Results tagged ‘ Brandon Allen ’

Remembering Some of the Fabric that Made the Rays 2012 Quilt

I sometimes think of the Rays unique ability to find players n the hidden recesses as a seamstress taking a piece of unused material and finding the right spot to be sewn it into their quilt pattern that will show promise to the overall Tampa Bay Rays team fabric. Sure there have been many patterns sewn and then discarded by Rays, but each addition had their purpose and conception in the Rays ever-changing roster design. From their inaugural line-up to their 2012 final game in October the Rays front office has found bits and pieces that have either been compliments or mute points in their want to again be a top the American League East.

Some have worked brilliantly and brought intense value to the Rays fold while a few seemed to be just parcels the team needed to fill voids due to injury or even production and then they were cut back out of the Rays pattern and set free again. The Rays in 2012 took a lot of these player patchwork pieces and again some fit nicely while others just served a short-term purpose and were discarded into the wind. 

Players like Brandon Allen, Brooks Conrad, Hideki Matsui,Will Rhymes, Drew Sutton,and last but not least, Rich Thompson. all had moments in the Rays fabric that either played to the Sun or escalated into darker moments. From stem to stern, this group of add-ons were key components of the Rays quest to find a cohesive offensive unit that somehow seemed to tear a hole into the team’s fabric at the worst possible moments. Some were brought in as stop-gaps to keep the fabric whole while other player’s mended their injuries or to plug gaping holes in the Rays defensive alignment.

Each member had their Rays sunburst highlight moments with some being at the plate (Allen, Matsui), while others were remembered for action on the field. 2012 was not the first time the Rays searched the MLB waiver wire or brought in players from the scrap heap who found ways to produce. Some had small bursts in the sunlight like Allen, Matsui and Thompson, but even the magic produced by Sutton and Conrad at Third Base as Evan Longoria healed could not save their spot in the Rays 2012 blanket. Rhymes showed the consistency the Rays desired at Second Base, but the Trade Deadline acquisition of Ryan Roberts made him also obsolete to their future plans.

Each had their own colorful blend into the Rays 2012 quilt and each should still be considered huge parts of the Rays 2012 fabric. Each of these players has seen his bit of material taken out of the Rays fabric with some finding other vistas while other await someone else wanting to add their pattern to their MLB team’s own clothe. None of these players might ever again don a Rays uniform, but their brief tenure with the team will be remembered by the Rays Republic as interwoven and special parts that were instrumental to the Rays success in 2012.

 

First Half in the Books, Can’t Wait for Friday

Been a rough first half for the Tampa Bay Rays. Some things have gone as planned, while others have seemed to be spontaneous adjustments and hunches that either worked brilliantly or destined to be talked about, and dissected over and over again by the Rays faithful. Not once this season did Rays Manager Joe Maddon get to post the nine names he wanted on his line-up card together, the 9 names that he felt would make a difference, would bring him a consistent key to victory.

Not one line-up card in the first half carried all 9 of the Rays best players. That in itself proves something to me.  It also tells  a tale of how hard these first 86 games has been for the Rays coaching staff and Maddon to nightly present a consistent line-up card.  How frustrating  it must have been for Maddon over these first few months to consult his Medical staff before penciling in someone with clarity.  From B J Upton’s early season absence to Evan Longoria’s delayed return ( maybe mid-August), this team has been  a mire shadow of their 2011 selves.  

But with this All Star break comes a mini diversion of their 162 strife with a few days of life away from the ballpark to not only catch their breaths, but recharge and re-focus heading into their final 76 contests, I’m expecting to see some nervous energy and renewed excitement  bouncing from the roof catwalks to the outfield walls when the team again straps on their uniforms this Thursday in preparation of their second half kick-off against divisional rivals Boston.

Odd how that old Maddon mantra of “Fortune Favors the Bold” will again be in play this Friday as divisional rival Boston brings their bats and fans into the Trop. for a weekend shindig. Bold moves have been made all year-long with positional players doing a merry-go-round of nightly choices, with a few of them meriting longer looks and prolonged involvement for players who might not have made this squad if all were healthy. Still the seamstress known as Maddon has stitched some amazing embroidery so far this season with his patchwork quilt of players from Brandon Allen to Will Rhymes.

