April 2011

Rays “Take It on the Run” Baby

Walkoff.JPG

Got to tell you, the Fox Television
regional or nationwide audience got an emotional night mare of a game
today. The Fox Saturday afternoon contest was filled with a solo
blast to start the scoring, great base running by both squads and
even a few close calls on the injury front. In the end, the Tampa Bay
Rays with REO Speedwagon in the house just couldn’t fight that
feeling and again brought home another winning result in now typical
Rays walk-off fashion.


It is starting to becoming a trend in
2011 for this young Rays team to either have a game that makes you
feel giddy and confident by the 5th inning, or the other
extreme of producing heart palpitations until the final results are
in the books. Heck, even the extra inning affairs featuring this Rays
bunch is starting to show a definite Rays gravitation pull,
……and that is great for baseball.

Shieldsy1.JPG

Right now there just seems to be
something for every baseball fan’s palate when the Rays take the
field. How can you not get excited when a Rays veteran starter James
Shields strolled to the hill and was not pinpoint accurate, but
racked up a turkey shoot load of K’s (12) before finally seeing his
day end with a bevy of Angels surrounding the bases.


We know there are those pessimistic MLB
brethren out in television -land who want to seeing a game get
plucked from a team by a consistent reliever who suddenly was have
one of those faulty moments so many others have experienced this
season.


Farnshurt2.JPG

Or see the possibility of another
bandaged up player after the Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth began to
limp around the mound after going after a soft nibbler in front of
them. That is the moment some hold their breath, say a few choice
words to the heavens, then glue their eyes to the console. Farnsworth
has beaten the devil three times this season with the same
play….This time he was firmly within his grasp before he gave him
that ” death stare”.


Or maybe you wanted to see someone not
named Sam Fuld run full speed towards the Rays Bullpen area after a
foul ball and come up less than an inch short, but having a few new
raspberry gashes on his body as a reminder of the play. Got to tell
you, that is the fastest I have ever seen Matt Joyce go after a ball
in his time with the Rays.

Fuldhurt1.JPG

You saw another injury severe injury
scare after pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson got on base with an infield
hit in the bottom of the 9th inning in a tied up contest.
Fuld came to the plate and tried to bunt a Fernando Rodney fastball
but instead almost knocked all the logic and sense out of himself as
the ball hit the top plane of the bat and came back at his face
region knocking his helmet off and sending him to the clay surface.


Then there was the play of Joyce, who
is becoming another essential offensive weapon of the Rays blasting a
solo shot in the 5th inning off Angels starter Joel Pinero
to start the scoring. Joyce would again figure in the Rays numbers
game after stretching a single into a double to left to lead-off the
bottom of the 10th inning. Then moving over to Third Base
and scoring on a Wild Pitch by Rodney to secure the walk-off victory
in truly a Rays way of winning.

Joyceslide1.JPG

Right now this team is playing
emotionally charged baseball with a high degree of explosive talent
and everyone taking their turns leading the charge. Fox must have
been bored in the first 5 innings of this contests as he fell into a
pitching duel, but after Joyce connected on his shot, the game began
to slowly takes it twists and turns.


Games like this can make new Rays fans
out of people in the Fox viewing areas around the country. It shows
that a team with young players, explosive talent and a sprig of luck
can be thrilling to watch.

When the Fox Television brass glance
over the localized Florida rating for this game, you can bet that the
numbers show a whole lot of other communities are watching the Rays
Republic…closely. And that makes for great television…..just ask
Charlie Sheen……or not.

Rays Machine Churning and Burning Right Now

ap-fe573ac97eb44b5fa026647dcdda2337.jpg


“Over 162 games, if my big guys are
hitting and we get even halfway decent pitching, we’ll beat their (
our opponents) brains out.”


The above quote might seem more in
place possibly coming out of the mouth of someone within the Tampa
Bay Rays organization after the the solid efforts during Thursday’s
day/night double bubble victory tour against the hapless Minnesota
Twins. But it was not a quote from anyone within the Rays.

This quote was spoken loud and clear by
the late Cincinnati Reds Manager Sparky Anderson back when his “Big
Red Machine
” was still churning on 4 economical cylinders. But the
quote did have pertinent reference points to the Rays dismantling of
the Twins.


For some reason the outdoor confines of
the Twin’s Target Field seemed more welcoming to the style of play by
the visitors over the last three games. For some reason the usually
consistent Twins pitching staff turned into Batting Practice pitchers
at times, while at other resembled a mire shell of themselves.

ap-f1cf7749993d4515baa6877ba4c242a1.jpg

Some say the Rays were inhospitable
house guests as the two teams concluded their seasonal series with
the Rays knocking the breath of out the chests of the Twins in all
three contests. Heroes emerged for the Rays, pitching became a rising
star for this squad.


Anderson is so right, when all
cylinders are churning and both ends of the Rays machine is
producing, it is a glorious time to boast about the Rays. From this
series special moments like Johnny Damon extending his new Rays April
hitting streak record to 16 games. Damon had a 15-game streak last
season when he was with the Tigers. Matt Joyce, who is daily finding
more confidence and swagger went 4 for 8 and saw his average rise
from .290 to .313 during the twin bill.

