and Paul Harker for their efforts as the Rays training staff.

 

1.) MINDSET:

 

Joe Maddon took time before practice yesterday to talk to the team and remind them of the upcoming second half’s stress and goals. That this team has to put the last week of the first half to bed and awaken renewed and  get back that killer vigor that dominated the clubhouse in the first half.

The best thing about beginnings of “new” halves or segments to a season is the transformation you can make to your attitude and confidience levels as a team. If this team would just look at the records and the positive results from the first half, how can you not get excited and want to get out there and do it again and again.

 

Grade………………………………………………………A-

Joe has this squad wanting it again, and that can only mean trouble for the rest of the AL. With huge homestands and bigger roadtrips down the stretch, this squad needs to remember what got them to this level and step it up one more notch.  Go get ‘em Rays.

 

 

Well, that is review of the First Half of our “Miracle Summer.” The team has alot of work ahead of them to get to those goals of post-season or beyond.  I am going to predict 91 wins by the end of the year, and a Wild Card berth in the playoffs.

I would enjoy a AL East crown more, but with the Trading deadline 13 days away still, our divisional foes might make a blockbuster and upgrade beyond our expectations.  But, playoffs are in the mix in my mind, and we shall go from there.

Do not forget to “Fill the Trop.” tonight. Hess Express will be giving every fan in attendance a free $5 Gas card.

Also, it is Rays Fantasy Baseball night, as well as $ 1 Hot Dog night. So come on out and support the team…..See you at the Trop!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

 

 

Rays First Half Report Card 6-10

 

 

 

On March 31,2008, I wrote a blog with goals and needs for the Rays this season. Reasons 6-10 of the “Top 10 Must Happens” for 2008, are listed below. Tomorrow I will post reasons 1-5 before the Rays take on the Toronto Bluejays at the Trop.

On to the list:

 

                               

6). Our Prospects need to improve……..just incase:

Our franchsie has been blessed with a great amount of minoir league pitching and position players. It is considered by many to be one of the best stocked systems in baseball. Pitchers like David Price, Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson might not get to the majors this season, but make a great backload of talent and trade bait for the team.

Price is the one member of the pitching prospects who might crack the major league roster before Septembers’ call-ups. He has been brilliant in the minors, going 4-0, with a 1.83 ERA at Double-A. For his short career, Price is currently 7-0 for the organization.

Another guy who might be up here in September is catcher John Jaso. Jaso can hit for power and is a great communicator behind the plate. He is sure to battle for a back-up role next season for the Rays.

 

Grade……………………………………………..A-

 

 

Go to fullsize image         Go to fullsize image    Go to fullsize image

 

7). Rightfield guys have to be consistant and kick butt:

 

The pre-season arrangement of Jonny Gomes, Eric Hinske, and Cliff Floyd did not materialize completely as planned for Rays Manager Joe Maddon. Floyd’s knees are not good enough to get him out there, and Gome’s bat is great, but not consistant enough to place him out there on a regular basis yet.

The complete surprise of it all is the outstanding play of Eric Hinske. Hinske was fighting for just a roster spot in the spring, and now could be another huge piece of the puzzle for the Rays down the stretch run. His bat has been massive, and his outfield play is adequate for the Rays. He does have great clsoing speed in the outfield, but not playing there regularly for a few years, he has shown some rusty moments in right.

Another pleasant surprise has been the trade for former Brewer Gabe Gross to the Rays. It gives some stability in the late innings, and Gross’s bat has been productive for the team in numerous occasions. Both these guys have been a plus, plus for the squad this year.

 

Grade……………………………………………B+

The only reason this is not an “A” right now is the simple problem of  no right-hande bat to help the lineup. Gomes had done a great job when he has been incerted into the lineup, but he is not an everyday solution for the team. The Rays are currently looking into trading for such a bat, but at this time, the players named might be too costly to obtain for a short period of time. Rocco Baldelli has a darkhorse chance of maybe playing this year for the Rays, and could be the guy for the position.

 

Go to fullsize image                       

 

8.) The 1-2-3 Setup guys have to secure the game:

 

With the time Al Reyes and Troy Percival have spent on the DL this season, the Rays have stayed on contention this year. It was thought at the beginnig of the year, that these 3 guys had to gel into a unit to be a force in the backend of the Bullpen. With Percival and Reyes out of the lineup, Wheeler and Grant Balfour have stepped up and transformed the Bullpen into a consistant unit.

With the emergence of J P Howell as a lefty setup guy, the Rays have a two-pronged attack to get to the 8th or 9th innig and let Wheeler or Balfour get the save opportunity. Both Percival and Reyes are to be back in the fold in the coming weeks. This will further cement this unit with experience and strength down the stretch this year.

 

Grade……………………………………..A for effort, A for being one of the best Bullpen  ERA turnarounds inthe last 50 years.

 

 

Photo: Cleveland Indians' David Dellucci, right, sides home past Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro to score on Ryan Garko's bases-loaded double in the third inning of a baseball game on Saturday, July 12, 2008, in Cleveland.                 Photo: Tampa Bay Rays' Dioner Navarro breaks from the box on a two-run double off Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Masa Kobayashi in the eighth inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 12, 2008, in Cleveland.        Photo: Houston Astros Miguel Tejada scores for the National League past Tampa Bay Rays catcher Dioner Navarro on a sacrifice fly in the eight inning by San Diego Padres Adrian Gonzalez during Major League Baseball&39;s All-Star game at Yankee Stadium in New York, July 15, 2008.     REUTERS/Mike Segar  (UNITED STATES)

 

9). Catching has to hit a new high this season:

 

Rays Manager Joe Maddon wanted it, the fans wanted it, and Dioner Navarro gave it to us. Navarro is having a breakout year where he has not batted below .300 at any point this season. To further illustrate his upward moves, Navarro was also recently selected to his first All Star game.

