Results tagged ‘ Joe Maddon ’

Rays Should Elevate Zimmer to “Manager Emeritus”

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Zorilla 2.0

I am starting to believe in this full circle train of thought. That all things go into circles and come back again new and improved and somehow modified in their simplicity. I guess we can say the same for Tampa Bay Rays newly annoited SS Ben Zorbrist, or should I call him Zorilla 2.0?

It was exactly 6 years and 33 days since the first time a young and lanky SS prospect was traded to the Rays from the Houston Astros for a gruff and grumbling Aubrey Huff. Along with Zobrist the Rays received P Mitch Talbot, who we all know wears Cleveland Indians garb now. Zorbrist came to the Rays as a infield specialist, but his true specialty was playing the deep hole between second and third base both with range and a cannon attached to his shoulders.

Some say that his ability back then worked B J Upton around the infield from Third to Second before he finally found his home in Centerfield. But 2006 was a memorable season for the defensively maturing Zorilla as he spent only 18 games at Triple-A Round Rock and when Zorbrist and Upton were recalled by the Rays on August 1st after the Rays felt secure enough with the tag team of Upton and Zobrist at SS that they sent starting SS Julio Lugo to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.

All Zorilla did was start 50 of the final 56 games….all at the Short Stop position. How good was the new acquired defensive neophyte? Well not 31 days later did Zorbrist and Rays catcher Dione Navarro stamp their own brand on Major League Baseball history when they recorded the only 2-6-2 triple play…EVER.


Many might have forgotten Zorbrist was the Rays Opening Day SS in 2007 starting 13 of the Rays first 17 games, then something happened and he fell out of favor and started only 2 of the team’s next 17 games before the Rays sent him down to Triple-A Durham and subsequently claimed SS Josh Wilson off waivers from Washington. Most see that as the memorial moment that the Rays might have set their sights on Zobrist being a key figure in the Rays scheme, just not front and center in their future infield.

Still, I think this is a great idea that has been kicked around for quite a while by Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who wanted to see Sean Rodriguez take ownership of the spot, but little things have de-railed the S-Rod experience for the Rays along with Rodriguez’s enemic .209 average with only 6 HR and 30 RBIs. Zobrist has a great first move towards the hole, and even with a few years of rust to shake off before he again find his optimal rhythm, I hate to say it, he is a vast improvement at the plate as well as in the field.

There are going to be a few rough patches as he again gains the trust in his abilities on the opposite side the the second base bag, but if anyone can do it and provide the leadership and positive mindset needed to be a consistent and agile SS, it has to be the Rays # 18.

It is a lot to ask of a player who doesn’t even make the Rays all-time Top-5 SS list in any category, but this is also the same stellar fielder who garnered a .989 fielding average and is not listed on either the SS or 2B all-time errors Top-5 list (Upton is #5 @ 2B with 12). So far in 2012, Zobrist has 8 errors in 961 total innings all around the Rays infield, and outfield. As a whole, the trio of Rodriguez, Will Rhymes and Elliot Johnson have combined for 31 errors with Zobrist tied with Rhymes for 3rd most on the team.

This is not to say errors will cease and life in the middle of the Rays infield will be a bed of roses. There will be challenges, possibly multi-error contests, but the leadership and offensive confidence of Zobrist should emulate enough so that the rest of the infield can feed off of Zorilla and grow tighter and stingier over the last portion of the season. The Rays have not put Zobrist’s finger in the dike hoping to stave off the total flooding of potential errors, but the maturation of Zobrist and his “can-do” persona should do miracles in a position in the field that was looking more like a gaping hole.

Seriously, to me it is a long time coming, and a position change that will not only get Zorilla consistent starts in one spot in the Rays field alignment, but it can finally give him a chance to possibly not have to lug around the huge equipment bag with 9 different gloves inside it. Who knows, if Zorilla takes to this position like he did in 2006 and makes it his own again…..It would be hard not to vote him again as the Rays team MVP like in 2009. Zorilla 2.0…….I like the sound of that more and more.  