Got to hand it to the Rays skipper for keeping the positive front, going with his gut instincts and proving again and again sometimes stats do not lie about players and situations.  Only problem is Maddon will have to dig a little deeper over this final stretch, to find the pieces of the puzzle that fit each and every situation. Maddon has always preached the gospel of “Pitching sets the tone”, and it does, but when bats go silent or swing at dead air, even a brilliant pitching performance or quality start can be lost in the nightly box score. Maddon might have to listen closer to the Zim bear as he whispers into the Rays skipper’s ear.  Seize the day has to be paramount with  a hard-nosed defense again becoming the focal point of this club.

Might be kind of ironic that the group Train will perform on the Rays first night of their 10-game home festivities to begin their quest for another champagne soaked clubhouse and game dates in October. I got a nice vibe of reassurance from this squad in their final game in Cleveland on Sunday, that with all the strife, humbling injuries and peculiar results this team has had to endure over their first 86 games , the simple prospect of this team sitting just 1 game out of the American League Wild Card race is amazing.

I believe it was less than a month ago that the entire AL East was so jammed and reaching for the top spot you had to check the standing nightly to see who might be top dog.  This division currently has their entire corp of contenders at or above the .500 mark and are bunched within single digits from the top-tier to the cellar. Toronto and Boston currently are 9.5 games out of the top spot, but that could change as quickly as a 3-game win or losing streak by anyone in front of them. To put this into deeper prospective, if the Rays were to get swept in their upcoming series against Boston ( not going to happen), the Red Sox would not only jump over the Rays into third place, it could just as easily push the Rays from eyesight of the New York Yankees into the cellar.

Even with the Rays currently sporting a 45-41 record, ESPN has the Rays enthusiastically sporting a 26.8 % chance of again spilling champagne in late September.  For that to materialize, this squad has to re-mold itself into a more consistent fighting machine both on the field, and especially at the plate. Signs have been surfacing lately with Ben Zobrist rising his average up more than 50 points, Luke Scott finally getting the woodpeckers out of his bat bin, and Elliot Johnson no longer being the “secret weapon” no one knows about. Just a little more out of each of the Rays 25, and this club could be on track to again move onward and upward.

I know this Rays squad has it in them, we all saw it in their  early Walk-off victories that somehow got lost in all the clouds of frustrations both on the hill and at the plate.  When the Rays again get a few cogs of their offense back from their  injury hiatus, pieces of the overall Rays puzzle will click back in place. Matt Joyce is days away, Evan Longoria could be back by mid August, starter Jeff Niemann should begin some level of baseball activities soon, possibly being back before the roster expand in September.  This team realistically has their old magic just out of their reach right now, but it could be back sooner than we all imagine.  For now, patience is not only a virtue for this team, it is a necessity.

30 Minutes to Reflect, then Onto the Second Half

By the time I end up posting this on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays will either be celebrating their gutsy performance over the first half, or spending 30 minutes before thoughts turn to the second half, and the chase for another spot on the post season dance card. Expectation were sky-high in April, reality and gravity brought the surreal excitement to a halt with unforeseen injuries and players beginning a Conga line into and out of Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield’s humble office. Even with a victory today in Cleveland, this 2012 Rays squad will have posted the worst record of any Rays team since their re-incarnation in November 2007 by dropping the “Devil”.

From the hamstring drama of Evan Longoria, the fainting spell that possessed Will Rhymes, to the bats that turned to sawdust, the first half of 2012 has been a test of patience, determination and faith both in the dugout and among the stands. True fans have seen this before, but it was pre-2008 when the Rays Republic had to hold their breath as long, and pray to anything and anyone for a simple single victory during some of their awful losing bouts so far this season. Do not fret little Rays campers, for the 2012 edition of Rays complete with their patchwork quilt of fielders and hodge podge of Mendoza Line hitters might not be the defensive unit of 2011, but they have the courage, confidence and vital constitution that was forged in 2008 and is still rock hard today.

