Results tagged ‘ Jake McGee ’

What If………..

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What if……..

Some say that is the first phrase uttered by those in denial or left wanting for an answer. Two words shouted to the heavens asking for some divine or intelligent intervention into how their beloved team could have fallen this far from their past grace and the lofty expectations transposed on this team even before they began play in April.

imagesNo one who follows, plays for or works with the Tampa Bay Rays could of possibly imagined this stark reality that would be evident about this team’s 2014 campaign 5 months later. No matter the Rays rise or fall during these terse 6 months, no one envisioned the team not playing for anything in the last 10-odd games of their season.

So maybe it is time to possibly throw out some opinions, rely on some facts and maybe come to terms with a season that sent us on a pure emotional rollercoaster ride to the greatest heavens and at time tumbling right back down to Earth with the stark realization that sweat, talent and confidence are not the sole catalysts to winning games.

Remember as you read this, it is only my personal guesswork and not a certification of the direction the team will take, should of taken or will entertain this winter….It is just my humble words thrown out for everyone to dissect into a million characters. Enjoy.

What if the Rays had signed free agent Nelson Cruz as their Designated Hitter? Would he have duplicated his 2014 season in Carolina Blue?

images (2)This was actually a question someone asked me on Sunday and it does have merit, but I think besides the steroid residue that would have followed Cruz here to Tampa Bay, the $8 million the Orioles paid Cruz might have been a bit steep for the Rays to handle financially. Plus the Rays Clubhouse culture might not have been a good fit for Cruz, but we also will never know if he could of adjusted and been a key component of this year’s squad.

Who knows, Cruz should be a free agent after the season, and with him showing he can still power the ball as well as be steroid free, the Rays would kick the tires, but even with Cruz’s current ‘14 resume of 39 HR and 106 RBI (as of 9/22) it might not be enough as a ‘15 salary seeking $ 9-10 million and someone wearing his favorite #23 jersey (Jake Odorizzi should quickly end the Rays interest.  

What if Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore had stayed injury free?

images (3)Wow! Without a shadow of a doubt this team would have been different. Would it have been enough change to possibly change the end of the season outcome…..Without a doubt, but I’m a card carrying optimist.

But that doesn’t mean I would be calling out another revival of rising to the Rays 2008 level, or anticipated the backward tumble of 2009. I hate to admit it, but a few good things did happen for the Rays rotation because of those setbacks.

We found out the true fire and nature of Chris Archer, Cobb when he got healthy took the reins and never let go possibly posting one of the 6 best ERA (with possibly 2 starts to go) in the American League….And we saw the maturation process that beset Jake Ordorizzi from rookie nerves and indecision to transforming into a true 5th starter for this team.

What if we had held onto David Price instead of trading him to Detroit?

downloadThis is a question that will take a few more seasons before we know the true essence of this trade. I am also one of those anxious to see how young prospect Willy Adames advances in the Rays farm system. Also a post Trade Deadline Price has produced a 3-4 record and a 4.09 ERA (possibly 2 more starts) since the trade, the Southpaw sent as a left-handed option for the Rays rotation has been pretty Price-like. Drew Smyly posted a 3-1 record with a 1.70 ERA while also putting up 44 K’s on 47.2 innings.

I think this trade worked in the Rays future favor as Smyly is a salary friendly option and Adames is already viewed by some as a future Rays SS and he is still at the Class-A level.

What if Wil Myers had not missed 81 games with his wrist injury?  

images (4)My ESPN Fantasy League stats predictions for Myers showed him posting numbers like: 81 runs, 25 HR, 91 RBI and a .267 average. At the beginning of 2014 he was owned by a majority of the teams in the leagues, but today only 35.3% of people have stuck with Myers.

His offensive output was missed extremely by the Rays, but his absence also got us a great introduction to some future Rays “Outlaw” ways. If you had to find any shining moment out of Myers pain it was the pure fact we got to see over 103+ games with Kevin Kiermaier on the squad. With them both playing together here in the latter days of the season, we might be witnessing transformation of the Rays outfield to a bit more speed and aggression in 2015.  

What if Grant Balfour had retained that same fire and not lost some of his edge?

download (1)When Balfour signed that 2-year contract everyone was on his bandwagon. After a few stellar years showing his stuff on the West Coast with the A’s, the Rays envisioned Balfour taking the back end of the Bullpen and stabilizing it while Jake McGee slowly moved his way to that spot.