Are Rays Hitting Their Stride for the Final 50?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

幸福の小道 Godzilla

I truly do not know if the ever expanding legend surrounding this player has kept him on this Tampa Bay Rays roster. Some have been more than adamant that he is a shell of his former self, possibly dialing in his last breathes in Major League Baseball. I seriously do not see the reasoning or the dramatic prose of keeping Hidecki Matsui on this Rays roster.

Even last night as Rays Manager Joe Maddon closed his office door post-game in a personal discussion with his staff and front office personnel, I thought surely the fairy tale of this version of “Godzilla” might finally play out to a release or possible waiver. Not sure if the creature known as “Godzilla” has any feline traits, but definitely Matsui has evoked and used up more than 9 Rays lives in his short tenure.

I wanted Matsui to be a firm Rays building block, the keystone to a offensive revival of the Rays arsenal, but except for a few blasts more from the past than the present, Matsui has produced more blanks than lethal shots. It has now been over 3 weeks or 21 days since the “of Japan” demigod had a pair of singles going 2-for-3 against the Detroit Tigers on July 1st. Sure most will point towards Matsui only striding to the plate 15 times since that day, but with strikeouts to end two of the last 3 Rays last ditch efforts at victories, something has to give soon.

I truly want to look into Matsui’s Rays locker and find that lucky charm, that atonement symbol that has blessed him with chances after chances to provide defining moments, but has left us all wanting. In 20 plate appearances this month to today’s contest, Matsui is 2-for-15 with 7 strikeouts and has stranded 23 of 24 men who stood on base during his at bats. That statistic by itself lends the point of view that Matsui has performed beyond abysmal. I know Maddon has a huge amount of respect and admiration for Matsui, but I’m beginning to question the sanity of seeing # 56 in a Rays uniform at all.

For the Seattle series, Matsui is 0-6 and is scheduled to be again the Rays DH for today’s contest. When do we stop the madness and cut our losses, possibly calling up someone like Stephen Vogt again who definitely can hit better than Matsui’s current 1.49 batting average. Considering Matsui was brought onto this club to help with getting runners in scoring position across the plate. A .148 average in that category mixed with a lone Home Run doesn’t boast any additional confidence for me for the daily use of Matsui.

How can a opposing pitching staff be afraid of a guy who boasts a average that even Mendoza would shake his head at profusely. It seems right now that Godzilla’s fiery breathe has not only gone moot, but his been extinguished, possibly for good. Matsui started off his Rays venture impressively hitting 2 long bombs in his first few games, setting the table for good thing to come, but after that first volley of goodness, no Home Runs and only 3 RBI over his 30 games. Pressing further into the abyss we see Matsui has produced his worst year ever so far as a professional, and it only gets worse.

is not even an adequate field player or late inning replacement any longer and has proven more than a few times to seem lost and flustered out in leftfield. Matsui have only had a total of 14 chances in the outfield endeavors, but his lack of total confidence in the field has flashed upon his face as he moves toward balls in play. His last start against Boston on July 2nd, Matsui suffered a hamstring injury . Truly I think we have seen his last days as a Rays outfield accessory.

I know this is not the fairy tale ending any of us wanted for Matsui, but it might be time for the Rays to sever the cord. Matsui is not even a remote threat in the Rays offense that is currently ranked 28th in the MLB. He was brought into this Rays fold to be a defining offensive weapon, but has produced mostly blanks. Matsui was suppose to protect the bulk of the Rays line-ups, but they have done more to protect him than you can imagine. Maybe it is time to face the reality this venture turned into a horrific mis-step instead of a solid foot forward for the Rays.

After Sunday’s contest, the Rays get a day off on Monday before embarking on a 10 game road trip that will not see them back at the Trop until after the Trade Deadline, maybe cutting their losses and freeing Godzilla is in the best interest of the Rays chance at the post-season. I mean if Matsui was any other player in the Rays organization, he would have been gone long before now. Sorry Godzilla, it’s not personal, it the business of winning that drives baseball.

