Results tagged ‘ A J Burnett ’

My Review of the 2009 New York Yankees

 

 
 

The next two days might be the hardest two days to write a blog about a review for a team in the American League East. Today’s subject will be the team that most people outside of the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and even Connecticut do not understand. they all know the symbols of the team, and maybe some of the legends who have come and passed through their great stadium. But sometimes the mention of just their name can bring about a avalanche of catcalls and opinions. Again, I want to stress that this blog is only my opinion and in such my views will try and concise and with merit. I expect blog comments, and I do not shy from them. So if you write it……..I will respond.
 

For years this team used to call Tropicana Field “Yankee Stadium South” when they into town for a series. But in the last few years, the Tampa Bay Rays have begun to take back their home stadium row by row until in 2008 you could hear both teams loud and proud in the stadium. So if you have not guessed by now, the third part of my review installment is on the” Evil Empire, the Bronx Bombers,” or simply “The Pinstripes” . Yes, it is time to try and review that team that everyone either loves or hates………the New York Yankees.
 

Several names have been deleted from the Yankee roster since their last game in 2008. Most have been erased because of  the team wanting to go in another direction for the future of the franchise. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi are now going to play their ball on the west coast of the country, while long time starter Mike Mussina decided to hang up his spikes and watch his kids grow up. But that was not the only thing that left 2008 as the year the Yankees needed to forget about. The team suffered some pitching woes that tore the team apart and made their rise to the top again difficult. For the first time in 12 season, the Yankees were watching the playoffs from the outside. In the off season, the Yankee front office made a decision that this was only going to be a one-year vacation, and it was time again to rule from the top. 
 
 

Part of that move back into greatness was to fully open the checkbook and get some of the players needed to dominate for years again. With some of the team aging, the Yankees needed to get the young stars who were about to either come out with a bang, or were currently the cream of the crop. After all was said and done, almost a half a billion dollars changed hands for a handful of budding superstars that could again take the pinstripes back to the playoff for the next 5 years.  The three high priced free agents the team fought after did not come cheaply for the Yankees. With each player they had to trade and bid  for their services again and again. But the Yankee mindset is not to lose at negotiations, and in the end, they got their players.

 

 

           
 

If you begin to write a review for 2009 for the Yankees, you have to start with their newly revised rotation. Now, who can argue that Carsten Charles Sabathia was the crown jewel of the Yankees’ off season pitching makeover. The man came with a price tag as big as his trousers, but he also came with the statistics to back it up. He will be the experienced ace of the Yankees revamped pitching staff, and might  end up being the best investment the team has done in years. Sabathia is not just a power pitcher, but also an innings eater. His 253 innings in 2008 is not as impressive as his 251 strikeouts in those innings.  To provide such a statistic that you have almost a strikeout an inning, and you pitched over 250+ innings is remarkable in any league. Sabathia throws three pitches effectively, and uses his change up, which breaks straight to fool hitters because of his great arm action.
 


Coming in at the number 2 slot for the Yankees is former Toronto pitcher A J Burnett. He also came to the Yankees after a bit of a battle, but decided to finally become a Yankee. His familiarity with the American League East hitters will be  a premium for him in 2009. Because of his knowledge in the division, Burnett will already have a pitching style in place to combat each teams hitters. This will make his adjustment to the Yankees a bit easier.  But Burnett also posted some great numbers in 2008. He pitched in 221 innings and struck out 231 batters last year.  Burnett is mostly a power thrower, but his  hard curve is his magic strike pitch. After an injury to his fingernail last year, he began to play more with his change-up, and got the pitch to sink and tail more throughout the season.
 

 

Coming back from an injury can bring with it loads of expectations and pressure. But Chien-Ming Wang has dealt with the pressure pretty well the last few season in New York. His injury, which caused him to miss the entire second half of the season played heavily on the Yankees failure to secure a playoff berth. Wang had been a consistent member of the pitching staff, but only was able to piece together 15 starts before his injury shelved him for the year.  One of the greatest thing about Wang’s pitching style is that he relies on his sinkerball. His 2-seamer bores in on right-handers and  sinks past lefties. His slider is average, but if thrown correctly can be a knee bender.  He began to throw a splitter in 2008, and at times it looked like Jorge Posada was having difficulty with it. The pitch had a really late bite on the plate and made it a bit difficult in the last 3 feet to judge correctly all the time.
 

The top 3 pitchers in the staff have the experience starting games in the New York atmosphere either as a Yankee or a opponent. that will come in handy in 2009 when the new Yankee Stadium is opened and the roar of the crowd will seem to be a bit more focus towards the mound area. Joba Chamberlain did an effective job as one of the Yankees set-up men in 2007-2008.  After two seasons of setting up for Mariano Rivera, he will take his spot in the rotation in 2009. Chamberlain appeared in 42 games last season, including 12 starts. The one question mark in my mind here is if the reliever can quickly adapt back to starting a game after two seasons in the Bullpen. Starting games has a different mentality than relieving, and will Chamberlain be able to make that transition smoothly before the season starts. 
 

