Results tagged ‘ Interleague ’
It is sometimes pretty rare for me to not go totally along with something Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon says. Usually I am not above drinking the team’s Kool Aid at times, particularly when it comes to some of their personnel moves.
But I have to take exception with one of Maddon’s recent vocal oratories. I am all for the InterLeague format. Been on their bandwagon since the First Pitch, and will be an adamant supporter of it to its last swing. Even though I can side with some of Maddon’s concerns, as a fan, InterLeague gives me a chance to see players and teams I would have to travel great distances to see in-person.
Sure it plays a bit of havoc on the Ray’s already crowded 162-game schedule, but it has advantages that sometimes miss the mindset of the 30 dugout leaders of Major League Baseball. We all know without question Maddon’s admiration and affection for a possible future balanced schedule. But it might not happen in MLB Commissioner Bud Selig’s tenure.
Where else can a Manager have a chance to play devil’s advocate with no pressure from the playoffs than at this juncture in mid-May and June. Suddenly they can insert, delete or even tinker without the worry of a 3, 5 or 7-game series hinging on their line-up card. Plus it gives the fans and added impact via opinions, blogs and even Twitter to voice their own preferences towards DH or non-DH starters in games.
The main appeal of InterLeague to me is still the match-ups that constantly revolve to give our American League team a chance to see budding superstars, aging stars and some part-time focus on things outside our AL-realm of thinking. The National League plays a different game at times than the power conscious AL.
For that reason alone it brings back into play the skill set and imagination of all 30 MLB Managers, their rosters potential, and also bring to light some of the obvious flaws we see even in a championship squad. The NL frame of mind is firmly planted into moving runners into scoring position and systematically ( hopefully) bringing the home in before the third out.
AL seems to play more wing and a prayer long ball with the potential of each pitch possibly bringing a victory. Put the two systems together and you get a massive human Chess match that can be dominated in a nano second by the more versatile club. But that is not the InterLeague’s biggest drawing point to me.
I remember seeing Barry Bonds in the Trop a few years ago when the San Francisco Giants were not “World beaters”. It brought a figure who was larger to life into the cool confines of the Trop when if not for InterLeague, Rays fans would have had to travel to the city by the bay, or go to an Arizona Spring game to see Bonds.
Take this season’s match-ups of the 2010 surprising Cincinnati Reds and their budding superstar 1B Joey Votto and the return of former Rays fav Jonny Gomes since his exit from the Rays Republic. This match-up pushed together two equally matched teams on the hill with offenses that strive to score and produce at will at times. But in the Rays disadvantage is this is a home series where the team has been…well dreadful.
Or maybe you have the dates that the St. Louise Cardinals, who trained in these parts for over 25 years come back to the Trop and bring former Rays RP Trever Miller and some guy named Pujols. Tell me Sir Albert will not bring the Rays fans in droves to see a star that is still shining bright and hope to see a long ball deposited into the seats of the Trop. InterLeague makes these kind of meeting possibly outside the realm of the World Series. But maybe it was the quote in an article by the St. Petersburg Times where Maddon voiced his displeasure for this wild yearly adventure that evoked the most emotion from me.
Maddon was quoted in that article stating: ” I Think in the beginning it was an idea that fans kind of got into and it was kind of interesting. I don’t know that it’s interesting any more.”
Sorry to give you the news Joe, but it is relevant to us in the Rays Republic. We love seeing guys like Pujols, Votto and old friends like Gomes and Miller strut into the Trop and play creative baseball with our Rays. The most interesting thing here is that I finally found something to disagree with you on. That doesn’t happen with regularity, just like the InterLeague season.
(Sitting at the Rays Watch Party at Courtside Grille as I submit this blog……Where are you?)
And with that, the Rays will be totally comfortable playing by the National League standards since they have been playing that style of baseball since the first week in April. The Rays have been masters at executing and perfecting the sacrifice bunt, squeeze bunt and even the suicide squeeze, which have been National League staples among the N L squad’s offensive arsenal.
But what was once considered a N L advantage with the American League teams sending their pitcher’s into the batter’s box for the first time this season, the Rays might have some special surprises awaiting their N L foes.
Sure heading into Houston we will first see Rays starter Matt Garza hit the mound to start the 14th season of Interleague play . And even with the Rays entering this season’s Interleague schedule with a less than .500 record All Time (99-115), they have been a combined 43-29 since Rays Manager Joe Maddon , which is the sixth best record in the Interleague play format since 2006. And over the past two years, only the Minnesota Twins (26-10) own a better Interleague record than the Rays (26-11) coming into their series against the Astros.