幸福の小道  (Happy Trails) Godzilla

A Personal Way to Get That Sought After Autograph

What if I could give you an alternative to obtaining that cherished signature of your favorite sports figure without having to feel like a sardine in the can awaiting his arrival down by the field railing? What if I can get you virtually and digitally “hooked up” with a unique way to not only get that autograph, but be provided the additional added bonus of getting your selected photo personalized with the cherry on top of it all being a 30 second sound byte by that player?

 etter yet, what if I told you it is not only pleasantly affordable, but it can also be conveniently emailed with no tussle of fuss of having black Sharpie stains on your fingers or hand, plus the stress-free addition of not having to fight your way in or out of the assembled crowd seeking that same player’s autograph. Now Egraphs can not only make that experience pleasant, it can give you the opportunity to get a photo personalized without worry of offending the player or those seeking his autograph without the hassle of wasting your precious time and possibly being one of those missed by the player before he leaves.

This revolutionary idea in obtaining and personalizing autographs was the brain child of the Auld brothers David and Brian who also happens to be the Tampa Bay Rays Senior Vice President for Business Operations. Brian might be the “idea guy”, but it is David who once worked for technologically savvy Microsoft out in Seattle brought this concept together after hatching the idea last Summer. Also on board with the Auld brothers is former Rays player Gabe Kapler who will take on the role of Director of Business Development, and with his MLB connections should have a stream of players and MLB personnel both active and from the past phoning him for a chance at providing their own images and signatures to this expanding Egraphs universe.

Think about this for a second, you could be a huge Rays fan who live outside the 727 or 813 zip codes living anywhere, anyplace in this country or overseas and by just going through a simple application you could receive a photo personalized along with a short voice message from your favorite player. This concept can not only broadens the player and teams fan base outside the confines of Tampa Bay, it brings about the possibility of these special autographs and photos being presented as special tokens of loyal fans through the Rays Republic on a worldwide basis. Even at the recently completed All Star Game festivities in Kansas City, Missouri there was chatter and whispers about this great product, and I would not be surprised if the Egraphs roster of players doesn’t explode over the second half of this season and be a formidable personalized autograph provider by Spring Training 2013.

Interesting enough, one of the first investors in this project was Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg who knows a thing or two about investments and risks. And if you peel back the surface of this presently baseball-related autograph and photo opportunity, there is an unlimited and expansive opening of the arms to possibly include other sports from NFL, NBA or NHL as well as Hollywood stars and people in the news to become future providers of their images and signatures. And the process is really simple, heck I tried out the process today just to see how it all plays out, and it was effortless for me until I had to decide what I wanted message I might want personalized to myself or someone else.

Maybe you write a blog and might want to use it as an avatar, maybe include it as a link on your website, or maybe you want a framed 8X11 of the photo for your office or personal baseball shrine? It is all as simple as writing an email and for an offering of $50 which includes a high resolution photo which is electronically signed and personalized by the player, then emailed to your email address. This whole painless autograph process is not only affordable, it is a down right steal. 

Think of how invaluable this is not only for the fans, but for the players as they can use an I-pad device anywhere, even on the charter flight, in the clubhouse, or maybe even lounging on a Florida beach during an off-day or off-season. By simply using a stylist and voice recorder, the player can complete the request in their leisure taking away the added stress of a crowd of people with Sharpies, balls or photos waved in front of them for their signatures. I truly think this whole new way of getting autographs could bring about a serenity to the whole process and will be a great asset for both parties involved.

 Egraphs currently have around 100 players in their stable, but as other learn of the ease of this new autograph endeavor, the Egraphs list will expand as rapidly as Kapler and his (future) staff can answer the phone. Of course some people are afraid the signatures might not be original, and possibly be duplicated in some way. Well, Egraphs has devised a system where not only can the clubhouse assistant or friend of the player not sign the photographs, there is a voice recognition system to not only helps authenticate the process, but give you the satisfaction of knowing you got the autograph you desired along with a real voice message.

 Of course for an additional fee of $45, you can also get a certificate of authenticity provided with your 8X10 framed photograph that will not only be good for future generations, but gives you piece of mind and security that this is indeed an real photo and signature of your favorite player. So if you want to check out Egraphs, you can click on any of the “Egraphs” mentions in this posting, or go to this link and check it out for yourself. This new way of getting autographs is not meant to replace or remove the thrill or adventure of getting it in person, it just gives others the opportunity to also get that exciting feeling of having a genuine MLB player’s photo and signature, with a personalized both written and vocal message just for them.