Match that with the renewed leadership with this youg staff. His take-charge attitude, and his great game-calling skills, and we have finally seen the catcher we had hoped Navvaro would be last year.

To compliment him, back-up Shawn Riggans has not bee silient either. With limited time, he has also showed great improvement at the palte and behind the dish. Riggans hightlight has to be catching the 1-hitter by Matt Garza in Miami against the Marlins.

 

Grade……………………………………………….. A+     Extra Credit points

 

 

 

10). Akinora Iwamura must feel at home at second base:

 

I saved the best for last and did not even know it here. Aki has been nothing short of brilliant at second for the Rays this year. He is only the second person in MLB history to play his first season at 3rd for over 100 games, and then play 2nd for another 100 game to begin his career. The last guy…………….Ryne Sandberg.

Aki has seemed poised and relaxed out there with Jason Bartlett, and has been a great pivot man for the double play for the Rays. He only recently committed his 2 errors at the position, tops in the AL.

 

Grade………………………………………………… A

 

So that is the bottom half of my pre-season wants and needs by the Rays in 2008. I am glad to see we are only 1/2 game behind Boston, and I look forward to the team beginnig their first stretch run on Friday night.

Do not forget, all fans attending the game on Friday night get a $5 GAS card from Hess Express. So if you have a group of friends wanting to see the Rays, bring them out and get  a card for everyone in your party.

Also Friday night is $1 Hot Dog night at the Trop.  You can feed yourself a tubesteak for a buck and still have enough for a free frosty beers.

See you at the Trop…………………………

 

State Farm Memories and Morsels

 

I know that everyone and their brothers are gioing to write some kind of blog or opinion on the State Farm Home Run Derby.

I am just going to give my views opinions, and maybe a few qoutes from people in the Derby. Hopefully you will be entertained for a short moment in time and not hit the delete or exit the blog.

With that in mind, here we go……….

The Rays Evan Longoria is one of 4 first-time Rookies to the All-Star festivities this year. Add the pressure of the State Farm Home Run Derby on top of all the other stuff, and you got a pressure cooker the size of Yankee Stadium. Not only does Longoria get to visit the site of the beginning of his teams’ 6-game road losing streak, but he gets to be a part of the media circus that is the All-Star Game. 

Longoria became the sixth rookie to compete in a Home Run Derby, and the first since Nomar Garciaparra — who hit zero home runs — in 1997. He earned an invitation only after drawing more than nine million votes in the Monster 2008 All-Star Game Final Vote competition, securing the last opening on the American League roster.

He didn’t know any of this, of course, until two days before the All-Star break, when he received a phone invitation to the Derby.  Naturally, he accepted. And naturally, he would accept it again.

And that, for Longoria, was the whole point. He didn’t expect to win, but he was still quite anxious to hit … nervous, even.

That makes sense, because Longoria is only 22 years old. He wasn’t even on the Rays’ Opening Day roster, and he has only 16 career homers to his credit. Longoria just purchased his first house, and he’s spent the better part of this All-star break trolling for items to put in the memorabilia room.

Though a Home Run Derby trophy would have been a nice centerpiece, it will have to wait.

Uggla, who led off the competition, did just that — and he managed to avoid going homerless. What he didn’t do was advance to the second round after hitting six.

It felt good,” Uggla said. “It was a lot of fun, a lot of fun. I definitely would have liked to have hit again, but those guys are pretty good.”

 

Grady Sizemore arrived in New York City downplaying his participation in the State Farm Home Run Derby from the get-go. He’d leave doing the same. Sizemore was the first of four American League representatives to take a swing at clearing the Yankee Stadium fences. He followed Florida’s Dan Uggla, who set the starting standard at six home runs.

Halfway through the eight-player first round, Sizemore looked to be in good position to be one of the four players to advance to the second round of the three-round event. 

 The Rays Evan Longoria led off the second group and his problems in this Derby came early, when, after hitting an opposite-field home run on the second pitch he saw, he sent a series of pops, liners and grounders toward the left side of the field. The outs piled up in a hurry, before Longoria took a few pitches to slow the pace.

It worked. With three outs remaining, Longoria launched back-to-back home runs to the upper deck in left field, the longest of which landed 446 feet away. His 3 home runs averaged 419 feet, but placed him third among the competition’s first three hitters.

 Chase Utley’s left-handed swing appeared to be a perfect fit for the State Farm Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately for the Phillies’ MVP candidate, his line-drive stroke betrayed him.

Utley jacked five home runs, including an upper deck shot and another that clanged off the facade of the second deck in right field at “The Stadium,” but he left too many balls just short, on or near the right-field warning track. Unlike mashers such as Lance Berkmanand Josh Hamilton, his homers and his outs tended to be low liners rather than majestic moonshots.

Chase Utley of the Philles concluded the second pairing by hitting 5 homers, 2 of which were Gold Balls to eliminate Longoria from the Second Round of the contest.

Then the Astros’Lance Berkman and the Twins’ Justin Morneau hitting 8 homers each. Berkman hit the Yankees Stadium upper decks with 5 homers, while Morneau spread out 3 in the upper seating area. Next came up the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, who posted 7 homers, and was in contention for the Second Round with only Josh Hamilton left to hit.

Seriously, what did you expect from someone called The Natural who swings a black bat inscribed The Dream? Josh Hamilton did not disappoint in the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby.

As Hamilton quickly and dramatically aired out all the suspense from the early competition in Yankee Stadium on Monday night, only one question lingered: When does he launch a baseball off a light tower and scatter a section of fans with glass?

