Results tagged ‘ Ben Zobrist ’

Rays Inspired World Cup Squad

 

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It is the World’s game. Only in our country does the sport heard ‘round the World take second, third or maybe not even a fifth fiddle. The globe embraces the sport of football, or as we Americans have dubbed it, Soccer.

With our own United States men soccer team showing their grit and glory by winning their first matchup against Ghana in this year’s World Cup last night, I thought it might be fun to pencil in my own Rays World Cup squad based on the current members of the Rays 25-Man roster.

Instantly most of you would wonder why a Baseball blogger would want to write and create a Soccer squad. From the age of 10 to 21 I played either as a Sweeper or on the left-side of the turf on local Men’s leagues (FSSL), on the All-South select U-17 travel teams and spent my 16th summer in Malmo, Sweden working out with that vistas reserves team.

Heck if you look over at the blog photo on right you will see a photo of me playing indoor soccer, so I have the knowledge and know what it takes to play the game.

Of course the Club Rays team’s Managers slot is already taken as you cannot discount the philosophical and game day rhetoric of Joe Maddon. Heck in a lot of ways he might even be a better communicator and guru to young minds than the current USA Manager Jurgen Kilinsman.

downloadI decided this Rays Club needs to play a 4-3-3 alignment which is 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 3 forwards. We all know the Rays claim to fame in the last few years have been defense, so a line with a left, center, right fullbacks and a sweeper manning the gaps seems as a perfect lineup to help keep games close and with minimal scoring (hopefully).

So let’s start at the last line of defense, the goalkeeper position first. I am going to pick Ryan Hanigan as he has shown he has the ability to block balls in the dirt, move around with grace under pressure and will come out of goal and sacrifice his body for the team. Most people would think I might pick Jose Molina as a back-up, but I chose Alex Cobb as much for his leadership as for his attention to the little things and would be a great communicator back there.

That being said, my defense will also have a few wily Rays vets manning key spots, and even a few surprises to some people. My left fullback has to be someone committed to defense as well as have good sprinting speed to defend an opposing winger who is usually the fastest guy on the team with the ball.

For some reason Jake McGee fits that spot for me. He is a big body guy who should be able to keep his shoulder square to the ball and ride a winger off the ball if he wants to proceed towards the touchlines or the goal box. On the right side I’m going with a gut feeling that Yunel Escobar will be a mirror image of McGee and keep the crosses from getting to the goal mouth and has the closing speed to thwart long passes into the box.

images (4)Center fullback is a tough one. I want to get a big body in there, but more in height than in weight. For that reason I chose Grant Balfour who at 6’2” has a bit of a nasty streak, highly competitive and if he chats to the ball, that might scare a few opposing forwards from going up the middle of the pitch. As long as he keeps his back to the goal, I think the snarling Aussie should shut down any middle of the field dribbling and long range shots.

As for the sweeper position I wanted to give that slot to someone who can be both an offensive and defensive weapon. Someone who can be that 4th utility defender as well as crash up into the offensive zone for corner kicks, help take free kicks and set a few boomers toward the goal. Perfect weapon for this Rays Club squad would be Sean Rodriguez.

Now onto midfield, or the engine room of this team. We already know Evan Longoria will wear the Captain’s band and has the grit and stamina to man the center midfield slot and his ability to give out orders and command respect will have opposing defenders marking him tight, so I want my outside midfielders to have a burst of speed and great ball skills.

soccer_300x77My selection for left mid will be James Loney. I picked him as much for consistency as for his bursts of power which on free kicks or fouls way outside the box his kicks could free Longoria and the forwards to jockey for inside position on the opposing defense. My right midfielder would have to be Ben Zobrist. I do not know if Zorilla is ambidextrous on the soccer field, but if he was he would be a great fit to the usual attacking side of the field and could center passes or do flanking moves or U-runs down the line for crosses into box.

That leaves the forwards line. Here I’m going for the tall man in the box and shifty runners down the outsides or who can change directions and do crafty diagonals into the box for short chips, passes or provide ball in the air for headers.

So with me wanting to capitalize on speed, it is no secret the left wing has to be Kevin Kiermaier who seems to have a sixth sense to getting into position for the right play and who is one of those players who brings a new level of excitement to the team.

download (1)Right wing has to be another speedster as I pencil in Desmond Jennings for this slot and will call upon his quick first burst for great offensive moves and set plays. Add to the fact Jennings did play in that other brand of football, I think he will be a great target in the air for headers and taking a defender out of his position for scoring opportunities at the top of the goal box.

That only leaves the center spot. I had to go with someone here who has leadership, respect and plays on a different level at times. The obvious and clear choice for this spot was David Price.  One of the glaring reasons is his 6’6” frame can rise a good 3-4 inches above most defenders for headers and I think he has the foot skills and dexterity to pull off picture perfect passes and provide 110% throughout the contest.