Balfour’s falling from grace and possibly a bit of “dead arm” for a spell pushed McGee into the spotlight and for a guy doing the closer’s role for the first time, his game was more hit than miss. With Balfour taking a step back into a set-up role now I can see the Rays using him as bait to a team that might need a proven closer and potent rally killer. This is not to mean the Rays will accept small fish for Balfour, but he could easily be in another uniform if the right return can be found for him.

images (1)Okay, that is just a few of the “what If” trains of thought that were thrown my way during the last home stand.  After these final 6 away games the Rays will conclude their season, return to the Trop and pack for home.

At that moment the questions will immediately change from “What if” to “What can we expect” as we begin another off season with question galore and many 2015 answers to ponder.

What direction can we expect the Rays to go?….T B D.

 

 

Peering Through the Rays Looking Glass- Hurlers

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Rays “Man about the Stands” Todd Kalas has informed us all that with a Kansas City or Oakland win tonight (9/19/14), the Rays will be mathematically eliminated from any more post season banter in 2014.

With that in mind, it is time for the second installment of “Peering through the Rays Looking Glass” and focus today on the Rays pitching corps for 2015.

057Going into the spring of 2015 this has to be one of the most secure spots within the Rays organization, but there are some changes that could, should or will happen before the boys again unpack their gear in Port Charlotte in February 2015.

So let’s start with the obvious first here. The Rays rotation might need a few tweaks, but there also might be an omission or deletion before the team again assembles for that yearly pre-Spring pep talk by Joe Ma on the green grass.

I definitely have been hearing great things on the progress of Matt Moore in his rehab and come spring, I consider him 1-L on the Rays starting rotation chart. Sure that might seem funny to some, but has been the case here in Tampa Bay for some time, there are 2 starters who deserve that # 1 position heading into 2015.

thI1Y37WIMOf course I have already assigned one half of that equation to Moore, and it only seem appropriate and totally earned that Alex Cobb will be the Rays 1-R or top right-handed option heading into next season. I’m not going to attach either to a #1 or #2 slot basically because I’m not sure yet which kind of order the Rays Front Office and Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey envision to be the best fit.

That being said, these two names will be at the top of the chart no matter the decision, and that decision will also fully decide the 3-5 slots also.

Just as the Rays #1 and #2  Rays pitching matchups are probably months away from being in some sort of concrete mode, the Rays # 3 and #4 spots might also be a total guess work right now and are totally interchangeable at this moment.

But even with that in mind, Rays left-hander Drew Smyly and Chris Archer should definitely be more than penciled in as the Rays middle rotation guys with either taking the #3 or #4 slot possibly based on a L-R-L-R rotation mix or Maddon could go L-R-R-L giving the Rays possibly a southpaw in every series being blanketed by a tough right-hander.

thILL9QYITEven though Jake Odorizzi produced a very respectable 2014 season and popped out great starts throughout 2004, I suspect he will face a nice dose of competition this spring to hold onto the Rays 5th rotation spot.  I can easily imagine Merrill Kelly, Alex Colome and possibly a veteran being signed by the Rays on the cheap to battle it out in spring training for this last rotation slot.

As Maddon always says, “Pitching sets the tone” again in 2015 on just how far or how low the Rays end up early or late in the American League East standings.

You might notice I did not include Jeremy Hellickson this rotation list. I think that this winter the Rays will definitely offer him up as a trade piece not only because he seems a bit injury prone, but because his salary is only going to rise and he might not be the solid investment for the Rays he was just 2 seasons ago. I would not be surprised if a change of scenery sparks Hellboy back into a frenzy quite possibly to the heights experienced by former Rays P Scott Kazmir this year in Oakland.

thG080DJ9VUnlike Price, Hellboy has not seen his stock rise in value the last few years and it might be time for the Rays to let Hellickson try another vista and re-establish himself.

Some have labeled 2014 a disaster year for the Rays because of their less than .500 overall record and their lack of offensive excellence, but the Rays found out in 2014 that this young staff will step up, will compete and will produce wins even with a less than desired run support by the field players.

But there is also another set of hurlers who will have a say in 2015 and just how far and fast the Rays can rebound again to regain their winning ways.

Leftie Jake McGee has more than shown us in 2014 that he has the right stuff to be our last line of defense, but some of the other pieces of the Rays Bullpen puzzle might have bigger question marks after lackluster 2014 seasons.