I think that he can become a great starter for the Yankees, but I will wait until the end of Spring Training to anoint him to the fourth spot. He seems to have the goods on the mound to transition without a hitch.  In the last few years, he has used his fastball, which hits 95 mph and above to set up people for his unbelievable slider.  Chamberlain has already been given a bit of a legend status as a pitcher even before he has effectively led the Yankees to the playoff promised land. Chamberlain used to use his change-up and curveball in the minors, but because of the dominance of his first two pitches, they are throw-in pitches to keep hitters honest at the plate.
 

Now we come to the fifth spot in the rotation. This player could also wind up in the fourth slot if Yankee Manager Joe Girardi wants to use him there. But in the fifth slot, he will face the opponents least experienced pitcher, which could play into a great Yankees mental game as they could dominate from the first pitch of the game. Yankee great Andy Pettitte is considered one of the great lefties to ever grace the mound.  His 14-14 record last season is no indication of the magic he still can provide on the mound. He still tossed over 200 innings last year, and still has one of the best pick-off moves in the major leagues.  Pettitte still relies heavily on his cutter, which resembles a slider and is effective in breaking bat when coming in on right-handers.  His fastball is pretty straight, but his command of it can catch the corners at anytime. One of the pitches he has in his arsenal that if it is going great, he is almost unhittable is his curveball. It can take a nasty dip fast into the ground if it is popping at the right time for him that night.


 
                

 

The Yankees might have the luxury of keeping up Phil Hughes in 2009 as a long reliever and also an insurance policy if something should happen to a starter this season. Hughes, who will be throwing today against the Rays in Tampa, struggled with injuries himself last year. This might be the make it or break it year for Hughes, and a good Spring Training showing might get him a slot in the Bullpen as the long reliever for the team.  The Bullpen will be the place where a majority of the Yankees game will be won or lost in 2009. Last season they were not the most effective Bullpen in the American League, and that might have cost them dearly before they got the ball to Rivera in the ninth inning. 

 

Coming back in 2009 will be Damaso Marte, who has established himself as the Yankee leftie specialist in 2008, will be counted on more this season. Marte has always been a fastball/slider kind of pitcher and should see more action in 2009 with Chamberlain going to the rotation.  Both David Robertson and Dan Giese will get chances early on to cement a spot in the Bullpen. Both pitchers throw mostly fastballs and curves, with Robertson having more velocity and a change-up to mix things up at times. Left-hander Phil Coke might be the guy to take Marte’s spot as the left-handed specialist in 2009. Coke throws a nice mid 90′s fastball and a slider that break heavy into the plate. Humberto Sanchez, who came back  strong in 2008 after Tommy John’s surgery in 2007, should get a chance to again to sit in the Yankees Bullpen. Sanchez throws a nice moving fastball in the 90′s and has an effective 12-6 break curveball. 
 

Jose Veras also might have a shot at making the Bullpen after a great 2008. Veras is a tall pitcher and uses his leverage to  produce really good strikeout numbers as a professional. He also has a nice split-finger pitcher that tends to dip below bats. But his downfall might be that he is a high WHIP pitcher. Edwar Ramirez is another guy who might make a decision difficult for the Bullpen slots.  Ramirez is basically only a two pitch guy, but he will occasionally mix in a tight slider to right-handers.


 
 

 

Jonathan Albaladejo is another right-hander who throws a great moving fastball and two breaking pitches. He has been great at mixing up his pitches, which includes a powerful boring fastball, and a slow bending curveball. His slider is his second breaking pitch, but in 2008, it stayed up in the strike zone too much. But the one guy who will not have to ever worry about a roster spot is closer Rivera. Even if he is approaching 40, the man is still one of the most effective closers in the game today. Was is more amazing is that he has basically thrown only the cutter in and out for most of his career.  85-90 percent of the time, you know you will see some sort of cutter to the plate.  He does have a four-seam fastball that he uses up and in to right-handers. Simply put, if the game is on the line, you want this guy on the mound.
 

The Yankees outfield has taken a huge turn since the end of 2008. Left field will still be the home of trade deadline acquisition Xavier Nady who hit a solid .305 average with 25 homers and 97 RBI in 2008. This will be his first full season in the American League, and he is out to establish himself early on for his defense and throwing ability. Nady  will occasionally share his position with Hideki Matsui, who had a wild injury plagued year and is looking to rebound in both the field and at Designated Hitter for the Yankees. Matsui had a down year with only 9 homers and 45 RBI last season. This year he reports to camp in shape and ready to play.   Johnny Damon, who hit  for a .303 average with 17 homers and 71 RBIs might be the man on the go this year.
 

