Results tagged ‘ Ben Zobrist ’

Advantage Zorilla For Last A L All-Star Slot



With “Crunch Time” descending upon the M L B World quickly, I am going to put out a plead, a request, a recommendation as to who I believe should get the final roster spot for the 2011 American League All-Star slot. Of course I am going to be pushing the name of Tampa Bay Rays OF/INF/ Uber-Fielder Ben Zobrist for this selection.

Sure Detroit’ DH/C Victor Martinez will have the Tigers all roaring his name. The South Side of Chi-town will hail DH Paul Korneko’s stats to the heavens. Down by the Inner Bay in Baltimore, the O’s faithful will christen CF Adam Jones their unlimited votes, while Royals fans will try to push 3B Alex Gordon out of obscurity to claim the last spot on the 2011 American League All-Star squad.

Hopefully by the end of this blog entry I will have amply persuaded you to toss the rest of your voting selection towards Zobrist until the conclusion of voting late Thursday. So without further ado, let me state my case for Zobrist.

First and foremost, with a nickname like Zorilla, how can you not cast your vote his direction. Since 2008, this hybrid M L B player who has done everything on the diamond but catch and pitch has evoked the power of Godzilla and the finesse of Zorba the Great. The nickname alone would have ESPN broadcasters giggling like little school girls.

ADVANTAGE: Zorilla.

Out of the final 5 selections, only Martinez and Zobrist are switch-hitters that could be used against any of the National League hurlers. The added bonus of Zobrist being able to switch from any infield or outfield position with just a glove change makes him a double threat, and a nice secret weapon for the late innings when guys are shuffled around a lot. Martinez would be mostly a DH selection, which would be moot since the game is held in a N L park.

ADVANTAGE: Zorilla

Zobrist is always a double threat at the plate. Zobrist hit his 28th double on Tuesday which ties him with AL All Star 1B Adrian Gonzalez for the M L B lead. Zobrist  lead the majors with 12 doubles in June, and has 11 2-baggers in his last 21 games. At one point (June 17-20th) Zobrist doubled in 4-straight contests. Add to this list that Zobrist is also in a 4-way tie with 4 Triples this season and you see that he can be a run producing machine at this time.

Some will throw the fact that Martinez is hitting .324 at this moment, or Konerko has 22 Home Runs and 64 RBIs. Power is great, but these two players also do the most damage as either First Baseman or Designated Hitters, and as I stated before, this position is moot in an NL park.

ADVANTAGE: Zorilla

If you want to talk about solid defense, then again we must chat a bit about Zobrist. In his 223 career starts in the Rays outfield, Zobrist is still without a single error. Considering the ballpark he plays in at home, plus his constant adjustments to new parks and his evolution as an outfielder, that is an incredible stat.

With his ability to play every position on the diamond, or out in the field (besides catcher), the versatility of Zobrist makes him a clear choice as the other 4 candidates have defined roles and positions. Heck, I personally know he will dive into the stands for a foul ball. You will Remember this!

ADVANTAGE: Zorilla

Let me again harp back on Zobrist’s Extra Base prowness this season for a moment. At this juncture in the season, Zobrist currently has 41 Extra Base Hits. He had a total of 40 for the entire 2010 season. That total of 41 XBH ranks him 7th in Major League Baseball at this very moment. Add the bonus that 7 of his 9 Home Runs have come off of Right-handed pitching, and you get a nice pinch hit option off the bench for Washington.

Who could forget Zobrist’s memorable 10-RBI game back on April 28th against the Twins in Target Field. Zobrist also went 4 for 5 with runners in scoring position in that game. He ended up collecting 18 RBIs in 5 games. The last hitter to collect 18 RBI’s in 5 contests was Reggie Jackson (June 14-18 1969).

ADVANTAGE: Zorilla

I could go on and on with the accolades, a prior All-Star selection ( 2009) and the potential Zobrist has to be a key component in this contest that decides home field advantage for the 2011 World Series. This is very important, and was evident in 2010 as the San Francisco Giants rode a winning streak in Arlington, Texas all the way to their first championship since the team embarked for the California coast.

Zobrist has been one of the great Rays role models from his fight to getting to the majors, to his moral integrity and belief system. Plus, I know I am one of the many who would be more than thrilled to heard the beautiful voice of Zobrist’s biggest fan, his wife Julianna as she sing his walk-up song (The Tree) to a National audience. Heck, Zobrist might just get a chance to take the National League to “School ” too

ADVANTAGE: Double Dose of Zorilla All-Star Magic     

Take Me Out to the Ballgame-Renegade Style

 

I really love it when Mark Newman, our MLBlogs Professor gives us a ” homework assignment” when most of Major League Baseball has an “off day”. I have used this same JibJab system before to do videos during the season. So when the Professor asked the MLBlogs.com community to make up their own MLB-based  collage of personalities, you knew right off the cuff mine had to include the Rays Players Du Jour. I really love doing this kind of creative assembly, and hope to one day have enough skill and creative juices to mesh it into the perfect storm of stapled together videos.