That didn’t happen, but virtually everything else imaginable, or even not, did.

Hamilton’s 28 opening-round homers shattered the record of 24 by Bobby Abreu. But after electing for an abridged Round 2, he couldn’t regain the feeling and opened the door for Morneau’s triumph.

Despite stopping at four outs in Round 2, Hamilton racked up a total of 32 homers (on 14 outs) in the first two rounds; Morneau’s 17 (on the full complement of 20 outs) was runner-up.

“I said after the first round, ‘If I don’t hit another, I’m satisfied,'” Hamilton said. “Just for being able to generate the crowd like that, and looking up in the stands and seeing my family there.”

But with the slate wiped clean for the finals, Morneau led off with five homers and Hamilton and his 71-year-old pitcher dead-ended at 3.

Yet, the impression of Hamilton’s majestic Round 1 display won’t soon fade. Even Morneau admitted, “We were all in awe. You want to see that story end in a good way.”

With a new Yankee Stadium rising across the street, this one will be razed after the season. Hamilton just gave the demolition a start by blasting home runs off a pitcher for whom he made room in his fantasy.

Clay Counsil, the gentleman batting-practice pitcher from North Carolina, left the field beaming as brightly as had Hamilton. “It was a thrill, sure,” said Counsil. “Nothing like this ever happened to me in North Carolina.”

Confirming that his only prior visit to Yankee Stadium had been on Oct. 8, 1956, for Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Counsil said, “Whenever I come here, something special happens.”

“I’m really proud of Josh,” added Counsil, who made plenty of new friends among the AL All-Stars

“I was in here [before the Finals] and David Ortiz came by saying, ‘Don’t sit. Got to go out there and keep the blood moving.’ You just don’t realize how tired you are,” Hamilton said. “You feel like you can still muscle out the ball, but it just doesn’t go.”

He looked over his left shoulder, where Counsil was preparing to get out of his long johns and back into his civvies.

“It was Clay’s fault,” Hamilton said loudly, making sure he was heard a few lockers down. “He stopped throwing the ball in the same spot.”

 

Last year, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau participated in the State Farm Home Run Derby in San Francisco and was eliminated in the first round after hitting just four home runs.

This time, Morneau had a better showing in this year’s event at Yankee Stadium on Monday night and won the trophy in a stunning upset. He became the first member of the Twins, and first Canadian, to win the Home Run Derby.

Morneau may have won the trophy, but he realizes the story was Hamilton, who won the 56,716 fans over with his Mickey Mantle-type power. In the first round alone, Hamilton hit a record-setting 28 home runs and hit three homers measured at more than 500 feet apiece.

“[Hamilton is] the story of this year,” Morneau said. “I mean, the year he’s having, for him to come in and put on a show like that, I mean, it was something impressive. We were over there in awe of what he was doing.

I was kind of cheering for him because, you know, the whole crowd’s behind him, everybody’s cheering him on. You want to see that story end in a good way, but, you know, at the same time, it’s something I always dreamed of. I played home run derby in my backyard all the time. … It was something that I always wanted to do. To be able to do it here, be a part of that performance Josh put on, it was something special.”

You know, he hit so many in a row,” Morneau said. “I mean, that’s hard to do in itself. Then to have to get back out there and swing a couple more times, you know, I mean, he was the one that put on the show tonight. I think everyone will remember Josh Hamilton’s 28 home runs more than they’ll remember I won the thing. I’m just glad I was a part of the whole thing.”

 

Josh Hamilton Bio and Tdibits

 

 

When else in history have we had a story like Josh Hamilton.  First off, he was the  First overall pick in the 1999 Amateur Draft for the then Tampa Bay Devilrays.  He was a blue-chip or 5-tool player out of high school who could do almost anything in the field and at the plate.

He was a highly decorated high school player, twice being named North Carolina’s Gatorade High School Player of the Year. Following his senior season, he was named High School Player of the Year by Baseball America and Amateur Player of the Year by USA Baseball.

 Hamilton played outfield and also pitched during his high school career. As a left-handed high school pitcher, Hamilton sometimes hit 96 MPH. He was touted as a rare talent, who was almost equally skilled as a pitcher and a position player (outfield).

Dan Jennings, a Tampa Bay scout said “He has every tool we look for in a position player.” His high school coach at Athens Drive, John Thomas said “He’s better at this game than anyone else I’ve seen in high school or college.”

Hamilton signed with the Devil Rays receiving a $3.96 million signing bonus, and joined their minor league system. His first stop in the minors was the  short-season rookie level Princeton Devil Rays, where he played 56 games. He also joined the Hudson Valley Renegades, and helped lead them to their first New York-Penn League championship.

  

I remember first seeing Josh at the Namoli Complex in St. Petersburg, Florida, you first focus was on his strong forearms and his professional demeanor. I know from my involvement with the Spring Training staff that Hamilton was eager and willing to do anything to show his worth to the team at that stage of his career.

On the training field facing SE of the center  coaching towers at the complex,Josh used to routinely put balls into the players’ parking lot during BP. It became a running joke that the clubhouse staff used to sit out there and shag balls to keep them from hitting the veteran’s cars

 

After this successful debut in professional baseball, he spent the 2000 season with the Charleston RiverDogs in the South Atlantic League. Prior to the 2001 season, Hamilton was involved in an accident in his truck coming back from a Spring Training game in Sarasota,Florida. His mother was also injured in the accident, and she went home with her husband to recuperate from her injuries.

                                      

The 2001 season was the first time Hamilton began going to Ybor City with teammates and became involved in the local bar scene and began experimenting with drugs, and made his first attempt at rehab. Several former Rays players routinely went to the Tampa entertainment zone to let off steam from the days work and enjoy the nightlife. It was at this time that Josh also began his obsession with tattoo’s and the local parlors in Ybor City.

