Results tagged ‘ 2011 ALDS ’

It’s Fight or Flight time Rays

I really can’t fathom this sometimes the Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde offensive personalities of this Tampa Bay Rays offense. It is almost as if this team gets pushed into a quasi-schizophrenic monotone existence almost bordering on the surrealistic imagery usually associated with a Salvador Dali painting. It is a confusing unfolding dramatic battle somewhere within this team’s own soul between their powerful nature and their anemic second cousin.

This Rays offense have plunged themselves into this same kind of topsy-turvy tailspin so many times this season, and at the most inappropriate times that it almost sends me screaming into the dark Florida night. There has to be a simple and logical reason for this faltering of the wood meeting white rawhide ball.  Their simply has to be a finite swirling solution for this repetitive Rays offense malaise.

Is their offensive woes so complex we, the Rays Republic have collectively questioned the real and unreal visions in front of us. Do we need to do a vocal stadium-wide therapy session, submit to a group discount electroshock, or possibly take a dose of our own self prescribed mental toughness medications. Why can’t the answer be as simple as just buckling down to the reality that the Rays sometimes just fall back into old habits, even with all their best intentions.

Since the Rays pushed 9 runs across Home Plate in Arlington, Texas this team somehow found their path back into that darkened region where average pitchers toss lightning bolts like Ranger co-owner Nolan Ryan. Swinging strikeouts, hitting the ball weakly and not taking advantages of mistakes by the Texas hurlers is the symptoms of this failing aliment. If these Rays want to again play another game, they have to resolve this issue before 2 pm today, or begin their packing for the off season.

Since the American League Divisional Series format began in 1995, 36 teams have fallen behind 2-1. Of those 36, 7 American League teams have come back to win the series in 5 games. Also working against the Rays is the realistic fact that even though 7 teams climbed the post season deficit and got into the winning groove, no American League squad has accomplished this since 2003 ALDS when Boston trailed the Oakland A’s, then came back to win Game 4 and Game 5 to secure their destiny towards their eventual World Series journey.

The step up by the Rays has to be now since they have now lost 4 consecutive post season contests in Tropicana Field, all against Texas in the ALDS. ( 3 in 2010, 1 so far in 2011). The Rays are a dismal 5-7 all-time under the dome in the post season. Maybe it is a good thing the Rays play under a off-white dome. That way they can not see the dark clouds assembling outside and fight until the last swing or pitch.

Texas is starting to become the Rays kryptonite in the post season. In their combined 8 meetings in ALDS play over the past two seasons, the Rays are 3-1 with 26 runs and 21 extra-base hits in 4 games at Arlington and in their 4 games at the Trop, they are 0-4 with 5 runs and 6 extra-base hits. The Rays have to call upon the Home Run Tiki Gods who have been at the forefront of their 19 Home Runs in their last 8 games. It is the highest HR output by this team since June 9-17. 2009 when they hammered an identical 19 in a middle of the season spurt.

Right now this Rays squad has to truly embrace their 2011 mantra of “Finding Another Way” to grab hold tight and force a possible Game 5 situation. The opportunities will not simply appear like magic for the Rays. Their Game 5 road will be littered with few defining challenges.

Game 4 has to be the final test to see just how resilient the Rays can be with their back firmly against the wall. Falling towards a 2-1 series deficit is not a joyous and vibrant situation, it tends to feed more on the impending darkness, surging towards the cliffs edge then the high-fives of celebration and acknowledgment of success.

Every pitch, every swing, every single motion in this game by the Rays will be examined, defined and held up for criticism if they fail. Success breeds a short memory for misdeeds A napping offense will get the Rays only a tee time on a Tampa Bay area golf course instead of a return visit to Arlington, Texas for a potential Game 5.