Heck, I was a little disappointed when I first completed this video that I arranged the facial features where Rays ace David Price actually had a bat in his hand. But considering the video out there in YouTube-ville of him rounding the bases and doing cartwheels and somersaults, maybe it was the right decision in the end.  But there were a few dead on moments in this video. Watch carefully and you will see Ben Zobrist/Zorilla smash into the side walls and land with his body into the stands. Who can forget in 2009 when Zorilla actually came on over to the Renegade’s section and paid an impromptu visit on a foul ball. It was like Deja Vu all over again.

Who in their right mind will forget the the 2010 Christmas card sent by those adorable Starting five of the Tampa Bay Rays by the clubhouse band The Pitch-Outs. I mean the video even included a happy Matt Garza before his trade to Chi-town. Always felt I should have included “Hellboy” (2011 5th starter Jeremy Hellickson) in it, but the Rookie had to earn some stripes first.

Little by little I am gathering more expertise and a bit more flair with my cut, paste and assembly, but we always know it can be better.Had to include my new found Fantasy pick Matt Joyce who is slugging the ball with authority, with confidence, and with increasing distance every night. Seriously expecting Joyce to either put one in the Rays Tank, or bounce it off the Everglades BBQ Smokehouse roof before the 2011 season is completed. With Joyce presently leading the Majors in batting average (.377) which saw him advance his overall league lead by 27 points.

Cruising behind Joyce right now is a pair of Cardinals, Lance Berkman ( .350) and Matt Holliday (.349). With the Cardinals coming into Tropicana Field from July 1-3, that series could shape up into a showdown for Batting Average bragging rights before the All Star break.  And if you had to include an outfielder, how could I have omitted the man, the “Legend”, Sam Fuld. Made sure he was the guy holding the glove at the beginning of the video since his catch of a screamer by Juan Pierre of the Chicago White Sox is going to be a discussion point for “best play” throughout the 2011 season. Only thing can could have made that video untouchable, if it resulted in a triple play.

What video featuring the ever unfolding cosmos of Rays rising stars would be complete with out a Longo (Evan Longoria) sighting. Ever since his Gillette video produced about 20 miles South of Tropicana Field at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, YouTube and blogger throughout the word want to debate, relate and investigate the video’s truth, flaws and eventual controversy. Not since that guy in the Channelside District in Tampa, Florida stole his hat has Longo been such a media darling. Maybe that is why he had the AK-47…to protect from another cap theft.

Seriously, I had a blast popping this short video together that embodies even a slight slice of Americana of  our beloved baseball classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame“. Truly loved how Jibjab used so many funny and interesting configurations to pull of a pleasant visual presentation, and the addition of the 2011 Rays Fab Five of  Joyce, Longo, Fuld, Zorilla and last, but not least the heatseeker Price. Hope we can do this again some time this season, possibly around the All Star break when we can again all compile our favorite photos, maybe even a few of ourselves and put all of our great talents to work in a MLBlogs.com unison project. Do not know about you, but I got to hit replay and watch this video again….and again…..I think I am addicted to it now……Cool Beans!

You Win Some, You Lose Some… A Tale of Twofer’s


Not sure why, but this abbreviated 2-game series against the New York Yankees felt so bitterly anti-climatic. Made the fact that neither the Tampa Bay Rays or the visiting pinstripes can thrust their chests out as the absolute “ winners” or “losers” of this peculiar series.

Maybe the pure fact that each squad left the Tropicana Field AstroTurf on Tuesday night sporting identical 1-1 seasonal records took some of the emotional victory out of it all. We are going to have to get used to it this week as 2-games series will dot the Major League Baseball landscape as a way to get the MLB schedule in line for the fast approaching InterLeague showdowns starting this weekend.

It really felt odd during this series to not have that third game to push a bit of supremacy to one team for at least a little while. With only 2 contests in this series, it was hard to focus or even divulge which team might have an advantage in the final 16 games between these two increasingly bitter rivals.

Each of these contests showed a display of polar opposite styles of play with one teams just seeming to not be quite in tune, or just a step behind.

With the Rays playing under the .500 level at home this season ( 11-13), this series really had me worried since the Rays had not scored more than 5 runs in their last 22 home games. Suddenly in the 6th inning, the Rays finally found their missing cask of mojo and quickly posted 5 runs on the board in front of the home crowd.

Oddly enough, the offensive outburst came after Rays Ace David Price was out of the ballgame and did not fact into the decision. Their energetic explosion included 3 Home Runs and helped paced the Rays to their 24th victory of the season. The opening series win got the Rays on the threshold of possibly finally secure a .500 mark at home this season.

