Results tagged ‘ James Shields ’

No Pressure, Rays Just Need to Win

This Tampa Bay Rays versus New York Yankees final 6-game battle royale needs no hype, and definitely needs no extra drama. It is the classic tale of lower (payroll) class rising up against the established norm. A meager collection of gutsy veterans and energized rookies banging their heads with Major League Baseball’s anointed ones who’s own city treats them like royalty.

It is the tale of the player who still drives the car he bought with his MLB Draft signing bonus against the one’s who could buy a new auto for everyone in the clubhouse and still have money to valet each car. One is a team steeped in baseball lore with legends of greatness, longevity and feats of power unknown to the other squad.

Yankees versus Rays has all that connective lore and more, much more. The pinstripe now have the Rays initial franchise Manager acting as their Pitching Coach, while the Rays have the Yankees long time staple as their Senior Advisor. Interesting enough, so many thought current Yankee skipper Joe Girardi was going to be the Rays Manager after Lou Pineilla until the cerebral Merlot Joe won the gig.

There is bad blood that stems as far back as Spring 2008, with the aggressor of that day Rays INF Elliot Johnson on the field this series, and Franklin Cervelli again out with an injury, but not due to a 2011 plate collision with Johnson. Out in the Yankees Bullpen the Rays 2010 closer is being used as a set-up man while former Yankee RP Kyle Farnsworth is biting at the bit to get back into his closer’s saddle.

Both of these teams used to train in St. Petersburg, Florida in the Spring, with some saying departed Yankee greats still haunt the old ballfields. Yankees even still call Tampa Bay their Spring home, nestled behind the blue-hued fences off Dale Mabry and within view of an NFL stadium.

These teams are so much alike, but so different at the same notion. The Rays have been able to use their Save-a-Lot budget tactics to bring 2 American League East title to their dome catwalks in 3 seasons. The Yankees are the only other team over the last 4 years to equal the Rays AL East haul, and that is if the New York squad can hold off the ram-rod Rays in their final 6-game showdowns in 2011.

Before last night’s loss, their was fodder sinking and flowing around the web that if the Rays went 10-0, they would command the AL East title for the third time in four seasons, besting the high dollar Boston Red Sox and Yankees with a payroll that is less than their bench players make…combined. Maybe there is something to that “Moneyball” shenanigans.

Most have come into this series with the pure thought that the Rays will have to duplicate their “Fenway magic” in the replica Yankee Stadium if they are to fully send the Red Sox Nation into a tailspin, even before their upcoming 3-game weekend slate with these same Pinstripes. More importantly, this Yankee club would like to see nothing better than to see the Red Sox and their Nation try and justify out this recent plunder into the deep recesses of failure.

But the Rays are not going into this Yankee series without reservations. Their offense needs to crank itself up a notch, particularly with left-handed hitter aiming for the Rightfield short porch. Rays DH Johnny Damon needs to revisit a few of his Pinstripe past moments of pushing the ball into the stands, possibly aiding in the Rays taking 3 out of 4.

Even if the Rays play perfect ball both from their defense to their starting pitching, mistakes and lapses in judgment even at the plate can not be tolerated. Rays 2B/RF Ben Zobrist has to come into the nightcap game with vision of his newborn daughter dancing in his head, and a goal of planting a few souvenirs into the famed outfield stands.

Doesn’t matter who is on the hill to start, the Rays have the hurlers to keep the series interesting, the question is which Rays offense will show up…the anemic Baltimore crew who looked like they had food poisoning during their 3-game debacle or the swatting squad that sent Red Sox Nation scurrying onto Yakey Way talking to themselves about their darking fate.

The Rays have nothing to lose, and should play the Yankees with abandon knowing their fate lies firmly within their own hands, The Yankees do not have that luxury. Defeats will bring about worry and doubt heading into the final stretch, which would favor their adversary. Consider the fact that the Yankees have to play both Tampa Bay and Boston over that 10 game stretch, and the pressure cooker is gaining steam for the Yankees.

The possibilities of securing back-to-back series wins is firmly planted within the minds of the Rays, and the Bombers will do everything short of urban warfare to secure and safely conceal their quest of another AL East crown. Emotions will be sky high on both sides of the field as the Yankees still have a lingering hole in their souls after losing the AL East title on their last grasp in 2010.

If the Rays play the way they did in their 4 games in Boston and take the game to the Yankees, even during their day/night double-dose, this Rays team might have to all go have dinner at the Cracker Barrel a few blocks from the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport. For if this Rays team does the same to the Yankees that they just did to the Red Sox, when the Rays land late Thursday evening maybe Maddon should buy the whole team “meatloaf with a side of gravy” upon their return. I can smell it already. 

Rays Get Introduced to the “Wendelstedt Factor”


They were initially designed to be the “enforcers of the rules and regulations of baseball”. Be the facilitators of human error that was needed within the scope of the game to keep it from becoming inherently mechanical and stiff. The flaws and frailties of the human element have made baseball enjoyable to watch, banter about and discuss long before television made their mistakes more visual within seconds.

But in the end, you have to ask yourself why do some Major League Umpires find it necessary to “ jump the shark tank” at times to firmly cross that fine line and make the game their own? At what point do the Umpires have that right to step over that pre-conceived dividing chalk line of being “in the game or around it” that essence that sometimes separates fact from fiction, keeping the integrity of the game intact, or blowing it all out the window.