Of course this Rays team will have great and skilled substitutes on the bench like Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore,  Joel Peralta, and I might add Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi to the mix as we all need a true “enforcer” on our soccer team.

images (2)I know there will be debate about my choices, but I think this squad could do some real damage on the pitch, provide some spectacular scoring chances and picture perfect goals as well as keep the score low and within reach of the Rays offensive unit.  Well it’s time for me to set the ball on the middle dot and get this Rays Club team going. Besides, you can always vent your thought at Rays Soccer Night Friday, June 20th.

What? I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines and watch this team, I would make the perfect Referee plus I want to see this match at ground zero, not in the stands. And besides, St. Petersburg,Florida like the Rays is home to the 2-time North American Soccer League Champions, the Tampa Bay Rowdies who play on the Rays old Spring home. Florida Progress/Al Lang Field.

Now if I can just get the linesmen to keep Jonny Gomes from running onto the turf, we would be golden. 

 

Rays Photo Day Shows Both Sides of the Rays Personalities

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You never quite know what sensibilities are going to “play out” when the Tampa Bay Rays let photographers bring about their own illuminations on the team’s character, or is that characters. You only have to look back to the Feb. 25, 2010 Rays Photo Day shots where the photographer that day used the natural sunlight of Florida as sparkling and illumination points on the photos of that season squad.

2010Sure they were embarking on a new strand of light called the post season that spring and the Sun made more than a few spectacular effects in a variety of photos from that spring’s squad. Then in 2013 it seems the Rays photos were a bit more subdued than usual with some playful spots of individuality, but the photos overall seemed to illustrate a unison or harmony among the troops.

Of the 26 photos already released from the Rays 2014 Photo Day, there is again a underlying theme that clearly is visible and unique all to the Rays way of team chemistry. This spring photos show a calm, a essence of a more tranquil and centered squad of players who see that goal in the cross-hairs and calmly and professionally plan to be the team that “eats last” come November 2014.

eatslastYou see a more relaxed Papa Longoria with the Rays leadership crown solidly planted upon his head along with fellow Clubhouse General David Price presenting himself quite Zen-like in his photos awaiting the approaching Opening Day more with zeal than strife.

But then you have the other side of the Rays coin also displayed in the type of Gasparilla-infused notions and action of Rays reliever Josh Lueke both in his biting of a baseball, to juggling and possibly showing that some fun must come with all the stress of competing and delivering your goal.   

wjbjI enjoy seeing the fight and fire as well as the comedic notions that make up a M L B team. Not everyone can be serious all of the time and sometimes that moment of tongue-in-cheek humor or even dawning a gladiator’s mask can deliver more energy and fight into a group than any Knute Rockne oratory.

The Ying and Yang of this year’s released Photo Day shots also shows the ebb and flow that will ultimately exist within the Rays this year as leaders and jokers can come together tone their antics and abilities to the highest achievement levels and produce memories and events that we will speak about for years.

LLMEFrom the high points of  Longoria who with a consistent effort in 2014 should ultimately by-pass and become the sole Rays all-time leaders in such categories as HR, RBI, Extra Base Hits, doubles and Slugging Percentage before the end of 2014 to Myers who will again be called on provide the same kind of energy, production and raw unharnessed spirit that saw him take home an American League Rookie of the Year trophy, this team will rise and fall on both the chill moments and chaotic scrambles that make up a 162-game campaign.

pllbSure this is but only a 26 frame cross-section of the character and characters of that will become the heart and soul of the 2014 edition of the Rays, but if this is any indication of what we might have in store for us for a 162 game haul…..I’m ready to buckle in and take the rough with the fun for it’s almost time for the games to matter and I can’t wait for that last day in March………..But I don’t think Lueke will have to eat too many balls this year because this team looks and sounds hungry enough to push it to that last meal….and maybe have room for a champagne-infused dessert.

All photos taken by Zimbio.com photographers. They do so many other M L B teams photos each spring. Search their website for your team’s spring photos. I do have a Facebook link with the latest 26 and any additional Rays Photo Day shots I find past the submitting of this blog post.

# 20 and 14’s Roles Could Define 2014

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It’s not only odd but a bit perplexing that the numbers have added up in this order this year. # 20 and # 14 will be numbers to watch in 2014 and each could have a huge impact on just how far the Tampa Bay Rays go this season. Seems like I’m waxing a bit too poetic that these two players could be such key pieces to the Rays puzzle in 2014, but sometime reality can be both bizarre and prophetic.

jhgfdbvAt no other point in the Rays history have 2 numbers aligned in such a way that they could be considered linchpins on how the season could or should progress or ultimately regress. Rays outfielder Matt Joyce and David Price  both separately and conjoined have the talents and abilities to make magic happen upon Tropicana Field’s AstroTurf, but each also come into this spring with question marks attached to their names.

Now this is not to suggest either will go down with an injury, be traded or be the anointed saviors that could decide the 2014 season. This is to suggest that possibly the addition, subtraction meshing of these two players could decide more than just victories and defeats, but the Ray’s final pitching staff formation or outfield rotation decisions.