Damon is actually expected to play at several positions during the season, which will include both first base and the outfield. But in center field, the Yankees will be holding their biggest battle for a spot in 2009. Melky Cabrera, who hit for .249 with   8 homers and 37 RBIs will be pushed heavily for his spot. Cabrera is trying to make the decision between him and Brett Gardner more difficult this spring. Gardner, who took over for a bit after Cabrera was sent to the minors, came on to hit only .228 in his 42 games up with the Yankees last season. These two players will be fighting it out as they are the only two who might be able to cover the massive outfield grasses of Yankee Stadium. There is a chance that Nick Swisher might be given a chance to take over right field for the Yankees since they signed Mark Teixeira to play first base. I think both him and Damon will get ample shots at manning the right corner in the new stadium this year. The outfield looks competitive with the rest of the American League East, but it is not the best athletic or most powerful in the division in 2009. They will get their licks in and  might surprise you with their arm strength at times. But that might not stop the run happy teams in this division who tend to run on even good flamethrowers.
 

Coming into the infield, let start with the middle of the diamond. As we all know, Derek Jeter will again be manning the shortstop position for the Yankees. Last season he did not have a typical Jeter season, only hitting .300 average, with 11 homers and 69 RBI’s.  Jeter’s defense has also slipped a notch in the last few years, but is still the cream of the crop in turning the double play and getting base runners out at second base on steal attempts. He is till considered the heart and soul of this team. And how he responds this year might be a good indicator of the Yankee mindset.There is talk of maybe seeking a younger shortstop in 2010 and Jeter maybe moving over to second base to make that position more solid for the team. But in the present time, Robinson Cano will be the man at second base for the Yankees, Cano hit .271 for the year with 14 homers and 72 RBIs. With the Yankee infield having such high expectations by fans, Cano seemed to take a small step back in 2008.  It will be key to see him rebound this season and again post good number to even be considered for the spot in 2010.

 

                   
 

On the corners is where the Yankees will store their power in 2009. Third Baseman Alex Rodriguez will see 162 games of critical opinions and cat calls, but should still put up monster numbers in 2009. Last season he did not produce as expected, but still hit .305 with 35 homers and 103 RBI’s. He is considered one of the sports best players, but will also be feeling the heat in 2009 after his steroid allegations and confession. The first few months should be a good barometer of how the pressure and the voices from the cheap seats bother Rodriguez. He might get out of the gate a bit slow, but as things die down, he will again dominate the right side of the infield  both at the plate and on the field.
 

Coming into the Yankee fold after signing a huge off season contract is former Angel Mark Teixeira. He comes to the Bronx with the expectations of the team finally having another power alternative to Rodriguez.  Texieira, who hit .302, with 35 homers and 103 RBI’s is considered one of the best first baseman in the game. As good as he is at the plate, Texieira has just as good reputation manning  his defensive position. Texieira also bring into the Yankees fold the option of being a switch-hitter. This is something that the team has lack a lot of in the past few seasons.  
 

 

But he is not the only switch hitter brought in for 2009. Nick Swisher will also see time at first base and maybe Designated Hitter. Swisher needs to improve on his average, which was only .219 last season, but he does have better than average power, and can be a pest on the base paths. In the area of catching, the Yankees hope that Jorge Posada’s shoulder is fully healed and he can get back to his 2007 form behind the plate. Another hot spot in 2008 was the absence of Posada behind the plate after he went down with a shoulder injury.  He is getting up in age, and a move might be made in the next few years to get him time at D H or maybe first base, he has to cement the position for the Yankees in 2009.  The team still has Jose Molina back in 2009, and with another year under his belt with the team, Molina’s biggest concern is to get better at bats and produce when he is in the game for the Yankees.

 

 

 
So there you have the possible members of the 2009 New York Yankees. Not only are they trying to reverse the trend of missing the playoffs for the first time last season, they will have to impress the fans in their new stadium. Add the pressure of the usual expectations and the increased vocal noise towards Rodriguez, this team will need to mesh fast and stay tight the entire year. A pretty injury-less season could be the key for this team. Even though their outfield and their Bullpen are not huge strengths this season. the infield corners and the starting pitching might be the difference this year. As I have stated all off season long, the American League East will be a war in 2009. With each team playing 18 times against each other in the season, the winner of the yearly series will probably have the hand-up for the division title.  I can see this Yankees team win a minimum of 92 games if their  starting pitching stay intact. It is now up to the Yankees to again either prove or fail in becoming one of the premier teams in the American League.

photos credits for today’s blog go to: liciouscheery@Flickr.com, Garywilsong@Flickr.com, http://www.mnbc.msn.com, Packerfan@Flickr.com, http://www.sportsnet.ca.