Most people in Boston today will say I have a case of extreme “sour grapes”, that the Tampa Bay Rays loss to the Red Sox last night was a well fought contest with hills and valleys that the team did not use to their advantage to post a win. I can agree with that, but there might have been another element that most Boston fans have thrown into the darkness of the closet, hoping someone like me will not bring it back out into the daylight. Something stunk in Boston last night, and it wasn’t low tide.

During the course of the game last night an old quote I read by former National League Umpire Bruce Froemming kept popping into my mind as a few questionable calls and strike signals were displayed on tele-illustrators and graphics pertaining to the exploits of last night’s Home Plate Umpire:

One of the really wrong theories about officiating is that a good official is one you never notice. The Umpire who made this statement was probably a poor official who tried to get his paycheck and hide behind his partners and stay out of trouble his whole life. Control of the ballgame is the difference between Umpires who show up for the players and Managers.

Usually when you think of the Rays and an Umpire controversy their top two past adversaries Umpires Joe West and Angel Hernandez come quickly to light. But last night the Rays dastardly duo were nowhere is sight with each hundreds of miles away calling other MLB games. With the above quote in mind, last night a new Rays villain in black emerged on Friday night, and his name is Hunter Wendelstedt. You would think a second generation MLB Umpire would have a more structured approach, a more defined strike zone, a definite want to be “in the game” but not an intricate part of it.

I actually enjoy an animated Home Plate Umpire who throws a little showmanship and bravado into the cool night’s air to provide a hint of excitement and twists to the game, but I have a firm distaste when I see a blatant disregard for a well defined parameter of the strike zone floating back and forth in the wind like a flag during the evening. The integrity of the strike zone is up to individual Umpire’s interpretation and will be compromised at times, but when it floats and is expanded like a balloon filling with hot Umpire air, that is where I draw the line.

I understand that sometimes Umpires make bad judgment calls in the spirit of the game that upon later review have merit for further discussions, but when their errors in judgment can be plastered upon a television matrix system and show an obvious disregard for the defined “box” of a preconceived strike zone that each hitter hopes an Umpire will structure and call with clarity, I have a problem with that.

A great example of this floating strike zone has to be Rays CF B J Upton’s 5th inning plate appearance. I agree that Upton does give a few extra words to Umpires during the game discounting their strike zones or even hoping for a reprieve on a later plate appearance, but when the zone expands to almost touching a player’s uniform and it is called a strike…..something is truly afoot.

In as much time as Upton instantly turned and began to disagree with Wendelstedt after his third strike, quick thinking members of the FSN/SunSports production crew were deciphering and dissecting the “called strike” to show that Wendelstedt did indeed put a lot of his own “English” on the strike zone and the pitch was actually way outside the usual strike zone.

Upton had a perfect right to become agitated and angry with Wendelstedt after it was shown that for that one pitch the strike zone had expanded from its usual 8.5 inches from the center of the plate to 14.5 inches. A called strike that was placed 6 inches outside the usual box led to Upton’s plate barrage. Some might say since Upton had a 3-2 count with Desmond Jennings attempting to steal second base he should have swung at anything within the zone, but 6 inches outside the zone would not have merited even such a thought, even by the usually swing aggressive Upton.

If the contest had been 6-3 or even a blow-out, there would not be this kind of banter by me to the integrity of the moving strike zone. But because it was a tightly constrictive 4-3 contest, a simple walk or even base hit could have made this game’s momentum and conclusion quickly change. Even more upsetting is the simple fact that even with an expanded and bloated strike zone, Rays starter James Shields did not seem to get the same lofty calls.

Gone will be the “Wendelstedt factor” behind the plate as he will be stationed behind Third Base this afternoon. Hopefully Wendelstedt doesn’t have an additional chance or moment to expand the chalk line down that Leftfield line in Fenway Park. I hope Wendelstedt’s father, former Umpire Harry Wendelstedt who patrolled the National Leagues from 1966-1998 has some great “fatherly advice for Hunter. Possibly  something like my own opinion that the MLB strike zone is there as a key, but to abuse it loses not only the key to the lock, but you lose yourself and your own integrity.

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

I think the Tampa Bay Rays have the right idea right now. This series against the Boston Red Sox is the first set of playoff atmosphere and caliber games that the Rays will have to solidly win and show their might for them to secure a second straight visit to the October promise land. The energy and electricity in the air right now is evident, the Rays are beginning to find their offensive rhythm at a time when a powerful message needs to be delivered.

The team has to go into these next three contests against Boston with the same drive, determination and zeal to hand the Red Sox a “L” on their home turf within the eye sight of the Red Sox Nation. You got to hand it to the young Rays who again found their offensive firepower and stepping over their hitting mess left in piles upon the turf in Baltimore. The Rays power explosion last night definitely showed the Boston and Red Sox Nation, that this series is not going to be a cakewalk, and at the conclusion of this 4- battle mini war, one team will clearly have an emotional edge going into the final 10-odd games.

You still have to be mindful that last night’s convincing victory was not fought against the top tier of Red Sox pitching, and the middle games of this 4-game campaign will have extreme pitching challenges where the Rays will have to out-think and out play Boston’s top two. Rays Manager Joe Maddon always says “pitching sets the tone”, well in this case the Rays want to make Boston a bit tone deaf and knock them on their heels.