Questions will need to be addressed quicker rather than later. I still feel that Price is not on solid ground on if he is living in Port Charlotte, Florida in mid-February or will be calling another vista his home this spring. With Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees) and Matt Garza (Brewers) off the pitching “wish lists” around MLB, more than a few courtiers could come a-callin’ around the Rays hoping to make one last huge push for Price’s services in 2014.

That being said, could the Rays be secretly able to keep Price no matter the $14 salary weighing on their 2014 payroll, or just being coy knowing someone will offer up just the right bite and the team take it knowing they have pitching talents already in-house who could step up the ladder and perform at a higher level this season.

th70R7PW3ZIf Price were to be with the Rays come March 31st, will another clock begin a countdown to the Trade deadline, or will the team effectively ever put a “No Trade” sign on Price for the entire season no matter if they are a post season race or treading water come the end of July.  A “price-less” Rays rotation could consist of a 1-4 slots with Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and possibly Alex Colome or Jack Odorizzi manning the 5-hole.

You also have to wonder if this whole situation of Price not being on solid ground with the team showing adamant solidarity for Price staying with the team even at this point is not eating at him mentally and emotionally that he is possibly just a phone call away from leaving this team and wearing different colors from today until possibly August 1st.  Confidence plays a huge part of the prep game for a pitcher coming into the spring as they gain that fortitude, that intensity and want to succeed as Spring Training and game evolve. Could not having a solid foundation under Price possibly wreck a bit of havoc during his Rays starts in 2014, or could he essentially be counting the days until his trade in the recesses of his mind.

th20TY036CPrice’s mindset and words from today on will echo loudly as to his progress or regression this season. From a pitching standpoint, Price holds a lot of instability coming into this season. Not on his talents or abilities, but if he will possess the aggressive nature and instinct we are accustom to, or have something pull his usual game mode from him. As much as Price holds some key questions for the team’s pitching prognosis, Joyce could be at a definite crossroads as to his role both in 2014 and in the future with the Rays this season.  

How the Rays decide to use Joyce this season will definitely define his future with the team, but also could signal if his own journey might end with the Rays. Joyce definitely knows his role on the Rays in 2014 will be different than any other time in his tenure here. With Desmond Jennings retuning and the resigning of David DeJesus combined with the third addition of AL ROY Wil Meyers beginning his 2nd tour with the team, suddenly Joyce might find himself as a 4th outfielder on a team with so many variety of player options.

uytrfbIf you also factor in the option of Ben Zobrist, Jayson Nix or even newly acquired utility man Logan Forsythe into the mix, Joyce could find himself after Spring Training possibly even lower in the mix and teetering on possibly not making the final 25-man roster. But that is thinking too far ahead right now.

Honestly Joyce could see more time at the DH spot and be a relief or late inning outfielder than as a consistent figure in the outfield this year.  Joyce has been given the time to address his southpaw woes at the plate and has shown some confidence, but as of his 2013 performances against lefties has subsequently been sheltered from left-handers at all costs.

hgfdWe do not know yet if Joyce had addressed this in the off season, but hopefully the Rays will put Joyce in enough leftie-on-leftie situation to either give the team more confidence his hitting abilities against non-righties or pigeon-hole him to spot duty or trade him off knowing they have some depth in the utility roles to suffice his elimination.

2014 was going to be so key for the Rays even before the questions arose concerning #20 and #14. Hopefully they can be banded together this season as offensive and defensive strong points for the team to help the Rays go to an awesome 5th post season spot in 7 seasons.  Only time will tell just how important those two numbers will be to the Rays success.

Nix Has That Special AL East Knack

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Versatility in baseball can make you a solid career. Being able to play a multitude of position both in the infield and outfield can get you shots other players do not get. Even though INF/OF Jayson Nix has not put up substantial numbers during his trek across the MLB landscape his bag of many different gloves might just possibly keep him with the Tampa Bay Rays.

th (2)I was glancing at comments on the Rays signing of Nix to a Minor League deal which by all normal purposes has a major league invitation to Spring Training in Port Charlotte,Fl and one stuck out at me as if it was highlighted. “Smart move. Another Zobrist type except Nix has better wheels.”- MrSativa.  Certainly will not hurt Nix’s chances of staying past March that he has been exclusively in the AL East over the past 3 years with the New York Yankees (2012-13 seasons) and the Toronto Blue Jays (2011 season). Even more enticing possibly to the Rays is the simple fact that over parts of Nix’s 6 year Major league adventure he has only spent 1 season outside the American League (Colorado Rockies-2008).