American League East Thoughts

 

 
 


Everyone in America knew that this blog was coming. Everyone who follows my blog and baseball on MLBlogs knows that my team is itching to defend their American League Pennant. We know that 2009 will be the year where the Tampa Bay Rays will be between the crosshairs with everyone gunning to put us out of our misery every night. And you want to know something, that is fine with me. I am that kind of guy. Bring it on, I  think this team reloaded pretty good in the off season. We did not spend almost a half a billion dollars, but with millions we did invest in players went to needs, and that is the name of the game.
 

Most pre-season blogs and predictions have this as a two-team race in 2009. That is fine, they thought the same in 2008, and did not even acknowledge the Rays were a good team until almost the end of August. Everyone spent millions of words and letters chatting on the fall of the team. That the team was propped up by other teams getting caught off guard and the Rays just manipulated the system. Really? manipulated a system where New York and Boston were destined to win  it all, but one sat at home in October for the first time in many years.
 

Can you really think that I was going to post a blog putting a Boston or new york team up in front of us even before the first game?  Seriously people, I am not saying we are winning 162 games, or maybe not even 100, but I do think this team is for real and the race will be close until the last breathe of summer. And why do I think that with the multitudes of Yankees fans breathing down my neck chatting about their outstanding pitching. Well, Yankees fans, pitching only gets you so far, and do you really think that entire top5 will be on the mound the entire year? Seriously here, I can see C C Sabathia dominating the A L East, But A J Burnett might get his 15 wins, or he might be sitting in the dugout after a weird injury.

 


 

You guys have not even thought about if Joba Chamberlain is going to be 100 percent effective in the rotation. Once you begin playing with a guy running him in and out of a rotation, you can do more damage than good to the poor guy. If you have a solid 5 without him, let him stay as a set-up guy. Who is it going to hurt Mariano Rivera?  I am not going to throw any predictions out this year at all in the A L East war, but I will throw out a few challenges to teams. The first challenge is to the Yankees pitching staff. Since you have already been deemed the pitching staff of the century by experts, will it be a downfall if the staff doesn’t get 100 wins?
 

With that in mind, has the Yankee’s new stars sent flowers to A Rod yet thanking him for taking all of the Spring Training pressure off them so they can pitch like normal guys while the media froths over A Rod. Can you seriously think that the cousin/bad trainer/steroid situation will end in April? It will be a wild time in the Trop and other cities in 2009 as the fans show either their support or voice some loud chants about this entire situation. Want to make a bet on what is said? 
 

Also, people have dominated the off season with Yankee talk about the pitching upgrades. Did they do anything beside secure a good first baseman this past off season. Where is the offensive dynamo beside Mark Teixeria? Did the Yankees upgrade by getting Nick Swisher, or just plug in someone for a year in right field until something better comes along. And will Jose Posada come back as a stronger Yankee hitter, or be seeing more time at D H. Question are everywhere about the Yankees, but then again, even when they had a Championship team people had questions about weak spots.
 

Besides on the mound, is this really a strong Yankee team? They had better hope so, or the crowd will be on them soon. The A L East will get a fast idea on if the aggressive will dominate early in the season. The entire month of April will be spent mostly in divisional battles. This is where Boston took that early lead in 2008 before the Rays rose up and past them. So again in 2009, will the pattern remain the same, or will another team push towards the top and stay there.
 

Boston also did not weaken itself in the off season. They added Brad Penny and John Smoltz to their pitching staffs, with Smoltz maybe providing a cushion in the second half of the season.  This staff is the best in the A L East on paper. They have the experience and the stamina to out pace most teams in the division. But there are questions on their staff. They bulked up on set-up and relievers in the off season, but did the rotation really get that much better. I mean is Tim Wakefield still your best number 5 pitcher? Or will someone else step up and take that spot from him and make a decision even tougher about the Bullpen members.
 

I see the Boston pitching as another area where 2009 could make or break them early. Josh Beckett is a great pitcher, but until he get a few starts in we might not know if that lingering injury in 2008 is gone or might pop back up and take him down in 2009.  Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka are just going to come out ans reload after a great 2008. The 2 and 3 spot in this rotation might be the best Boston has seen in a long, long time. But let’s take a short look at the Bullpen. They have upgraded themselves, but with mostly National League pitchers. People forget that the National League is known for finesse and off speed pitches, while the American League is a power pitchers paradise.

 


 

But bright spot in Boston with no signs of disaster yet is their returning offense. The only blimp on the radar might be David Ortiz. Will the big guy be able to respond and get back into his former form and boost the offense in 2009? He is my biggest question mark on the entire Boston roster. Will we see the dominating Ortiz, or a shadow of himself like after his wrist began to hurt in 2008. You know that Boston wanted to upgrade somehow in that area, but with his contract it might have been bad at this moment. But can you see changes if he gets into a rut and stumbles out of the gate?  Will the team make that change and maybe upset the stadium masses, or will any injury make that decision for them? 
 