The Yankees came into this series with a bit of drama within their ranks, but possibly the loss to the Rays on Monday night pulled them together enough to put out a great effort on Tuesday night to supplant the Rays dreams of hitting that home .500 mark. These 2 games were as different as night and day for each squad as they took turns taking advantage of each other’s minor mistakes, missed pitch locations and each dug the knife in deep to provide enough momentum to secure a win.

The Tuesday contest started to show some signs of being a great pitching display match-up between Rays veteran James Shields and Yankee youngster Ivan Nova. Each pitcher made a few early mistakes and saw solo shots by Rays INF Elliot Johnson and Alex Rodriguez exit the ballpark into the grandstands before the Yankee began to fluster Shields to produce a second error to Rodriguez, plus spot the Yankees to a 4-1 lead.

Somehow the Rays did not have the guns to provide a second night of lighting up the Trop’s roof orange and could only muster another run thanks to a Ground Rule double down the Rightfield line by Ben Zobrist in the bottom of the 9th. 6-2 was as close as the Rays would get as Mariano Rivera came on to get former teammate Johnny Damon to ground out to first for the Yankees 21st win and gain a game on the Rays.

But the night was not without drama. Well, at least on the Rays side of the coin. In that last inning, Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach hit a high fly ball deep into the stratosphere of the Trop that seemed to bounce off one of the infamous catwalks.

In every video replay you can see without a doubt the path of Yankees Leftfielder Brett Gardner was alter and diverted by the “ping-pong” action of the ball as it careened off one of the overhanging steel structures. Gardner did somehow position himself under the ball even with a last moment change in his body direction to bring the ball into his glove.

Initially it looked like the ball had hit the C-ring, which would award a solo Home Run to Shoppach. Rays Manager Joe Maddon urged Home Plate Umpire Gary Darling and the rest of the crew to convene and discuss the play for a possible review.

The Umpire crew made the right decision to review the play as it was not clear by television replays whether the ball bounced off the B-ring, or the C-ring. One would produce a Rays run, the other the second out of the inning.

In the end, the Umpires got it right as post game video showed the ball struck the B-ring on its lowest point before heading towards the C-ring. That made it a catchable ball resulting in the inning’s second out. This contest really wasn’t that close, but the Rays have a habit of last inning heroics, and at that moment Rivera was not in the ballgame.

When you play a divisional rival, you love that third game so you can vocally display your pride. This 2 game series basically added a single win to each team’s record, provided some interesting fodder for the future contests, and above all showed that these 2 squads are closer in abilities than their payrolls suggest.

Sure I would have loved a second win on Tuesday night to provide a statement by sweeping the Bronx Bombers, plus the addition of finally getting back to a .500 record at home. With the Rays heading out on a 8 game road trip, which includes a 2-game series in Toronto, plus 3-games series each against the Tiger and Marlins before the Rays hit the comfort of home Turf again.

By ending up the series at 1-1, it did not give either team an advantage in the American League East division except take one win away from each other. This series did not have the usual pomp and circumstance of a Yankees stroll into the Trop, possibly having a bit of the internal drama within the Yankees organization stealing some of the thunder of the match-up.

These two high powered squads will not mix it up again until a 4-game series (July 7-10) in the Bronx as the last series each team will have before the All Star break. In the end this abbreviated series got each team’s feet wet in their 18-game seasonal series.

Gave each team’s pitchers and hitters a quick glimpse into what each team has to offer, and what changes need to be implemented before their next battle. Still kind of weird that here we are in mid-May and this is the first time either team has played each other in 2011. I guess you win some, and you lose some, even in the battle of the MLB schedule

Prove Me Wrong “Briggy Baseball”…Please!

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When the Tampa Bay Rays traded SS Jason
Bartlett in the off season, I was hoping that young shortstop Reid
Brignac had made the transition needed to play on a daily basis and
provide a stop gap up the middle using the assets of his outstanding
athletic ability.

Having a solid and consistent bat to go
along with a brick wall defense would just be the delicious icing on
the proverbial cake. But something seems to be missing. What I have
seen so far this season is a young player who is still trying to find
his groove.

Your alter ego “Briggy Baseball” has
the defensive chops to play at this level. I am still waiting for
that player we have seen the past 2 Springs that seemed to punish the
ball both at the plate and in the field. Somewhere, somehow this guy
who produced some dramatic defensive moves and provided more than a
few gasps has been MIA in the Rays infield.

Maybe I am being a bit too critical
here right now since the Rays staff and the front office must have
seen the potential and commitment intertwine as you must have made
the needed steps to sprint over the hump ans was the perfect
candidate to replace Bartlett.