Combine his versatility along with familiarity with American League pitchers and their arsenals, and you might see Nix as a possible plug-in player into a multitude of spots on Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s Chess board. You can definitely bet if Nix can secure a utility spot on the Rays 25-man roster his versatility around the diamond might be overshadowed a bit by Nix’s 19 stolen bases in 23 attempts over the last 2 seasons. Having a guy like Nix on your bench in a close game, which the Rays seem to have more than most MLB teams,  a pinch-runner like Nix can be a great weapon to have especially in the late innings or with a slow-running body nestled 60 feet from a lead.

th (8)Not to say Nix’s only asset to this team might be the fact you can plug him in almost anywhere but First Base or Catcher, but having a speed guy to replace the departed Sam Fuld, Nix would give Maddon a great option when the time might call for a swift change in the game’s flow. Of course Nix doesn’t bring a huge amount of offensive prowess to the Rays evident by his career .218 average with 37 HRs and 127 RBIs over 6 seasons.

But hidden inside that same bit of career stats is the fact over the past 2 season in which Nix has had 505 plate appearances, he has also produced his highest consecutive career batting averages (.243 and .236). If Nix can again find the power stroke he had back in 2009 with the Chicago White Sox (12 HR) or 2010 with the Cleveland Indians (13 HR), he might a bit more of an offensive pop off the bench or in a utility role.

Worst thing is, this is January and every player looks like a gem in the rough right now and could be a missing piece or nice addition. By his last 2 seasons in the Bronx, Nix has shown he can be a vital cog in the overall 162 game season as he appeared in over 74 games both seasons. That kind of stat could become a vital and substantial machine cog if someone in the infield or a corner outfield spot goes down with an injury in 2014.

th (3)So maybe MrSativa is right, Nix might be a great addition to the Rays . I mean a multi-faceted speedy player who also has ample experience playing in the toughest division in baseball can definitely be a great tool to have in your game day toolbox….Sounds kind of like the same description giving about Zobrist when he arrived in St. Petersburg. 

Welcome aboard Jayson, it’s going to be a fun year!

Bad Luck Follows the Rays on the Road

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I want to be the first to stand up and applaud new Tampa Bay Rays James Loney and Shelly Duncan for their vocal barrage from the Visitor’s dugout railing tonight as they snipped with merit at the horrific job Home Plate Umpire Marty Foster made on the last pitched ball during the Rays 5-4 loss against the Texas Rangers.

c2s_rays040913_10589862_8colBelieve me if the Rangers had any deputy powers, they should have arrested Foster for impersonating a Umpire, but I digress. Seriously though, if the Rays were to lose that game even with their hottest hitter , Ben Zobrist at the plate, it should have been a ground ball, missed swing, not a called third strike to end a highly contested game that came so far out of left field Rangers closer Joe Nathan might have been the last person on the field to notice the game was over.

You can be sure there will either be a voice mail or a nice cordial phone call to Foster from someone within the MLB hiearchy, possibly his immediate supervisor asking him if he drank a frothy beverage as the teams changed positions for the top of the 9th inning instead of guzzling a nice, cool Gatorade. And the worst thing is you can not fathom or find a suitable excuse like the usual hot and hostile Texas heat or gnats that descended from purgatory (Texas) to make the sight lines into the Texas catcher’s glove impossible.

This was purely and truthfully just a blown call that possibly seconds after it’s conclusion Foster wishes he could take back or get a proverbial “mulligan”. And these things happen during a 162 game season, but it didn’t need to happen to this Rays team who struggled back to within a run of changing the outcome and who were still nursing a TKO in their Sunday home matinee.

tampa-bay-rays-v-texas-20130408-201736-861But maybe this is the way the Rays will have to find ways to win in 2013. Possibly the high hype of their return to glory 5 years after their first surprising rise has more than a few people casting spells or making voodoo Longo dolls or Hellboy personas.  But the Rays did have chances before this moment and could of taken the fate of their resurgence out of Foster’s hands before the top of the 9th inning.

On the same day their might Tall Texan, Jeff Nieman decided to partake the knife and sideline himself for the rest of the 2013 campaign, this team needed some sign of impending good fortune and change of fortune. The problem was as in in most Texas sagas, the man in the black cap shot the Rays in the foot and took their victory off into the sunset.

Maybe we can find a way to blame the call on long-time Rays nemesis and current Rangers catcher AJ Pierzenski, he was the guy who framed that last pitch for Foster…….Nah, Foster blew the call.

Longoria Admitting his Error Shows his Leadership Maturity

One of the greatest traits a leader can have is admitting they are not perfect and just as the rest of us can make decisions that can be called into debate or discussion. Last night Tampa Bay Rays Clubhouse leader and Third Baseman Evan Longoria proved he was a leader and took responsibility for his error in his aggressive base running judgment during the Rays attempt to rally towards a possible 9th inning overtaking of their divisional foes, the Baltimore Orioles, but Longo’s gaffe might have been to try and amp up the energy for the rally, but it just as quickly put the Rays on their heels.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130404-162917-201Some say it is a cardinal rule of baseball to never just watch the ball, but also have a keen visual on any base runners in front of you to keep just such a situation of coming to fruition or costing your team a must needed chance to pull out a possible victory. Depending on which school of thought you adhere towards, either Longoria was wrong by watching the ball, or was being aggressive with a possible 9th inning rally in mind. Either way, it might be up to your own interpretation, or at the very least your viewpoint and visual judgment when viewing the above video which showed both the Rays and Oriole’s broadcast crews.