Rays starters Jeremy Hellickson and
Jeff Niemann never seemed under duress or in any significant danger
of losing their contests at any point with each going past the 6.1
inning mark while both securing wins for their efforts. Before the
double-dipper, the Rays starters had gone 11 games still standing on
the mound during the 7th inning. The team had collectively
tossed a 2.67 ERA up, and held their opponents to a .215 batting
average.

ap-8bb1d1713f544edba40aa2388caf5701.jpg

Niemann especially had me at hello last
night tossing some of the best baseball of his career and held the
Twins hitless until the bottom of the 7th when Tampa
native Denard Span who was facing a 3-2 count sent a ball into
shallow leftfield out of the reach of both OF Sam Fuld and SS Elliot
Johnson. Neimann ended up surrendering his only other hit of the game
on an RBI single by Twins 1B Justin Morneau. Great to see Jeffery the
Giraffe finally show why we all like his downhill pitching style


At no point in either of these games
did the Rays pitching staff have any significant threats or run
producing explosions to duplicate the Rays sudden offensive
bombardment. In three games the Rays posted 29 runs to the Twins 6
runs. It wasn’t a case of the Rays going against the Twins at their
low point, it was the Twins error to be playing the Rays as their
offense awoke and decided to thrust its might.

229365_10150171756833429_35250178428_6944131_1393093_n.jpg

But you can not discount the
significant and tremendous role uber utility man extraordinare Ben
Zobrist provided in this series. Zobrist who had been struggling a
bit at the plate at times with consistency has now hit 6 Home Runs in
his last 12 games. Finally Zobrist is materializing back into the
“Zorilla” of 2008 that we need right now to lead this club
offensively.


We all know Worldwide about his Rays
record 8 RBI eruption in the day game of the double douse y, but
overall Zobrist went from 31st in the RBI Leaders list to
Numero Uno in a lightning flash. Zorilla eclipsed the previous Rays
RBI record of 7 RBI’s held by Carlos Pena, and was the first
explosion of it’s type since Blue Jay Adam Lind back on August 2009
when he posted 8 RBIs on the Texas Rangers.

Lost in all the big numbers is the fact
Zobrist is now riding a 3-game hitting streak himself and boosted his
own batting average from .203 to .258 at the end of the night. Along
the way in this back-to-back series of game Zobrist produced a solid
7 for 10 stream along with 5 runs scored and a staggering 10 RBIs.
Suddenly Google searches for “Zorilla” have gone through the
roof.


That is the same mechanics that helped
build the “Big Red Machine” into MLB prominence before most of
this Rays squad other than Damon ( 1973 ) or relief pitchers Kyle
Farnsworth (1976 ) and Joel Peralta (1976 ) were even born.

d76d03395134db2b7b4a79623a371cca-getty-cleveland_indians_v_minnesota_twins.jpg

Suddenly this Rays team is posing some
problems for those people who wanted to believe that so much team
composition and transition would eliminate the Rays from any chances
of competing, but still the Ray keep pushing wins across the board.
Great teams have to gain their sturdy basic roots somewhere, possibly
this is the Rays chance to thrust them deep and solidify their team
structure and confidence.


This Spring there was great worry among
the Rays Republic about this team and their inherent structure and a
possible backslide in talent and abilities. Suddenly that same
worrisome thought process is being erased by the bats of Damon,
Zobrist, Joyce and the consistency of this all under-30 pitching
rotation.


I think I am just going to sit back a
bit more this short home stand and relax as this Rays team shows not
only me, but all of the Rays Republic and MLB that not only was
Anderson right with his quote, but we have nothing to worry
about….this team is out of hibernation and hungry for wins. Wonder
if the Los Angeles Angels are nervous yet about playing the red hot
Rays?




Could “Well Rested” Be a Rays Bullpen Problem?

Cruz1.jpg

Tonight’s
game kind of worries me a bit. The Rays have had two days now to rest
and relax within the confines of the Twin cities with a regularly
scheduled “day off” on Monday, and an early postponement of their
Tuesday clash due to rain and 38 degree weather in Minnesota.


The bottom of my worry stems from the
obvious fact that since their extra inning downfall on Friday night,
only Rays closer Kyle Farnsworth has seen any type of game action.
Even Farnsworth’s night was short, as he threw exactly 5 pitches to
seal his fifth save as a Ray.


The last time another Rays reliever was
on the hill was Friday night as 6 ‘ 8″ Adam Russell threw a
mis-guided pitch to Blue Jays jack-of-all-trades John McDonald that
he deposited 368 feet from the Home Plate dish into the Left Field
Rogers Centre stands for a walk-off victory.


That means it has been almost five
days, which is usually an entire run through the Rays rotation since
someone besides Farnsworth has taken the hill with positive results.
Sure you wanted Russell, Joel Peralta, Juan Cruz and Cesar Ramos to
just dwell on that performance for 30-minutes and follow the Maddon
mantra of depositing it in the trash.