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I wasn’t expecting a early season
hiccup of 3 errors and a .971 Fielding Average with 25 games under
your belt. Do I push that under the category of “growing pains”
as you learn the position full-time, or do you need a little more
work than we all originally diagnosed.

Please prove me wrong over the next 10
days. Come on Briggy, you have the talent and the moxy to push out of
this sluggish mode and provide a solid game day performance as the
Rays try and raise the Rays win levels. A good guy in that shortstop
slot will go a long way in securing a few wins.

I want to overlook an early potential
fielding error when there was some miscommunication between you and
Second Baseman Ben Zobrist when no one was covering the bag when
Toronto OF Rajai Davis stole a base in the first inning. Blue Jay OF
Cory Patterson, who is a left-handed batter was at the plate, and if
I remember, when a base runner steals off a left-hander, it is the
Short Stop’s responsibility to cover the bag.

It might have been a slight malfunction
made more interesting by your acrobatic save of the ball not going to
the outfield wall by hurling you body perpendicular to the turf and
grabbing it on the bounce like it was designed that way. If someone
would have been there to catch a great throw by Rays catcher John
Jaso, it would have been another caught base stealer on Jaso’s stat
chart.

I have seen more than a few plays in
the field by you in this young 2011 season to make me think it is
just an on-field adjustment for you, but do we have the time to wait
for all the pieces to be pushed into place? A .971 Fielding
Percentage is above average for a young player…over 162 games, not
a stitch over 2 dozen starts.

If you glove is having a bit of a
problem, it can be compensated by bringing the lumber at the plate,
but you are hitting at a .240 mark against right-handers (like
tonight’s starter Brandon Morrow) and has struggled profusely to post
a disappointing .125 against southpaws. Coming into 2011 you were a
.268 hitter against right-handed pitching with 9 career Home Runs.

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Instead you are hovering at a .206
average right now with no Home Runs and 4 RBI. Brignac has not had a
extra base hit in 31 games, the longest drought in Rays history.
Interesting enough, the former streak of 29 games without an extra
base hit was by former SS Bartlett back in 2008. Tonight you have
gone 0-for-2 with a nice bunt, but still you are just a bad game away
from meeting Mr. Mendoza.

Do we have to post up teammates Elliot
Johnson or Sean Rodriguez at your spot when Southpaws hit the mound.
I had such great expectations for you since your rookie campaign
where you ranked in 3rd among rookies with a .256 average
4th in RBIs (45), and 4th with 8 Home Runs. You future to
me looked bright as the Rays sunburst.

But I am beginning to worry more and
more with each ball hit towards the hole if the athlete in you is
clicking that night. Becoming more anxious when you hit the plate,
mostly against right-handers now and you seem to have lost that “pop”
that produced a stellar .367 average.

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Somewhere between Opening Day and now
the lines have crossed somehow. Briggy you are better than this both
on the field and at the plate. Adjustments have to be made now, or
you might see yourself sitting more and more and might lose that
chance to compete nightly.

Maybe going back to “Briggy Baseball” basics is the best solution. You have one of the best infield
instructors in Coach Tom Foley in your clubhouse, maybe sitting near
him when you are on the bench against right-handers will make the
bells and whistles finally begin to chime for you.

I really want to see the “Briggy
Baseball” persona we have fallen in love with over the past 2 seasons
to rear its charismatic head. You have the talent, now it is time to
show all of us why you are here and not back with Triple-A Durham as
you figure things out. Please prove me wrong Briggy….I double-dog
dare you…..Please.

Rays Machine Churning and Burning Right Now

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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




Pitching and Defense Providing Perfect Harmony

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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

Rays Steamline 2011 Ticket Stock Player Selections

 

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Something is afoot within the Tampa Bay Rays organization. It has become a bit of a tradition for the Rays ticket stock to have at least 6-8 of their high profile or ” up and coming” Major League Baseball players showcased on the season ticket stock given out before the season. But in 2011, that number has dwindled to 3 Rays players and Rays Manager Joe Maddon.


The Rays Manager is a great selection, with his slogans, mantras and now slimmed down glasses front and center in the “Rays Way” of thinking. Not every MLB Manager is treated like a rockstar, but Maddon has produced some amazing results in his short tenure and winning a AL Easts tile for the second time in 3 seasons tends to make you a front and center piece of the puzzle.


The three Rays players picked this season to emblazon the tops of the Rays tickets are starting pitcher David Price, All Star Third Baseman Evan Longoria and the “Zorilla” himself, Ben Zobrist. Missing is usual staples like Starter James Shields, B J Upton or even up and coming catcher John Jaso.


Heck you might even think the Rays would showcase the addition of Manny Ramirez,or Johnny Damon since they have included them in the promotional giveaway items for the season. Maybe the Rays are considering them possibly Trade Deadline roster deletions or not wanting to promote their short term players.