To put it mildly, it is “Put up (runs) or shut down ( for the season)” time for the Rays. No more second chances to get back into the rhythm, any stumble, falter and the dark cloud will ascend quickly above the Trop, possibly hastening an end  to the Rays 2011 season. Rays need to shake off the darkness today, this club has to thrust towards the sunshine, the light the essence that got this team to this stage. If not, the end will come swift and hard even if we do not want to admit it. I personally am not ready to begin the off season. Go get yourself some glory Rays.

“WE Want More Moore…Moore!”

During Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series I was sitting in a neighborhood saloon and it got pretty wild in there for a bit. Someone within this establishment somehow either pick this song 12 times in a row, or just decided via the emotional pull of a grand performance to showcase Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” over and over again. Seems so wild now considering 182 game ago Moore’s name was not even whispered at the Major League level.

When the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and catcher’s first reported reported to the 2011 edition of Spring Training back on February, 16th I was on the field that day desperately seeking to see if Matt Moore had gotten a MLB camp Spring Training Invite. As much as I searched and trained my eyes, Friday’s Game 1 ALDS starter Matt Moore was not among the players meeting with Rays Manager Joe Maddon and principal owner Stuart Sternberg.

It wasn’t as if Moore didn’t know the directions or was even a stranger to the Port Charlotte complex where he toiled at the high Class-A level during the a 2010 season with the FSL South Division Champs, the Charlotte Stonecrabs. Moore actually started 26 games for the Stone Crabs last season compiling a deceptive 6-11 record with 208 K’s in 144 innings. For the second season in a row the stealth southpaw had racked up triple digit strikeouts, and further showed he had the pitch control well beyond his years.

Moore was not among the samplings of minor leaguer pitchers who got an invite to the MLB camp, but Moore did make his arrival later in the week with the rest of the Rays farm system arms. Already word had spread through the MLB scouting segments that the Rays had molded a second sparkling diamond out of their highly successful 2007 MLB Draft with Moore getting a lot more attention, especially from the assembled Rays avid female fans.

Moore might not have sparkled on the Rays diamond in the Spring of 2011, but the hurler who some say has the most infectious smile on the Rays started quickly showing fans and critics alike why his light was beginning to shine bright. Moore made an immediate impact during his 2011 minor league season at the Rays Double-A affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits.

Moore started 18 games for the Biscuits racking up 131 strikeouts against 28 walks. Sandwiched neatly in between those stats was an no-hitter in which Moore only needed 106 pitches and produced 11 k’s on June 16th. Possibly because of this event and his early dominance at Double-A, MLB selected him for the MLB Futures All Star game as a member of the U S Squad. .

It was a nice homecoming present for the Rays prospect that now called the desert state his off season home to come toss From the moment his first 95+ pitch crossed the plate in Arizona, whispers began to be heard all over the country about this Rays prospect’s velocity and uncanny control.

Some MLB Scouts have already been so bold as to compare him to the possible 2011 Cy Young Award winner Detroit Tigers First Rounder Justin Verlander. Other scouts have glowingly compared him to his future Rays rotation mate, Price. No matter what past or present pitcher Moore might remind you of, he is staking his own claim to fame now. .

It is still amazing to me that Moore only started in 18 games for Montgomery in 2011 and still came with 11 K’s of being the 2011 strikeout king of the Southern League. The Rays picked David Price with the first overall selection in the 2007 MLB First Year Draft. They waited 244 players before selecting the player who today has the world mesmerized. That’s right, Moore was selected with the Rays 8th Round selection, or the 245th player picked in that 2007 draft.

This native of a small mostly tourist and military Panhandle hamlet of Fort Walton Beach, Florida is swiftly becoming another pearl in the Rays fertile oyster bed of budding prospects. His performance in the US Futures All Star game did not awaken the scouts and opposition to his talents, it only let the door be open for the rest of baseball fans to see our jaws drop a bit with his velocity and control.