That to me is simply priceless.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 Minutes to Reflect, then Onto the Second Half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rays to Get Their “Funk On” This Saturday

Oh how I had hope those gaudy and hideous fashion statements unveiled by Major League Baseball teams near the end of the 1970’s would lie in a deep coma somewhere, possibly in an undisclosed cement covered grave, never to see the light of day ever again. But somehow one of those funky patterns and designs did rear its head again in a 70’s inspired Tampa Bay Rays uniform.

The Rays decided to bring their own groovy edge and retro visions to life even though the ball club was not even a gleam in anyone’s eye at that time. I do not even think vision of hit baseballs entered the minds of future Tampa Bay baseball pioneers Frank Morsani or Vince Namoli during the late 70’s especially in this sunny region. So as the team takes the field this Saturday night for their annual 70’s Night, with a post game concert by 70’s icons “Earth, Wind and Fire”, you can bet more than a few people in the stands will “be trippin’ a bit” with flashbacks of some of those other MLB late 70’s unfortunate uniform logos and designs of other franchises.

I had kind of hoped I would never again see some of the fashion mis-steps and funkadelic inspirations that hovered over baseball during the end of the 70’s. From the Stove top caps of the Pittsburgh Pirates to the insane uniform worn by the Chicago White Sox whose short pants inspired uniforms just made he shiver after looking at the mangled knees of catcher Carlton Fisk’s knees. But to be honest, funky lettering fonts and swaying word patterns were popular in those days especially off the diamond.

I commend the Rays for trying to get extra funky and into their 1970’s groove thing and come up with a Rays “Turn Back the Clock” jersey top that would be a 1-of-a-kind and “must have” item. It will be extra special that each Rays field staff members’ jersey will go up for auction on the Rays website after the contests to support the Moffit Cancer Center and the Rays Baseball Foundation.

But there are a few quirks that have caught my untrained fashion eye. The uniform’s primary color (powder blue) seems to mesh consistently with another team that patrolled the American League East during the late 70’s, the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew’s road unis of that period seem to boast the same Rays flair as both jersey tops sport a portion of powder blue essence and both team’s utilized the traditional 70’s fashion item, the V-neck collar that seemed to be all the rage in that era.

But the Rays did divorce themselves from the total powder blue explosion on their uniform top by letting the chest and back region of the jersey be more of a royal blue separating these two teams a bit. But both uniforms sported powder blue pants with royal blue stirrups and white socks. Even the Rays retro baseball cap has visions of “Brew Crew” inspirations as both caps featured a yellow V-front panel with royal blue dominating the back and side panels of the cap.

The small bit of yellow trim that will fashion the Rays uniform number also plays nicely with the Brewers 1979 design. Thank goodness the Rays did not decide to use anything close to that hideous glove print design that sported the Brewers cap front. Rays decided on a more funkadelic “tb” on the cap with a Sun logo shining in bright yellow in the lower case “b” on the cap. The lower case “a” in the Rays embellished on their uniform front will also house a Sun design.

With the team having worn most of this area’s professional baseball team’s colors at some point during their previous 9 other “Throw-back” days, this meshing of the hypothetical past does have its own charm. The team will pay a bit of hometown homage to their St. Petersburg roots by having the City seal of St. Petersburg on their left jersey short sleeve.

Since it is a hypothetical design, and one that does seem to mirror a bit an actual AL East power at that time period, I can not only applaud the design, I might even buy a game used and autographed jersey through the auction on raysbaseball.com following the contest. I can’t call this a Home Run by the Rays, but possibly it is a nice sacrifice squeeze in the bottom of the 9th inning against a rival. It could have been worse, the Rays could of adopted the “tux stylings” of the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs. Those kinds of tops were the rage at my prom in 1979. 

If you might want to buy one of these interesting conceptual jerseys prior to game time on Saturday, you can call or visit any of the Rays Team Store at the Trop., in Tampa, or you can visit Raysbaseball.com and buy one online.

Is Pine Tar a Demon or an Equalizer?