That is the way this series will be won. The team that makes the opposition pitch deep every inning, use up their momentum and energy will find the crack and exploit their adversary first. The Rays dominated in that category last night, tonight it is time to again duplicate the feat.

If the Rays truly want to thrust out their chests in victory, it will come against two of the Red Sox best, and with the full Red Sox arsenal again healthy and ready to face Rays starters James Shields and Jeff Niemann over the next two days. That is really how you want this series to play out, with each team going back and forth with momentum until one cracks the dike and the flood waters spill out into Boston harbor.

This is how you want the American League Wild Card to be decided, with the best on the hill for the front runners and the team chasing them finding ways to decipher and dictate a defeat over the course of the next two games. Considering the Rays could not take advantage earlier this week when Boston stubbed their toes to make up critical 2 games worth of ground bringing this Wild Card dash within a single contest. That would have amped up the intensity level, but I have a feeling that each team already feel those tingles in their bones.

 If the first game was an indication, this Red Sox/Rays series has all the trapping and emotional feel of a full fledged Major League Baseball playoff series. It truly feels to me more like a 4-game series to decide who gets to head into the final 10 days with a chance to make the current A L East leaders a bit nervous, possibly even shaving a few games off their current lead. At the least it could help delay and prevent any champagne corks from exploding until the Yankees and Rays end the season in Tropicana Field.

Think of the deep hole both these teams faced after the first two weeks of the 2011season. Both were fighting and clawing for a chance to get out of the A L East cellar fighting and have amazingly got their seasons on track and ascended back to the top tiers of the American League East. Most teams would have considered just that journey upwards out of the cellar a seasonal success, but both these teams have a bitter taste in their mouths and need that sweet nectar of champagne to wash the troubles away for good.

If the Rays battle and take the next two, it sends a clear message that this team has its engine purring and ready for that final run with 7 matches against the AL East leading New York Yankees. This definitely feels like the first round set of series game leading up to a AL East showdown on the horizon for the Rays and Yankees, but Boston is standing in the road defiant to let the Rays pass without a fight.

Emotions are flowing into overdrive on both sides as one begins to show a sense of panic, and the other is starting to settle into a familiar seasonal groove of fighting to the last bit of energy, prevailing sometimes with the last swing.

If the Rays dispatch Beckett and Lester over the next two games, it will demoralize more than just the Red Sox players. It will send panic and emotional pleas throughout Red Sox Nation. So get ready, strap in and prepare for a fight because the Red Sox will not go down without a fight, and the Rays seem ready to counter one…Now that type of scenario feels just like a post season series to me.


The August “Whack-A-Mole” Experience

I love the smell in the morning of the August Trade Waiver drama. It is simply surprising to see who get through this seasonal “Whack-A -Mole” fandango without a single waiver claim, and those who find themselves popped on the noggin being smacked back to the reality of possibly leaving their present squad.

It sometimes seem to work exactly like that classic kid’s arcade game. Every MLB team has their own mallet that they can either whack or smack their collective desired player (mole) square on the head and try and claim them. But the wild part is their present team can pull them back down into the safety of their own 25-man roster and back off the waiver wire with not a hint of their real intentions.

It is clear arcade gamesmanship at it best. The first action of a team posting it player upon the waiver wire is exactly like the mole poking his head out of the hole. Up for all 29 other MLB head honchos to see and possibly mangle for their own team. But here is where it gets really interesting, the team that posts the player has all the advantages, not the person manning the heavy mallet.

You would think it would be the opposite, but then you would be sorely wrong. Even thought it might be a nice therapeutic action to pop a veteran or budding MLB player on the head, he could without warning be pulled back, offered safety again without his claiming club getting a viable chance to claim their prize. Not even a slew of tickets would emerge from the machine, sometimes this game is all or nothing.

That is where the real gamesmanship comes into play. Sure you could smack the daylights out of a player like Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields when his head pops out of the machine, but the Rays front office could be also baiting you for a Winter discussion and pull Shields back into the comfort of the Rays fold. Suddenly you are left holding the bloody mallet with all to see you covet Shields.

Most of the time this scenario is the end result. Teams place the heads of their viable commodities firmly in the game to see who wants to take a whack at acquiring them, or has more than a passing interest. Some like Rays OF/DH Johnny Damon got completely through the game without a single thump upon the noggin, but still there might be a hidden want for his services.

It is almost like a visual game where others see what you are craving, wanting to thump into submission and take back to your roster as a prize. Interesting enough, even if you land one hard and heavy upon the exposed head of Shield’s, the Rays can pull him back to safety and he is no longer an exposed asset for the rest of the MLB to smash and dash.

Shields is not the only Rays player to be pulled back into his team’s safe haven with at least one square hit to his cap region. The Rays Republic have even seen their closer Kyle Farnsworth get a firm planting upon his frontal lobe, but the Rays pulled him back to the comfort of the Bullpen. B J Upton has been the latest Ray to receive a compound headache and a possible plane ticket out of Tampa Bay.

