Results tagged ‘ Evan Longoria ’

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.

 

B J Upton: Either You Love Him or…….

He has been considered a polarizing member of the Tampa Bay Rays ever since his first time up in “the Show” at the young age of 17. Every single member of the Rays Republic have their opinions on this athlete with some being down right founded on a few moments of lapse, or mis-understanding on his drive, passion and commitment. No matter what you views are on Center fielder B J Upton, within the next several days he can either be destined for another locale, or become the highest paid Ray on the 2013 roster.

In the next few days Upton along with his agent have a chance to see just what kind of contract might lie outside the confines of the Trop. The Rays are wagering Upton takes his show on the road and decides to sign with another squad so the Rays can get a nice added Draft pick as compensation for losing one of their brightest stars. People seem to forget with all the negative banter swirling around Upton that he came just 2 Home Runs short of becoming the first Rays player to join the coveted “30-30” Club.

Upton might have his negative factors, but his positives have emerged at the right moments for the Rays, especially in 2012 after Evan Longoria was gone from the line-up and someone had to step up and take the reins of this team. Say what you will on his stride in the field that does have a look of loafing only because his stride is so natural and his body doesn’t show the torque and awkwardness former Rays speedster Carl Crawford displayed in the field making similar difficult fielding choices.

We also forget Upton took on a position that was foreign to him during his tenure and converted himself into one of the best defensive centerfielders in Major League baseball right now. He had his learning curve in the spot with mis-guided routes and playing too shallow at times, but that adventure has long since been eradicated with well-time leaps, runs and remarkable plays that play on highlight reels still to this day. How soon we forget Upton was drafted as a shortstop and took a journey around the infield before finally finding his spot just beyond the outfield star burst emblazoned on the Trop’s Astro Turf.

So within a few days Upton will either walk towards a long-term deal possibly with the Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals or maybe even the Atlanta Braves. Seems more likely Upton would transverse his game into the National League than stay in the confines of the American League, but who knows what is rolling around in his mind at this moment. Change of venue would be cleansing for him and his game, but again he would have to adjust and refine his game to the rigors of the NL where strikeouts are more frowned upon and walks are considered almost doubles with his base-stealing abilities.

But a monkey wrench could be thrust into that plan just as easily if Upton decides he can accept a 1-year, $13.3 million dollar payday and stay with his old club. Of course the Rays would lose their ability to gain a compensation draft pick if Upton heads this direction, but they also know if he is under contract, they could still trade him either this Winter or possibly at the 2013 Trade Deadline and still get some sort of compensation for Upton. This might be a gamble Upton may be willing to take since he has deep ties to the Tampa Bay community with his outside charity groups and local South St. Petersburg, Florida youth groups that himself and Rays SP David Price put a lot of time into both during and after the regular MLB season.

Possibly the Tampa Bay community still has Upton’s heart along with his positive affirmation this team is just a step behind regaining another shot at possibly a World Series shot. With one of the best rotations and pitching staffs in baseball, Upton knows if their offense can find a rhythm and consistent groove, a spot in the October post season party is not only possible, but definitely achievable.

Maybe his recent strides as a key figure within the Rays Clubhouse could be the deciding factor for Upton that he is willing to wait a year and take a chance on the group that has bonded together so tight and knows something grand awaits them. With the Rays having their solid pitching aspect combined with the team unity displayed, I can easily see Upton taking the Rays qualifying offer and staying with the hopes of another champagne celebration or two before his final exodus from Tampa Bay.

Whatever Upton decides, I will salute that decision and will be happy for this Rays icon I have seem mature, evolve and become his own style of MLB player.

Sure I’m a fan who supports Upton with undying loyalty and pride having seen this transformation from 17-year old SS prodigy. If Upton should decide to stay, I will be there to shake his hand in February at Spring Training. If not, I will still keep tabs on Upton and his career since he was a Ray and was such a key part of this team, especially since 2008.

No matter if he stays or leaves, the fans of the Rays have to acknowledge Upton has done a lot for this team. Still even with that said, some will still remember him for the gaffes and strikeouts and forget about his well-timed Home Runs or terrific plays off the CF wall. But that is what happens to players who you care for deep down, they either steal your heart or break it.