Can the upgrades in the Boston relief corps be enough to keep them in the game, or will the A L  bat them around for a bit until they settle in and pitch effectively. Questions ,questions. I am not trying to incite a riot online with these question marks. I am only trying to show that the A L
East will be a war that will have to be fought nightly this year. I really do not see Toronto or even Baltimore laying down at all this year. The Rays resurgence has shown small market clubs that anything is possible. One of these two bottom dwellers from the past two years might even rise up and bite one of the top three more than once in 2009.
 

It is not impossible for the eventual A L East division winner to have a .500 record against their  division rivals. I think it is a bit out of this world to think that, but it is possible. No one picked the Rays to even get into the playoffs, much less make it to the World Series. Boston and New York will  not lay down for  anyone in 2009. This division will be a sign that money and talent can battle each other and the best team will win no matter what the payroll. The Rays payroll might be upwards of $ 60 million plus in 2009, but that is pale in comparison to the millions dealt out just for pitching help by both divisional rivals.
 

                   
 

So will the money win out in 2009, or will the confident and determined show up again on top? We have a few days until we again get it started and go to the plate for real.  I have a feeling this spring will also be highly charged as all three teams want to prove some thing even before the season to their rivals. This might be one of the best Spring Trainings to watch in Florida for a long time. All three will be gunning to win, and wanting to put pressure on the others to either step up or shut up before even April. Now the real question might be, Is you team going to be talking or walking come October 1st?

Photo credits for today’s blog: Associated Press Photo Corps, ESPN.com, RRCollections.

 

A Hodge Podge of Number 2 Ray’s Moments in 2008

 

Coverrays

 


I was sitting at the computer this morning trying to pick out a second possible winning moment in 2008 for the Rays when it dawned on me that there are too many to even count. So I have decided to instead list all the important events, as per my opinion, that have made 2008 so great for Rays fans. I mean I truly sat there after deciding on number 3 yesterday, and decided that one was the easiest pick of the bunch.

 

If you get to go to the big show, it has to be a top 3 moment in your team’s flight that season.  There are a huge bunch of moments that helped define 2008 for the Rays. Be it a event in 2007 at shaped the look and feel of the franchise again, or the elimination of a curse in another stadium that served as a mental block to the team. 2008 was the Year of the Ray, and it is one I am glad I got a front row seat for all year long.

 

 


I decided to run this in chronological order from the first event in 2007, up until the final out in Game 5.5 of the 2008 World Series.


So let’s begin with the first order of business way back in November 2007, when the Rays held a rally in Straub Park near the waterfront in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event was the unveiling of the teams new logo and colors. The Uniforms were fashioned to represent the old style of baseball with a new Rays logo on both the home and away jerseys. The “R” on the uniform front posed a new sweeping motion for the bottom of the letter, plus the sunburst between the lettering also brought about a new look and feel to the organization.

 

 

The ray of light was a new focal point of the team, which abandoned the former Ray on the cap and also on the team’s official logo. But the Rays did get to stay for 2008 on the sleeve of the jersey, but might be retired in 2009. The event was to showcase the new look and feel of the team. And with it came a new spirit of winning and posting new attitudes for the team. And one of baseball’s biggest supporters came out and celebrated with us. Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West came out and entertained the masses after the unveiling and rocked the house all the way up to the fireworks display.

 


Then came the last Spring Training reporting for the pitchers’ and catchers’ to the Ray Namoli Complex in Northwest St Petersburg. The team came out onto the field and Rays Manager Joe Maddon had a small speech in which he wanted to stress fundamentals and team work and chemistry in 2008. That was the day he unveiled his famous “9 =8 ” formula for the world to decipher for the rest of the season.

 

 


Then came the first event that molded and formed this band of players into friends and bonded them for the rest of the year. In the day prior to this event, the Rays Elliott Johnson had made a hard charge into Yankees’ minor league catcher, Francisco Cervelli a few days earlier. The event did not sit well with the Yankees’ staff and during the March 12th rematch at Progress Energy Field, Yankees enforcer Shelly Duncan decided to take matters into his own hands.



Duncan was hustling on a hit into the outfield when he turned and made a move towards second base. It was apparent to almost everyone but Duncan that he would not be able to make it to the base in time to beat the throw. During his slide, Duncan brought his cleats up towards Akinora Iwamura and struck him mid-thigh with his metal cleats.  Duncan came up immediately and contested the action before right fielder Jonny Gomes came into the action and leveled Duncan to the ground. It was an event that brought the team together for the first time in 2008.

 

 


Then two weeks later, the Rays said farewell to their present Spring Training home when the team played it’s last game at Progress Energy Field ( Al Lang Field, Waterfront Park). The game was met with sadness and joy because of the memories of teams playing on these grounds since the 1940′s in this present stadium. The event also was a visual point for the team to showcase the new proposed stadium that might some day rise on the same grounds.

 

Eric Hinske hits a one-out double during the Rays' two-run second inning. He tripled in the fourth and homered in the sixth.