The Rays can either discuss a trade possibility, or pull Upton back into the Rays confines safe until at least the Winter Hot Stove season. The Upton talks or balks will be interesting. It will showcase either that Upton is a viable part of the Rays current post season march, or Desmond Jennings or Sam Fuld have started to erase the “Upton factor” from the Rays game plan.

More intriguing is the firm possibility that Upton was claimed by an American League team that has a good relationship via the trade with Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and could facilitate an Upton move with a few healthy and young and budding MLB relief options in their present fold. Should be a few interesting days until either the Rays pull Upton back to the safe confines, or send him to possibly play with the seagulls nightly up at a vista on the Great Lakes.

During this waiver period the Rays will pop out many of the Rays rostered minions hoping to find the right suitor, trade situation and possibly a future piece of the Rays always unfolding puzzle. This is not a game about “likes” or “dislikes”, it is still about a game where the person with the most toys win. And to win in this business, some times you got to whack a few moles. 

Stay Classy Tampa Bay

Tell me another Major League Baseball team that embraces their community with such abandon and vigor that the Tampa Bay Rays do on a daily basis. It seems like almost every day now a player, Coach or even members of the Rays front office are out and about trying to make a difference in our Tampa Bay community.

From building playgrounds, to charity events, this team has always had a solid focal point towards giving back, giving of themselves, and this community has taken them also into their own arms. Other communities around MLB also get a glowing show the faith, love and respect from their athletes Tampa Bay does, I personally think it is just glowing brighter right now in Tampa Bay.

The Rays have been blessed as a franchise to have a minimum of off-the-field” distractions and behavioral problem players in their brief existence. I want to attribute it to the low key and socially class-less South code of life, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon is from blue-collar Pennsylvania and VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman is from Texas.

Still, it has been remarkable how this community embraces and give the up most levels of respect when they venture beyond the gates of Tropicana Field and head out into the Tampa Bay community. From the ever increasing band of “BJ’s Bunch” or the newly formed “Joyce’s Juniors”, young and old have embraced these players and come emblazoned with their Rays gear as a show of community solidarity.

I kind of like how the Rays players have been able to live in a bit of seclusion and security instead of the bustle and fast pace of those other regions. This is not a condemnation of large city fans like Philadelphia, Chicago or New York, it is just a different vibe down here.

It simply amazes me how the general public around Tampa Bay has not smothered or scared our Rays into hiding with idiotic banter or heckling as they serve our communities and visit with fans. I guess the fans in this region understand that these players are performing a job, and we give them space to do their work, even out in the community.

Think about it for a moment, where else in this country do you think a professional baseball player can go out with such abandon to local phone stores, supermarkets or even banks and fans do not get out of sorts, rowdy or even testy at the mire mention of someone running late, or having to leave. This region seems to get it. But then again, Tampa Bay is a mostly service-oriented community.

From Rays outfielder Sam Fuld visiting USF Diabetic Center this week visiting with kids and their families who go through the same daily struggles from type 1 Diabetics just like Fuld daily. Or seeing Matt Joyce returning to a local supermarket chain where he once bagged groceries to help the Tampa Bay chapter of Feeding America by tossing in throw after throw of food and goods into a cart like he was picking off runners at second base.

This community is lucky to have such great and budding Tampa Bay community leaders. In a time when so many people speak of and yearn for role models for our youth, this Rays team from top to bottom spawns so many choices. From James Shields and his work with foster children centers, to even the Rays wives teaming up recently for a backpack and school supplies drive to support the PACE Center for Girls.

From stem to stern, there are plenty of heroes and inspirations to go around both on this Rays roster and within their own front offices. It is one of the reasons I always open my hands to help at any Rays event possible to volunteer or support this team and their many causes. This is truly a team that “ gets it” as is open to embracing their seasonal community with open arms.

If you have ever attended an outside Rays event whether it is a autograph signing or a appearance at a hospital or McDill Air Force Base, this team is greeted with smiles, cheers and loads of positive vibes. To this day I have never heard of a Rays heckler, arrogant fan or disturbance at any of their outside charity or community events.

As a former athlete, giving back was always something I wanted to do, felt I needed to do for my community. With this Tampa Bay community embracing the players as they perform these duties and tasks, and also respecting their place in this community, the sky is the limit to the further outpouring of the Rays involvement and outside endeavors to helping those in need in our community.

Next time you go to a Rays community event, look them in the eyes and tell them “thank you”, it is that type of comment that fuels many more community efforts and events for these players. Events where we can also walk in the footsteps of role models for our own growing sons and daughters. 

Let Them Eat (Bundt) Cake

Not much of a dessert guy myself, but tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays got their just desserts. Funny how it was not a shaving cream pie, or even a Carvel sundae, but it was a special Tampa Bay bundt/bunt cake that did the trick.

Who would have thought the recipe for again awakening the Rays offense would be to start off in the bottom of the 2nd inning playing “ small ball”. That’s right, not aiming for the fences, but putting the bat on the ball and squirming it along the AstroTurf woke up not only the Rays bat, but reminded the Jays defense this team doesn’t quit.

Sure Ben Zobrist did his best “2008 Zorilla “ impression crushing a ball into the Rightfield bleachers for a short-lived 1-0 lead. Then after a Casey Kotchman fly out, B J Upton showed why the Rays gambled and kept him here instead of sending him away. A well crafted single to Leftfield, then well placed 9 iron shot by Matt Joyce into shallow Center put the Rays in a position to make some early noise.