Bruce Boxberger’s pitching arm definitely will get him another shot in 2015 to stay at the M L B level, and if he can stay consistent, his spot on the Rays roster can only grow more secure with each great outing.

th02DTSMX8Even though Grant Balfour has another year on his contract with the Rays, he might be a nice piece of bait to wiggle out there for a team that needs a veteran closer who never lets his baseball fires burn out. I like Balfour and his fire, but the money spent on him could be used to bring in 2 relief pieces and with a team that will be pinching pennies ‘til they scream, Balfour is  a cautiously expendable commodity that could be in high demand somewhere else this winter.

You might think the Rays might have an easy decision to make this winter on Joel Peralta, who has been a fine set-up piece for the team. Starting this winter, the Rays hold 3 different club options on Joel in 2015-17. I do not see Peralta going anywhere, but depending on the size of cuts the team will have to make on payroll heading into 2015, his worth to the Rays teeters more on the good side than bad.

thXVN39TTLAlex Colome, who is now out of minor league options could be key pieces to any 2015 realignment of the Rays bullpen. Colome could easily be either the Rays 5th starter, spot starter or just inherit the long reliever slot in the bullpen. Colome has at least 2 more starts in the Rays rotation in 2014, but an impressive 2015 spring could hoist his name easily as a 5th slot contender.

With young relievers like Steve Getz, Brandon Gomes, Jeff Beliveau, Cesar Ramos, Kirby Yate and even C J Riefenhauser getting time this year to impress the Rays in extended looks and chances in 2015, one of the Rays next waves of players being selected from the minors might have a definite reliever flavor.

Some might think the name of the Rays Reliever of the Year and current Durham Bulls closer Adam Liberatore should be pushed onto this list. Sure he will get a spring major league camp invite, but the Rays still  have a hand full of minor league options on him and could bring him in more for seasoning and extended work with the M L B staff than promote him before quite possibly September 2015 or a more realistically during  2016.

248An extended injury to McGee before 2016 could escalate his chances to gain a quicker M L B chance to impress during the regular season.

Sure the Rays will sign a few veteran and even productive name to spring camp, but I do see the Rays current young and hungry relievers fighting them off tooth and nail to be a part of the Rays machine come late March 2015.

Each of the above relievers should get a chance in the latter stages of 2014 to make impressions and even get a longer look this upcoming spring in the major league camp and it would not surprise me if more than 3 of them break camp with a 25-man secured spot.

The pure unadulterated strength of the Rays heading into 2015 is their great pitching and the depth of said commodity in their farm system.

th37PB61VFThis is a time where the Rays could find more than a few intricate pieces of their 2015 puzzle with very affordable and team controlled contracts that could help the team survive and thrive through the lower payroll expectation of 2015.

It is possible the team might look to shave $20-30 million this winter and if that does come to reality, Hellickson, Balfour and quite possibly Peralta might be the viable and most costly options that get more than a few long and hard looks as to their worth in the Rays pitching corps.

 

 

Final Vote, Sminal Vote….McGee Deserved an All-Star Cap

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I want to vote for one of the American League All-Star Final Vote candidates, but I’m not.

Some might say my reasoning is selfish as baseball is viewed as a team sport played by individuals and we should vote and select the finest talents in the land to represent our AL squad.

 But this season, I disagree with that train of thought.

400-thumb-450x337-2628681Call me a horse’s caboose if you want, but I’m boycotting this year’s selection because I can, as my vote matters (Or that is what every politician says). The main reason I’m not voting for any of the 5 qualified candidates is that I believe there should have been another Rays horse in the running for an A L All-Star slot.

I firmly would have voted as many times as possible on my many email addresses (work and personal) for Tampa Bay Rays RP Jake McGee to be added to the A L squad.

Most will bring me the argument that the A L already have enough talent on the left side of the rubber with the likes of A’s RP Sean Doolittle, Twins Glenn Perkins and 2008 All-Star game late inning reliever and game winner Scott Kazmir (who will represent the A’s) on their roster.

images (2)Add the additional lefty names of Boston’s Jon Lester and the Jays Mark Buehrle , plus the Rays lone selection David Price, and the A L team currently has 6 left-handed selections and the Final Vote could bring another.

I had a feeling Farrell was going to call the name of a southpaw from the Rays, but I did not think it would have been Price even though he has also put up some stellar stats considering his team’s hot and cold running offense at times this season. Maybe it was wishful thinking that Farrell might call on the soft-spoken McGee instead of Price, but I had hopes.

downloadBut it seems the All-Star game anymore is about the “hero factor”, or the guy who has that role model persona loud and proud and not the guy who has honed his craft and finally has all the pieces gathered to complete his M L B puzzle.