 


Or could moments like Eric Hinske missing a cycle by a single. It is amazing to me that he went 3-4 on the night and got his triple and homer early in the contest at the Walt Disney complex, but could not get that elusive single.  Hinske ended up being one of the true bright spots for the Rays in the Free Agent market. He signed for a low number, but produced high energy and some pretty impressive offensive displays during the 2008 season.

 


Then we have the first sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home this season. That would only be the icing on the cake as the Rays would send the Red Sox faithful home as losers in 8 of the 9 games at the Trop this year. The  first series at the Trop. would end with a hard fought 3-0 shutout by James Shields.

 

Then comes the moment where Rays Manager Joe Maddon thinks the Rays season began to turn into its championship run. It was during a road trip up to Toronto when the Rays battled back from a possible loss. Edwin Jackson left the 8th inning with a Ray lead before Troy Percival gave up 4 straight singles to let the Jays tie the game at 3-all. The teams battled back and forth before Dioner Navarro, who went 3-6 on the day hit a screamer into the stands for a Grand Slam homer and sealed the victory for the Rays.

 

 


On May 13th the Rays got to celebrate for the first time in club history as the team officially took over first place in the American League East. It was the latest point in any Rays season that the team had enjoyed the top spot.  The game produced one of the first moments in the Rays 2008 history for celebrations when  pinch runner Jonny Gomes came on for Cliff Floyd after he singled in the bottom of the 11th inning. Gomes stole second, then sprinted  home to seal the victory for the Rays 2-1.

 

 


Then came the L A Angels first visit to Tropicana Field, and the Rays shut them down to also sweep that series. Then came in the mighty Chicago Cubs for a three game Inter-League series that was deemed by many to be a possible World Series matchup. During this series, the Rays finally began to get some national exposure for maybe being a true team that could win it all in 2008.


But not until after the June 19th game, in which Carl Crawford hit a grand slam to propel the Rays. The team had officially beat the best team in baseball all three games did the national media begin to get on the Rays bandwagon. Cub’s Manager Lou Pinella commended the Rays on their young squad, and you could see a small twinkle in his eye that he approved of the young team getting the best of his team that series.


 

 


On June 27th, Rays starter Matt Garza was on the mound in a game against the Florida Marlins and gave up a blast to Hanley Ramirez in the 7th inning to produce the only hit and run in the contest. Garza went on to shut down the Marlins’ offense the rest of the game.

 


According to the Elias Baseball Bureau, It was the first complete-game no-hitter or one-hitter with a double-digit strikeout total in the majors this season. There was only one such pitching performance in each of the last three seasons: by Chris Carpenter in 2005, John Lackey in 2006 and Justin Verlander in 2007.

 


On July 19th, the Rays won their first game back after the All Star break to break the team’s longest losing streak of the season. With the Blue Jays in town for a weekend series, the Rays went on to break up a perfectly good pitchers’ duel on a Ben Zobrist homer on the first pitch he saw tonight. Toronto starter A J Burnett was on tonight, but the Rays caught a huge break on a hanging breaking pitch to Zobrist for the victory.

 

Rocco Baldelli gets the shaving cream pie treatment after driving in the winning run in the ninth.  (AP)

 


While the Rays were at home on August 30th they got to celebrate a first in Rays history. With the 14-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles, the Rays posted their 82nd win of the season. Marking the first time in franchise history they were guaranteed a winning season.  It also marked the night of Scott Kazmir’s 10th victory of the year.

 

The mystic of Fenway Park was beginning to get the better of the Rays in 2008 before Scott Kazmir took the mound on September 10th in a series the team needed to keep their lead on the Boston Red Sox.  It also began one of the most storied moments in Rays history. During the contest the Rays batters went a combined 1-15 with men in scoring position and almost gave the game to the Red Sox several times. As the team fought back and forth before the Rays sent up a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning.  

 

 

Dan Johnson had been summed from the Durham Bulls earlier in the day and would have started in left field if he had gotten to the ball park a little earlier in the night. But because of flight problems and transportation to Fenway Park, he arrived just moments before the game. In the 9th inning, Rays Manager Joe Maddon inserted Johnson into the game to pinch hit against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Johnson worked the count to 3-2 before he hit a monster shot that cleared the right center field wall to give the Rays a 5-4 lead in the game. Jason Hammel ended up coming out in the bottom of the 9th and secured the win for the Rays. It was Hammel’s first save of his career.

 

 


With the team away for their last series, it was actually the next day when most Rays fans learned that we had secured the American League East title the previous night in Detroit. With the Rays in Motown for the last series, many players came back to the clubhouse to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. It was a wild fact, but players and staff went to area hotels sports bars to do a bit of  scoreboard watching as the New York Yankees needed to lose for the Rays to be awarded their first title in team history.