It’s in every bag in the big leagues. We have it everywhere. If you get rid of it, there are going to be hitters getting plucked left and right. When you have adverse weather games, extremely hot, cold, windy humidity;s crazy, sometimes as a pitcher you can’t feel the ball, that’s no good for the guy (at bat).                      – former Tampa Bay Rays Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez

I’m being to feel that pine tar is a lot more prevalent and in wide-spread use than any of us can imagine. One of the most important assets to a pitcher no matter if he is a starter or a reliever is feeling a consistent and constant grip on the baseball. There have been no reports or experiments conducted to see if pine tar does give you an extra inch of drop, velocity or even control, but even if it is all in the pitcher’s mind only that he has more consistency because of it, isn’t that a good thing for the game. 

Makes sense that pitcher’s might dabble and spot a few dots of pine tar on their mitts during rain, sleet or snow, and humid and hot temperature do produce more sweat and moisture that could effect not only the grip, but final destination of every pitch. Seems like pine tar ( to me) might have a few helpful benefits to keep batters upright and safer at the plate. Former Rays TV Announcer and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joe Mcgrane said he has used pine tar before for it’s gripping properties while current Rays TV Announcer and former Rays/ Indians pitcher Brian Anderson says he never touched the stuff.

I remember more than once pitchers reaching into the Rays Bullpen bag for a green leather sleeve with a darkened element on it, but I never associated it with pine tar. Even though there has never been an adequate test or study to show if pine tar or a substance of that nature effects the flight of the ball, it seems more viable and controllable than other elements that can be applied to a baseball and masked without the darkened spots. In earlier baseball history Vaseline and saliva were commonplace, but I wonder if things like suntan lotion. Extra hair gel or possibly even leaving shampoo or conditioner in your hair pre-game could bring about the same results. 

In the same article Hernandez tells of the plight of former Detroit Tiger starter Kenny Rogers and his unfortunate pine tar incident that played out during the 2006 World Series when Rogers had some pine tar on his hands when he took the hill. Hernandez stated the aging hurler did not use the element to produce more sink or doctor the ball, he used it so he could get a better grip on the ball and not lose control of his pitches. 

In this case, rival Manger Tony La Russa handled it a bit more classier than Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson did recently. La Russa sent a message through the grapevine (Third Base Coach?) Telling Rogers to clean it up, clean it off. It was never made into the huge issue and polarizing issue it has in this recent Rays and Nationals series. Hernandez made a valid point that since they (Cardinals) beat the (Tigers) the issue was swept away without blossoming into a full blown incident.

You have to think MLB Home Plate Umpires reject a few baseball every game that might have hints or flashes of a substance, but do not call attention to it as pitchers “clean up” their act before it gets overly noticed or goes to extremes. I can tell you I’m going to be a bit more curious when an Umpire rejects a ball from now on as possibly having more than scrape mark or a darkened bat mark on the ball. 

I’m not looking to re-write MLB Rule 8.02, but Peralta did not touch the ball to his glove with the pine tar applied to it, the substance was within the finger area of the glove, thus not in direct contact with the ball. Still it was a violation, and a punishment Peralta might just be in the mood to appeal the punishment, possibly being a last thorn in the side of Nat’s Manager Johnson in this last game of the Rays and Nat’s InterLeague dance.  Wonder if Peralta heads to the mound tonight if the “boo-birds” will become a bit louder and crazier?

Maybe it is time for the hierarchy of Major League Baseball to dig a bit deeper into this situation, possibly poll current MLB roster pitchers with full immunity to discuss the issue and possibly find a viable solution everyone can not only live with, but promote safe usage and rules governing it’s application especially in adverse weather conditions. Just because MLB Umpires know it might be used by pitchers doesn’t mean they “look the other way”, it might not be as prevalent in everyday pitching situations thus a blind eye is given on occasion. 

I guess the use of pine tar will be one of those burning issues for a while some consider it in baseball’s “gray area”, and other see it as blatant cheating or dismissal of the rules of the game. No matter what your opinion, maybe this last statement by Hernandez might open a few eyes that maybe pine tar has an application in the game, but within set limitations or application.

I don’t see anything in pine tar that creates an unfair advantage for a pitcher. You make a big deal of it, and all of a sudden guys are going to start, as we call it in the business, pitching naked. More balls would get away from pitchers, and now you’re going to be fighting. We’re going to have more beanball brawls than ever.” 