I truly thought this All-Star game would be McGee’s “coming out” party to show why the Rays have let him go from a great minor league starter to pulling the final strings at times in the Rays current closer-by-committee framework.

But as they say, let’s let the numbers (as of 7/9/14) speak for themselves.

*** McGee sports a 3-0 record with 6 saves this season, including a nail-biting, 4-out save last night.

*** Sports a 1.58 ERA in 42 appearances this season and surrendered a 14 straight scoreless appearance streak in last nights (7/8) Rays win over the Kansas City Royals.

***He allowed a run for only the 2nd time in his last 31 appearances, plus 39 of his 43 trips to the hill in 2014 have been scoreless appearances.

*** His fastball velocity, which averages 96.5 mph is the highest among leftie AL relievers.

*** His total appearances (42) ranks 2nd in the A L, and his stingy Opponents Slugging Percentage of .214 has him ranked 3rd in the AL.

*** He has pitched 49 consecutive homerless inning, the 3rd longest streak in the entire M L B. His last HR was on Sept 4, 2013 to LA Angel C Chris Iannetta.

***20 of his total 25 hits this season have been singles, and the other 5 have been doubles.

***McGee has stranded 24 of his 27 inherited base runners (88.9 %) this season and if his current formula runs true, should eclipse the Rays record of 88.6% set by former Rays Southpaw J P Howell in 2008.

So the numbers show McGee has the talents and the numbers to be considered a 2014 All-Star.

images (5)Some have said that since Price makes his last start before the break this Saturday that 3-days rest might not make him a viable pitching option for All-Star game.

Others have commented that Price could attend the All-Star game festivities in Minnesota and consult with Farrell possibly Sunday morning to recommend McGee as a viable option since Price would have a little more than 2-2 1/2 days rest before the contest. Some say Price passing the Rays All-Star game cap to McGee would be one of the most unselfish and deserving moves Price would ever do as a Ray. uniform

The move also could be viewed as a team-first move as not pitching in the All-Star game would put Price in line to pitch in the Rays first post All-Star game contest against the Twins on Friday, July 18th.

images (4)So you can snide me all you want that I’m not voting for another player not sporting a Rays uniform in the All-Star game final vote.

The players selected by M L B are deserving and merit consideration, but I got to stick with my gut on this and keep the home fires burning that McGee gets a call from Farrell before Tuesday’s All-Star game.

Sometimes you got to stick to your hometown convictions even if it doesn’t always jive with the majority.

Rays Inspired World Cup Squad

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tasty 2014 Rays Media Guide Tidbits: Rays Bullpen

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As I have mentioned before, the day I get to check out the Tampa Bay Rays new edition of their Media Guide is a day filled with adventure, intrigue and maybe even a little whimsical fun. Glancing over the awesome moments of our brood of baseball buddies always bring to light moment uncaught by our eyes and ears in the stands and produce stats and figures we never really realized for our guys who battle upon the turf.

ku-xlargeSo I decided to stay in the hurler mode today for my 2nd installment of the special career notes and humanitarian efforts of our firemen down on the First Base line who we affectionately know as the Bullpen. Depending on the type of relief corps your team possesses, they can either give you a warm feeling or outright panic when a starter begins to show fatigue.

Lucky for us here in Tampa Bay our relievers have shown more pluses than minuses over the last few season, but glitches do happen. Also we do not know yet if the Rays will carry 11 or 12 pitchers going into the season, so I’ll just take a coin flip and list the 6 guys I think might comprise the ‘Pen and a few names to possibly watch this spring.

th (6)Jake McGee: Jake and his wife Morgan went a bit “Italiano” this past November visiting Venice, Milan and George Clooney’s hangout Lake Como. During Christmas Eve this past year, Jake and his wife also visited local foster families in Reno, Nevada and provided the kids with Christmas gifts.

McGee is 2013 ranked second in the M L B among reliever southpaws with an average fastball velocity of 96.3 mph. The mark was the highest among American League leftie relievers. McGee also posted up second among all M L B relievers with throwing a fastball on 93 percent of his pitches. Makes sense McGee has been working on a few additional pitches this off-season to keep hitters guessing in 2014.

th (7)Brandon Gomes: Took the LSAT after graduating from Tulane and if he wasn’t playing professional baseball, Gomes would have attended Law School and pursued a career in law or finance.