With Joyce and Upton in scoring position, Sean Rodriguez dropped a beauty of a bunt just in front of Jays starter Carlos Villanueva who then proceeded to commit a costly error as Upton stamped on Home Plate. That was the first sliver of the bunt/bundt cake.

Then Rays rookie catcher Robinson Chirinos put down his own little bounding ball of short happiness for a infield single to First. Joyce came in to score, and all of a sudden it was 3-0 Rays on top. Second helping of bundt/bunt cake with a little extra dab of frosting.

All of a sudden last night’s lone Rays run scorer decided to get into the action himself as rookie speedster Desmond Jennings wanted to deliver his own bit of sugary goodness by placing a perfect bunt in front of Jays Third Baseman Edwin Encarnacion who was playing back hoping for a double play ball.

Suddenly bases were loaded with Rays, another slice of bundt/bunt cake delivered. Finally Johnny Damon ended the sugar rush by delivering a long and deep sacrifice fly to Centerfield that easily scored Rodriguez to make it 4-0 Tampa Bay. All of a sudden a little bit of pre-game prep work by the Rays in bunting drills snapped their offense out of its funk.

When the Rays came up in the bottom of the 3rd inning, it seemed the Jays were still infused and decimated by the Rays bunt barrage, and possibly a little sugar shock. Villanueva, a former Jays reliever, couldn’t seem to get out of his 2nd inning stride and quickly the Rays added some more morsels to their run/ sugar intake.

Of the 8 Rays hitters to go to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd inning, 4 produced extra base hits, and the Jays saw 4 more runs cross the plate. Suddenly after solo homer by Kotchman, a double by Joyce, Rodriguez getting pelted with a pitch, Chirinos decided it was time to put the cherry firmly upon the cake and delivered a 3-run shot to Leftfield that left more of a bitter taste in Villaneuva’s mouth than sweet.

Ex-Rays bat boy and Jays starter Jesse Litsch came in and stopped the flow of Rays runs getting Damon to strike out swinging.

Finally the Rays had figured out a way to get out of that 1-2 run lead routine with the Jays and tack on some needed runs with the small ball, then using the long ball to seal the win. This is the type of offensive show that we have seen so often in road games, but has been few and far between at Tropicana Field.

With a win tomorrow during the Parks and Recreation Day, plus the Rays Tweet Up, the team could head into their 3-game series against the Oakland Athletics, who the Rays hope they can extract some more sweet revenge on this weekend. This is the home offense we have been anxiously awaiting. Pining to see finally break through and produce at home.

What happens during the Thursday matinée will go a long way in providing comfort and stability that this team has finally broken out of the home rut and will again dominate. A win tomorrow will put then back at square one with a 26-26 mark at home.

Tonight the Rays delivered a beauty of a game hitting on all cylinders, providing not only a huge run support cushion for Rays starter James Shields, but a solid effort with this team finally figuring out their home crux. Tonight the Rays did deliver a sliver of just desserts to the Jays, but hopefully it is only an appetizer of what is to come in the next 4 contests.

Bon Appetit Rays Republic, for tonight, let the Jays eat some humble pie.

Time For the Rays to Go from “Feastmode” to “Beastmode”

Was just reading a tweet by a Toronto Blue Jays players (@JoeyBats19) who used a #beastmode hashtag in his posting about his team’s victory tonight. Starting to wonder if the Jays are in “beastmode”, does that mean the Tampa Bay Rays at home are in #Feastmode? Another tasty web byte taken at the expense of the lacking Rays offensive surge at Tropicana Field.

Not sure what has happened to the Rays offense that seemed to finally awaken in their finale in Oakland and stared their series in Seattle devouring the Mariner’s pitching. Starting to really think the Rays should keep their road routine intact, even within the confines of the Trop.

After a single day of rest, relax and rejuvenate after a wishy-washy 4-6 road trip, this Rays team firmly put their foot squarely again in the bucket after tonight’s defeat and took a unhealthy slide backwards seeming to have regained their lackluster 2011 “home” form.

Funny how in odd numbered years now the Rays offense can not keep up with their pitching and defense. Not “ha-ha” funny, but funny “strange”.

Then again, how can you not think #feastmode when the Rays had bases loaded tonight with no outs, and not a single run crosses the plate. Not going to point fingers at anyone in the the Rays lineup except for their lead-off hitter rookie outfielder Desmond Jennings who gets a solid “thumbs up” for putting some solid wood on the ball and ruining a potential no-hit bid by the Jays Rickey Romero.

I think Rays Manager Joe Maddon hit it squarely on the head when he tweeted tonight post-game “From a pitchers prospective I’m sure they can’t make a mistake. Have to keep pounding on that offense door until it opens up. ”

Problem is Joe, right now one is answering but a select few, and even they can carry the whole team on their shoulders for long.

It definitely puts a huge burden on your starting pitchers and relievers when they realize every single mistake or error is magnified and that they are being held accountable for every slight error in their appearances since the offense can’t mend and heal a small mistake.

After tonight’s loss, the Rays fall to 2 games under the .500 mark at home this season. 30 home games still to go, and this team will have to dig deep if they intend to again rule the Trop. The Rays Republic was loud and proud tonight, but even their noise and encouragement could not trim the bird’s wings.