Moore was promoted to the Rays Triple-A affiliate, the storied Durham Bulls in mid-July and started in only 9 contests before the end of the International League season. But in that small span he earned 79 strikeouts against 18 walks to boast a 4-0 record plus a small woodpile of broken bats left in his wake. Over the course of the 2011 season Moore compiled another triple digit mark in strikeouts (210) a 12-3 record and a microcosmic 1.92 ERA.

On a crisp morning right before he was to head out to his off season home in Arizona, Moore got the call he has been waiting for since he first signed with the Rays. He quickly had to make arrangements for airplane tickets, scramble together a suitable wardrobe and get himself to Baltimore to meet up with the Rays on their last road trip of the season.

Moore who has been a starter for his entire career made his MLB debut as a Rays reliever, and got a rude “welcome to the Show” awakening in the Rays Weds night finale in Baltimore. Moore lasted 1.1 innings, and did retire the first 4 O’s hitter before usual Rays killer Vlad Guerrero lined a single and O’s catcher Matt Wieters welcomed Moore to the big leagues by depositing a pitch into the Camden Yards seats. Not an impressive start to Moore’s Bullpen days, but a real eye opener to the extreme care and control needed by the young southpaw when facing MLB caliber hitters.

The lesson learned under fire during that Baltimore outing showed through brilliantly as Moore got a chance to make his first MLB start against the heralded Yankees and quickly mounted his strikeout totals to double digits against the eventual AL East Champions. Moore, like his 2007 MLB Draft mate Price got his starter baptism under fire against the pinstripes.

Even more amazing about his Yankee outing, Moore was the only rookie pitcher since July 19, 1964 (Cleveland Luis Tiant) to fan at least 11 Yankees and hold the pinstripes scoreless in his first MLB start. But that was just red velvet to the icing that was soon to adorn Moore’s celebratory 2011 cake.

Moore was selected as the Rays Pitcher of the Year for 2011, and then only days later was told my Rays Manager Joe Maddon he would be the ALDS Game 1 starter. The 22-year old southpaw instantly became the first pitcher in MLB history to start his team’s first post season game after only 1 official MLB start in his career. Moore also became the only the second youngest pitcher (22yrs,104 days) to take the hill in the post season since Oakland A’s sent Vida Blue ( 22yrs, 67 days) back in 1971.

Suddenly there was instant debate on if Maddon should throw a rookie into this cauldron of pressure and importance. All Moore did was shake off the worries and media inflicted turmoil and throw an impressive 2-hit ,6 strikeout shutout on 98 pitches, 62 for strikes. Moore even made another historical first for himself becoming the youngest starter to ever win his team’s first game of the post season.

Adding onto his miraculous accolades of Game 1 of the ALDS, Moore became the first rookie pitcher since Yankees hurler Jim Beattie to win his team’s first post season contest. Moore joined the like of Yankee Beattie (ALCS), Dodger Joe Black (1952 WS), Yankee Spec Shea (1947 WS) and Pirates P Babe Adams (1919 WS) as the fifth rookie in MLB history to complete such a feat.

Moore also became the first rookie in MLB history to pitch at least 7 innings and allow no runs and 2 or less hits in a post season game, and the second youngest all time to Yankees starter Waite Hoyt who did it during the 1921 World Series. When Maddon came out to finally get his talented rookie, I was one of many around that Mahogany bar raising his glass saluting the Rays rookies phenomenal feat, while mimicking and replacing  multiple words of Idol’s,…… “With a Rebel Yell, WE Want More Moore!…… Moore!”.  

Rays May Need a Half Dozen to Help Shields

Sure yesterday’s one-sided victory in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series was tremendous, but I am one of those cautious Rays Republic members. Maybe it is the pure fact we have seen so many of these games where the Tampa Bay Rays awaken from a offensive slumber and post amazing numbers on the board, then as if someone spiked their Gatorade with sleeping pills, they fall silent again.