That might be the Rays saving grace with their line-up changing as much as the flight board in Chicago O’Hare Airport with rehab delays, hitting slumps for the ages and a defense that looks more like a piece of Swiss Cheese. Even with all these intangibles working against them, the Rays will end the day with an identical 44-41 record as the Cleveland Indians. But hidden just out of view is the travel this team has taken lately that took them from the 4th slot in the American League East standings, to possibly the second spot by nightfall. Even with all the toils and troubles on the field, this team still is in prime choice position heading into their home-stand on Friday to make an early run at solidifying their silver medal position.

When Longoria went down, this team did not fret, did not pout. Instead they called upon new additions to the Rays fight card from Brandon Allen, Drew Sutton, Rick Thompson and finally Brooks Conrad trying to piece together a consistent order both on the field and in the batters’ box. Some pieces of this amended puzzle proved moot, and have been cut away from this team either for good, or onto the Triple-A Durham Bulls roster. Farmhands Stephen Vogt and Chris Gimenez tried to show down home production, but both faltered and again found themselves again staring at the Green Monster in Durham wondering “what if”.

Hitting has been the throne in the Rays side for most of this season as the team will enter today’s contest with a Team Batting Average of .232, which is the lowest average at this point in a season , but then again the 2011 squad entered the All Star break with a .245 average last season and went onto a post season Wild Card bid. And their last 13 games has been especially cruel to the Rays as they have been held to 4 runs or less in 11 of those games, and have hit only .193 with RISP. But hope is shining on the Rays lately as Luke Scott shrugged off his hitting slump demon with two powerful blasts in C-town, and has looked more relaxed and selective in his appearances.

That is a good thing as the Rays Designated Hitter position has looked more like the 9th slot in an National League line-up than an AL powerhouse slot. Scott and Hideki Matsui have not been able to capitalize and make opponents pitchers pay for their mistakes, which is vital for this position. Sure the Rays have been Hit by a Pitch more than anyone else in the AL (36 times), but going into today contest, the Rays are tied with Baltimore for the most K’s (679) in the American League. Possibly with Scott again finding a groove he likes, the Rays DH spot again can bring some amount of fear and power heading into the final months of the season.

Defense has been so bad early on for the Rays they currently have 71 errors with a few innings to play in today’s contest. To put this into perspective, the Rays have had 19 multi error games including today’s game and seen 22 flaws coming out of Longo-land (3B), 14 out of the 6-slot, and 11 from the pivot (2B). For this team to again climb back into the Wild Card race and have any shot of catching division leading New York Yankees, this team has to hone their throwing and again look like a impervious defensive stalwart. This is not to say this team has to be flawless, but they need to be calculated mistakes that can be erased possibly with double plays or sneaky pick-off moves, not be free run scoring opportunities for their opposition.

One part of the Rays equation though has been up to the challenge and has consistently shown they have the field players backs, even if the bats did not respond in kind. The Rays Team ERA of 3.72 (3rd best mark in club history at the break) combined with a club record 676 strikeout heading into the All Star break has been the foundation for many of the Rays 1st half victories. David Price shared the best record in the AL (11-4) and combined with Rays greybeard James Shields, they have sent 214 hitters back to the dugout via the K so far this season. Matt Moore has found his rhythm again, Hellboy is ready to wreck havoc and Cobb is primed to prove he belongs here even after SP Jeff Niemann heals.

We saw another piece of the Rays pitching future come into the spotlight and perform as Rays prospect Chris Archer became the first non-Rays raised farmhand to take the hill as a starter in the long, long time. Archer showed just how valuable he will be for this team in the coming seasons, and Alex Cobb only cemented his reputation not only at this level, but as a solid MLB pitcher.

Expectation were high in April, but even with this fall from grace the last few months, the Rays are in prime real estate to again fight to the last game for another chance to play into October. Even with all the Rays perils, they are only a few well placed wins away from the top Wild Card slot, and with the momentum of their recent win in their old nemesis Cleveland, the Rays should be pumped to against strap on the uniforms this Friday when rival Boston invade the Trop.