Love him or hate him, Upton to me has been a key component of the Rays playoff and a player to remember. Some will read that line and scoff and bid him “good riddance”, while others will shed a tear. Upton has been polarizing as a Ray, that I will admit, but he is still a player I’m glad had such a long tenure with this team and maybe another 180 days as a Ray.

Rays Should Elevate Zimmer to “Manager Emeritus”

I have a feeling there are going to be more than a handful of things I’m going to be writing about that the Tampa Bay Rays front office does between now and the time Pitchers and Catchers report to Port Charlotte, Florida in February 2013, but this one move to me signals their commitment to bring the top tier of talent to this squad.

 

It was not the affirmation of the team accepting the 2013 options for players like SP James Shields, C Jose Molina or even the brilliance that was RP Fernando Rodney’s 2012 campaign. No, the action that caught my eye and truly showed me this team is committed and expecting to “shoot for the Moon”, is the recent press release that Rays Senior Advisor Don Zimmer will partake in his 65th year in organized baseball, and his 10th with the Rays. This to me is the biggest, best and most logical move the team will make all Winter.

 

We all know that Zimmer is the Master Yoda for this young and energetic squad, having beat health situations in 2012 and is again eager, willing and excited about stepping foot on the field again this Spring. Sure Zim who has been immortalized in so many ways over his career and his 10 years with the Rays has his own “Bear” now, but I think the title of “Senior Advisor” needed to be ripped off the team website, and a new proclamation be made to show the respect and reverence to all things “Zim”.

 

Some will say being Senior Advisor is enough for Zimmer, but to me it can be elevated to a new level with the mere changing of his title. I’m sure Rays current Manager Joe Maddon will not take offense to this, or even take it as even a mild slap if the team were to elevate Zim to the position of esteemed and new fangled title of Rays Manager Emeritus. When former Rays owner Vince Namoli sold the team to the young and youthful Stuart Sternberg, he was given the designation “Chairman Emeritus” when you gaze at the Rays Ownership section of their website and Media Guide.


Emeritus” by definition in Webster’s Dictionary tends to lean more towards showing this title going to someone who has been “retired” as a post-positive adjective to show respect and dignity to someone who gave of themselves in all aspects for the betterment of their chosen field. Namoli possibly holds this distinction because of his tireless pursuit of the Rays franchise combined with his due diligence while commanding the top tier of the Rays hierarchy before passing the torch to Sternberg.

 

Zimmer is not retired as a Major League Baseball figurehead, but he is as an active “Manager”, and that is the aspect I feel his title being changed to “Manager Emeritus” has merit. Zim is a constant figure down on the turf during Rays Batting Practice and is as much a personality and part of this team as any of the players and Coaches who adorn the Rays colors. The Rays have not been shy in the past of being creative with titles, responsibilities or even assignment, but making Zimmer a permanent part of the Rays culture, game-day experience is the least we can do for a true MLB icon.

 

Heck, I still remember when Zimmer lived on Treasure Island, Florida with his awesome wife and used to come into my father’s gas station for fuel. I would talk baseball with him, even when he was the Red Sox Manger. I looked up to this man for not only living the dream, but always wanting to be within eyesight of the game and wanting to always have a finger on the pulse of this grand game.

 

Some might say my wanting of this title change is futile, a bit contrite and maybe a bit evasive on the legend that is Maddon right now in this region. I can see that point of view, but name me another figure besides Namoli who has done as much for this franchise both in front and behind the scenes as Zimmer. I know personally he loves to give knowledge, excite the younger generation of the baseball royalty and be the anointed “father figure” some of these guys need when the game slaps them around a bit. To me Zimmer is as much a part of the Rays game as Evan Longoria’s bat or even Rodney’s archery pose.

 

This action probably will not happen. Zim will remain the title of Senior Advisor until the time he walks away from this game for the final time. Maybe I’m just trying to be a bit insightful and want him to enjoy the respect, admiration fans like myself in the Rays Republic have held for Zimmer, even before he donned the “TB” cap for the first time. Zimmer is a Tampa Bay icon, a long time resident who has given us at least 2 generation of Zimmers’, and will always be cut into the fabric that is the Rays legacy. Maybe the word “Emeritus” is too small for the legend that is Zim, maybe “Emperor of the Rays Republic” fits more like a Rawlings glove.