This is a team the Rays have to beat. Not just for their place in the American League East, but because they have a more solid base at this moment. But maybe the tide has turned, maybe the Trade Deadline deals by the Jays brought them that final piece of the puzzle to drown the Rays in their own tank.

A series loss to the Jays will do some considerable damage to the Rays post season dreams as the Jays could pluck the Rays out of their third place stronghold by taking this series.

Doesn’t help that the Rays hold a flimsy 5-4 seasonal series lead over the Jays heading into tomorrow night’s contest, and all 9 games this season, and 12 of the last13 between these two rivals have been decided by 1 or 2 runs.

This fact tells you immediately that any offense in this series by either squad comes at a premium in the seasonal series against these two, and the Rays currently are only scoring 3.22 runs per game in Tropicana Field in their 50 home contests. Throwing more water on the Rays offensive fire against the Jays, coming into tonight’s game, the Rays have only hit .206 against the angry Canadian birds, setting up perfectly tonight’s dismal showcase.

It was suppose to be a notch for the home team as Rays southpaw ace David Price had a 8-0 record and a 1.99 ERA lifetime against Toronto. But tonight it did not look like vintage Price as he seemed to be more stressed and pressured to produce outs than in any other start this season.

It was almost as if Price knew that if this team doesn’t buckle down soon and turn their 24-26 record at home around, there might not be any meaningful game come late September. And that is a lot of poundage to put on a young pitcher’s shoulders who doesn’t know if he can rely on his offense to basil him out of a untimely mistake.

One great thing came out of the loss tonight, finally the Rays scored a run of support for Price, but it wasn’t enough. Consider this interesting run support fact, when the Rays score 3 runs or more with Price on the hill, they have turned out a 9-2 record. When they score 2 runs or less, the Rays have failed considerably with a 0-7 mark.

I find it incredibly interesting that the Rays top two pitchers Price (2.91) and James Shields (2.23) started the night as the only Rays starters to not get at least 3 runs per game support from their offense. Even if you pitch a 1-hit shutout, or a 10-hit 1-run game, if the offense doesn’t cross the plate, it is sure to post up in the loss column.

It is almost like this team left some of their soul, some of their new confidence sitting possibly on the tarmac at Sea-Tac airport before embarking on their flight home. This team is better than this. They have the offense weapons, the ability to produce runs and hits to manifest more offense, but again a loss at home sending the masses back into the dark wondering about this squad.

Make me believe Rays. Show me I am having acute tunnel vision and not fully grasping the big picture. Please prove me wrong during this 10-game home stand. I honestly feel the 2011 season is teetering towards the abyss without positive results. Make me eat my words. Time for this Rays team to transform their own current home “feastmode” into a Rays “beastmode”. Time to devour the birds.

Rays Need to Plot a Victorious Course in Seattle

I swear some times the Tampa Bay Rays use my heart like a toy yo-yo. They seem to tear it out of my chest, fling it down and then slowly up until it is again within my chest. I do not take any heart medications, but after a few of the recent games, including today’s back and forth battle…I might consult a doctor.

Is this going to be the hidden mantra of this team to push the limits of faith and trust, or will they again have a solidified basis for all of us to believe and rejoice in nightly. When this team goes on losing streaks, even the rare ones on the road, they do it with a loud bang.

How else can you describe the man-handling of the Rays top tier pitchers David Price and James Shields in this series. Even rookie Jeremy Hellickson was left pondering the “what if’s” during his lackluster performance to start this 4-game whirlpool of emotion.

Can we blame the chatter and talk among the players and fans regarding the Trade Deadline, or is it the curse of this ballpark where Rays wins always seem to come at a premium, even with the great California mountain range in the background.

Starting this contest this Rays squad was a season high 11 ½ games behind American League East front runner Boston with 58 games left, another AL East title may be beyond reach. Even though the /Rays are a considered the third best team in the American League, they are also the third best currently in their division. And their 7 ½ game deficit to the New York Yankees is bringing more than a few of us mild to severe heart palpitations.

This season is again starting to mirror image a bit of the 2009 Rays season where no matter what they did, it was one hit, one win, one pitch away from securing something magical. But the good news is the Rays head to Seattle next, where wins have been extremely rare lately. The reality of the Rays losing 5 out of the 7 games currently on this road trip tends to sho maybe this team peaked too early.

Again, after the first week this team had, any push upward, even towards a .500 mark seemed like a gift from the Baseball Gods. Mixed into this losing streak was the questions about this teams offense, their run support for their starters, and why certain teams just seem to choke the Rays into submission.

It was only three weeks ago this same Rays team was 49-39 matching their high-water mark of 10 games over .500 and were sitting in the catbird seat just 3 ½ games behind the Red Sox. In these 21 days, the Rays have gone 4-11 and have tumbled 8 games farther behind their divisional foes farther into the dismal abyss.

Again a dark cloud looms for the Rays as they jet northward to Seattle. Mariner’s starter Erik Bedard, who might be making his last M’s start will get the call. When healthy, Bedard has been a Rays killer. Post that with the stat that the Rays are a MLB worst 7-12 against the AL West, and we might hear a few late night screams.