Not in my mind is the true fact this Rays club has outscored their adversaries 17-0 over the last 14 innings. I want to believe the Rays have finally found an answer to the mundane offensive woes of the regular season, and that their bats will not again go silent. It is my biggest concern heading into ALDS Game 2. Considering the Rays gave Rays starter James Shields only 104 runs in his 33 starts (3.15 per start) and produced a 21-12 record.

Tonight has to be different for the Rays have a legitimate chance at gaining a 2-0 advantage with the ALDS heading back to Tropicana Field for Game 3 on Monday at 5:07 pm. Also you have to take into consideration the simple fact that this start by Shields tonight will be the third time he has faced this same Rangers offense in the last 30 days.

Shields has done his job over the past two previous starts throwing 8 shutout innings on August 31st for a 4-1 victory, then producing 5-1 win while throwing his 11th complete game back on September 5th in Tropicana Field. Shields can be the “Ranger killer” this team desperately needs tonight. Shields has compiled a career regular season mark of 5-2 with a 3.05 ERA against the Rangers, but is 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA in his 4 career starts in the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

So as you can see by those career stats, the Rays have to spot Shields at least 6 runs to effectively be in position to take both of the road games in Texas. Maybe I am a little leery and want 6 runs because of f Shields 2010 ALDS performance at the Trop against Texas when he only threw 68 pitches, but surrendered 4 runs over 4.1 innings in that 6-0 Rangers victory.

On any given day posting that kind of offensive number has been a bit tricky for the Rays. Since the All Star break, the Rays have scored 6 or more runs on 22 occasions including 8 times during September. It is not as if I do not believe the Rays have finally found their groove, or that their offensive flusters are behind them, but getting off to a quick lead, giving Shields a comfort level to not have to be perfect could be the keystone to the Rays putting the Rangers into a quick hole in this ALDS.

Combine Shields improvements on the hill in the latter parts of 2011 going 7-3 with a 2.43 ERA over his last 11 starts. Definitely Shields has the stuff right now to keep the Rays close in this key match-up, but any implosion, any crack in his arsenal and those 6 runs could be the catalyst between a 2 game cushion or back to square one with a 1-1 series record. Best thing that could happen to Shields is that Home Plate Umpire Kerwin Danley like his pitch location and gives him some of those change-ups on the corners.

The offensive firestorm on Friday night is not typical of the Rays who have only scored 9+ runs in 6 contests since the All Star break, but 3 of those came in the month of September. Leaving nothing to chance, if the Rays do produce 6 runs in this key contest, Tampa Bay will fly home for the day off at home with a 2-0 ALDS series lead, with David Price and Jeremy Hellickson set to take the mound under the dome.

This game might be a great indicator of how this Rays versus Rangers series might play out. It could seem a bit premature to consider Game 2 to be a key moment in this 5-game series, but taking 2 at an opponents ballpark heading back into Tropicana Field where the Rays went 11-3 with 3 extra inning victories in the month of September would be a pretty tough mountain to climb for the Rangers.

But it all starts tonight. I wonder which Rays machine will show up? The one that seems to score at will racking up runs like a video game, or the club that seems a slight bit off missing by inches of getting that key hit. As always, pitching will set the tone, but if the Rays get off to a quick start, it will do wonders in silencing that rowdy Texas crowd….That could end up being music to Shields ears.

Third Time Will be the Charm


Now that the surreal moments of Wednesday night have had enough time to fester within my mind, it still somehow resonates emotionally through me at the most inappropriate moment like Christmas,New Years and my birthday all rolled into a finely wrapped hotdog wrapper. I honestly do not want to let it slide into my subconscious, but want it to surround and comfort me as we begin our quest at 5:07 today for another chance at the golden chalace.

I want to still savory and hold tight this third bite into the MLB post season with the same intenity and fevor as I cherished in 2008 when we set sail on our maiden voyage into the turbulant land of post season baseball. But this time the waters are charted with landmarks, perils have been exposed and the journey is up to more than just fate and a sprinkle of luck. This time we came to play hard ball.