Even though Gomes only appeared 26 times in 2013 due to a right lat. Strain which sidelined him for 88 games, he did go 3-1 last season and split his season almost down the middle 14 games before/ 12 games after returning) between his injury stint. Could be a pitcher to watch this spring as he wants to show the Rays he is durable and consistent.

th (8)Cesar Ramos: He learned English at a bilingual preschool in Los Angeles, Calif. His parents immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico 34 years ago seeking a better opportunity for their family. Cesar also has sister named Elena.

16 of Ramos 47 appearances in 2013 were 2 innings or longer which was the 4th highest number in the American League and most by a Rays reliever since J P Howell’s 23 in 2008. Ramos also secured his first M L B save after throwing 3 scoreless innings in Cleveland on May 31st.

th (9)Joel Peralta: Considered quitting baseball in 2002 following a demotion from Double-A Arkansas to Class-A Cedar Rapids while with the Angels. His older brother Frank persuaded him to stick with it and Joel responded by going 5-0 with 21 saves and a .95 ERA with the Kernels (THANKS Frank!).

Peralta led the majors in 2013 with 80 relief appearances, which puts in 2nd overall in Rays history behind Randy Choate (85 in 2010). It was Peralta’s 3rd straight season of 70+ appearances (227 over 3 seasons) and the cherry on top is Peralta led all M L B relievers with 41 Holds in 2013.

Rays-Heath-Bell-2014-600x337Heath Bell: Who knew the All-Star closer was also such a force in the kitchen? Bell made 24 gingerbread houses from scratch for his kids school. Heath hopes to meet Duffy, the Ace of Cakes this year when the Rays travel to Baltimore and would like to compete on the Food Network pastry competition show Sweet Genius someday.

Pitched in 69 games last season for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was his 7th consecutive season of 60+ appearances. Ranked 3rd among M L B closers in saves (166) over the last 5 seasons. With Mariano Rivera now retired, only Philadelphia closer Jonathan Papelbon (173) remains in contention for the overall top spot.

th (10)Grant Balfour:  Most people might not know Grant’s father after completing his rugby career became a leader in developing and promoting Australian baseball and served as the G M of the Sydney Blue Sox before retiring last August.

Grant saved a career high 38 games last season with only 3 blown saves. Over his last 24 appearances in 2013, Balfour had a 92.7 percent save percentage, 4th best in the AL and in A’s team history. He beat out his own 92.4 percent mark set in 2012 for the 4th spot. Converted 62 of 67 (92.5 %) save chances over the past 2 seasons.

th (11)Juan Carlos Oviedo:  He might be one of the biggest question marks this spring in regards to the Bullpen. The team took a gamble on 2013 by signing him while he was rehabbing after a Tommy John’s surgery. They released him in the off-season, but quickly resigned him and invited him to spring camp. If healthy and firing on all cylinders this spring, could be a factor in the team’s Bullpen makeup and possibly send someone above away in a late spring trade.

Oviedo logged 92 saves from 2009-11. That total was 8th best in the M L B at that time and ranked him 3rd on the Miami Marlins all-time save list.

His last time pitching in a professional games was July 14, 2013 while with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. 

pageAs always, do not discount the names of Jeff Beliveau, Brad Boxberger, C J Riefenhauser, Josh Lueke or even Kirby Yates of not making noise in supplanting one of the above pitchers for a spot on the Rays 25-man roster. Even if none of these names make the final roster before Opening Day, their names will again be heard possibly at some point within Tropicana Field in 2014.

Also worth circling might be the name of Erik Bedard who might have a chance to fill the Rays long reliever role with their 2013 hurler. Alex Torres traded in the off-season. Bedard could also be a great fill-in starter in-house option for the Rays if he were willing to accept a non-starter gig in 2014.

Tomorrow we will hit the factoids concerning the players who should be deemed the starters in the Rays infield for 2014. 

Papa John’s Also Rewards Fans at Home for 10 K’s

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It is one of those moments that everyone within Tropicana Field await with grand anticipation. Once the Tampa Bay Rays pitching staff get to that lucky number “7”, the assembled Rays Republic begins that count down towards double digits with an increased excitement an increased cheering decibel level and that awesome thrill of knowing that something amazing happens when the Rays Center field Strikeout sign clicks to “10”.

oakland-athletics-v-tampa-bay-20130419-195943-980The moment has become symbolic and synonymous to illustrate both the Rays pitching staff’s strikeout proficiency as well as the benchmark for a free morsel of edible goodness that can only be redeemed when that numerical plateau is finally achieved. It seems like forever, or at least since the Blimpies Sub promotion hit the trash can, that Papa John’s has become a part of the Rays late inning fun with such honored events such as the 7th inning stretch, or watching that invisible arrow pierce the sky after a Fernando Rodney save.