 

 

Are Rays Hitting Their Stride for the Final 50?

All season long some of us have been waiting for this kind of production. Since the days before Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria grabbed the back of his leg, the Rays Republic have been awaiting this kind of warfare. From singles to massive Home Runs, the Rays again have found their focus, their offense that combined with their pitching cohesiveness to brings about solid and warranted victories.

8 out of their last 13 road battle have seen either Fernando Rodney chuck a arrow into the sky, or provided the optimal moment for this team to celebrate mid-infield with high-5’s and handshakes galore. This is what happens when a team finally get back a fallen comrade and gets their sights set throughly for the final 50 game grind. That’s right, 50 games left in the Rays 2012 regular season, with a hope that October dreams come true.

From this squad getting their bellies full with “meatloafing” (winning 2 out of 3) series wins to finally finding that home remedy to evoke victories, this team has positioned itself going into today’s contest just 1 game out of the top spot for a American League Wild Card slot, and is within fighting range of the whole enchilada of another possible AL East banner being raised come April 2013. Tell me any of us felt that way as bombs burst in night air on July 4th while this team struggled to find cohesion and consistency.

Finally the Maddon mantra has again proven true as “Fortune Favors the Bold (or Bald)” as this team has stood tall in the face of injuries, potential trade chatter and unimaginable defensive blunders and gaffs to be in the right spot at the right time for a solid and concerted effort to topple their AL east rivals. Sitting currently with a 44 % chance of playoff champagne, this team has to continue to get their meaty goodness both at home and on the road mixed in with a few extra wins to bolster their post- season chances.

Right now the Rays are toe-to-toe with Oakland, Detroit, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Angels for a solid chance to walk into their third consecutive playoff spot, and fourth in 5 seasons. But it all begins now. 50 games, 50 chances to pull closer or fall to the back of the pack. Of those 50 contests, 29 of these contests will come against divisional leaders or Wild Card hopefuls. Plus in this 50 game hunt for October bliss, the Rays will play only 6 more games against the Yankees and 6 against the pesky Orioles. Of their final 50, the Rays will suit up against their AL East rivals in only half (25) of those contests.

Definitely the Rays might want to also channel a former Maddon Mantra from 2011 of “Finding Another Way” as they will have to garner additional victories against the likes of Seattle, Kansas City along with a slate of 16 contests against the unpredictable American League West foes.

The key to the Rays future seems to lie not only in their divisional slanted schedule in September, but in their rivalries against the West Coast opponents. Throw in 7 contests against the AL Central and you get the idea the Rays final AL East tallies might hold the key components to the Rays post-season recipe, but the rest of the American League could poison the “meaty” goodness with a few well-placed wins against the Rays.

6 games currently separate the Rays and Yankees with Baltimore still hanging on like that poster kitten, but destined to fall before the leaves turn colors. With the days of September coming closer the Rays engine is currently purring on all 8 cylinders and looking stronger every game. But it will only take a small back-step, a slip or even another key injury setback to again put haste and anxious thoughts into everyone’s noggin.

Winning series, posting up impressive game stats is only part of the equation. In the end, possibly the Rays will have to win at least 37 of these final 50 games to again shower the Trop’s fans with champagne and not have to re-visit another Game 162 moment or heartbreak.

Ray of Hope, Not Savior

I’m no the savior. I’m happy to be back, and hopefully I’m able to change the complexion of the lineup. Maybe not go out and hit two home runs a night…” - Evan Longoria

A lot of games and maturation has transpired in and around the Tampa Bay Rays internal World order and well as Longoria’s since his departure from the Rays line-up on April 30th with a torn left hamstring injury. Seem like so long ago Longo ventured from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list after starting the first 23 games of the 2012 season in stellar fashion, with everyone from the field to the stands noticing his new stature and poise.