But there is a shining light on the horizon, or at least for tonight in that the Rays showed pride, confidence and a renewed vigor at the plate in the final innings to hand the Athletics at least one loss in this series. Now it is off to the town of coffee and seafood to battle a Seattle club that until recently had been in their own cauldron of disappointment.

This series might decide more than who stays and who goes as the Trade Deadline approaches, it could prove to be the final resting place of the Rays 2011 post season dreams. Sweeping Seattle would not push the Rays into playoff consideration, but the confidence and stride as they headed back home could help them face their home field demons with more vitality.

A lot os going to be riding on this 3-game series. A chance for redemption in this un-Rays like road trip. A sweep would push their present 10-game road trip record towards an even 5-5 mark. Not the expected Rays road results, but would be a 4-game winning streak heading into a 10-game home stand with revenge games against Oakland and Kansas City on the horizon.

Watching this Rays team over the past few nights have been an adventure with emotions running rampant from pride and hope to despair and frustrations. This 2011 Rays squad might not have the depth and stability of the 2010 squad, but they have more than enough in heart, courage and determination. Let’s hope those latter emotions lead the Rays to victories and not another sequence of heartaches and turning the channel. 

Rays on Cusp of Going From “Buyers” to Possible Trade Deadline “Sellers”

So when is too much, too much? What is that final tipping point where the Tampa Bay Rays consider themselves “ sellers” instead of “buyers”. Originally I was firm in my opinion that the team will hold tight on OF B J Upton and SP James Shields.

But as the team falls towards that double digit mark trailing the current American League Wild Card holder, the New York Yankees, at what point will the Rays throw up their hands and either give in, or buckle down and hope for another “Miracle of Summer”.

At this point the Rays are 9 ½ games behind the American League East division leading Boston Red Sox and 7 ½ games behind the Yankees. With an unexpected late loss last night in Oakland, the Rays are on a slippery slope. This was suppose to be the time between series with Boston and New York for the Rays to pack on some victories, and possibly sneak back into the race before this Sunday’s 

Trade Deadline.

If the Rays do not take bot this series against the Athletics, plus their 3-game set against the Seattle Mariners in the Emerald City, they could be past that double digit comfort level. But when is it too late? When are the Rays past the point of no return in regards to a post season berth? In any other division this would not be an issue at this time, but in the strong A L East, being 10 games behind the A L Wild Card is a pretty steep rock to climb.

At some point between the West Coast trip destinations this team has to decide their path. Presently it seems that all engines are churning towards trying to catch the Yankees and pull off another super road trip. These next 5 games could produce either the selling of talent, or the revival the Rays need to thrust themselves back into this playoff race.

Personally, I am of the mind that if this team does stumble in their next 2 contests and go under 10 games back of the Yankees, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman will accept a few more phone calls, listen intently and possibly sell high on a few guys.

I was hoping the season would come down to a key series in September. If the Rays go through an abnormal road trip free fall and come back home with a losing road trip record, they might be minus a few key players due to trades and deals made before the Sunday final bell.

If the Rays do begin plucking off a few of their player assets, it is great that these players would have played their last game in Tropicana Field against the rival Yankees, and took a victory with them on the road. But it also brings up a touchy subject that again, just like when the Rays traded SP Scott Kazmir while on the road (in Detroit), the home fans might never get a realistic chance to thank them for their past efforts. That is one of the really awful parts of the Trade Deadline coming on the heels of a road trip.

Hopefully this doesn’t happen, but the possibility is still there for a last minute change, a up-grade, or possibly just the right time in the Rays eyes and minds. This is that time of the year that players and teams can not control, but right now, the Rays have the choice to be the “buyers or the sellers”. 

Intriguing Assortment of Rays Choices for Trade Deadline Shoppers

Always a great guessing game trying to decipher correctly the needs, wants and desire of any of the 29 other MLB squads for anyone on the Tampa Bay Rays roster. Sure there might be a few GM’s just coming by doing some future window shopping or prod and nudge a bit of the merchandise, but is there really any top shelf Rays that will exit before the end of the Trade Deadline?

Can’t be easy time span for a player either with a large contract or even a “ walk” season under their belt until the clock strikes midnight on August 1st. Sure even then deals can still be hashed out, but the large majority of the transactions will be at least attempted in the next few working days. But even the best deal can be stricken down by the might pen of the M L B Commissioner Bud Selig if it seems unfair or has too much cash considerations.

So who among the 25 currently rostered Rays players do you think will garner the most attention? Who do you feel will be showcased now for departure in the off season? There are plenty of options, including a few that could either make or break the Rays post season surge. Then again, if the Rays do go into a tailspin over the next few series( Kansas City/Oakland/Toronto), they could instead purge before the last moments in July?

Even the Great Kreskin would have a difficult time trying to summarize some of the gossip and whispers currently doing the rounds in the MLB circle. With the emergence of SP Alex Cobb and Rays Manager Joe Maddon staying with a 6-man rotation. Could this be a precursor to a starter leaving town?

James Shields has reconstructed his delivery and career to a point some teams are eager to get a guy who can push out innings and provide strikeouts. Shields might have de-valued himself a tad during his recent 4-game tailspin.  With a team friendly $ 7 million dollar salary for 2012, Shields is still affordable and could be in the plastic bubble until this time in 2012.