But just because this is usually the first time they send their bevy of pitcher’s to the plate, the Rays over the last two years have batted a Major League best .295 in Interleague play and their pitching staff has held their opponents to a .236 average, also best in the Major League. And even during their 2009 campaign into Interleague play, the Rays posted a 13-5 record last season which was beat only by the Los Angels Angels of Anaheim (14-4).
But playing in unfamiliar parks have been a bit of thorn in the Rays sides as they hold a 44-63 record in the National League ballparks, but they have begun to reverse that trend as they have gone 11-7 over the past two seasons in their strange surroundings.
But heading into the confines of Minute Maid Park with its train that moves throughout the outfield during Home Runs, and their unique Centerfield incline with their majestic flagpole in the center, this will only be the second time the Rays have ever wandered into the Astros home turf. But back in 2003, their last visit to Houston, the Rays did not leave with a great bit of Texas hospitality as the Astros swept them during contests from June6-8, 2003. And only one Rays player still remains on their roster from that 2003 squad, and Houston just happens to be his hometown (Carl Crawford).
But the two teams did meet during 2008 from June 20-22,2008 as the Astros took two out of three from the Rays with former Astros Brandon Backe beating the Rays in their “throwback jerseys on that Sunday contest. Surprisingly, all three of those game were one run contests that season. But there will be quite a few Rays who will have a crowd or two on hand during this road series as Rays starter Jeff Niemann, who will start the Sunday finale, Crawford, Rays set-up man Dan Wheeler, and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey all have Houston roots. But the real treat might just be in how the Rays pitching staff does at the plate during this series.
The Rays pitching staff have been taking their turns in the Batting Cages over the last several weeks with several Rays pitchers showing they might just come out and surprise a few of us during the N L-slate of the Interleague this season. And starting with tonight’s starter Matt Garza, who is a career 0-8 at the plate, but has been showing increased ease and poise at the plate in recent B P sessions with Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton.
And Garza has a bit of revenge on his mind as this will be his second start against Houston lifetime. But his last outing on June 20,2008 when he opposed Astros ace Roy Oswalt did not go well as he lost the decision 4-3. But Garza also brings in a nice 3-2 mark All Time in Interleague play with a special one-hitter in 2008 against the Florida Marlins.
And with no Designated Hitter in N L parks, the Rays might be at a distinctive disadvantage seeing that only 5 other members of the entire Rays pitching staff after Garza even have a Batting Average. We could possibly see Lance Cormier ( 5-46 .109 2 RBI ), Dan Wheeler ( 1-7 .143 ) make at least one plate appearance this series. But Rays Saturday starter leftie David Price owns a 1-3 .333 batting average, and last night’s starter James Shields could get a go at the plate in the middle innings if Maddon wants to save his bench players for a late inning rally. Shield sports a 5-22 .227 average with 1 RBI. But the pride and joy of the Rays pitching staff hitters might be their “secret weapon” Rays long man Andy Sonnanstine who is a career 7-21 or .333 with 2 RBI.
But most Rays fans might remember his May 17,2009 clutch performance when a line-up card snafu had Sonnanstine batting in the 3-hole after a mix-up on the initial lineup card given to the Home Plate Umpire before that contest. For some odd reason, Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria was suppose to be the game’s DH, but was listed on the lineup card as a second Rays Third Baseman and was disqualified from the lineup. Sonnanstine responded with a 1-3 day with a RBI double.
And with Sonnanstines first step into the batter’s box, he became the first AL pitcher to be in the lineup in an AL ballpark since Chicago White Sox pitcher Ken Brett stepped in the box on September 23, 1976 against the Minnesota Twins. On that date, Sonnanstine also became the first Rays pitcher to ever head to the Batter’s box in an AL home game, plus was the first Rays pitcher to ever bat at Tropicana Field.
Because of that hitting success, Maddon used Sonnanstine again on May 23,2009 as a Pinch Hitter against the Florida Marlins at then Pro Player Stadium, he then again stepped into the box on June 21, 2009 against the New York Mets at Citi Field. During those appearances, Sonnanstine became only the second Rays pitcher following James Shields example from his June 28,2008 appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Three Rivers Stadium. Sonnanstine also pinch ran on June 6, 2009 in a AL game against the New York Yankees and scored a run for the Rays.
But after the aforementioned five Rays pitching “hitters”, the rest of the Rays Bullpen and starter have laid golden goose eggs to a tune of going 0-19 lifetime during Interleague play. Rays starters have combined for a 6-38 mark or a .157 average combined, but Wade Davis has never made an appearance yet in a Major League batter’s box. The Rays Bullpen (including Wheeler, Cormier and Sonnanstine ) have gone 13 for 93 or a .140 Batting Average in Interleague play. Hopefully we will not have to see Rays relievers Randy Choate (0-5), Rafael Soriano (0-4), Grant Balfour (0-1) or Joaquin Benoit (0-9) make plate appearances during this series.