But if the statement above could be illuminated and turned into small novellas, you would see the process from the last days of April until his first step into the batters box on August 7th took Longoria down a road he has never traveled as well as dealing with frustrations he had never even fathomed or dreamed about.

Longoria will be the first to admit to you he might have tested himself a bit too much when he first experienced his initial setback during his first attempt at rehab this season. Anxiousness, a want to again be a vital cog in the Rays machine might have driven him a bit over the edge, and he went headfirst into the injury abyss again.

In his first rehab attempt, Longo seemed more interested in just getting back into the Rays confines and being a key piece again. During his second venture, he stopped, became aware and matured beyond his years as he finally seemed to figure out he is not only a keystone of this franchise, he is one of the valuable valves that pump this club’s heart and soul. In his second rehab attempt recently at Triple-A Durham, Longoria did not go out to truly impress, he went to gain bat speed, provide a cohesive game plan and finally show he is the guy who will lead this team for a long time.

When I first met Longoria before his first Rays start, he had that rambunctious air about him encircled by his boyish charm, with a insatiable appetite and child-like eagerness to swallow and digest everything about the game and instantaneously transition it into his own vibe and style. Last night Longo still flashed glimpses of that boyish wonder and grin, but deep in his eyes you can see the determination, the want and the desire to again be this squad’s “go-to” guy.

He might not be the Rays savior, but he definitely is a key ingredient to this team fulfilling its dreams and goals this season. Longo’s smile on his way to the plate during that first at bat beamed way out into the cheap seats, and showed all of us that he is again a shining glimmer of hope that this season is far from over.

Did the Rays Gamble Heavy on Their Status Quo?

Wondering if the Tampa Bay Rays basically “ standing pat” will come back to either bite them in the hind quarters, or be a Godsend. So many factors were in play in the background today from medical reports on Evan Longoria’s rehab assignment, to equating if sending a piece of the franchise be it B J Upton or James Shields would stall their recent Wild Card forward momentum. I swear Rays Executive VP of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman will never have to hit Gamblers Anonymous because he only seems to bet on “ sure things”, or options that weigh heavily in the houses/ Rays favor.

I truly could not envision Friedman standing over a MLB gambling table surrounded by 29 of his peers holding the dice hard wishing for a 7 or 11. I imagine him more comfortable at the .25 cent slots bringing in a few dollars and making more sense of his money and movements. But still, it was good over the past week or so hearing the baited whispers and subtle glances towards Upton and Shields. Wonder how many of Friedman’s peers felt confident going into today that Friedman might part with the likes of Upton who is set to hit the Free Agent market this Winter. 

But then again, I could see Friedman playing Texas Hold-Em with a vengeance, and with the Rays on a West Coast road venture Friedman held his cards close to his vest hoping no one would venture to guess his intentions or call into question any type of bluff or stall tactic.


I felt sure Friedman might possibly throw down at least a Wade Davis baseball card towards an NL peer that might need an up-grade or stop-gap style player either in their 4 or 5 slots or in long relief. But Friedman has the luxury of knowing Davis is only gaining value, possibly with Davis becoming a prime piece of off-season gold that will be look upon with more value this Winter than at this time.

There were even cards in motion within the Rays farm system that hinted at some sort of planning or adjustments as RP Cesar Ramos was being primed and getting reps as a possible starter at Triple-A Durham. You had to have a feeling Friedman wanted to hold a distinctive wild card in his hand knowing a possible trade scenario involving a valuable and flexible southpaw would be considered a luxury heading into August and September as younger arms reach their yearly pitch counts. 

I remember reading in Dirk Hayhurst’s “Bullpen Gospels” about Ramos in the lower Padres system as a starter, so the idea is not foreign to him at all. Since I’m glancing towards the Bullpen, I truly thought Friedman might hold in his hand the cards of possibly relief pitchers Joel Peralta or Kyle Farnsworth as late inning pieces to another squad’s puzzle, possible also in the National League. But the Rays Bullpen stayed intact, possibly the best thing to happen to the Rays since Fernando Rodney’s first arrow flew deep and high into the sky.