If you did not see the play, it occurred in the bottom of the 9th with the Rays trailing 6-2 to Baltimore and followed a lead-off plucking of pinch-hitter Sean Rodriguez and a Ben Zobrist single to right to put two runners on the base path with no outs in the inning. Longoria then hit a ball deep to left-center field that was played off the upper portion of the wall and then the unfortunate again raised it ugly head.

009Zobrist is a calculated and safe runner. Since the ball’s path was blocked by the advancing fielders, Zobrist had to play upon the hunch it might still be caught and he would have to jettison back to first to avoid possibly being involved in a double play situation. Longoria who has that aggressive nature to his base running that has be haphazard before with at least one instance involving Zobrist in the past felt the outfielders could not make the play and was looking for a double and possible triple on the play.

This is where the error of Longo’s search for that vital punch to the Oriole’s chances took a solid uppercut to the Rays proverbial jaw. Longoria in his haste to make this a possible 2-RBI moment over ran the lead runner (Zobrist) and in that situation was immediately called out by First Base Umpire James Hoye which then had Zobrist stop his progress at Third Base and Longoria producing the first out of the inning. This did not ultimately destroy the Rays chances of securing additional runs in the inning, but it did hamper the game strategy that Rays Manager Joe Maddon could employ if there was no outs and two runners in definite scoring position.

Some will banter that the Second Base Umpire and Crew Chief John Hirschbeck should have convened a small meet with Home Plate Umpire Jim Reynolds who had a better visual vantage point as to if Longoria had passed Zobrist or if the two had been in the same area without cause for the out decision.

011If you look at the video, Longoria is strutting at quarter speed when he rounds first base possibly remembering his past base running mistake where he also passed Zobrist to produce an out in that past contest. The true angle or vantage point of the video doesn’t make it concrete in either decision’s direction, but the visual angle from behind Home Plate could have been a secondary check mark to Longo’s gaffe, or been a reason to question the play all together and have the Umpires convene for a discussion.

MLB Rule 7.08 (H), clearly states that any base runner is to be called out when he “passes a preceding runner before such runner is out”. Hirschbeck’s clarification in his decision was that this movement was akin to a runner missing a base and stated the situation “was kind of the thing you see or you don’t”. Maddon himself situated on the top step of the Rays dugout had a different point of view to the situation and possibly might have been the one person off to the side of the play besides Reynolds who could of see if Longo did in fact pass Zobrist or lagged a bit behind him as a precaution to having just this type of event unfold again for the pair.

All in all, Longoria did admit he was not running full speed and was watching the flight of the ball intensely with regard to possible extra bases, but he also did admit he did not know where “Zo was, but as soon as I saw the ball hit the ground, I took a hard step. And it seemed when I took that one hard step, I saw Zo to my left”. ”

014Some might find fault in Zobrist in this instance because he is a more careful and less flamboyant base runner who didn’t want to be a factor in losing this game due to a base running gaffe. With his Zobrist’s visual sight lines blocked by the advancing outfielders to the ball off the wall, he erred on the side of caution and in that moment could of set the wheels in motion for this gaffe, but he doing so to prolong the inning and not to be overly aggressive on a play that still could have been made by his sight angle.

In the end, it was great that Longoria did not throw anyone under the bus about the incident but took the right path and accepted the responsibility as well as showed he has grown as a leader of this club plus is willing to admit an error in judgment. Some players might have immediately pointed their finger to the runner in front of them or gone off full nuclear towards the Umpires, but Longoria used tact and accepted his plight the way a leader should and that commands a bit of respect.

But please Longo, the next time this situation comes during a game, please error on the side of caution, especially if you have a conscientious runner like Zobrist in front of you. Making this same type of mistake 3 times in your career is not a charm.

Of Course You Got to Re-Joyce About This Moment

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Boom goes the dynamite….and it couldn’t of happen to a better player. Tampa Bay Rays RF took a hanging pitch from Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter deep high and into the seats for the Rays first win of 2013 in the classic walk-off fashion.

201304032124770819669-p2What better way for the Rays faithful and the dugout to remember their first victory of the season than seeing @sweetswing20 (Joyce’s Twitter handle) doing the circle around the bases and jump into a impromptu team meeting at Home Plate. I know I’m not the only one who hopes a moment like this jump-starts a killer season for Joyce as he has been one of those guy I truly feel should have a chance to play every day…even against those nasty lefties.

201304032128773019683-p2As anyone who has followed the Rays for even the slightest amount of time, Joyce has somehow been put in bubble wrap and stuffed on the bench against most left-handers, but I think this season Rays Manager Joe Maddon needs to put Joyce in a few key slots in the lineup against capable southpaws and see if Joyce rises to the occasion or Maddon’s insight is warranted and Joyce platoon with Zobrist or any other guy Maddon feels has the advantage against lefties.