Even though the sweet sticky remains of the champagne celebration have been washed from my clothes and body, it’s scent still lingers in a place where all memorable sensory experiences go to rejoice and to be remembered. The first time I tasted that celebratory nectar it was anticipated, the second was a prize gifted out of this team’s knack for resilience, but the third, well the third time definitely is the glittering jewel.

For this thrid venture into the Major League Baeball post season solidifies the fact the Rays are not a fluke, that this team was not granted anything. This third stroll into the playoff garden was not manufactured by the “Baseball Gods”, but by young martals who have strived all season long to live their long-haired sensei’s mantra of “Finding Another Way”.

This Rays squad advanced into the post season not on their laurels or their past efforts, but on their own sweat, blood and tears. Whispers immediately emerged just past midnight Thursday that “the Yankees gave up” after the David (Baltimore) laid upon the corpse of Goliath (Boston). I am not sure of New York RP Scott Proctor’s mindset at the moment, but failure was probably not an option.

I actually find it kind of poetic justice that former Rays, now Red Sox LF Carl Crawford who in my ESPN dairy basically set up the Rays internal fires to conquer the Boton behemoths played such a critical role in their advancement. Crawford did not know his miss of a liner by Oriole Robert Andino would set such a firestorm in motion.

Proctor, who was on the mound when the news spread around the Trop like wild fire did not know of Crawford’s missed opportunity. When he threw that ill faded pitch inside to Evan Longoria he had no idea that Longo would pull in his wrists, re-elevate the bat and get just enough to curl the pitch within a space just under Section 137 of Tropicana Field.

Ironically, the same spot Longoria’s Home Run curved over was the same section of fencing taken down by the Rays stadium staff to help Crawford possibly steal a few Home Runs back in 2007. For once, it seemed the Rays universe had used its karma of “ what goes around, comes around”. With the ball clearing jut to the right of the 317 signage, I swear the Trop’s roof rose 5 inches.

 To say pandemonium broke out would be an understatement. What actually happened was an entire region exhaling at the same time, from a moment of sheer deafening silence to even Yankees and Rays fans embracing the moment. World came together, frustrations melted, hope,destiny,fate and their new friend karma all embraced during the scene.

Finally those around baseball knew emphatically that this Rays squad was built to last, not to fade away like some others. The very fabric this team was built on was woven by the mantras and the teachings of Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his trusty quips and quos.

From 9=8 to 9>8 to “The Rays Ways” to the 2011 mantra “Find Another Way” this team has matured, grown wiser beyond their years and embraced youth along with veterans. What we truly witnessed Wedneday night was shocking to some within the baseball world, but in reality, they knew the potential was there.

 A new chapter starts today at 5:07 EST. Even though it is a return engagement against a known ALDS foe, this time the Rays are coming. In their corner is the aspect of playing the last 2 weeks as if they were already in a “must win” scenario. Scratching, clawing, finding that “other way” to win. This series will be defined on who blinks first. Who wants it more. Who still has that drive within them when the dark cloud emerge.

We already know the Rays have that fire, that intensity, that drive within them to be the last men standing. I know so many have already thrown the spotlight towards the Texas Rangers, and that is perfectly fine with me. Since their 1-8 start the Rays have made people take second glances, made even the best teams squander wins and leave the field wondering what happened.

My prediciton, Rays in 5 games. Time to wrangle some Rangers.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



I am Betting on the Wild Card Factor

Now that the Tampa Bay Rays have let it be known to the entire baseball world that they want to be “Club C” in a possible 1-game playoff “winner, winner chicken dinner” type format, will there be more Rays surprises before the beginning of the Wednesday night season finale game at Tropicana Field?

Could this team pull their own unforeseen “Wild Card” from their pitching deck of cards for a potential American League Wild Card determining game set for Friday, September 30th at Tropicana Field? Problem is, will the Rays pick a staff “Ace” or go with another card hoping for a little Rays good fortune. 