Even with the “Manny dreadlocks ” destined to possibly be in-house in the Rays Team Store by Friday’s Home Opener, it seems a bit “safe”, possibly even a bit “vanilla” for a team that always seems to be stirring the palate with new and interesting bright ideas.


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But the Rays decisions on the three highlighted Rays players gracing the ticket stock were great choices. How can you not include Price in the mix as he was the 2010 Warren Spawn winner, thew starting pitcher of the 2010 All Star Game and one of the top AL Cy Young candidates. Longoria is another simple no-brainer because of his top 20 MLB player presence, another Gold Glove and a string of All Star appearances.

But the addition of Zobrist as the third and final Rays player on the ticket stock is a bit curious to me. His 2010 stats took a bit of a backwards slide compared to his break-out 2008 season, but he is genuinely likable and has that killer nickname.


His elevated 2011 salary ($ 4.5 million, 3rd highest on the Rays payroll ) and the increased offensive demands on him in 2011 might become a possible marketing implosion. Got to say I have a bit more faith in Shields getting his act together than Zobrist, but I am personally hoping I am also wrong about Zobrist’s 2011 season.


You would have thought the Rays might promote starting SS Reid Brignac a bit more since he is going to be a significant cornerstone of the Rays defense in 2011. Or possibly play up the possibility of OF Matt Joyce finally getting a fair chance to compete more on a consistent basis possibly finally showcasing what he’s got since his trade here from Detroit in what seems like eons ago.


Was the obvious overlooking of Rays Rookie starting pitcher Jeremy “Hellboy” Hellickson a calculated move, like Brignac to keep the pressure off the pair with an eye to future promotions and possibly a marquee spot on the 2012 ticket stock. It might seems a bit perplexing to overlook the dynamic pair, but the pressures of their Rookie campaigns along with finding their own MLB grooves might take presence now.

With the remodeling of the Rays Bullpen, the Rays could not effectively focus on anyone in the Bullpen except possibly RP Andy Sonnanstine or J P Howell as a per-Spring Training Rays Bullpen member who might outlast the late March purge to possibly make the final 25-man roster.



TB20111.JPGBut maybe that is the underlying theme of this season. Maybe the Rays knowing so much change has evolved since the end of Game 5 of the ALDS that a step back might be more productive at this point than thrusting a fist full of players in the faces of Rays fans with a chance for a few players setbacks or departures during the late end of the season.


Already this is looking like a season that will be a bit more subdued, possibly with the team following more of the mainline MLB “status quo” than being outwardly flashy and “in-your-face” off the field.

Maybe I am just a creature of baseball habit here, a fond admirer of the Rays past tradition. Maybe it is also time for me to adjust to a new Rays direction.

 

Sure I am a bit disappointed that the Rays players on the ticket stock got streamlined to a small handful this season. In this case, for me personally, more is definitely better.

 

 

Tampa Bay’s Own Casey Kotchman Added to First Base Mix

 

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Zimbio 

Anyone who has attended a Rays game in the past knows that when Casey Kotchman came into town for a series, there was a line at the Visitor’s dugout. Former teammates, Kotchman Baseball School students, coaches and even friends have been known to surround the dugout rails for a moment with the former Seminole High School star before Rays games. Now the Rays dugout might be feeling that pressure as the Tampa Bay area product is coming home to play for his hometown Rays.

The addition of Kotchman today to a $ 750,000 minor league contract with incentives could become another fine tooled feather in the cap of Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman as he pieces together another contending ball club. It instantly fills a need for the Rays, plus provides another ounce of proven ability to a club most thought was going to roll over and die for a few seasons.

The signing of Kotchman shows the Rays value ability as well as staying within the limits of their thin pocketbook, and might be another off-the-radar pick-up by the frugal Friedman. Bringing in local star Kotchman could also have a clear double-edged sword effect on the Rays roster this Spring.

In one clear instance, this move will automatically raise the level of corner infield talent and ability at the First Base bag and provide a great measure of not only healthy, but needed competition between Kotchman and Dan Johnson this Spring. On paper, this signing might look a bit one-sided with Kotchman winning by a landslide the defensive side of the overall 1B equation, but as we already well know, the mind of Rays Manager Joe Maddon doesn’t always follow common baseball logic.

Kotchman has appeared at First Base 581 times in his MLB career with Los Angeles/Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston and Seattle. Johnson has only manned the First Base bag only 21 games total in his Rays career.

You automatically see Kotchman as a key defensive replacement for departed past Gold Glover Carlos Pena. Even though Kotchman, who sports a .998 lifetime fielding percentage including only one error in 116 games for the Seattle Mariners during the 2010 season, it isn’t as clear cut on the offensive side of the numbers.