But 5 days can make a bad performance
ferment, become a bit gamey and possibly get you thinking when you
should be just hurling the ball. I always go back to “Bull Durham
when “Crash Davis tells Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoose to “not
think, it only hurts the ballclub”.


Hopefully Rays Pitching Coach Jim
Hickey had a few uplifting positive conversations with his Friday
night foursome to get their mind clear, controlled and ready for
tonight. It is easy to get binded up in the obscure and negative when
you do not have ample time to just “throw out” that performance
by tossing a confident side session/Bullpen session.


Five days is a long time for anyone,
even a starter to sit on those pine benches and watch a game without
feeling like a vital piece of thew whole machine. That is the
roughest thing about being in the Bullpen, days on end without any
action, then all of a sudden you get jammed, tested and thrust into
tight situations.


The Rays and Twins have a scheduled
day/night doubleheader tomorrow that could come down to the arms
sitting down the Third Base line. Hopefully Farnsworth and his motley
crew down in the Bullpen can get some chances tonight to stretch out,
provide some positive momentum heading into that critical 2-game set.


Best case scenario for the Rays would
be Farnsworth getting a chance to duplicate former Rays closer Rafael
Soriano’s days/night experience from 2010 during a Rays/Red Sox
double-dipper by getting 2 save opportunities and providing another
chapter of positive results for this same unit that many doubted
would ever be competitive in 2011.


The aspect of a rain-out can sometimes
help a ballclub, to heal, provide more in-depth research and
development heading into a series, and sometimes it can expose a
problem you hope would heals itself. Very soon we will see if the
Rays Bullpen let the Friday night walk-off wash off its back like
water, or retained it like a bad memory. Got a feeling I worried
about nothing….hopefully.





Could the “Entourage” Group Help the Dodgers Situation?

johnny_drama_victory.jpg


In this current roller-coaster economic
climate, it is not unusual for some of us to need a little help, or
possibly a ” hand-up” to get ourselves on a solid footing again.
Maybe it is time for Los Angeles Dodger primary owner Frank McCourt
to embrace his current situation with open arms.


With McCourt already mired down by an
overcoming storm of “questionable moves and finally drawing the
attention of the Internal Revenue Service to his storied franchise,
did he think he was untouchable?


ap-f455dda135874e8f8e147e37c3d83915.jpg

I have heard more than a few tales
whispered to me recently of a huge house of cards built up by McCourt
that finally might be shaking and ready to come tumbling down around
him. The possibility of McCourt even thinking about ” borrowing”
against his Fox Sports Network future baseball television rights
revenues to float the team for even a few seasons would eventually
send him to the bottom with nothing.


I even heard of a loan default and a
California banking institution basically foreclosing on the parking
lots around his stadium effectively circling the financial wagons
with an impending doom looming just over those picturesque California
mountains. Maybe, a ” hand-up” right now might be better than MLB
taking over the club.


McCourt currently has the “Lion’s
share” of the overall ownership stake in the storied Dodgers, and
possibly parting with a small slice of that monopoly, it might
actually get McCourt the secure financial footing and keep the team
from leaving his hands and possibly being put “in trust” by Major
League Baseball in the near future.


I understand the reasoning of McCourt
to do everything possible to keep MLB out of the fray, but when the
IRS sneaks into a organization, it sends immediate red flags and
warning whistles throughout baseball. McCourt should not take this
action so personally. But then again the wordage coming from MLB
Commissioner Bud Selig never sounds like a positive thing.


3fc0f50f10ab616e3950cfee08fbe240-getty-72048825mw004_nlds_new_york.jpg

With the recent announcement by Major
League Baseball to possibly take on the daily duties of the Los
Angeles Dodgers, you have to wonder if the MLB brass might have
already done a primary search for a few well known names, or
prospective ownership groups who might take on a small stake of the
ownership of the lovable “Boys in Blue”.


I have a solution. It might be a bit
out there, and might need both MLB and McCourt to actively pursue
with vigor, but in the end it could satisfy two different goals. We
all know that in the past when New York Mets owners Fred Wilpon and
Sam Katz were seeking some minority ownership infused money a group,
or “Entourage” of investors made their desires
known to MLB and the Mets.


That’s right, a few of the popular
stars of the HBO highly acclaimed series want to throw their New Era
caps into the MLB ring as minority owners. “Entourage
executive producer Doug Ellin as well as three of the series stars,
Kevin Connolly ( E ), Ed Burns and Kevin Dillon ( Johnny Drama ) want to
pursue a chance to own a historic franchise.


Thumbnail image for entourage.jpg

And that phrase “historic franchise”
caught my eye. The Entourage series is based on a group of guys who
follow their friend actor Vinny Chase to Los Angeles after his
success in a ficticous Indie film called “Queens Blvd.” Interestingly
enough, Queens Blvd which runs 12-lanes wide at times runs from
Midtown Manhattan to Jamaica just north of the Dodgers old home of
Brooklyn,New York. Sure the guys might want to retrace their NY roots
and become a piece of the ownership group of one of their old sports
favorites, but they also now have a chance to possibly help preserve
a franchise most in New York city portray as ” dead to them”.