If the Rays have a gut feeling that they might be in line to use their previously announced “Club C” option of facing the winner of the game against Red Sox and the Angels, would the Rays go outside their usual comfort zone and play a hunch, possibly scratching Rays southpaw David Price from his last start of the season, giving the ball instead to top prospect SP Matt Moore.

This scenario could easily play out if the Rays think they will be facing a one contest game of baseball roulette to decide if they are post season “worthy”. If it plays out even closely that the Rays would have a playoff game on Friday night in Tropicana Field, wouldn’t you want an Ace on the hill who can give you that win?

Some have said that fellow Rays starter/Ace James Shields could come back on 4-days rest and provide an a possible “Ace in the hole” sequence for the Rays for that Friday contest, but then you lose Shields in the American League Divisional Series until possibly Tuesday, October 4th which could line up to be Game 3 of the ALDS and a Rays home contest.

If Price pitched on Wednesday and the team did not seal their fate that night, Price would possibly not pitch again until Game 3 of the ALDS if you go by the present schedule on MLB.com. Seems like the Rays might be doing some midnight oil researching the possible match-ups of each of these two pitchers against their ALDS hosts either the Detroit Tigers or the Texas Rangers. Kind of hoping for a Rangers versus Rays re-match…We have some unfinished business to conclude from 2010 .

If Price is the starter of a AL Wild Card determining game on Friday night, he would essentially be lost until Game 4 or 5 realistically for the ALDS. But if Price pitched in the possible Friday AL Wild Card determining game, it would make Shields the heir apparent ALDS Game 1 starter, plus a possible second start in Game 4 or 5. The Rays might just have to play the odds, rub a few rabbits feet, possibly get Price’s palm read somewhere.

Or the Rays could pull one of the bravest moves of 2011 and end up giving the ball to Moore in a Friday deciding game of the Rays fate for the post season. Immediately people might think this is crazy, but Moore is definitely throwing the ball better than Rays starters Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis right now, so it might be a more statistically dominant suggestion over Shields or Price.

Not trying to throw the Rays young prospect into the fire here, but if you need dominant pitching and a guy who neither the Red Sox or Angels have scouted with a huge amount of game film, Moore might be a nice monkey wrench to throw into the works.

That also would free up Shields to be the ALDS Game 1 starter, with a potential for another ALDS start in Game 3. Then you might have Price come back as a potential ALDS Game 2 starter if the MLB schedule changes enough for Game 2 to be moved to Monday, October 3, and also be on the hill (if needed) for a deciding Game 5 in Detroit.

Here is where it gets tricky and you almost want to be in on the wave length conversation between the ears of Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. But some thing are easily apparent, and should make trying to decipher Friedman’s brain waves a non-brainer (sorry Andrew).

When you consider Rays AL Rookie of the Year candidate Jeremy Hellickson is a better option than Davis or Niemann in Game 2 or 3, that could lead to an odd scenario of the Rays 4th starter even getting a chance to throw considering the travel days schedule, or if the Rays are in a “must win” situation.

For some reason Moore’s name keeps flashing within my mind as the key “Wild Card” to the Wild Card. If the team uses him on the mound for the Wednesday night regular season finale, it places possibly David Price as the potential Friday night starter. If Price starts on Friday, it would push him towards the back end of the pitching probabilities for the ALDS.

If you put all the cards on the table, look at them realistically for a moment, Moore should be the Friday night starter if the Rays have a 1-game last ditch shot at the post season. That way the Rays would have Shields on the hill for Game 1 of the ALDS, either Price ( even on 4 days rest) or Hellickson for Game 2 in Detroit.

But then again, this all could become moot if the Rays run the table winning both of their remaining contests and the Red Sox stumble against in Baltimore, or Texas eliminates the Angels threat. I still think the double nickel (55) will be the Wild Card factor, I’m betting on it.

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