 

 


After the hard fought season, the Rays staged a airport greeting for the team at St. Petersburg/Clearwater airport on September 29th. The event was attended by almost 5,000 people who flocked into the baggage area and loading zones to greet and cheer the team as they got off their chartered flight from Detroit. People filled the airport and also the outer traffic lanes of the airport to see their new champions come in from their road trip.


 

 


On October 6th, the Rays were in Chicago facing the White Sox when they secured their first series win in the American League Divisional series. The Rays won the series 3-1, and established that they were the team to beat to get to the World Series in the American League. In that series, the Rays battled back time and time again against the tough White Sox pitching staff before finally breaking through and getting right breaks.

 

 

When the Rays faced the Philadelphia Phillies on October 23rd, they sent James “Big Game” Shields to the mound. The game  showed the waking up of B J Upton and Carlos Pena at the plate as both help produce much needed offense for the Rays. In a play featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Rocco Baldelli came across the plate for an apparent Rays run, but Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz held onto the ball.

 

 


The game came down to great situational hitting by the Rays. B J Upton scored Akinora Iwamura from third to plate the first run for the Rays.  In the 4th inning, the Rays took a hold of the game after Cliff Floyd hit a single and Dioner Navarro hit a nice liner up the middle to put two men on base for the Rays. Baldelli then hit a nice shot down the third baseline, but it was gloved by Feliz and the Rays had men on the corners. Jason Bartlett then came up and executed a safety squeeze perfectly  in front of Phillies starter Brett Myers to put the Rays up 4-0. It would be the Rays first victory in the Fall classic.


 

 


Last, but not least is the Game 5.5 as I call it of the 2008 World Series. No matter what happened in this game, the historical significance was more pressing at the moment. The contest was a hard fought contest and each team traded runs and hits before the Phillies finally walked away with their second World Series Championship.

 


The game was a true test of everything that got the Rays here in 2008. The Bullpen, which was the team’s focal point in 2008 had finally given up a run at the most critical moment in the contest. And the Rays offense could not close the gap when needed during their last at bats. with Eric Hinske striking out for the last out of the game.

 

 


All of these events made a different focal point for the Rays in 2008. I hope a few of your fond memories have graced the blog. If I forgot a moment that you found remarkable in 2008, please feel free to comment on the blog and I will check into it and might even make it my number 1 choice tomorrow.  Again thank you to all the readers of Rays Renegade for their insights, comments ans readership in 2008.

 

Hopefully in 2009, I will have more outstanding Rays moments to record for you.

Could the 2009 Yankees be Channeling the 2008 Tigers?

 



 

I was thinking the other day about all these signings by the New York Yankees for their pitching staff, will these moves guarantee that the team will be better in 2009. On the surface, it looks like the team has made a huge upgrade in talent in their pitching staff, but does that always commute to a championship, or even a playoff berth. You only need to go a less than 500 or so miles to the west to get your answer here. Just because you took the Hot Stove season by surprise doesn’t put you in the playoffs in December.

 

In 2008, oddsmakers, fans and  legions of experts ( including the talking heads in Bristol ) declared the Detroit Tigers  the early favorite to win the whole enchilada after their blockbuster 7-player deal with the Florida Marlins.  That deal was completed a little over a year ago at last season’s Winter Meetings  when they pickjed up vital cogs , pitcher Dontrelle Willis and  power hitter Miquel Cabrera.  Along with the other upstart pitching they had, the Tigers looked like the runaway favorite to crush the American League Central enroute to a playoff berth.

 

In fact, it was a player outside of that 7-player  merry-go-round who made the most impact in 2008. In a little thought of deal with the Teaxas Rangers, the Tigers picked up a young thrower, Armando Galarraga. During the season,  Galarraga went 13-7, with a 3.73 ERA to be the standout pitcher, not the veteran Willis, who spent most of the year fighting control and delivery problems.

 

 

 

At one point in the season, Willis was pitching in the Class-A Florida State League for the Lakeland Flying Tigers before coming back up to the majors late in the season for the Tigers.  When he did come back up, he had a poor performance in his 9 appearances, going 0-2, with a 9.38 ERA.  Cabrera also got off to a rocky start , was playing musical chairs in the infield, and finally ended up at first base before righting his ship in 2008.

Cabrera did get the offensive side of his game going, and ended up strongly in 2008, but it a example of a little too much too late as the team was by then buried in the cellars of the American League Central division. By the time the entire team rebounded and played solid ball, it was too late and the dream was shattered as the team ended the season in the cellar of the division.


 

 

 

The 2008 Tigers are a prime example of the fact that big splashes do not always guarantee wins in this league.  Some times the act of acquiring great players doesn’t add up in the wins column. They got a bit blindsided in a deal for Edgar Renteria where they gave up a promising  righthanded starter, Jair Jurrjens, who went an unexpected 13-10, with a 3.68 ERA over 188.1 innings for the Atlanta Braves.  Jurrjens ended up 2008, being a consistant  pitcher for the Braves, and exceeded the teams expectations for him at his young age.