How fitting would it be for a bunch of
Long Island and New York natives who now work on a series based in
the LA region could come to the rescue of an old expatriate NYC
franchise. With the series possibly starting production soon on their
last season, the added storyline of possibly getting some
post-“Entourage” good karma by helping out McCourt could go a
long way.


But the problem is first McCourt has to
publicly admit there is a fiscal problem beyond his current means.
Denial is a vain and confusing human condition that engulfs us whole
and sometimes is bitter to let us go, even with the truth.


The possible infusion of outside money
and a solid investment group could keep the banking hounds at bay,
and MLB out of McCourt’s offices for now. The “Entourage” group
could invite McCourt into their little social circle and make him
again see the light at the end of the tunnel and keep his grip on his
baseball team.


There is no clear indication that this
will ever happen, but it is feasible and could be beneficial to both
parties. Maybe MLB hasn’t connected these dots yet, but they should.
Even if the “Entourage” group just takes a temporary ownership
stake until the ground settles and firm for McCourt, some help is
better than seeing your dream fade away into the abyss.


104904-turtle.jpg

Think about the show production value
of possibly spinning this into the series. We all know that Ari Gold
(Jeremy Pivin) was actively trying to get an NFL franchise for Los
Angeles. What if the storyline could be evolved to provide a Dodger
backspin that his passion and drive could produce a ownership stake
in the team. Would be a PR ” win-win” for both “Entourage
and McCourt.


Sure Connolly, Dillon and Burns might
want to own a piece of the Mets, but shouldn’t the added fact that
being a part of the Los Angeles scene as sports team investors they
could finally get Turtle to stop wearing his New York Yankees gear on
screen and sporting his new home team cap along with the rest of the
Entourage” of the “Dodger Blue”. Just a thought……….

Should Upton Start Shopping for Luggage?

4ab710ffce01b19d8fbb2460f464000c-getty-109235343jm035_baltimore_or.jpg

Coming into the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays
season, I knew it was a make or break season for the future of Rays
CF B J Upton. The way he performed in the field and at the plate
early on in this 2011 season could ultimately decide if he stayed or
left the Rays via a trade either at the Trade Deadline, or if the
Rays fell out of post season contention.


Ultimately the Rays did not feel
overwhelmed coming into Spring Training by Upton’s salary of $ 4.825
million while also subtracting the high salaries of SP Matt Garza and
SS Jason Bartlett instead of the wishy-washy tendencies both at the
plate and on base of Upton.


Some say the Rays were holding onto
Upton for 2011 hoping his trade stock would rise so they could
package him in the same way they did Garza with the Cubs this Spring,
or for additional possible Bullpen pieces for 2012. With Upton
entering his last and final arbitration this off season.


If Upton does hit his stride finally
providing ample hitting and smarter base running to go with his solid
defense, it could solidify his sport on the Rays 2012 roster. But
then again, who would have thought Bartlett and Garza would be
wearing National League jerseys in 2011 when the 2010 post season
ended.


049aeabacccdc88fc205e2749fb387e3-getty-109235816jm009_minnesota_tw.jpg

You have to also wonder what the Rays
brass is thinking right now with LF Sam Fuld, who has been a career
CF in the minors leading the AL in stolen bases ( 10 )and 4th
in hitting ( .365) heading into Sunday’s finale in Toronto. The
emergence of Fuld could hasten the potential of an Upton deal knowing
Fuld would makes only $ 418,300 for the 2011 season compared to
Upton’s escalating salary.


Do not forget the Rays have another
budding OF star currently hidden down in Triple-A Durham in Desmond
Jennings who most thought had a more than moderate chance to crack
the Rays roster this Spring before Fuld began his legendary run.
Jennings is currently hitting .241 with the Bulls with 5 SB and 2
Home Runs.


Having spare parts in their farm system
to interchange with Upton if the Rays want to unload another possible
$5 million plus salary for 2012 is just another intriguing part of
the whole Upton equation. With Fuld and Jennings showing they can
play CF, it has to put a bit of pressure on the organization to
possibly make some sort of ” fishing expedition” to see what
Upton could net the Rays in terms of players or prospects.


With the Washington Nationals currently
scouting Upton, they are one of a few teams sending team officials
out watching Upton on the road or at home. As the season unfolds,
Upton will either show his value, or the Rays might finally cut their
ties with their former First Round pick. But people fail to remember
Upton is still only in his mid-20’s, even younger than Fuld.


ap-0d455d02092b4c0f98b1f1517418063b.jpg

Upton is currently sitting about normal
for him at a .219 average with 2 HR and 7 RBI, but his base running
in the early games of the season tended to push the needle closer to
a trade than the Rays retaining Upton for the full season.


But Upton is one of the Rays leaders in
the clubhouse even if he is not currently a intimate part of the Rays
marketing plan for this season. If you take the Rays marketing
direction in consideration, besides the Sunday, June 19th
bobblehead promotion, Upton’s name has seen limited exposure. The
fact the promotion is just a couple of weeks before the Trade
Deadline has it’s own interesting twist.