With both Rays First Baseman taking their swings from the left-side of the Batter’s Box ( same as Pena), the ultimate winner of this Spring battle might come down to a few more intricate pieces of either players arsenal such as OPS, RISP. And possibly strikeouts. All First Baseman indications prior to the signing of Kotchman seemed to be focused on a Ben Zobrist and Johnson platoon, but the addition of the sure handed glove of Kotchman might actually provide a bit of outfield controversy this Spring.

The Rays Brian trust must have a plan in mind prior to this signing, and possibly a platoon action could be configured also with Kotchman and Johnson in mind. Looking at their offensive numbers, Kotchman has not produced as fluidly as he did from 2006-2007 when he was with the Angels.

Then again, Kotchman has been kind of pigeon-holed offensively over the past few years in platoon action while with the Mariners, Red Sox and Braves. If Kotchman can prove that his .219 average and 75 points fall off his slugging percentage was a fluke, he could see significant starts at First Base for the Rays. Kotchman actually on paper looks a bit like Pena in that when he gets into a solid rhythm at the plate, he can turn on the magic.

I still think it is Johnson’s spot to lose. The Rays have kept Johnson close to them for a few years for some reason that defies some of our own logic. Possibly the Rays have the gut feeling that with extended playing time and at bats, he can return to his pre-2007 offensive numbers he held while a member of the Oakland A’s. Back then, Johnson hit 42 Home Runs in 3 season and produced 162 walks.

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BleacherReport

I want to wax poetic here and think that Johnson’s 2008 Home Run against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon was the greatest HR in Rays history, but some think it was the right guy at the right time only. Personally I would love to see Johnson get an extended 2011 try at first for the Rays, but considering his batting average against right-handed pitchers hovers below .200, but Kotchman only get a slim lead based on his own .239 average against righties.

An interesting tidbit is that Kotchman went 1 for 10 (.100) on turf in 2010 while Johnson only went 13 for 63 (.206). But if you look at a factor like On-Base Percentages, Johnson has a slight leg-up on Kotchman .343 to .280. It might just come down to something as simple as run production and game day match-ups to decide who out of this pair might get the nightly starting nod.

With runners in scoring position, Kotchman sits closer to .300 against both left-handers and right-handers while Johnson sits under .200 against right-handers. The numbers tend to bunch both of them close into a possible platoon situation with Maddon again possibly tinkering with his line-up nightly to get the slight edge. It might ultimately come down to plate discipline. Johnson’s posted a 25-to-27 walk to strikeout ratio while Kotchman leaned more towards the strikeout 35-to-57 in 2010.

By no means does the signing of Kotchman signal the end of the Johnson idea at First Base for the Rays. It just muddles the waters a bit and provides each player with a dynamic where they have to produce to get a shot at manning the bag full-time. But each player seems even in regards to right-handed pitching, so neither has a solid chance to cement their name on the line-up just based on which side the pitcher lines up on the mound.

2011 has been a year of surprises so far for the Rays. The addition today of Kotchman has to be viewed as a positive move by the franchise to give the Rays more depth and defensive ability going into Spring Training. Going into the February 20th report date for all players to the Rays Spring Training Camp, I am going to give a slight edge to Kotchman at First Base. I still think it is Johnson’s to lose, but I got to support and root for the hometown guy…Sorry D J.

High Noon Rays versus Rangers Showdown

 


 

Did we possibly see the Texas Rangers today accidentally awaken a sleeping Rays ball club. Could the Rays offensive explosion in the 8th and 9th innings tonight be a by-product of the outstanding pitching performance being provided tonight by Rays starter Matt Garza. With this sudden burst of often elusive firepower coming from all sides of the Rays line-up, could this game prove that the heart and soul of this Rays squad is still very much alive and pumping some extreme energy ?


Tonight’s game truly looked like a team slowly awakening from a slumber of the lumber when the once offensively dormant Rays finally pushed across their second run of the American League Divisional Series in the top of the 6th inning. Could this Rays team have finally wiped the sleep dust out of their eyes and become the solid hitting machine this team needs for the rest of this series. Or could tomorrow be more of a return to form of Games 1 and 2 anemic Rays offense. Interesting sidebar point in this ALDS series is that the home team has not won a single ballgame, or been in a position to win after the 8th inning.

19 other times in modern baseball lore, an American League club has gone down 0-2 in a ALDS with only 4 teams (1995 Mariners, 1999 Red Sox, 2001 Yankees and 2003 Red Sox) having the stuff to fight back from the brink of defeat to solidify themselves and eventually take the ALDS series. Interesting enough, the 2001 Yankees were the only team (before the 2010 Rays) to fall behind 0-2 at home. Could it be a great omen that the 2001 Yankees completed their ALDS comeback and went on to win that season’s World Series?.