Hamilton only played 27 games in the 2001 season, split between Charleston (A-Ball) and the Orlando Rays. Hamilton began the 2002 season with the Bakersfield Blaze, batting .303 with 9 home runs and 44 RBIin 56 games before his season came to an end due to lingering back and shoulder injuries.At the start of the 2003 season, Hamilton started showing up late during the Rays’ Spring Training and was reassigned to the team’s minor league camp. He left the team and disappeared for several weeks, resurfaced several times, but eventually took the rest of the season off for personal reasons.

 

 

 

Hamilton was hoping to return to spring training with the Devil Rays in 2004, but he was suspended 30 days and fined for violating the drug policy put in place by MLB. Because of the length of his suspension, and the terms of the drug policy, Hamilton must have failed two or more drug tests after being put into the program. A ‘failed’ test is a positive result for a drug more severe than marijuana. Hamilton was known to frequent known nightspots where cocaine and other drugs could be bought easily and without problems.

The  suspension was increased several times after repeated violations of the terms of the program.

From 2002 until 2006, Hamilton did not play baseball at all. He made several attempts at rehab, and started off the 2005 season with hopes of being reinstated by MLB. 

During his time away from baseball, Hamilton had escalated to using heroin and shed almost 35 pounds off his frame from the drug use. One time during a breif stay in a drug house in North Carolina, Hamilton let a known drug dealer use his truck to go get more product for the people in the house to use. The drug dealer never returned with his truck or the drugs.

Hamilton’s struggles with drugs and alcohol are well documented. He finally got clean after being confronted by his grandmother, Mary Holt. Hamilton says he hasn’t used drugs or alcohol since October 6, 2005. When giving a brief summary of his recovery Hamilton says simply “It’s a God thing.”

 He does not shy away from telling his story, speaking to community groups and fans at many different functions. He frequently and publicly tells stories of how Christianity has brought him back from the brink and that faith is what keeps him going.

 His wife Katie sometimes accompanies him, offering her perspective on his struggles as well.  To go along with the provisions of MLB’s drug policy, Hamilton provides urine samples for drug testing at least three times per week.

 Rangers’ coach Johnny Narron says of the frequent testing: “I think he looks forward to the tests. He knows he’s an addict. He knows he has to be accountable. He looks at those tests as a way to reassure people around him who had faith.”

 Hamilton approaches the plate at Texas Rangers home games to the song “Saved The Day” by Christian group Phillips, Craig & Dean.


 His return to baseball was helped along by Roy Silver who owns a baseball academy in Clearwater,Florida. After hearing about Hamilton’s desire to return to baseball, Silver offered the use of his facility if Hamilton agreed to work there. After several months there, Hamilton attempted to play with an independent minor league team, but MLB stepped in and disallowed it.

After reviewing his case, and hearing from doctors that being around baseball might speed his recovery, Hamilton was allowed to work out with the Devil Rays minor league players starting on June 2, 2006.

 

I remember I had to deliver some product to the Rays complex that morning, and did not know of the media circus when I pulled up to the doors. Sit outside the field doors were almost 10 TV cameras’ and crews waiting for Hamilton to remerge from the doors to start his MLB career over again. He was inside talking to Tim M, who runs the complex for the Rays when I first saw him. 

Hamilton looked bigger and stronger than when he was with the Rays before, and had a aura about him now. As he turned and smiled at me, I saw that he also had a renewed vigor about him. A positive light that truly would guide him through this endeavor. 

Josh had found religion was the key to his core. That by believing in the Lord, he had a co-pilot on his journey this time. That he could trust himself and his faith that things would be right this time. He turned, shook my hand after I told him it was glad to see a smile on his face again and slowly step towards the door. I warned him of the media storm outside the door, and he just smiled and said, ” I have been waiting for this all my life, I am past the storm, this is just a sun-soaked rainshower now.”

 

 By the end of the month, he was allowed to participate in minor league games.

 He played 15 games with the Hudson Valley Renegadesat the end of the 2006 season. In addition to returning to baseball, Hamilton also served as a cautionary tale for his young teammates with the Renegades.

Rick Zolzer, the Renegades’ director of special events said of Hamilton: “”He pointed (the other players) in the right direction. He said, Don’t make the mistakes I made.’ He was so good with all of the young kids.”

 

Hamilton was selected third overall in the MLB portion of the 2006 Rule 5 Draft by the Chicago Cubs, as the Rays had not placed him on their 40-man roster. The Rays were hoping that with his sorted past, teams would not select him and he would remain with the Rays while resurecting his career.

 The Cubs then sold Hamilton to the Cincinnati Reds for $100,000 ($50,000 for his rights, and $50,000 to cover the cost of the Rule 5 selection). In their coverage of the draft, Chris Kline and John Manuel of Baseball America called Hamilton “the biggest name in the Rule 5 Draft.”                

                                  

In order to retain the rights to Hamilton, the Reds had to keep him on their Major League 25-man roster for the entire 2007 season. He was one of the Reds’ best hitters in spring training, leaving camp with a .403 batting average. As a result, he won a spot on the Reds’ Opening Day roster; the Reds planned to use him as a fourth outfielder.

Hamilton started most of the time in centerfield after an injury to former-Ray Ryan Freel. He also received starts due to injuries to Chris Denorfia and Norris Hopper.

Hamilton made his long-awaited Major League debut on April 2 against the Chicago Cubs in a pinch-hit appearance,and received a 22-second standing ovation from the Reds’ faithful. He lined out to left fielder Matt Murton, who made a sliding catch. Hamilton stayed in the game to play left field. As he was waiting to bat, Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said “‘You deserve it, Josh. Take it all in, brother. I’m happy for you.”