All in all you are either a Upton
supporter or a critical vocal partner. Sure the guy has not been the
most model MLB outfielder in respect to power and hitting potential
for the Rays, but people forget he has also been more than willing to
change from his original SS position to wander around the Rays
infield before finally landing at home in CF.


You either believe Upton still has
further MLB potential, or that he has peaked as a player. With Carl
Crawford heading to the confines of Fenway Park for 2011 you had the
realization that this might be Upton’s year to shine and show he has
matured and taken the next step in his development.


72367240ffb7ecd7672d82dbb5e116ba-getty-_.jpg

But Fuld’s sudden cult following has
overshadowed Upton and possible given him another chance to lay low
and not be held totally accountable at times at the plate. For this
Rays team to get another chance to hit the post season party, Upton
has to be a vital part of the team, a contributor of the highest
order and a bright light in the clubhouse.


If not, the decision is made easier by
the Rays brass and Upton possibly could be wearing something other
than a Rays jersey by August 1st. I have posted before
that it is Upton’s time to “put up or shut up”, now it is time
for Upton to sprint out from under the Fuld media umbrella and show
again he is the veteran here. Either that or Upton has better buy
some good luggage for his journey somewhere else.


Shields Shining Bright Once Again

ap-55027395906d47b8b08f93bc38645362.jpg


Tampa Bay Rays starter James Shields
doesn’t fit the usual mold of your commonplace long-in the tooth
veteran pitchers. At 29 most Major League Baseball pitchers are just
starting to hit their stride and producing exclusively near the top
of the rotation.


Coming into Spring Training this season
after a curious 13-15 record with a career high 34 Home Runs allowed,
Shields was one of the huge question marks surrounding this Rays
squad. Even during the Spring where Shields started only 4 games and
posted a 1.88 record, the question mark lost a lot of it emphasis,
but I was still anxious.


After Tuesday night, I am removing the
question mark and hoping that Shields had definitely found his
stride, re-configured his grip on the ball and going to again be
concrete this Rays team will need to succeed this season.


Amazingly Shields passed the 1,000
inning mark for his career during the second inning of his Tuesday
night start. He is the first Rays pitcher to ever hit that exclusive
mark. It was the way Shields just seemed in control on Tuesday night
that got me to find my eraser and take that over-sized question mark
off his name and instead add a few stars.


ap-b252ca9246eb4aa998db1221df491fbb.jpg

His 9 strikeouts during his 4-hit
complete game victory over the Chicago White Sox was impressive, but
lost in the haze of all the guts and glory of the win was the fact
Shields final strikeout of CWS slugger Paul Konerko to end the game
gave him 461 for his career when starting at Tropicana Field. That
was 1 K better than former K-master Scott Kazmir for the Rays career
Trop. strikeout record.


Sure Shields had a minor blip on
Tuesday night by giving Carlos Quentin a lead-off double to
leftfield, then A J Pierzynski singled Quentin in for the only
blemish on Shields night, but Shield seemed to have found his
change-up magic and has his breaking ball dancing like the hula girl
on my car dash.


Some days it really doesn’t feel like
Shields has been on this staff for 6 MLB seasons, and he is only one
day shy of having the most MLB service time on the Rays. Rays OF B J
Upton has him beat by one 24-hour day with 4 years 131 days.


I truly thought after Shields lost his
bid for a 4th straight Opening Day start to fellow
staffer David Price he might fade into the fabric a bit, especially
after getting roughed up in his initial 2011 start. Interesting
enough, Shields got the start in the Rays first victory of the season
on April 8th, but was issued a no-decision.


Shields is now sports a 1-1 record, in
4 starts with 2 no-decisions. With his complete game on Tuesday
night Shields has now thrown at least 6 innings in all 4 of his
starts this season and is second on the Rays strikeout list with 20
K’s.


Graybeard.jpg

Even with Shields new found control, he
is ranked in the Top 10 of the American League with 42 total bases
and 10 extra base hits allowed. But Shields is showing progress. Hr
even admitted during a post-game interview last night that he was
toying with his pitching grips while on the rubber, and the ball
seemed to move a little bit more for him last night.


Great to see the Shields starting to
again provide that added boost to again regain his long time moniker
of “Big Game James”. If Shields continues to adjust on the mound,
provide a vocal leadership role in the clubhouse and stays
focused……anything is possibly for the Rays “graybeard” in
2011. And that is what veteran leadership is suppose to do, lead by
example.

  

Pitching and Defense Providing Perfect Harmony

ap-0e00f3b1022d4ee3b363e456a4862921.jpg

Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon has
always preached that his “pitchers set the tone of a game“. I’m
not sure, but I think the Rays skipper forgot to tell his young
outfield and his rookie Shortstop.


On a night when the Rays offense struck
early against usual Rays-killer Edwin Jackson, the Rays defensive
unit kept the pressure off southpaw hurler David Price with
incredible plays in both in infield and the outfield. Possibly this
young Rays fielding unit has finally found the right note to play in
harmony with their pitching staff.