Before tonight’s 6-3 Rays victory, the Rangers had outscored the powerless Rays 11-1 and out hit the usually potent Rays offense 19-8 over the first two games of this ALDS. Tonight the Rays belted out a 11-6 hit advantage over the Rangers, and made the red clad Texas crowd take their brooms back home under their arms. The anemic Rays were truly pitiful at Tropicana Field, hitting a paltry 1-13 ( .077) with 9 strikeouts with runners in scoring position before tonight’s offensive awakening.

Tonight the Rays were 3-9 with Runners in scoring position, a massive improvement with the Rays trio of Carlos Pena, B J Upton and John Jaso all providing key hits to score or provide insurance runs to show support for the 4 Rays pitchers that took the hill tonight. It was a solid team effort from a team that looked puzzled and bewildered before they boarded a charter flight to Texas after Thursday afternoon’s contest.

Rays hitters produced an impressive 11 for 37 ( .336) mark tonight as the Rays saw a total of 173 pitches, 50 pitches more than the hometown Rangers. To throw a quick comparison with their prior two performances, in Game one the Rays saw 136 total pitches and only managed 6 hits with one Rays Ben Zobrist getting 2 of those hits and their only run. Game 2 saw the Ranger pitching staff throw 135 pitches with only 2 hits with only Willy Aybar hitting an extra base hit (double).

 

The way the Rays offense woke up today was remarkable since the rays offense had only produced 3 extra base hits and a solo run ( Zobrist HR) before the Rays produced 5 extra base hits tonight, including Home Runs by Carl Crawford (solo) and Pena (3-run HR). How dramatic was the Game 3 turnaround of the Rays? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one other team has begun a preliminary postseason series (ALDS/ALCS) with no more than 1 run and no more than 8 hits in their prior two contests (2009 Boston versus Los Angeles Angels). Tonight that statistic is just dust in the wind as the Rays kept from being swept and sent packing by the Rangers.


Finally this Rays team is beginning to hit the ball like the American League East Champions. All along you knew the power and the strength was within them, but now they are bringing it to the plate and providing more than enough ammunition to defeat the Rangers. But the hard work is far from over. Will the Rays formulize an effective hitting and pitching scheme on Sunday to provide the fourth losing game in this ALDS for the home squad.

The Rays will be sending rookie right-hander WD-40 (Wade Davis) to the mound tomorrow afternoon with a chance to again take the Rangers to the Trop. for a one and done possible rematch of lefties David Price and Cliff Lee in the decisive Game 5.

Some within the Rays republic have questioned the idea of starting Davis in this key Game 4, but I feel he has more than shown his maturity and value throughout this 2010 season. Davis has been one of the most solid rookie pitchers in the American League in 2010, but might have to throw the game of his career to get the Rays in solid position to win this contest.

But going into this game, Davis’s had won 7 of his last 8 starts, with only a non decision to blemish his record since coming off the DL. His only non decision came in Game 162 with Davis’s start last Sunday in Kansas City on the last day of the regular season. Since July, the Rays have won 9 of his previous 13 starts. Davis finished the MLB season leading all AL Rookies in ERA (4.07), winning percentage (.545) and was second in innings, starts and strikeouts behind only Baltimore rookie pitcher Brian Matusz.

More importantly, Davis has been gaining more consistency and control as he took the mound in his last 7 starts, and finally seems to be very comfortable in his MLB skin. That bodes well for the Rays, and a solid first five innings could prove to be a vital key to a possible Rays win. If Davis can keep this game close or possibly scoreless and let the Rays offense get their new found hitting on track, this series could definitely be headed for a fifth and final contest.

 

That has to be the front and center the motivational centerpiece for the Rays right now. If they take their new offensive awareness to Rangers starter Tommy Hunter tomorrow, then their fate will definitely rests in their own hands. But if they falter, it is going to be a long Fall and Winter for the Rays 25. But the ice has been cracked, the Rays once lifeless bats have been awoken to bring about a Game 4 old fashion Texas showdown.


Game 4 will officially begin just past high noon (12:07 pm CST) in the Fall Texas sun, but it will be definitely hotter and more humid with every hitter from both team’s who step in the Batter’s box tomorrow. Both squads desperately need a victory for another step towards bringing another page of history to their respective franchises. If the Rangers win, it will be their first postseason series win in their club’s Washington/Texas history.

If the Rays are victorious, they are still on track to become only the fifth team to come back from 0-2 to be in line to possibly win their once lop-sided ALDS series. It is time for the Rays ultimate “Feel the Heat” motivational scheme to further push the Rangers new fangled “Claws and antlers” into the background. Sounds like the perfect Texas mano-on-mano style gunfight. Wonder if the Rays will come firing blanks or multiple bazooka rounds in this high noon showdown?