So far during the Rays 2013 season this event has transpired only once back on April 5th against the Cleveland Indians when Rays starter Matt Moore combined with relievers Jake McGee, Brandon Gomes and Joel Peralta to post 11 K’s on the Centerfield lighted strikeout board.

The Rays 10- Strikeout Challenge has become a part of our Rays in-game culture, but all that is about to change a bit as everyone within the Rays Republic can now taste the joy and excitement, even from your own couch or comfy recliner. ow, even as you sit at home watching the game on television or your computer or even listening to the contest on the Rays Radio broadcast within Tampa Bay and select Central Florida market locations can also celebrate this feat both home or away with discounted munchies and cold beverages?

That’s right Rays Republic, no matter if you are at home, at the game or even on the move within select Tampa Bay and Central Florida you can benefit from the Rays striking out 10 opponents in a game. All you will have to do is either call or go online to PappaJohns.com submit your order for their tasty products and use the promo code: “RAYS” on your carry out or delivery order and you will get 50% off your total for that order. Of course you will have to use this special code online only the day
AFTER a 10-K game and this offer is not valid with other discounts or offers and is only available at participating Papa John’s locations.

tampa-bay-rays-v-boston-20130413-123341-228So far this season the Rays actually hit that double-digit mark in 2 of their away games, both in Boston on Saturday, April 13th and Monday April 15th when the Rays pitching staff posted 12 and 11 strikeouts respectfully during their weekend series. That would have been 2 additional times we could have utilized this food offer to the extreme joy and excitement of our families and friends. So now whether home or away you can utilize this special offer the next day after the Rays pitching staff hit the double-digit mark in strikeouts. 

unnamedI actually did not know of this new Rays promotion with their corporate sponsor Pappa John’s until I recently bought a pizza and chicken poppers from my local franchise here in Northwest St. Petersburg, Florida. There upon the hot and extremely fragrant cardboard pizza box was attached this new Rays strikeout special offer.

Some might say it is only a 50% discount on your entire order, but considering that could be a nice $15.00 windfall on a $30 usual order., but it is another small way you can bring the excitement of watching the Rays strikeout total elevate and get something fantastic even while not sitting within the tilted cap of the Trop. I know I’m hoping the Rays hurlers today post 10 K’s so I can use this special offer knowing that 10 strikeouts by the Rays can get more some great food and beverages as I sit at home hoping for another 10 K result.

Moore Finds His Groove and Posts a Beautiful Shutout Win

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If Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Moore who is usually a slow starter to begin the season as he gains velocity and control gets even a tad bit better for his second start, he might throw the Rays second No-Hitter. Seriously though, the fact Moore seems to have found a nice balance against the Cleveland Indians on Friday night and allowed only 2 hit to go with his 8 K’s and took home the “W” in his first start of the young season.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172823-107Maybe we can attest this change of routine to the fact Moore looked a little scruffy on the hill, not his usual clean-cut All-American cover boy self. Possibly Moore has taken a page from fellow southpaw David Price and just go with the flow and what the hitters give you and not stress the small stuff or missed borderline calls.

Or maybe it is really as simple as Moore took the mound during his Spring Training gigs like it was already the season and he used those 4 starts as his “early season” roller-coaster starts. No matter what the true reasoning is, it was great to see Moore showing great control, eliminating his walks and going6 innings while throwing an even 100 pitches. The pure fact Moore got to the 6th inning and helped the Bullpen is huge as it gave newly called-up reliever Brandon Gomes a chance to shine as well as give Jake McGee a solid outing to get that huge ERA starting it free-fall towards some sort of normalcy.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-192808-9463 times during his 6 inning stint Moore set the side down in order with only three hitters coming to the plate. And only during the top of the 3rd when Cleveland had 5 hitters come to the plate and advanced Mike Aviles to Third Base did a hitter reach third base. Moore even helped his own cause by pitching inside to Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera who hit a weakly hit ball right to Evan Longoria who rocketed the ball to Jose Lobaton stationed at Home Plate to gun down Cabrera and keep the shutout intact for Moore.

cleveland-indians-v-tampa-bay-20130405-172837-183That is the kind of pitching that will elevate this team and keep them in ballgames. Playing to the oppositions weaknesses and strangling their run scoring opportunities by keeping the ball in the park, and on the ground. Of the 10 balls hit and put into play last night, 6 were on the ground and were converted with no problems at all. If Moore can keep playing to the Rays strength of a solid and well-oiled Rays infield defense, this is only the first of the wins for him in 2013.