Rays outfield Sam Fuld who wandered
over to his more familiar Centerfield spot again left his feet for an
incredible catch, and Ben Zobrist looked more like a sprinter going
towards a ball near the Rays Bullpen that was just a inch out of his
reach.

91b4ab79792c9999d4a7b11aaa576c47-getty-109235857jm006_chicago_whit.jpg

Everyone of the Rays outfielder last
night made incredible running catches last night to help synchronize
Price’s artistic game on the mound. Rays SS Reid Brignac also got his
own note in with a deep ball hit towards the edge of the Rays new
AstroTurf surface, then turned and fired a strike that would have
made any pitcher envious for the 6-3 put out.


Little by little this Rays patchwork
Blue defense is gelling and beginning to showcase not only their
defensive skills, but show great support for their Rays pitching
staff by boosting their offense. I have to say, this might be one of
the best Rays athletic defenses we have seen in a while from corner
to corner…Sorry Carl Crawford.

Tell me this little quote will not infuriate the Red Sox
Nation. Rays Maddon on Sam Fuld’s LF defense compared to
Carl Crawford, who won a Gold Glove last year:

“There’s no drop-off. There’s no drop-off. To say
that right now, I would just be appeasing everybody. That’s
not true. Sam’s playing that level of defense right now. He
throws the ball better. And right now, all the different
things he’s doing defensively, I can’t tell you that Carl’s
better. I can not.”

53f8ac429f5729276f708bc51a7813bb-getty-109235857jm013_chicago_whit.jpg

High praise for Fuld from a Rays
Manager that got to see Crawford nightly from 2007 to 2010 along with
a duo of trips to the post season. But this entire Rays outfield
right now is torqued to perform and to provide moments that even ESPN
would be proud. Interesting enough, Fuld currently has a comfortable
points lead (18) on the ESPN Web Gems standings over both Braves SS
Alex Gonzalez and Marlin OF Chris Coghlan.


Interesting enough, Rays 2B Sean
Rodriguez is in a 3-way tie for fourth place with 9 points, and Rays
1B Dan Johnson has 7 points. The Rays as a team currently have 36
points and are being chased hard by the Rockies (24) and the Royals
(19) in this early stage of the season. The Rays current .986
Fielding Percentage ranks second in the American League.


Before tonight’s broadcast, FSN Florida had an on-air interview with Price and his quote says it all: “ I hear that water covers 75% of the World, the other 25% is covered by Sam Fuld.”


Pitching may ” set the tone”, but
if you have your defensive unit also in unison playing extremely
stingy defense, it helps lighten the burden of the pitching staff.
When a pitcher is down 3-1 or 3-2 in a count and his defense is
playing with humongous gloves, they can skirt a ball in on the hands
or outside hoping for a ground ball and a sure fire out.

The overall confidence the pitching
staff can gain by the Rays defense playing superior right now will
play into guys trusting the players behind them and let the game
unfold instead of the pitchers’ trying to win it all on their own
shoulders.


ap-b6e7cc1c9de04bbf875b70cb3c268119.jpg

Acrobatic plays, leaping grabs and full
sprint catches might seem like a rare occurrences on a baseball
diamond, but here in Tampa Bay, it is just business as usual for Fuld
and crew. When I played football, my Coaches used to preach that
“defense wins championships “.


Right now the Rays are playing a tune
like “Take It On the Run” by REO Speedwagon in with both starting
and relief pitching strumming along, hitting banging hard to provide
tempo and the entire fielding unit playing in harmony. Maybe Maddon
is right because right now pitching is setting the tone…. and it is
simply beautiful to the ear.

Maddon: Mad Man or Crazy as a Fox


Maddon_20100714190959_320_240.jpg


I really do kind of understand how
difficult it can be in the final methods of deciding who plays or who
get the pine for the night. Scrolling over a mountain of facts and
figures and calculations can drive a normal person insane.


But sometimes, just sometimes I truly
think Rays Manager Joe Maddon is just toying with our minds. Some
days I think he is more apt to throw 9 darts at a board featuring his
picking his final 9 for the line-up or ask the Magic 8-Ball for game
day guidance. Seriously sometimes I think he diverts the obvious
choice in the line-up to test our tolerance….or ignorance.


From Maddon posturing to let a recent
Tampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience decide to insert Tampa
native RF Matt Joyce into the 3-spot, to posting tonight’s line-up to
include a slightly more 2010 Triple-A line-up with his young Rays
“Ace” David Price on the mound borders on simply criminally
insane, or crafty like a fox.


joe-maddon-sign.jpg

Got to admit, like the recent Barry
Bond’s grand jury of his peers, I am not sure what is the whole truth
and what is truly fictional anymore about Maddon’s line-up choices.
And that is sad for me.


I stand wholeheartedly in unison with
most of the Rays Republic united behind Maddon’s maddening mantras
and his sometimes diverse ways of pushing his team towards the next
level without physically jamming it down their throats.