Do the Rays instead sell high on SP Jeff Niemann while he is on his own hot streak? The Tall Texan might not garner a top tier return, but a few teams do have veterans who might walk after this season, and if they fit into the Rays mold….Niemann could be on a flight by August 1st.

With that in mind, why not put SP/RP Andy Sonnanstine on the top shelf to see who wanders by for a long look. Sonny has all the qualities a good team needs with MLB experience, stability and is a solid “company man”. He can be used in a variety of ways, and his tenure with the Rays might be on unstable ground with the emergence of Cobb and others pushing hard to break through the Triple-A ceiling to the majors. Sonny, like Niemann will not collect a bevy of returns, but his shelf life with the Rays might be getting near its expiration point.

Cesar Ramos is a southpaw, and with the Rays currently having 3 in their Bullpen, excess might not be the keys to the Rays Bullpen success. He might bring in a better haul than Sonny, but knowing the Rays and their love of the crafty lefties, he might stick. Still, the Rays would not offer up fellow relievers Jake McGee or J P Howell unless the return was something they could not refuse.

That brings us to the Rays field players. A few names possibly jump out at you, but one that I truly think is “off limits” is First Baseman Casey Kotchman. The job he has done since he cemented himself at First has been incredible. With only 1 error this season, Kotchman might be tied to this Rays team soon for the next 3 years. I have heard a few whispers in the hallways.

In the infield, with the thoughts also swirling that SS Reid Brignac is taking backward steps, this effectively closes any possible discussions on Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez. Their stability will be needed now more than ever, and cutting loose even one of the pair would be disastrous unless an infield MLB caliber upgrade is received.

With the recent injuries surrounding the catching position, it might be a hidden blessing for C Kelly Shoppach. Still, the Rays could deal the often offensively maligned backstop for prospects, or maybe even a little cash. The market is not seeking Shoppach with gusto, but a back-up with experience heading into the stressful last months of the season and beyond can be a blessing to a young team.

That leaves the outfield has one of the biggest question marks with at least 4 possible Rays players getting a few glances and maybe trade discussions. Still think Desmond Jennings is here to be looked at by not only the Rays, but by 29 other teams. I really think the Rays have a lot of questions about Jennings, and he could be traded for the right package.

You might have thought I would thrust B J Upton in the top spot for trade discussion, but I truly think the Rays will keep Upton until the end of the 2011 season, then listen intently to offers. Upton might not be the most attentive player on the bases, but he plays solid defense and has trimmed his swing a bit to be more productive. Who in their right mind thought he would get over 15 Hrs in 2011?

Still, with the Washington Nationals eager for Upton, and with names like INF Ian Desmond or RP Drew Storen being put on the end of the pole, the Rays could bite and fill a future hole in their team with young replacements who are starting to show their MLB potentials. Still it is a long shot these names are included with Upton’s’. Then again, Friedman can deliver brilliance with Bull-hockey pucks.

The guy who might garner the most outfield attention doesn’t actually play there on a daily basis. Johnny Damon could bring a nice haul in return from a team on the cusp of contention, or wanting to stay hard in the race until the end. But is he worth the gamble of leaving with the type of offense and ability to help charge up this team with a single swing?

You can’t buy that kind of massive production on and off the field this time of year. But if the Rays are truly in a mood to upgrade now, Damon might be the perfect carrot to dangle in front of the MLB herd. There is another player who has emerged to a point his status might be at its zenith, and a downward spiral is definitely in the cards.

I think the world of the abilities and freestyle aerial moves of Sam Fuld, but I also know MLB is treating him more like a novelty act right now than a budding star or long producing commodity. Here is another Rays player who might be at the peak of his trade value right now. Combine his on-field heroics with his solid base running and you get a nice threat either off the bench or in the field heading into the post season.

There is still the possibilities the Rays just bluff and stay with their current format, but the more realistic approach is someone will go, changes will be made. Upton should be planted in CF until the off season, Shields even though he turns 30 in December is a great anchor for this Rays rotation.

That being said, Sonny and Niemann could be on the “watch list” and be the two pitchers most likely to exit stage left. Shoppach could still be dealt even with the Rays catching corp down to their bare knuckles. This is one part of the Rays farm system that seems loaded for bear, and could endure a spell without remorse.

Jennings is the Rays top field prospect, and I have a sneaking feeling his up-coming promotion to “The Show” has a hidden agenda. Exposing Jennings to MLB caliber pitching with 10 days left could persuade someone to take a risk or gamble on a guy who might not be considered the best outfielder even on his Triple-A squad. But if the Rays do keep Jennings, Upton better look over his shoulder later in the season.

Fuld might be safe, but if his average goes South along with his “Legend”, his time and days will be numbered. Damon is the best Rays commodity right now and might be plucked. But Friedman will not trade him for a “rental” player or even a marginal player or prospects. When you have a guy who is putting up consistent numbers like Damon, the price tag has a few zeros in it, even for the short term.

This is the time of the year where guessing, predictions and even off-the-cuff remarks come with a glance from the baseball world. Teams want to chuck, acquire and sometimes streamline for different reasons. The only reasons any of these players might be plucked off the Rays roster is if this team truly thinks they have the horses for a playoff run.

Upgrading by trading would be the only reason right now the Rays would open their doors for change. 

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