He made his first start on April 10 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, batting lead off. In that game, he recorded his first Major League hit, a home run off Édgar González. The next night, he hit another. Hamilton was named the National League Rookie of the Month for April.

On May 22, the Reds placed Hamilton on the 15-day DL with gastroenteritis; they activated him on June 5 after he batted .333 (8-for-24) with four home runs and six RBI in a six-game Minor League rehabilitation assignment. Hamilton went back on the DL on July 12 with a sprained wrist.

Among all NL rookies, Hamilton placed second behind the  Brewers’Ryan Braun in slugging percentage (.554), and fourth in home runs (19); behind Braun, Arizonza’s Chris Young, and the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki. He was shut out in the voting for the Rookie of the Year, which was won by Braun.

On December 21, 2007, the Reds traded Hamilton to the Texas Rangers for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera.

 

 

 In 2008, Hamilton locked up the Rangers starting centerfielder job with a stellar spring training in which he batted .556 and drove in 13 RBIs in 14 games. His spring training performance proceeded to follow into the regular season. Hamilton, usually slotted third in the Texas batting order, appears to be finally fulfilling his great potential.

Hamilton led all Major League players in RBI for the month of April. He was named American League Player of the Month after hitting .330 with 32 RBI during the month. Hamilton then went on to win player of the month for the second straight month in May, becoming the first American League player in baseball history to be awarded Player of the Month for the first two months of the season.

 Hamilton was featured on the cover of the June 2, 2008 issue of Sports Illustrated, in a story chronicling his comeback.

 On July 9, 2008 Josh Hamilton hit the first walk-off home run of his career against Angels’ closer, Francisco Rodriguez.

Fans selected Hamilton as one of the starting outfielders for the American League at the 2008 MLB All Star Game at Yankee Stadium. He finished first in voting among the outfielders to clinch his spot. He will be one of seven first-time starters in the game.

 

Along with Kosuke Fukudome, Geovany Soto,Ryan Braun,and the Rays’ Evan Longoria, he will be one of four who made their MLB debut 2007 or 2008.

 He was selected to participate in the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby the evening before the game. 

Hamilton selected 71-year old Clay Counsil to throw to him during the Derby. Counsil was a  local volunteer who threw batting practice for him as an American Legion player  in Cary, NC. Counsil threw picture perfect pitches for Hamilton to hit that night in Yankee Stadium. At one point it was rumored he had thrown over 90 pitches before Josh had finished his First Round.

In the first round of the event Hamilton hit 28 home runs, to break the single round record of 24 set by Bobby Abreu in 2005. Several of those homers were to the only place in Yankee Stadium where a ball could be hit out of the complex, deep right centerfield next to the upper decks. Hamilton, who had 28 homers after the first round, came out and took only a small amount of pitches to extend his total to 32, before retiring for the final round.

 Hamilton ended up hitting the most total home runs in the contest with 35, but lost in the final round to Justin Morneau, as the scores were reset. His record setting first round included 13 straight home runs at one point, and three that went further than 500 feet. His longest home run was 518 feet.

 In 2006, when Hamilton was trying to get back into baseball, he had a dream where he participated in a Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, but he could not remember how many home runs he had hit. After the Derby Hamilton said: “This, was like living the dream out, because like I’ve said, I didn’t know the ending to that dream.”

 Last night, Josh started in centerfield for the American League, and went 1-3 on the night and was greeted by a huge cheer from the mostly Yankee crowd on his first at-bat.

Hamilton has been an ispiration to both young and old to rise to this level of achievement in such a short frame of time. The season is still young, and Hamilton is currently leading Major League Baseball in RBI’s with 95. He is currently hitting .310 for the year and is ranked 18th in the MLB, and 9th in the AL. Hamilton also has 21 homers at the break to rank 12th in the MLB and 3rd in the AL, two behind the leader.

Hamilton has a chance to make a bid for the Triple Crown this season. That is top spot on average, homers and RBI’s in the American League. He is also being touted as a eraly favorite for the AL MVP award.  We have alot of great baseball to play, and Josh still has some unfinished business to attend to this season.

We should all be grateful this fantastic athlete found the courage and commitment to self and his religion to rise from the ashes and make us all feel great about life.  

Rays Continue Losing in Cleveland

 

 

Indians 5, Rays 2

 

 

Should I be proud that the Rays “fought the good fight” Sunday, or be more concerned with the silent bats in the lineup. Should I be looking at the starters who imploded at the worst time for the Rays and showed a huge weakspot on our team.

Should I be concerned that we seem to be a bad hitting team against right-handers’ right now. I am going to pick…………. none of the above.

Every team goes though a slump or struggles during the season. We just did it as a team this year compared to other years where we could just do it anytime, and anywhere. It does bother me that Carl Crawford is 0-24 during the last few games. But it is a great sight to also see Eric Hinske go 3-4 with some power. It was even great to see Jonny Gomes hustle around the bases and show that he wants it again.  He must have read this blog Sat. night.

This team has risen so far from the ashes, and been so dominating this year that a dip in the road was foreseen and actually predicted by everyone. Most thought it might be a season-ending slump like the New York Mets, or a resurgance like the Houston Astros a few years ago by someone below us right now.  Both could still happen, but my money is still on this team fighting to the last day to show they belong at the top.

 

 

 

I was sitting on the couch wathcing Friday night’s game and my girlffriend told me to be nice to Jonny when I wrote about the game. She knew I held a spot for Jonny in my top players mindset and would blast him about his play.

 Well, I did blast him, but he also did come out on Sunday and show me he still has that fire and ability to produce and succeed on this squad. For that I am glad he got the message, that he is again fighting for his right to be here. We all know that the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline is closing in on this team. Decisions will be made about players and only the strong will survive the purge.