I’m going to take a page from Rays Manager Joe Maddon mantra book and forget this first half in 30 minutes as soon as the Rays exit the turf at Progressive field and become excited and enamored with the second half and all its possibilities. This Rays team is one that is built for the long haul. With Longoria set to possibly still be out to mid to late August, and Matt Joyce possibly missing the 10-game home stand to start the second half, again faith, a slice of good luck and possibly a few bats finding the ball could help this team until their offensive brethren again don the Rays sunburst.

30 minutes has since elapsed since my first written word, time to forget the first half and stand ready, willing and able to help this team push a few squads out of their way in the second half of the season….or die trying.

 

Brandon Allen Introduces Himself Again to the Rays Republic

I hope Tampa Bay Rays Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman sends Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane a over-sized fruit basket to the Vinoy next weekend. Heck, I think toss the edible fruit basket idea and Friedman should instead reserve a late night dining reservation with Beane at the uber swanky Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa when the A’s hit Tampa Bay next weekend (May 4-6th) as a “thank you” for leaving a few A’s out on the waiver wire for Friedman to pluck.

It is almost as if there is a Kevin Bacon type 6 degree of separation coincidence going on here in correlation with the Rays and A’s that is starting to bond a growing lineage of former A’s become Rays then thrusting themselves into the Major League Baseball headlines. How is it two teams seem to mesh so well swapping players that fit into their system in very unique ways and these sluggers provide moments you will not forget, or want to forget.

Don’t forget the Rays Dan Johnson was also plucked off the waiver wire by Friedman, and we all know what he ended up doing for the Rays over his inspiring short but explosive Rays tenure. Johnson might be on the South side of Chi-town now, but he will never be forgotten in these parts. Do not forget, if not for Johnson’s Home Run in the bottom of the ninth inning with 2 outs off former Rays Spring Training 2011 RP Cory Wade, the Yankees would have won Game 162, and Evan Longoria would never have hit his monster shot.

It is not that Oakland is a feeder farm for Rays up and coming players, but it sure has made an impression with the last 2 waiver wire pick-ups for this Rays franchise, with Brandon Allen becoming the latest former Athletic to provide a gasp, then a burst of uncontrollable excitement under the Trop’s tilted cap. What is it about a player leaving his yellow and green uniform on one coast, then putting on the sunburst and magical things happen for them?

The latest former A’s offering, 1B/OF Brandon Allen went so deep into Right field this afternoon with his Walk-off Home Run offering if we were in an outside setting, someone’s car would have had a very visual dent or possibly a baseball embedded in their windshield. Wild how not 7 days ago the Rays plucked this unknown to anyone outside of MC Hammer-land. Allen was another Friedman find as he was plucked off the A’s waiver wire after being deemed possibly “expendable” after First Baseman Daric Barton cam off the DL. I got a feeling Beane tried to do exactly what Friedman did in the Rule-5 Draft with Josh Hamilton not so long ago and Beane ended up getting burned to the core on the move.

Allen now joins a list of former O-town off-casts from Carlos Pena to the legendary Dan “boom boom out goes the lights” Johnson in providing not only explosive results, but doing it with style, class and a bit of panache`. Allen is already gaining a bit of cult hero status with 2 deciding moments in the last 2 games that will have every kid and possibly adult beckoning for his autograph when the Rays return home after their 3-game Texas road trip.

Here is a guy who had less than 275 total MLB plate appearances in his career for both the Arizona D-Backs and A’s, but has provided an unheard of highly combustible start with the Rays. How else do you explain a player coming to the plate only 2 times in his Rays tenure and boasting a 1.000 batting average with the Rays, a bases loaded walk for his 1st Rays RBI and today’s 2-run blast that will be played endlessly on ESPN for some time.

Not sure what the correlation between O-town and Tampa Bay is yet. Sure some might say they are the only 2 cities without a new baseball home, but for some reason former A’s do not come here for retirement, they seem to come here to play ball like no one else. Maybe Friedman should make that reservation for 3…I think Brandon Allen also deserves a little special treat considering his last 2 at bats….Just no table-side flambe`s please, Allen is simply flammable right now.

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