201304032133776149722-p2Maybe all Maddon needs or should do is take the blinders off and let Joyce either make his case to play against both right-handers and lefites, or be banished to platoon duty and be the key component against right-hander in left or right field. Joyce has shown before he can hit left-handers if given the chance, so maybe it is time to rely more on your capable young player than keep doing the lineup merry-go-round based on the side of the rubber a hurler uses.

Matt JoyceWednesday Joyce made a huge statement in not only securing the Rays first win, but also showing he can be the guy to get the Rays the needed offense if his name is called more often. Of course the season is young, and maybe Maddon will release the reins a bit this year and get Joyce some quality plate appearances against lefties, or he will be pigeon-holed for good not only with the Rays, but with any other team that might want to take a chance on him if the Rays ever decide they need a guy who can hit pitchers that hoist the rock from either side of the hill.

If I was Maddon, I think Joyce has proven he can get it done, but imagine what he could do if he played daily. I think a few pitching staffs would shudder at that thought.

Rays Opener Produced a Mixed Bag of Moments

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Baseball defines itself by its unscripted single plays and moments that can easily decide victory or defeat. Where the crack of the bat meeting the ball can electrify a crowd, a defensive play that illustrates brilliance can boost your confidence for success, or a misplaced pitch left flat and lifeless can become a isolating factor in the contest.

201304021221444815482-p2These moments and more showed themselves vividly on Tuesday afternoon as the Tampa Bay Rays opened their 16th Major League baseball campaign against divisional rivals, the Baltimore Orioles. The Rays were riding a 2-game home opener winning streak and with a third win in a row could get Rays Manager Joe Maddon back to the .500 mark in his Rays tenure. Instead, the Rays showed us all the ways they have improved over the Winter, but also gave us a quick dose of reality that some things still need some fine tuning to succeed in 2013.

Rays ace David Price took the hill hoping to begin another trek towards a stellar season, but some crafty hitting and patience by the O’s hitters bore into the small holes of opportunity and had Price on the ropes early in this contest. Sure Oriole’s sluggers Adam Jones and Chris Davis had great starts to the 2013 season against Price, but C Matt Wieters seemed to be the biggest nemesis to Price on this day.

201304021528557035843-p2Not only did Wieters stake Baltimore to a 2-0 lead in the 1st inning, but his 13-pitch at bat in the top of the 3rd inning that ended up as a walk, which included 8 foul balls did load the bases for a potentially bad situation, but a Davis ground ball to Yunel Escobar began a nifty double play that ended the inning without any further incident. Wieters did have a secondary effect on Price that his long plate appearance did elevate Price’s pitch count and hastened his exit from the game after 6 innings.

Jake McGee then came on in the 7th inning and made a few pitch location mistakes. Jones made the first impression with a 2-RBI to deep left center to give the Orioles the lead again at 4-3. Misfortune again reared her ugly head for McGee in the inning after he intentionally walked Wieters and David blasted a 396-foot 3-run Home Run to right and posted the eventual runs needed to secure the O’s first win of the new season. McGee just never seemed comfortable out on the mound yesterday and might have thrown 18 strikes in his 25 pitch outing, but the Baltimore hitters made his exit swift after 2/3rds of an inning.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130402-125456-149Mistakes happen in ballgames, that is par for the course. A pitch that stays flat or doesn’t break away from the plate is destined to be put into play and bad things can become the immediate result. Both Price and McGee had moments of flatness in this game and it cost both of them dearly with McGee getting the loss plus posting up a ballooned 67.50 early ERA. Both pitchers will find their grooves and make amends this season, but their small mistakes on this day definitely played into the Rays breaking their home opener streaks and taking Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s career home opening day mark to 3-5.

But there were also some moments in this contest that made you not only feel good inside, but built upon the confidence that a few pieces that falters at times in 2012 have been fixed and made great starts to building confidence on the field and in the stands. All around the field yesterday there were defensive plays and great moves on the base paths that showed this team again has that attitude that no game is decided until the 27th out. That kind of mentality will pay huge dividends down the road and even in this initial loss, we saw more than a few reasons to think our defensive debacle in 2012 has been rectified.

201304021523553955827-p2Evan Longoria definitely showed he is psyched for 2013 with 2-straight impressive defensive plays in the top of the 5th inning with the second play coming with a throw on his backside at third against the speedster Jones with his throw bouncing across the turf until James Loney secured it to end the inning. Sam Fuld who replaced Matt Joyce in left also made his presence known as well as Ryan Roberts who replaced Ben Zobrist at 2B when Zorilla went to RF and SS Yunel Escobar showed brilliance on the pivot providing a crucial 6-3 double play in the top of the 3rd to stop the O’s scoring chances.