If Jonny keeps showing that “Pete Rose” hustle, he deserves to still wear the starburst and blue.

 

                             

               

 

Scott Kazmir blasted his teammates the other day about their drive and focus on the team duing this horrible roadtrip. For the record, the Rays went 0-6 on this trip and went from being 5 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox, to looking up at them in the standing.

The losing streak took them out of first place in the AL East. It is a spot they have held for 14 straight days after sweeping the Red Sox at home. During that time, the Rays bats went silient to the tone of hitting .187 during the Cleveland series.

The Rays starting pitching showed holes and breaks in their delivery that had not been seen this season. The Rays starter have been the backbone of this resurgance in the standings. The maturity of the young staff showed the rest of the league that you did not have to have a wily veteran to have a staff fulfill promise and succeed. This  starting staff is all under 26 years of age  and was playing like a veteran staff before this last road trip.

 

                              

 

Getting back to Scott Kazmir. Scott started this game like a man possessed. He seemed to have the weight of the team on his back to end this 6-game losing streak. For such a young age, Kazmir has been the rock on this staff for years.

This season he seemed to have the chance to relax and just pitch instead of have to end losing streaks or put a “W’ on the board for the Rays.  Kazmir looked out of place early on in the fatc he might have changed his pitching make-up to finally be a pitcher instead of a hurler. It showed in several instances in the game where the old Kazmir might have just blew it by a guy instead of trying to put a pitch in a certain spot.

This got Kazmir in trouble early in the game on a ball hit to B J Upton. Upton misread the break on the ball in the air and tried to catch it over the wrong shoulder. Casey Blake hit a over the plate change-up out to Upton on the play. In the past, Kazmir would not have tried to force that pitch into his routine. Instead he would have fired a knee high fastball just over the edge of the plate for a strikeout.

Kazmir went 6 innings and collected 7 strikeouts on the night. He seemed to go back to the “old” Kaz and fire them in there after his slider was not breaking well for him. Kazmir threw 104 pitches, and probably took himself out of any pitching in the All Star game on Tuesday.

The AL skipper. Terry Francona will probably only use Kazmir now if he needs a late inning guy after all his other troops have hit the mound. 

 

                              

 

 

The Rays only managed  3 hits on Sunday against the Indians.  The Rays were rewarded in the 2nd inning by Cleveland for their patient manner at the plate. In the 2nd inning, Indian starter Jeremy Sowers had some critical control problems. 

The problems included a balk to move Gomes into scoring position. Gomes stealing 3rd a few plays later, and then 4 straight walks to put the Rays up 1-0 in the game. Sowers continued to struggle in the 3rd with Carlos Pena lining a single to rightfield, then  Gomes again walking for the Rays.

Shawn Riggans came on and popped a single to put the Rays up 2-0 and collect his 16th RBI of the year. That would be the last of the scoing for the Rays on Sunday as the Indians normally inept reliever shut the Rays down from the 3rd inning on in the contest.

 

The Rays had 14 strikeouts on Sunday giving them 694 strikeouts for the year. That ranks them first in the AL, but 8th in the majors this year.

 

On Wed and Thursday of this week, I will be reviewing the preseason blogs listing the “Top 10 ” things I thought the Rays needed to do to be successful in 2008.  Since they are travel days and no games are scheduled, it just felt like thr gith time to see how the Rays have faired on my preseason list.

I look forward to giving the positive stats and results of the first half, and also reporting the pitfalls that might still be in front of this squad.

Have a great time watching the Home Run Derby tonight. I am personally picking the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton to win it all tonight. I think he is just having that kind of year you just want to sit back and watch, knowing he deserves it all.  

If I had to take a dark-horse, or someone who might surprise us all, I am going to go with the Philles’ Chase Utley to take afew into the dark night and maybe be the upset in this contest. 

Rays Score, But Still Fall to Indians

 

 

Indians 8, Rays 4

 

 

The worst thing about this 6-game losing streak is the fact it will make the nay-sayers’ and doubters’ more than happy to see a Tampa Bay slump. All year long the media in the upper East Coast has been wanting and hoping for such a slide.

To consider that this squad has not has a losing streak of any length before now is really quite amazing considering it’s history, but the “no”-boys only see the kink in the Rays armor. I have read a few blogs and viewpoints where the Rays have been thrown again to the wolves and are considered only a “comet that shines bright then fades into the black.”

Wow, nice imagery, but what worse is it is from a popular magazine that has seemed to have our backs most of the year. Now, they have taken a “let’s see” approach to us even having a rebound or playoff type year.

All I have to add to this is tha fact that this team has never been here before. We have nopt had a late season push for the playoffs and folded, or even made it then imploded.

Can’t you just reward the effort and know that the best years are still in the can. If we hit the playoffs this year, it will not be the last time. If we get past a few rounds, it might not be the only time you see us in that position. But, can we at least get in that position before the world decides to knock us down…………….and we will get back up and go for it all over again, and again, and again.

 

 

 

Dioner Navarro has had a helluva week. He is going back to New York as an All-Star, and he is going to re-visit his Yankee past while he is there. Remember Navarro was a first round draft pick of the Yankees in 2000.

He has been a constant force on this team this season, both at the plate, and behind it. He will only the 4th youngest Ray to ever make the All-Star team, and the first Rays’ catcher to have that honor.

 

 

When the season began, I questioned his ability as a leader with the pitching staff. Since Texas, I have seen this guy grow by leaps and bounds both in confidience, and in leadership with this young starting pitching staff. You do not find alot of staffs that have a catcher as young as it’s up and coming aces. And you usually do not see them in contention for a divisional title while going through their aches and pains.