Rays Opener Produced a Mixed Bag of Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hair Today….Gone Tommorrow… for a Great Cause

Some say Rays Manager Joe Maddon has made more than a few headlines for his follicle hair coloring statements over the past few seasons. From his steady head of gray to John Cash black to a more subtle but pronounced medium brown this Spring, Maddon has made his hair fashionable.

On Thursday Maddon’s “ hair moment” or in fact his “loss of hair moment” will proceed over an event that has seen it’s list of participants grow by the hour. Over 26 members of the Rays are set to see their locks fall to the ground and be swept away as a symbolic gesture of support for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Dubbed “Team Rays” on their website, Maddon will be not only leading by example, but following the road set forth by another Tampa Bay sports icon, Tampa Bay Lightning F Vinny Lacavalier.

This is the same organization that Rays starter Wade Davis showed such support for in 2011 as he let a young cancer patient shave his head as he sat in a chair over the Rays dugout after the conclusion of a Sunday game. That was only one participant, and the crowd was amazing. Think of the magnitude knowing over 25 members of the team and the Rays staff will also sit in the chair and have their locks fall to the grass in support of this effort.

Rays participants set to join Maddon in the barber’s chair before the Rays Thursday afternoon contest in Port Charlotte include Rays pitchers: Davis, James Shields, Bryan Augenstein, Cesar Ramos. Jake McGee, Alex Cobb, Brandon Gomes, Matt Torra, Albert Suarez, Matt Bush, Dane De La Rosa and Rays rookie sensation Matt Moore.

Not to be outdone by the pitchers’, the entire Rays catching corps will also have their time in the leather chair as Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton, Chris Gimenez, Mark Thomas,Stephen Vogt, Robinson Chirinos and follicle-challenged Craig Abernaz will see their hair fly away in the Charlotte Sports Park wind before that days contest. Also making an appearance in the chair will be some of the members of the Rays right-side of their infield: SS Reid Brignac, 3B Jesus Feliciano, INF Elliot Johnson, plus Rays outfield members Matt Joyce, Brandon Guyer and the “Legend” himself, Sam Fuld.

A few well-known figures in the Rays coaching staff will also need more sunscreen this Spring as Third Base Coach Tom Foley and Bench Coach Dave Martinez will also be supporting this great charity. The Rays front office will also have a few hit the chair as Rays Senior VP of Baseball Operations Brian Auld, Sr VP Mark Fernandez, VP of Branding and Fan Experience Darcy Raymond, Sr Director of Corporate Partnerships Aaron Cohn,Manager of Corporate Sales Jake Hornstein and two Directors of Corporate Partnerships, Richard Reeves and Josh Bullock.

I think the paragraph on the pcfcutforacure website under “Team Rays” speaks volumes on why the team is so focused and excited about the event:

This is about being there for the kids and their families. We want them to know they are not alone. It’s a small gesture, but it is our way of showing support for them while gaining empathy for what they are going through. We have a saying posted in our locker room that says ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ As we go forward with this campaign we are doing so under the flag ‘Fortune favors the bald.’ As an organization, we are proud to support organizations and institutions like the Pediatric Cancer Foundation (PCF) and the Moffitt Cancer Center.”

This is the kind of event that bonds a team. Unified with a common thought and goal, it can be a great starting point of the Rays taking another step not only in their development as a team, but as a great inspiration to other teams around the MLB to follow suit. I commend Maddon and his troops for their commitment, their outstanding community involvement and support, and most of all for donating what some see as a status symbol but they see as only hair and a visual stamp that they support this organization.

If you want to help support this cause with a donation of your own, text CUT to 50555 or go to pcfcutforacure.org. Just as every snip of the scissors is a chance to change a life, every text can also be life-changing for someone.

 

 

2011 is Almost in the Books, but What a Season to Remember.

Usually around this time of the year Tampa Bay Rays blogs begin to countdown their top moments of the season. It was a historic season by many aspects. The team posted their third trip in four seasons to the October party, but also we saw so many of the Rays post their own moments of wonder and amazement it has to have all of us giddy with emotion knowing there are less than 100 days before the fun all begins again for 2012.