Sometimes though I still find myself
puzzled and bewildered from what rationale place some of Maddon’s
diverse decision originate from, and why? Heading into tonight’s
Chicago White Sox 4-game series, I really expect to see 4 different
line-ups over the next 4 games with more than a few head scratches or
questions from the Rays Republic. Maybe bring on RP Andy Sonnanstine
as a pinch-hitter late in a game.


I understand “Rock Star” Johnny
Damon took one on the ring finger in Sunday’s contest and can’t even
hold a bat today, but to take one of your best hitters, even if it is
B J Upton, and sit him against a free-wheeling hurler like White Sox
starter Edwin Jackson tonight just makes me go back to the above
questions…slightly insane or crafty like a fox.


Moving Sam Fuld into Centerfield might
seem a bit crazy to some, but if you read any of Fuld’s 2010 minor
league scouting reports, you will notice Fuld has played mostly
Centerfield in the minor leagues. This idea shows more of the “fox”
tendencies to get Fuld in the line-up, plus possibly exploit another
fielding talent area the Rays Republic has not seen from Fuld outside
of Spring Training.


devile-rays-manager-joe-maddon-ap.jpg

But seriously, Joe. You really expect
me and the Rays Republic to not take a gander at Felipe Lopez who is
hitting .265 this season to be the right choice at Designated Hitter
and hitting clean-up and not go find a binding white coat for you to
wear?


Just because Lopez has a career .286
average against “Action” Jackson, did you fail to see that was
only a limited 2-for-7 slice lifetime against tonight’s starter. I am
starting think we might have to watch the exits of the Hard Rock Cafe
and see if you might have a hidden gambler tendency to you…or maybe
you are asking the valets’ for their opinions too. Don’t get mad Joe,
we are just worried about you.


I bet Jackson quickly ran looking for a
calendar in the Visitor’s Clubhouse thinking it was his birthday (
his B-day is actually Sept 9th). How can you possibly
think you are fielding a competitive squad when you send your first 3
players in your line-up tonight who spent most of their 2010 season
at the Triple-A level. Hopefully you have written in the line-up
card in crayon so we have a key defense item against an insanity plea
in the near future.


Seriously, this Rays game can go two
directions tonight. Either it can be another solid outing by Jackson
with another possibility of a “No-No” in the air , or could
implode into a brilliantly conceived Maddon master plan that awakens
a few bats that have laid in mostly silence so far in 2011. Brilliant
or baffling, less than three hours to go to fully divulge the answer.


I still think the real loser here is
Rays starter David Price. He either gets a re-energized solid defense
behind him and is on his game tonight, or it will snowball into
another questionable loss that Price doesn’t deserve. It is almost as
if Price has to hit the mound thinking of a perfectly pitched game
for him to even have a sliver of a chance of celebrating a victory
tonight.


joe-maddon_3.jpg

But that is the thing about this Rays
staff and players. They have been portrayed as AL East second class
citizens in pre-season predictions, butchered by a 0-8 start, but
have quickly risen like a Phoenix from the ashes. Only 9 innings and
27 outs tonight will show if Maddon played his hunches right, rubbed
the rabbit’s foot in the right motion or read his morning tea leaves
with any hint of clarity.


Usually you want to have you most
consistent 9 on the field for a contest against a team who is coming
in for the last 4 games you will play against them in 2011 (baring
the playoffs).


By midnight tonight we are either going
to think Maddon is a pure baseball genius, or Maddon will have most
of us muttering a few choice four-letter words unprintable on here to
describe the performance of his line-up as we exit Tropicana Field.


Whether Maddon is clever as a fox, or
insane in the membrane, you got to love the fact he is not afraid to
tinker, tamper or stir the pot. Hopefully tonight he got his
tendencies right and the dome will be lit up in an orange hue. Just heard a tidbit that
 Maddon is battling a cold…..Could cold medicine have been the true culprit in deciding today’s line-up?  Can’t wait for the post game conversation now…….




Simply “Johnny on the Spot”

ap-a98edc1dfbe94945b83162d26d0e40aa.jpg

I imagine if I trolled the Internet
this morning and typed in the phrase “Johnny on the spot”, his
smiling dimpled mug would grace the page. Ever since the first Press
Conference when the Tampa Bay Rays announced their signing of the
long-in-the-tooth veteran Johnny Damon, this guy has been committed,
immediately impressive and down right nasty to opposing
pitchers…… just the way I like it.


It is not rare for a veteran to stand
up and lead by example on a young team like the Rays, it is an
imperative. It is a mission he has accepted with grace, honor and
even a slice of humble pie. Maybe his contract with attendance based
additive might seem a bit cocky, but in his years within Major League
Baseball his foresight and wisdom has served him well in the past.