For that reason, I applaude and respect the job Navarro has done for the Rays in this first half of the season.

 

                                

                                   

 

Navarro again did it at the plate for the Rays on Sat. night. In the game Navarro went 2-3 on the night and hit a timely 2-run double down the rightfield line in the 8th inning. It helped the Rays extend their scoing in the inning, and help boost the morale on the Rays bench.

 

Cliff Floyd has had an intersting first half to this season. He has battled knee aliments, been shuffling in and out of the line-up, but has come to play every day.  The 14 year veteran has made 34 starts this year, all at DH for the team.

Floyd’s 2-run single  in the 8th inning, snapped an 0-21 streak for runners in scoring position for the Rays. His scoring play was the first Rays runs since Jonny Gome’s 2-run blast in Thursday nights game. Floyd went 2-4 in the contest and ends the first half with a .264 average and 18 RBI’s for the season.

 

                                 

 

Rays starter Matt Garza was trustingf his pitches early on in this game, before he ran into trouble in the 2nd inning. The IUndians took advantage of a control issue with his 2-seam fastball and slider that were just missing and up on the night.

Garza worked  only 5 innings, and gave up 11-hits and 7 runs before being relived by JP Howell,Dan Wheeler and Trever Miller. Garza had 6 strikeouts on the night and gave up two homers to Grady Sizemore and Ryan Garko.

 

Eric Hinske had a great night himself on Sat. night for the Rays. Hinske, who had been odd-man out with two straight lefties starting for the Indians took advantage of his time by going 3-4 on the night with 3 singles.

Hinske, who has batted .278 against right-handed pitching this season, seemed in control at the plate and in the field. Hinske was batting 3rd for the Rays tonight in place of B J Upton, who was given the night off by Rays Manager Joe Maddon.

Hinske responded with an outfield assist in the 2nd inning, and several close plays in the game. On one play in the 2nd inning, both Hinske and Gross left their feet to try and get a dying ball hit into rightcenterfield. Gross ended up throwing out Carroll on the play.

 

Grant Balfour came on in the 8th inning and worked 1/3 of an inning and gave up a run on 1 hit to end the game for the Rays.

 

Tampa Bay did get 3 outfield assists in the game against Cleveland. The first came in the bottom of the second on a ball hit to shallow rightfield  that Eric Hinske got back into second in time to catch Ben Francisco over-running the bag and being tagged out by Ben Zorbrist for the second out of the inning.

The second was a play at the plate involving  Indian Jamey Carroll, where he tried to score on a ball off the centerfield wall. Gabe Gross retreived the ball and threw it to Akinora Iwamura, who turned and fired a strike to Navarro for the tag-out at home to end the inning.

The last outfield assist involved  Carl Crawford in the 8th inning. Casy Blake had singled to left, and Jhonny Peralta was trying to sneak into third on the play. Crawford put a bullet on-line to Evan Longoria who applied the tag for the 3rd out of the inning.

 

The Rays have hit .210 in this series and have only scored 6 runs. They are hitting .187 on the roadtrip, with 7 runs. The Rays have also only hit .200, with 11 total runs on the 6 game losing streak. The Rays are also hitting only 0.85 ) 4 for 47) with runners in scoring position.

The Rays are currently on pace to allow 665 runs, more than 284 runs less than last season. Only 2 teams in the modern era have had such a huge run drop-off from one year to the next. It would be the 8th greatest run decrease in the history of the league.

 

Trever Miller logged his 116th consecutive relief appearance without a decision last night tying former Rays Bobby Seay for the longest such streak in the last 50 years. Trever’s last decision was a win in Atlanta on Sept. 30, 2006.

Prior to this series, Rays starters have allowed 3-earned runs or less in 20 of the last 21 games. In this series, they have allowed, 6, 5,and 7 earned runs in the first 3 games.

The Rays pitching staff had held opponents to a .244 average this year, 3rd lowest in the majors. But, Cleveland has batted .352 and have scored 26 runs

 

The Rays starters have failed to go 5+ innings only once in their last 30 games.  The Rays have made 22 erros in their last 23 games. The Raya began the season by only committing 30 in their first 71 games.

 

                      

 

 

Lee handles the Rays 5-0.

 

 

Indians 5, Rays 0

 

The Tampa Bay Rays have a great strength and conditioning guy by the name of David Barr.  This is an open letter to David to get Jonny Gomes in there and get some speed training and lower body work to get those legs moving a bit faster. I know the benefits of speed. I had to have it to cover recievers and backs in the NFL.

 

But, to watch Gomes glide over to the Rightfield foul line and miss 2 balls is disappointing at best.  There are tons of programs out there to increase a guy’s speed even Jonny’s size a half a step or better in a short amount of time.

 

I like you Jonny, that is why I am asking you to get some help from within the organization to get yourself a little acceleration before they do not even use you in the outfield. You are a great motivator and a fantastic character to have around in a emotional game. But, you need some outfield work on running to balls and wall work to secure at least a part-time role in the outfield in the Rays future.

 

Jonny, they are looking for a right-handed bat to play in RF. Is that enough of a wake up call to get motivated and work on your craft daily. Cleveland is a hard ballpark to play in, but you have made it look like you are just a slow turtle trying to fit in a drag race. 

 

Use the time wisely between now and the end of the All-Star break to work on acceleration and playing the wall more. You are a great insipration to this team, and I would hate to lose you because of speed issues and  mis-guided routes to the ball.  Jonny, the clock is ticking my friend, get it in gear or you might find yourself on another team’s bench, or worse.

 

 

Rays Manager Joe Maddon must be scratching his head and wondering to himself in the dugout lately. Is this the same team that just went 11-1 before now dropping 5 straight on this roadtrip.