We saw the emergence of “the Legend”( Sam Fuld), the formulation of the “Magic of Kotch” (Casey Kotchman) movement, and also saw the further maturation of the Rays top tier players David Price and Evan Longoria. We saw Sean Rodriguez move across the diamond to the 6-hole and show why he has always been a prized reward of the Scott Kazmir trade. Desmond Jennings came up and proved once and for all he is not a “Crawford”-clone, but has his own power, style and base-stealing magic.

Matt Joyce proved he had the stuff to hit left-handers, and Ben Zobrist again show the “Zorilla” style traits we all fell in love with during the 2008-2009 campaigns. From starters to Bullpen the Rays hurlers showed promise, unexpected magical moments and the durability of the staff graybeard as James Shields merited Cy Young consideration.

2011 was suppose to be a rebuilding season, but the only rebuilding the Rays did was on their reputation and solidarity to fixate on that post-season goal and drive towards it with vigor and vitality. This season will not go down in Rays history as the most productive on paper, but the 91 wins posted by this squad were 1 better than their rivals the Boston Red Sox and produced another champagne moment within Tropicana Field.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled a “Find Another Way” mantra on his troops early this Spring and several players in the Rays fold responded by showing their abilities are on par with this league even if their MLB service clocks show minimal numbers. Jennings might have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2011 he should be the heir apparent to the Rays lead-off hitter the Rays for 2012. Joyce finally got the at bats to prove he can be the Rays everyday right-fielder and run producer.

All five members of the Rays 2011 posted over 10+ victories with Shields leading the field with a 16-12 record. Not only did Shields lead his young Rays comrades in “W’s”, he also topped the squad in innings pitched (249.1 innings), strikeouts (225) and ERA (2.82 ). Filling in gaps within the season the Rays saw the promise of brilliance of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and the late season relief pitching of Alex Torres.

Pitching definitely defined so many of these great Rays moments, but the bats did not remain silent during the carnage. We saw new closer Kyle Farnsworth struggle but post a career high with 25 saves, but we also saw the season toll takes it effect on one of the most intimidating players in the game. But the Rays Bullpen which featured 3 lefties for most of the season closed down offenses with RP Joel Peralta providing his own brand of set-up brilliance as well as posting 6 saves. From inning 1 to 9 this Rays team’s pitching tried to set the tone and bring home a win on a nightly basis.

Who will forget that Home Run hit by Longo to seal the Rays post-season against the Yankees on the season’s last day in extra frames about the same time ex-Rays LF Carl Crawford missed a dying quail in Baltimore to propel the Rays into the October party.

With that singled out win on the last day of the 2011 campaign, the Rays ended up posting their only winning September ever with a 16-10 record. It also secured the squad’s third straight 90+ win season, How pale does that starting 1-8 record look now in retrospect as corks exploded within the Trop’s confines and players and fans celebrated together.

Rookies earned their Rays letters this season at an alarming rate as Moore, Brandon Gomes,Torres, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined to bring home 8 of those 16 September victories among them, further showing the promise and prosperity that should bring about more moments of celebration and excitement in 2012 for this talented 5-some. Each of these 5 hurlers definitely earned their Rays letterman’s sweaters complete with a shaving cream pie.

But even with the emergence of the rookies, some of the Rays players saw their season as constant reminders of the ever-changing MLB environment. Pitchers J P Howell and Andy Sonnanstine began the 2012 Spring Training with high expectations and a want to show their abilities for this team. Sonny ended up in Triple-A Durham for most of the season, and Howell who came on later in the season never seemed to find the right groove or positive upward momentum. But that is the joy of the New Year, resolutions can be made, and the past is just that…past.

The 2011 season has long been put into the record books, but 2011 is slowing winding down towards it’s last tick of the clock and should be remembered as a season of true fortitude, ever-present resilience and a combined team-wide confidence stemming from the veterans to rookies that this team could win on any given night.

But still if I had to pick a moment of clarity for the Rays, a scene that showed the drive, commitment and determination of this squad it was on the 180th day of the season, in the 12th inning Longoria proved once and for all he is the man to follow on this squad even before his 31st Home Run made human contact in the right field stands. So as we begin to enter the 15th season for the Rays, Sonny has found a new home with the Cubs, Maddon has darkened his hair a few shades.

Changes are still in store for this team before they cross the Port Charlotte, Florida threshold this Spring. Some players have solidified their spots on the roster while others have the Rays scouting and Coaching staff wearing out the erasers on their pencils trying to mesh and mold this squad to take that next step. Can’t wait for that crystal ball to fall in NYC soon because that will symbolize that 2012 is squarely upon us, and the memories of 2011 are just that…fond and precious memories.

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