Could Friedman have possibly mastered the art of the bluff this week by rebuffing advancements and trading cards being thrown down in his direction, Could the Rays not sending or receiving any players before the time ran out on this non-waiver Trade Deadline show contentment that in-house options are superior to the cards visible on the table, especially since Longoria and SP Jeff Niemann could be back in the dugout sooner rather than later.

No matter if Friedman was playing the game with all intentions of going through the motions, or waiting for the perfect scenario to be placed upon the felt and then plucking it with a grin and a giggle. We might never know the true story, but I do feel there were some potential MLB players trading cards picked up off that green poker table’s felt I truly thought the Rays might contemplate a bit on, or at least bluff towards plucking them for this team. 

The first player I thought the Rays might make a gentleman’s wager on was Miami Marlins 1B Gaby Sanchez who ended up becoming another valuable piece to the playoff hungry Pittsburgh Pirates. I actually thought the Rays might go “in heavy” on Sanchez as a possible 2013 replacement/younger hitting upgrade for the Carlos Pena. I thought Sanchez met the Rays criteria since he can be team controlled until possibly 2016, with his first venture into arbitration coming this Winter. Lest we forget Sanchez was a NL Rookie of the Year candidate in 2010 (finished 4th).

I also thought the Rangers picking up Geovany Soto from the Chicago Cubs recently might be a trading card piece of an evolving Texas trade hand for Shields since the Rays could definitely erase their need for a catcher with someone of Soto’s experience, especially since Soto will only be making his second trip trough arbitration this Winter, Soto’s past All-Star clout and his 2012 salary of only $ 4.3 million, he would be viewed as a solid backstop investment considering the question marks becoming larger with Robinson Chirinos and his concussion setbacks and if Jose Lobaton is a # 1 catcher or a career back-up back stop for this squad.

All that the Rays Republic is left with his wonder and maybe a little hint of want. This team has shown signs of an upwards trend against teams currently that they will battle throughout the rest of this season for a coveted American League Wild Card slot, but you have to wonder if Friedman had set down at least 1 hand in trade if the stakes and odds would have falling more into their favor.

 The Trade Deadline is one of those definite “He said, She said” types of moments where a season can be hinged or be separated by actions of standing pat. Personally, I wanted to see some down and dirty dealing via Andrew Friedman and his band of merry mongrels, but in the end we got only silence.

 Some venture to say the lack of Friedman playing any cards by the final toll of the bell at the Trade Deadline set the tone loud and clear for the Rays venture towards securing one of those coveted post-season slots. In the past the Rays have stayed muted and firm in their belief of their club’s talent and abilities and have come out smelling like roses.

Still, I would have loved to have someone like Sanchez chomping at the bit for that First Base job, or even Soto behind the dish providing offense and quality defense. Friedman decided to fold his hand, pay the dealer for his time and walk away empty-handed as the last cards were dealt today. But maybe by not making a gamble or losing in the process Friedman is way a head of the MLB pack. Only time will tell if he will be considered a winner or loser for his action with the cards.

 

Is Tatman the Missing Puzzle Piece?

Photo credit:  Fangraphs.com

On the surface most people might be scratching their noggins wonder what Tampa Bay Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman was thinking trading for another infielder. Here the Rays go again gathering up loose vital pieces from other clubs like they have previously with the likes of Will Rhymes, Jeff Keppinger and Brook Conrad.

Friedman however did buck the usual hectic Trade Deadline pattern by offering up a peace offering of a 2B Double -A prospect (Tyler Bortnick) for the services of Roberts, who will be under team control until 2015. This is usually the time of years where teams dispense or send lengthy and costly options to other vistas. It is pretty rare a player who was recently designated for assignment to let another Arizona infield player have his 40-man roster spot gets traded.

But the Rays followed their defined and articulated mindset of getting a player with some “meat on their bones” for future considerations instead of renting a body hoping they can help the Rays offense flourish. Underneath the surface, down near ground level the truth begins to appear, and it seems Friedman again possibly stole a player who could be a Rays fixture for at least 3 more seasons.

Even closer to the sand granules you will see past Roberts current .250 average and peek under the sand pile to actually see that Roberts has been on a bit of a offensive tear recently. Roberts might have been used a bit sparingly, but has hit for an impressive .438 (7-for-16) average over the last 15 days with a couple RBI and stolen bases to his credit.