From the Rays first hit of the season, a solo Home Run by Zobrist to RF, to Desmond Jennings RBI double in the 6th inning then scoring on a Sac Fly by Zorilla. Jennings again provided some needed magic beating out an infield single to the shortstop, then stealing his first base of the season in the bottom of the 7th inning putting him in great scoring position to secure the Rays 4th run of the game on a ground ball to 2B by Fuld in the bottom of the 8th inning. These plays show great glimmers of hope the Rays offensive woes from 2012 might have also vanished over the Winter as the Rays employed both long and short ball concepts during this first contest.

baltimore-orioles-v-tampa-bay-20130402-154433-217All in all it might have been a mixed bag of results for the Rays, but the team showed the type of hustle and strive for victory you need when in the course of a season a single win or loss could decide not only your fate. I know that might seem a bit fatal thinking a single loss can be so detrimental to a team, but in this high contested AL East, especially against a division rival who wants to improve on their 90+ win totals from 2012, a single loss can put you behind the 8-ball early on in the season.

Tuesday the Rays might have come out on the losing end of it all, but there were multiple bright spots to show this team’s improvement and 161 more chances to grab back this loss and get on with the grand scheme of things this season…which is securing another ticket to play deep into October.

Do not forget, this season is the 5th anniversary of the “Miracle of Baseball”, and that 2008 Rays campaign also started off with a opening day home loss to these same Orioles ( 9-6).  And we all know how that season ended up…….Coincidence, I think not.

 

Rays to Hold Second Tweet Up

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If you are an avid Twitter fan and also have a passion for the Tampa Bay Rays, then you will be more than glad that the Rays have decided to resurrect a special night again at Tropicana Field just for the Rays Republic’s Twitter branch, or just those souls who love using their finger dexterity as well as enjoy a great baseball game. I  hope the rest of the Rays Republic are as excited as I am that the Rays again embraced the social media segment of their fan base and again brought a LIVE Tweet in to Tropicana Field.

 016I’m personally as excited as watching a walk-off victory ( which happened during the Rays 1st tweet Up), complete game shutout or possibly seeing another Rays player hit for the cycle. Who wouldn’t be excited about sitting just above the Rays Bullpen area tweeting our fingers to the bone while cheering on our Rays both on the web, and in person. 

Coming up on Tuesday, May 7th as the Rays take on their divisional rivals the Toronto Blue Jays, the Twitterverse will be completely congested again with Tweets and Photos from the Trop. It is truly fantastic that the Rays front office and their marketing department have again embraced the Rays huge social media  presence and again provide a chance for the Rays Republic to take another stab at possibly trending not only in Tampa Bay, but possibly Worldwide.

That is what I’m hoping happens that the Rays  Republic’s own Tweet Nation comes alive and provides a trending  experience we can all be proud of. Even if we just hold that sacred spot for a minute, the work, hustle and bustle would be a complete success. So that is a goal within our reach, one we can touch or type, to provide a Rays moment Worldwide. I love the sound of that personally.

035It is actually kind of ironic the Rays announced this recently as I was about to compose a blog posting asking them to again have just such an event during the upcoming season. I felt the first one back in 2011 went off without a hitch and the speech by guest speaker Emmy award winning  CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) was entertaining and informative.

hiUnlike the 2011 Tweet Up, the May 7th contest will take place with a First Pitch at 7:10 pm and not in the afternoon. The early evening and night scheduling of this Tweet Up should help to boost the Rays chances of getting that trending acknowledgment as well as show the true size of the Rays Republic’s social media segment. There will be a future announcement possibly via Twitter about a Guest Speaker that will also be on-hand with us Tweeting the night away.

028Just as the Rays did back in 2011, the team will furnish all participants who purchase tickets in the Rays Tweet Up special section a blue T-shirt sporting the event logo and your Twitter handle/name. On the evening of the event the Rays will distribute these shirts to the assembled masses, but you have to purchase your ticket by April 21, 2013 for you to have your shirt silk-screened and ready for the event. If you miss the deadline, you can still get a T-shirt, but it will have the @RaysBaseball handle on it instead of your own personal Twitter handle.

Also during this grand night of digital dexterity there will be drawings for autographed baseballs, game tickets and even a chance to possibly throw out the First Pitch that evening. I was a participant during the Rays first event that was held during an afternoon game and there was a great response and constant Tweets before, during and even after the game. I can attest to the fact that the Rays offer a great quality T-shirt, and you do have a chance to win prizes ( I won a Matt Joyce autographed baseball). I truly expect this second edition of the event to have even more rabid Rays fans using their fingers all game long, possibly even taking photos of other participants and driving up their follower base during this event.

065I have already bought my seat (Sect 128), and hope to see a huge turnout from the Tweeter branch of the Rays Republic. I’m looking forward to see so many of the Twitter followers that gaze at the Tweets from @RaysRenegade or @TheRaysRenegade during the season and 365 days a year. I fully expect the event to sell-out as the Rays Twitterverse has expanded so much since our first event back in 2011. If you still need to purchase a ticket and get into this grand night of Tweeting and supporting the Rays, here is the Tweet Up At The Trop page on RaysBaseball.com ro secure your T-shirt and spot within the Rats Tweeters area for the contest.