Tigers starter Kenny Rogers got old quick during the season.  Reliable inning-eater Jeremy Bonderman got hurt, and Nate Robertson and Justin Verlander did not have the expected seasons, actually showing decreasing numbers and suspect pitching at times during the year. With the season seemingly going down the tubes, the team even traded away power-hitting catcher Ivan ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez to the New York Yankees at the Trading Deadline.  Rodriguez at the time was in a offensive decline, which added to the Tigers; frustrations during the season.

 

So we come down to now, a year later, and the New York squad  hit the neon-clad Vegas strip for the Winter Meetings with their purse strings wide open seeking the ‘ miracle fix’ for their upcoming season that showed the Yankees struggled all season long to even stay out of 4th place in the Americna League East.  The team came into the Winter Meetings with an aggressive plan to upgrade and take the  best players on the board back to their new  shiny and sparkling cathedral to start the rebirth of promise in the Big Apple and reclaim the legend that is the Yankees.


 

 

            

 

The Yankees did seem to hit the jackpot early this off-season and made the biggest splash in the pool so far in the league, but will it be enough to even guarantee a playoff berth for the Bronx team.  Two days after the Yankees signed C.C. Sabathia to a seven-year $ 161 million dollar  deal, they agreed to give A.J. Burnett  a five-year, $ 82.5 million dollar payday. With the Yankees still having their purse strings open, they might even still bring in another ace like Derek Lowe, or even solid leftie Andy Pettitte  might come back to his old locker and play again for the Bronx bombers in the new digs.

 

There is still speculation that sluggers Mark Teixiera and even Manny Ramirez might even pack their respective West Coast bags and head to the City that never sleeps.  With targets like that, can the Yankees even still claim a divisional title or even a Wild Card berth in their own division.

 

Most would these deals put the Yankees on the front burner in the A L East, or will they struggle against the up and coming Rays and Blue Jays, and the always offensive-minded Boston Red Sox. Both of the teams that the Yankees looked up at in the standings in 2008 come back for more with consistant squads both in the offensive and pitching departments. And the Blue Jays and Orioles can battle with the best of them when the matchups are equal.

 

Both  Burnett and Sabathia had remarkable seasons in 2008, and should warrant a upgrade in  their salaries and a better chance to claim a World Series ring, but will 2009 be that season, or will it just be the first year building up steam for future runs at the trophy. The once powerful Yankees offense still  still seems to be churning on 7 cylinders in the off-season, with both Abreu and Rodriguez not in the fold any longer, can the pitching upgrade bring the team’s  sudden offensive holes to a small diameter.

 

 

 

Hank Steinbrenner must now channel his best imitation of his father and figure out a fast fix for the offensive lineup of the Yankees.  Two mainstays, A-Rod and Derek Jeter are back for another season, and should have consisitant years, but first base has a hole, rightfield is an issue, and catching must find an offensive leader to carry the team. Jorge Posada might finally move from behind the plate and be the upgrade the team needs at first base, or Designated Hitter. But that still leaves a huge hole to fill in rightfield.

 

 

Do the Yankees throw a bushel of money at Ramirez and move Xavier Nady to right and camp Ramirez in the left-field corner of the new Yankees Stadium.  That answer might be forth coming in the next few weeks, but the issue of Teixeira maybe coming to the Bronx will be resolved in the next few days. He wants to have a solid playing location and residence area by the end of the 2008 year. With the clock ticking and money again being thrown at the top guys, can the pinstripes again be on a roll to the championship?

 

 

2009 is on the horizon for the Yankees, and with sure issues still going on in-house as to a payroll or even a roster, the team will plug and fill from now until Febuary. But can this upgrade on both sides of the ball even guarantee anything for them next year. Will the team go strong out of the gate and then suffer the curse of the Tigers in 2009. Or will an unsuspecting injury or injuries take the wind of out of the 2009 sails by May. This is the game of baseball, nothing is a sure thing, and no one player can take this team on their backs and lead them to glory.

 

The Yankees do look like the team to strive to beat every game in 2009, but all the Yankees have to do is look to the west and remember the pre-season expectations of the Detroit Tigers to remember that nothing is guaranteed in this game…………Not even the price of a hot dog and a beer.

 

 

 

 

The Hot Stove season is not over yet, and either slugger could make a huge offensive weak spot strong again. But the Yankees need to be smart and not just try and fill a hole, but fill them with the right players who will be productive for the next 4 years. The A L East has become a battleground, with the Yankees finally showing age and weak spots in 2008. Can they totally hide those spots, or will there be more signings and better numbers to follow in 2009.

 

Speculation is that the team is not done firing up the pen and signing a few more checks before all is said and done. By the time the team hits Tampa for Spring Training, the entire middle of the lineup might have a new feel. But this by no means is an indication that Yankees will need ‘ Hi, I’m_______  badges for the first few days after pitchers’ and catchers’ report .  

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