 

Can this be the same club that was only 2 games under .500 on the road before leaving for New York this Tuesday.  Can he give Jonny Gomes anymore chances to show his worth in the outfield after 3 bad decisions by  Gomes. Can he awaken the bats that have now gone stone cold at the wrong time.

 

This was the squad that extended losing streaks this year, not promote winning ways. Is this the same manager that ESPN and other publication have touted as a Manager of the Year candidate for what he has done for this team.

 

This is a team that had one of it’s younger starters call out his teammate for scoreboard watching, and not having their heads in the game. The good part is, there are 2 games to redeem themselves before the break. With Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir on the mound in those contests, can the turning point be right in front of them. 

 

Wake-up calls are never pretty for any team. But this squad has come too far upward to fall from grace now. Kazmir has a chance on Sunday to “talk the talk, and walk the walk” for the Rays. I have a feeling this will be a game you do not want to miss……….count on it.

 

  

When you are in a funk, weird things can happen. When you are losing, every bad play and missed opportunity is elevated to twice it’s size in the media. Or are you just a product of that slump?

 

In last night’s contest, we saw Carl Crawford miss a ball he has caught 1,000 times or more for a sure out. It was only CC’s 4th error of the year, but it was a odd play to watch.

 

We saw Jonny Gomes twice pull up near the rightfield foul line like it was a concrete wall. We also saw him blunder on a running catch after taking a bad route to the ball.  Gomes is a great guy and player, but I wonder if he just made a play for full-time DH-only duties now for the Rays

 

Rays Broadcaster Joe Magrane stated that, ” Top flight pitchers take pride in stopping losing streaks.”

 

James Shield is that type of pitcher.  But he has also had struggles on the road this season. Coming into last night’s game, Shields was 2-4, with a 6.09 ERA on the road this year. To add to this, Shields is 0-3 lifetime against Cleveland despite a 2.66 ERA.

 

All 3 of his losses came last year against the Indians. One of those losses was against Cliff Lee, who is pitching tonight for the Indians. Shields  did have 28 strikeouts and held the Tribe to a .189 average, but the Rays have been stymied at Progressive Field losing 12 games in a row in the park.

 

Last night during the first inning, with 2 outs, Shields had early  trouble in the  inning on a infield single by Ben Francisco, then a Gome bobble in right of a Jhonny Peralta double to score Francisco. Shields got out of the inning, but the damage was already done for the Rays.

 

Shields pitched 6 innings and gave up 5 runs on 10-hits for the Rays.  Shields raised his ERA to 3.83 this year, and threw 103 pitches before Jason Hammel relieved him and pitched the last 2 innings of the contest.

 

 

The Rays did manage to get  8 hits in the game, 5  hits against  Indian starter, Cliff Lee. Carlos Pena continued his hitting by going 2-4, with a broken bat single to center in the 4th inning, and a single to right in the 6th inning. Carlos is now hitting .238 for the year. 

 

Ben Zobrist also went 2-4 last night, getting a single up the middle in the 3rd inning, and a 2-out single in the 7th inning. Zobrist raised his average to .261 since coming back up to the Rays.

 

 

Evan Longoria hit a double into the leftfield corner in the 3rd inning and was stranded at third to end the inning for the Rays. Longoria is hitting .321 on the road, tops on the Rays this season.

 

Longoria was not the only Rays to be stranded on Friday night, Zorbrist was left on second in the 3rd inning after leading off  the inning with a single.  Akinora Iwamura hit a blistering double in the 5th innig, but was stranded after Crawford struck out to end the inning.

 

In all, the Rays stranded 9 baserunners last night. The Rays are currently in a slump advancing runners in scoring positions.  Tampa Bay had won seven a row to open a five-game lead in the AL East on July 6. A 10-inning loss Monday to Kansas City started the Rays on their current slide, in which they’ve been outscored 32-7 and had their lead trimmed to 1 1/2 games over the Boston Red Sox.

 

Tampa Bay has hit .192 (33-for-172) with 48 strikeouts during its losing streak. Iwamura and Carl Crawford, the top two hitters in the order, are a combined 5-for-50 (.100).

 

Rays manager Joe Maddon said RHP Troy Percival will test his strained left hamstring by throwing off the mound Saturday. … Rays RHP Al Reyes (shoulder tendinitis) pitched one scoreless rehab inning for Class A Vero Beach on Thursday. … Rays SS Jason Bartlett (sprained right knee) swung a bat and fielded grounders Friday, but his lateral movement still isn’t 100 percent, Maddon said.

 

I do want, and need to stress that I have been a bit rough on this blog towards certain people on the team. I am proud of whast this team has done this year, and know for a fact that some people are struggling and not up to par right now. But, I also know that this is the time of the year that you either step up, or are left behind in the rubble. 

 

With that in mind, I will not apologize for the comments. It is my opinion, and not the opinion of anyone concerned with the Tampa Bay Rays. I have seen enormous stride made this year and hope that more are in the cards before October for this squad. For this reason, I find it totally within my grasp to comment and make suggestions about situations.

 

With that said………………..Let’s go out tonight and get this losing streak stopped, and begin a second chapter to this Rays’ “Summer to remember

 

Hey Evan, here is my personal plea to get Rays Bullpen catcher Scott Cursi to throw for you at the All-Star game. You can bring your own pitcher, so why not use someone who is a great pitcher, and someone who derserves the recognition for everything he does for the Rays.

 

Scott would enjoy the adventure beyond words, and you know you want the best to help you with the Home Run Derby.  Just think about it, I know it would give you an air of familiarity, and also confidience knowing you have a Rays’ staff member throwing to you.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 290 other followers