I still wonder why it took so long for
the Rays to settle on Damon. Sure he ” came home” possibly for
less money to a team in furious transition, but he also came into a
situation where he could pass on knowledge, help build a strong base
and show that a few extra rings in the bat can sometimes bring
explosive results.

ap-c4e33bd0aa1344619e6d6b80ecf667b8.jpg

Sure there are not many on this Rays squad with him who might have seen him in an old photo in the Royals
baby blue, but they all know the stories, the success and now the
baseball mind that is their Rays teammate. Damon always seemed to be
that guy in the right place, with the right offensive weapon in the
past. No matter if he wore pinstripes, a “B” on his cap or the
fine stencil of the Tigers, the guy has always given his 110 percent
to gather up a win.

Little known fact, Damon actually spent
a few moments at the Rays 2011 Fan Fest greeting young kids who ran
the bases and doing a few interviews before having to leave…..he
was moving his Damon crew to his new city. That is the level of
commitment this guy gives to his team. Sure he has earned the time to
mail in the commitment card, but he doesn’t.


He can rest on a few offensive lifetime
laurels and take a moment off every once in a while, but he doesn’t.
Right now it seems that Damon is the perfect veteran fit since Cliff
Floyd to mold and shape this young team again into the new “Beasts
of the East”. And he is doing it all recently by being…”Johnny
on the spot”.

ap-36b61d56e8564cb581c3137fcc0a662a.jpg

It is almost unimaginable that a MLB
player can produce 5 straight game-winning RBI in his last 5
contests, but Johnny has stepped to the plate with the eyes of the
dugout and stadium upon him and become clutch, dependable and down
right almost automatic in the late innings.


Friday night Damon produced a 2-run RBI
single in the 6th inning, which has been early for a
“Damon moment” in 2011, but his act pulsated from the Rays dugout
to the Bullpen and the team held on to a 5-2 win. Damon’s hitting
explosion has also been simultaneous with the Rays own 5-game winning
streak.


Sometimes you need someone to
shine the flashlight first for all of us to find it our ways of the
darkness
“. – former University of Florida Football Coach Charlie
Pell.

Damon has done just that during this 5
game streak. He has used his bat as a symbol of enlightenment,
produced a lightning bolt from its shaft to help push his young squad
out of the impending darkness back into the warm rays of the Sun.
With his game winner on Saturday afternoon in front of a nationally
televised audience, Damon moved into a tie at 80th place
(2,583 hits) with the great Cubbie and Baseball Hall of Fame member
Ernie Banks.


Damon has hit 3 Home Runs so far in
2011, last season in Detroit, he hit a total of 8 for the entire
season. This week he became the first MLB player to hit a walk-off
Homer with 5 different teams (Royals,Red Sox, Yankees,Tigers,Rays).
It was his 6th walk-off homer of his career, and his third
against the Minnesota Twins.


ap-8c4572ab3303474a9c797aebc1d06a43.jpg

Possibly the youth and eagerness in the
Rays clubhouse has re-energized and focused Damon in a new direction.
He has hit safely in his last 8 games (.305 11 for 36) after going 1
for 15 during the Rays 0-6 first homestand.


On April 8th at US Cellular
Field, Damon homered off of White Sox starter John Danks, his first
Home Run off a southpaw since his August 28, 2009 blast off Dank’s
teammate Mark Buerhle at Yankee Stadium. The end result, the Rays
first victory of 2011 after 8 straight defeats.


This team is not going to totally sit
on the back of Damon all season long to provide moments to inspire,
thrust themselves forward or depend solely on his current well timed
offensive moments. But isn’t it great that when you need a hit, a run
producing moment, this veteran has just been “Johnny on the spot”
in 2011.



  

Matt Had Us All Re-Joycing Last Night

699390c38b8284e5631789360e65d23a-getty-109381773jm001_tampa_bay_ra.jpg

You’ve been waiting for this day for a
while Tampa Bay. The perfect time to board the bus and support Tampa
Bay Rays RF Matt Joyce. Sure he is a local guy, graduated from
Armwood High School just a stone throw away from the State
Fairgrounds. But you had doubts.


Hopefully a few of those “doubting
Thomas’s” got some sense of religion last night after Joyce produce a beautiful
2-run single to tie the game against the Twins at 2-all setting the
plate for more hi-jinxs in the later innings. Still some of you
pointed to Joyce getting nailed on a steal in the fifth inning.


Thumbnail image for ap-c8685a6d9ff24e7b907847864e2d56ba.jpg

Then again some of you are finally
seeing that this Rays team needs someone like Joyce who seems to pick
his moments and then seals the deal with a key hit, a sensational
catch, or maybe even something as simple as a single into the CF-RF
gap that sent Denard Span into hyper gear, but to no avail.


The mantra of these feisty Rays is
“Find Another Way”. Last night that simple but multi-layered
mantra ended up dancing in the late night streets, celebrated by
howling at a sliver of the moon, and brought the Rays their first
victory at home this season.

The victory also snapped a 2011 5-game
losing streak at Tropicana Field that used to play into the Rays
hands, but has been an albatross for them this season. Furthermore,
the Rays snapped a 9-game consecutive losing streak (including post
season) since September 29, 2010.


Suddenly a team mired in the cellar has
found ” another way” to win, via a new hero every night. A the
Rays Republic are the ones re-Joycing.


  

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 288 other followers