Don’t know about you, but I hated getting pelted with a 90+ MPH pitch somewhere on my body while trying to hit that small white sphere. Plus I usually did apply a bit of pine tar to my bat…for a better grip.

 

 

Nats, Rats…Has a Nice Ring to It

I remember watching “Mob Wives” on VH-1 this season and one of the characters, Big Ang said these immortal words, “A rat is a rat is a rat.” But here lies the conundrum. It is up to interpretation as to whether you consider Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson the one with the wiry whiskers, or Rays reliever Joel Peralta to be the focal rodent here.

Do you consider a relief pitcher using a product that doesn’t give him a considerable edge the villain, or Peralta who is a former Nat’s pitcher and might have been “outed” by a former colleague, or your old Triple-A Manager who might have felt an obligation to divulge your old glove habit. Here is where the line between good sportsmanship and someone just trying to ruin someone for the sake of it all. To me, the smell permeates more from the Nationals dugout than from the body of Peralta.

Sure Peralta might have used some pine tar hidden within the folds of his black glove on the mound last night, but was there evidence on the ball used during that outing to suggest deception by Peralta, or was the Nationals staff using some long held information from Peralta’s past to discredit and damage his credibility throughout baseball.


I mean you do not have to think long and hard that the Nat’s had to have had this information long in advance as a black colored glove doesn’t give off the air of deception via black pine tar unless you had prior knowledge the event might be unfolding. It is not like any member of the Nat’s roster or staff got a chance to take a intense nasal upload of Peralta’s mitt, or that an odor or remnants of pine tar suggested the element was present before Johnson made Home Plate Umpire Tim Tschida aware of any wrongdoing.

Johnson just played a trump card he had in his back pocket, and got an effective reliever not only out of this game, but possibly the rest of the series between these two clubs. It might be a clever move to isolate one key ingredient that could thwart any late inning heroics by his Nationals club, but was it a rat move by doing it in such a devious and cowardly way. It is not like the pine tar was visible or even someone witnessed the event. Johnson was going on private knowledge he had on a prior Peralta game day tradition/superstition and used it to his advantage, possibly ruining Peralta’s reputation and putting doubt of all of Peralta’s positive career steps in the process.

So is this going to start a bit of a “glove war” in this series? Possibly not, but you can bet Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his squad will use this measure as a energizing polar moment, possibly playing their final 2 games against Washington with a bit more energy and want for victories. Peralta did glide over the MLB lines with his move, but isn’t it common knowledge pitchers use any tools or items at their disposal to get that slight edge?

We have all seen pitchers pick up the resin bag and popped it into their forearms and hands, then do a few hard and suggestive bumps on their uniform leg for possible “future application”. Isn’t this considered a foreign substance since it is not a viable part of either the glove or the uniform and MLB warrants a pitcher rub his hand on his uniform after using the resin bag to extract possible excess materials?

This is one of those unwritten things you know each teams does, but it doesn’t have a direct affect on the game’s integrity or outcome. Players find their own ways to not so much cheat, but get their own slight advantages, but this time Peralta will pay the price through a possible game suspension and unexpected fine and further long glances into his past achievements. Johnson took the “low road” in my opinion here.

It was not a crafty move made on an observation, but on a long held habit of Peralta’s that in evidently got him ejected and under the thumb of the MLB disciplinarians now. Sure some within the Nat’s fan base will stand and applaud Johnson’s move, but I truly wonder how many players in his own clubhouse do not want to be a part of these shenanigans. In the end Johnson pulled his trump card and sent Peralta up the Delaware River without a paddle or a bucket to keep himself from sinking.

I hope whoever divulged that tidbit of information about Peralta on the Nat’s Coaching staff or player roster can sleep well at night now knowing they discredited a former teammate and possible friend. Sad when a former employer has to dig up prior dirt to get you discredited, show doubt and possibly black label you for the rest of your career just to try and develop a scoring opportunity.

I think it is extremely funny that if you go 4 letters to the right in our alphabet, then Johnson is not the Manager of the “Nat’s”, he is the skipper of the “Rat’s”…..I bet none of his 25 man roster would want to put on that jersey….ever. 

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