Price is simply “Money”

 
 
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I am not sure why it is that in baseball, everyone seems to have to have a nickname. For some ungodly reason they have to have a secondary name plastered to them to solidify their inner baseball being, plus the fact that inside jokes tend to run the gambit here. They can be as simple as a name play on someone’s name, or could be a direct correlation to an event within the sanctum of the baseball society, but everyone has to have that ” alter ego” to play the game.

On the Tampa Bay Rays there is the names like “Big Game” (Shields) or “Zorilla” (Zobrist) and the always cool and sophisticated “‘Los”. I mean every player that is on the Rays roster has some sort of moniker pushed onto them by either the fans, media or even team mate, and eventually it begins to stick and they respond when you callout these names to them. Some take some hard work into the background stories like “Bossman Junior“( Upton) or even “Dirtbag” (Longoria), but after the long search and research about these names, you see a level of respect and admiration thrust upon the names and the players you might not initially thought would be possible.

But then you get the clever ones who partake in a more intellectual attempt at procuring their names to maybe use a dual advantage like Wade Davis acquiring the number 40 jersey so you could use his initials and his jersey number to thrust up a kinship to America’s #1 lubricant ( WD-40). Then for some odd reason names also tend to evolve during a player’s career and get adapted to define a moment or action that characteristic to that player like the “Spitting Cobra” for the persistent spitting of resin from Rays starter Matt Garza’s mouth.

But then there is the opposite effect of some of the shy members of the team that get adopted their natural state of origin like the “Tall Texan” (Niemann). Even the staff have their own nicknames and coy little turn of phrase namesakes like “Sugarbear” (Ramos), the “Professor” (Maddon) or even “The Enforcer” (Cursi). But that is what you expect from a group of people who are around each other for 162 games a year, plus Spring Training, and hopefully a month of great postseason action.

But there is one member of the Rays who has gotten a name attached to them that I do not totally agree with at all. For some reason the media has pushed the “King” label onto this player when a more apt name can be devised and should be attached to his monetary persona. I really think attaching “King” to the front of Rays pitcher David Price’s name is a bit too…simple. And for the sake of argument, Seattle hurler Felix Hernandez had it first, and fit’s the crown more right now.

 

With that in mind, then it is time to furnish Price with a more honorable moniker that fans, media and even his team mates can attached to his game persona and we all begin the long task of making sure it stays firmly on his presence for a long, long time. Most people know about Price’s obsession with the South East Asia delicacy known as Pho`. The body and broth of this amazing soup dish can be complex but simple with the addition or subtraction of its numerous ingredients. I know I heard a long oratory once where Price commented on a Pho` he got while the Rays were in Seattle, and it immediately pushed me towards a Chef and one of his common phrases as the perfect name for Price.


Guy Fieri is the host of the Food Network shows “Guy’s Big Bite“, and the acclaimed series “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” , which I consider one of the best food shows ever to be created…bar none. With that in mind, I think we need to dissect the “King” that so many have attached to Price’s baseball persona and infuse another name that also speaks to one of Fieri’s most astounding phrases. It is a phrase that has taken in by the ethnic disparity of America and has been embraced and nurtured to become a part of our culture all with five little letters.

The Fieri Flavortown dictionary defines this special word as being ” the top, providing a cranial obsessive formulation of superlatives and taste sensations that evoke a phrase of mass ingestion” . This phrase has been known to apply to food, an activity and even a sensual nature comparable to the human form. It is perfect the be reflected as a new Price nickname. And above all, it has a similar correlation to Price’s name that will only grow huge as his career evolves from today.

Ladies and gentleman, boy and girls, I give you my new nickname for the southpaw who has taken us to new pitching heights within the Rays Republic and also strikes a chord with our heartstrings. My new choice for a nickname for man who could possibly be in the running for the 2010 Cy Young Award is…..(drum line music)…..”Money“.

And if you really about it, ever since Price was selected as the First Pick of the 2008 MLB Draft, he has been banking and accumulating interest from fans, players and even small baseball fans into producing a windfall of pitching and inspirational moments. Price has simply been “Money” since the moment he put on a Rays uniform. How easy could this new nickname be adapted to Price as a further illustration to the total effect and admiration and respect the baseball community has for this budding left-handed star.


Nicknames can be a true defining moment into a person’s personality and character. Just because Charlie Brown had a friend named “Pigpen” doesn’t mean he was defined by his surrounding cloud of filth and dirt. He also played a pretty mean third base on Brown’s baseball team. Some nicknames can be attached to a person to denote a negative or subversive memory in our daily consciousness pertaining to that individual.

But for some reason, “Money” just seem to perfectly fir the persona and the perception of Price to me. Money grows in value, has times of influx and change, but always ends up coming out on top. David “Money” Price….A name the entire Rays Republic can bank on to get the Rays through another postseason market of fluxuating circumstances with huge dividends.

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