023Just as last time, any Tweet using the special event hashtag will have a chance to be displayed on the Rays Jumbotron during the Game and the entire group will be recognized by the Public Address announcer probably more than once that evening. This is one of those events where you can not only meet some of the people who pop up those funny and great Tweets during the year, but also a chance for you to bring in new followers, find possibly a few new friends to attend games with, and promote yourself and the Rays while watching a fantastic baseball game.

I got to warn you, I’ve gotten better since the last time at doing my Tweet in 140-characters or less…….See you there Rays Twitter Nation!

Baseball World Gets an Introduction to the Z-Factor

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I guess the secret is finally out on a global scale. Everyone who watched last night’s Team USA victory over our friends from the Great White North truly saw what everyone in Tampa Bay has known for a long time. Ben Zobrist is a heck of a ball player both at the dish and in the field and provides an unseen element to the game I have come to know as the “Z-Factor”.

AP_AZMD111_US_WHITE_SOX_BAS_10393916_8colMaybe it is a slice of karma that Joe Torre is the Manager of the Team USA World Baseball classic squad because he got to see firsthand that MLB maturation process of a young Tampa Bay Ray named Ben Zobrist as he cut his teeth on the most competitive division in Major League Baseball. And we all know the respect and admiration Rays Manager Joe Maddon has for the player he affectionately calls “Zorilla” for his monster plays in the field and at the plate for the Rays. Zobrist firmly is a player who has embraced Maddon’s “Rays Way” and is a firm Rays and MLB symbol of a player playing his life right on and off the field.

We all know Torre got a front row seat as the Manager of one of the Rays biggest rivals, the New York Yankees just as Zorilla was beginning to show his potential to everyone in baseball. Maybe a few of those vibes and moments stuck in Torre’s mind and he knew possibly tossing Zobrist’s name on the lineup could muster a few more special moments and possibly turn the Team USA tide onto the Second Round of the World Baseball Classic. 

usa-v-canada-world-baseball-20130310-162421-382You got to think there are many reasons Zobrist got a spot on the Team USA roster, not only because of his versatility to play anywhere at anytime, but also the fact his offensive game is also filled with that same unbridled versatility and variables. From Zobrist’s fine display and precision in the use of small ball tactics to move runners over or score runs to his potential to produce power from either side of the plate making him one of Team USA’s most versatile secret weapons, and one any Manager would drool over to have hidden on his roster.

It did bother me a bit that Zobrist did not get a chance until the third game in the Team USA World Baseball Classic, but if you really wanted to see Zorilla come alive and show his potential to everyone throughout the World, Sunday night’s contest showed why he is one of Team USA’s secret weapons and why Zobrist is a true asset no matter what game plan you envision for your squad. It was evidently apparent to Torre that Zobrist, who sometimes has as many as 5 gloves in his bag, was ready willing and able to do whatever it took to help Team USA fight off elimination last night.

Zobrist responded by showing the rest of the baseball World last night both at the plate and in the field why he is a vital cog in the Rays machine and could translate that same magic for Team USA in their “must have” contest. Zorilla showed his small ball proficiency with his bunting early on in the game and ended up gathering 3 hits in 5 trips to the plate including scoring a run for the victorious Team USA squad that sealed their trip into the Second Round meeting with Puerto Rico on Tuesday evening in the big MIA.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red SoxZobrist could have possibly had a 4th hit last night if not for his bat being a bit under an attempted bunt and watching as the Canadian backstop clutched the ball in his glove for an out. But last night the rest of the baseball world got to see the type of player we have enjoyed here in Tampa Bay ever since he came here along with former P Mitch Talbot from Houston in exchange for Aubrey Huff.

Not only was it a great night for Zorilla at the dish, but he also gunned down Canada First Baseman Joey Votto at Second Base with a precision throw that nailed him, but also prevented a Canadian rally with his outfield assist. Most people in the American League do not run on Zobrist when he is stationed out in the Rays RF, but Votto took a chance and Zobrist made him pay. I have a link on my blog of just how determined Zobrist is when tracking a fly ball as he hit the low retaining wall in RF just to the left of my usual seat and tumbled into the area after a huge thud. That is the kind of play and player that can act as a vat of emotional glue that can help tie together wins and brings the confidence of a team to a zenith.

Hopefully Torre has seen enough of Zobrist in this critical game to warrant another shot in the lineup as Zobrist responded to the Team USA challenge with flying colors and hopefully he did enough against Canada to warrant another right field start, or at least a late inning appearance against Puerto Rico. 

486489_539880946056093_234018978_nZobrist also has that special gift off the field and in the Clubhouse that inspires and gets people motivated not only by his style of play, but by his exuberance for the game and his passion to succeed. 

Zorilla is that type of guy you must have on your team, that motivator through his style of play that brings everyone’s level of play to the top, and boosts not only morale but the belief the game and a victory is firmly within their grasp. The Z-Factor has been rampant in Tampa Bay for years, maybe it was just time for the rest of the planet to also admire this truly gifted ballplayer as we do. 

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