Going to be interesting as Roberts makes his way to Baltimore to meet up with his new team. Might be even more interesting to see what transpires with Roberts Twitter account (@RRoberts14 ) now that he is a Ray and SP David Price has cemented his name with uniform # 14….I hear jersey # 41 has a vacancy. 

Recently we have heard the howls and hoots that Evan Longoria could soon be finally going on another rehab run, hopefully this time with no setbacks or stalls. But if anything would happen, or even with the possibility that Longoria with Luke Scott still out with back situations, and Hidecki Matsui gone into the brilliant sunset, Longo possibly could come back a bit sooner than later and man the DH slot for a bit while he gets into game shape and gets his defensive rhythm on track.

That is where possibly the addition of Roberts could bring about a few bonus points, possibly giving the Rays and Longo a DH option so the team can get his bat back into the line-up. Could Roberts be the long awaited puzzle piece that finally gets the Rays offense and defense running in unison and firing on all their cylinders? If his 2011 stats can come to life again in Tampa Bay, and his hard nosed style of play continues…..Tatman may be here for a long, long time as a Ray. 

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.

 

Could the Trop. Pull Off a “Dog Day”?

Earlier this season when I sat down with a departing member of the Rays front office and he let out a juicy morsel that the Rays might be considering a future brand of Rays “Bark at the Park”. For those who have not witnessed or had the fun of this type of event, fans can bring their canine “other-halfs” to the ballpark with them for that days contests and enjoy the sights and sounds along with a few hotdogs with their owners. Teams all around Major League Baseball already hold these sorts of annual canine appreciation days, but here in Tampa Bay, we have seen zero.

Now this is not an official Rays event yet, or even mentioned “officially” by the club, but over the weekend the Miami Marlins had just such an event at their indoor stadium, and by the way the stadium smelled by the end of the 9th inning, the stadium sanitation crew was on the ball scooping the tidbits left by canine Marlins fans.

The reason I bring this up tonight is the success of the Marlins canine event could and should get the wheels turning for a possible future Rays version. We now know that an indoor facility like Tropicana Field could host such an event, and possibly be one of the great moments of an MLB season. I actually was on hand for a “Dog Day Afternoon” event several years ago in Chicago and thought of what a great event this would be for my hometown Rays to hold for their faithful 4-legged fans who only get to see the game on television.

Possibly since our sister MLB franchise has now held a dog day afternoon event in their new home, members of the Rays stadium staff and promotions team could pay a post-event visit to the Miami club and see the way they produced and made this event such a success, even with the roof closed. I would be amazed to see such an event held within the tilted roof of the Trop., complete with the annual Frisbee-catching canines, maybe a booth set up by local animal shelters, and a secondary outlet so fans could buy those adorable calendars that host Rays players and their canine “best friends”.

I mean if the Rays and the local no-kill animal shelter Pet Pal Animal Shelter could come to some promotional agreement, maybe the event could also include a paw-print signing area of the Rays pooches, or pre-game stroll by master and pal along the First or Third baseline. I mean think of the great exposure for the calendar, the Rays would get National exposure for the kinder, gentler side off the competitive Turf, plus would be a great win-win for the Fans, players and this region.

Sure you would have to possibly buy a seat ticket for your dog, but maybe the Rays can also combine it with a Rays brand Dog Bandanna, or maybe even a Jango (Longo’s dog) or Astro (Price’s pal) image upon the item to bring it all together. I know all of this might never materialize or even be on the Rays drawing board, but it should. I know of plenty of Rays fans who have remarked over the years wondering why the team doesn’t do these special canine days like other stadiums.

 Odd thought here, maybe the Rays could find a pet food purveyor who could give away samples or even sponsor the giveaway with their branding somewhere on the new Rays bandanna. Of course all of this might just be in my mind right now, with the Rays not even having such an event on their drawing boards until possibly the 2013 season. Still, for someone like me who does his share of people-watching as well as watching this club play baseball, it would make one more authentic and totally wacky reason to hit the ball park. In other words, Rays, let’s make this happen.  

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 291 other followers