Results tagged ‘ Joe Maddon ’

“Lady Luck, You Got Some Explainin’ to Do”

Sometimes I think we forget how lucky this Tampa Bay Rays team has been on the injury front over the past few years. Sure we have had untimely injuries that set this team back a tad, but not since their 2009 season have the Rays had their rabbit’s feet and luck slap them in the face like this. It’s been a long time since this Rays franchise has looked more like a M*A*S*H unit than a competitive baseball team.

It befuddles me a bit that we have a winning record and yet the boo-birds have come out not only targeting the wrong people, but also forgetting injuries are a part of the game, that is why there is a DL and call-ups to the majors. Even before Rays skipper Joe Maddon and Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield got Rays starter Jeff Niemann to the Visiting Clubhouse last night in Toronto, fingers began wagging and spit and vinegar ruled the roost. Heck, it not so long ago a Rays team dealt with this same rash of unforeseen injuries and watching players fall like Dominoes…I would think we would have learned a bit of ranting restraint since 2009.

Back in 2009 12 different Rays hit the DL at one time or another and amassed a hysterical number of 752 games missed over that 162 game season. Some spent as little as 6 games on the pine ( BJ Upton/shoulder surgery), while others, like the trio of RP Jason Isringhausen (137 games), RP Troy Percival (119 games) and OF Fernando Perez (130 games) spent most of the season either on the mend or recovering from some sort of surgery. This 2009 season was also the Rays season Carlos Pena missed 25 games due to a badly placed ( cough, cough) CC Sabathia pitch inside with a duo of fractured fingers.

The 2012 season is starting to become a bit of a mirror image of that 2009 injury riddled team, and I think we have not seen the end to the injury bug. How weird is it that both this season’s squad and the 2209 ( June 16-26) edition had 8 players on the DL. Downright freaky to consider that team lost so many “games” to their injured comrades, and this 2012 team as of game time tonight have banked 153 games in the DL bucket this season, not counting Jeff Niemann’s possible 40-60 game estimate.

For some reason we all forgot that this Rays team might have finally used up all their “good luck” fairy dust and for the first time since 2009, the Rays well-oiled machine has broken down not from dis-repair, but from the possible stress and strain each team endures over that 180 days during a MLB regular season. Do not blame Porterfield, Paul Harker or Kevin Barr.

I am sure Porterfield’s training room at Tropicana Field will be re-named “ M*A*S*H 33701” as the Rays players begin to arrive to the Clubhouse on Wednesday. Funny how as soon as Niemann left the contest there were cries and yelps about the Rays Training staff and their Strength and Conditioning. Suddenly the same group of Rays personnel who are considered by many to be one of the best in MLB were being thrown under a speeding bus without even a slight bit of fact or visualization to promote any wrongdoing or mis-diagnosis.

I truly do not know how Niemann threw even a warm-up pitch last night without grimacing in pain after getting hacked by that drive. That determination to even try and stay in the game is a testament to the true guts and courage of this team as a whole. I bet each and every player , especially those nagging injuries they hold to themselves and that we know nothing about. But injuries small or large come with the salary, and sometimes letting them fester and linger are not worth the price paid in the end. Some players might even be playing right now on borrowed time, and that is not a good thing.

Sean Rodriguez has a lingering strained pectoral muscle. Think about that injury for a second. S-Rod has a strained muscle in the chest region of the lead arm in his bat swing. Add onto scenario the blatantly obvious condition of throwing the ball diagonally across his body from the Hot Corner and you have to either be impressed or think Rodriguez is crazy to set himself up for a possible long term injury. Recent errors might be more due to trying to play through the injury than his throws follow through. I seriously do not know why S-Rod is taking the punishment and not resting himself, but then again, the drive and resiliency shown right now by just this one Rays speaks volumes to the commitment of every one on this 25-man roster.

There is no conspiracy, no covert medical pandemic or lack of adherence to conditioning drills that have led to this recent outburst of injuries. The plan truth is this Rays team has been dodging huge bullets and taped up more than a few “walking wounded” over this season and some injuries go under the radar until they burst out into the daylight.

Sports fans today want to point a finger, find a viable scapegoat to focus blame and their anger towards, and sometimes the wrong people get caught in the cross-hairs. How many people know Porterfield last night called the local NBA team, the Raptors last night trying to find an over-sized set of crutches to make Niemann’s pain a bit more bearable. You can bet Porterfield and his staff including Strength and Conditioning Coach Barr have put in plenty of overtime and extended hours mending, taping and even discussing ways this team can keep its members on the field, even for a minimal of innings or effort.

 But still the finger wag and the voices get louder and louder. Maybe the Rays Republic needs to point their finger in another direction. Possibly there is another culprit who deserves your spit and vinegar. Possibly the bottle of luck the Rays have been pouring out since 2009 finally ran out of magic. Maybe we should point our fingers to the person who is suppose to keep it full. Lady Luck, as Ricky Ricardo once said, “You got some explainin’ to do! ” 

Tale of Two Gomes

Each stood facing the other last night trying to do damage. Each was hellbent within himself to defeat the odds and place their names upon our lips of the baseball world for at least for 24 hours. In the end it was an old Tampa Bay Rays soul, current A’s LF/DH who won the cosmic interaction while his last namesake counterpart could only watch from the discomfort of the Rays dugout as Gomes #1 strolled around the bases after the eventual finally happened. One hoisted up by the universe as the victor while the other could only watch it all unfold. This is the tale of two Gomes, and by the end of the night, each would walk a different path.

Brandon and Jonny Gomes are not related, but last night both of their names were on our lips and minds for reasons that could be considered by many as polar opposites. Each confronted his namesake on the field last night trying to make their own versions of history, each wanted their name connected with a moment that would be talked about, who’s image would be plastered on television screen as the other look on in disbelief and wonder. Last night they were the “Ying and Yang” of Tampa Bay, each of their careers set to move in different directions.

We all knew as Jonny sauntered to the plate for his final appearance of the night against Rays pitching stalwart Joel Puerperal, this “Gomes” could change the playing landscape with a swing or by imposing his own brand of “throw-back era” hustle into the contest. In that moment when the ball met the bat and screamed all the way out of the park we remembered why Jonny was so beloved by us all.

His personality was simply that of a human cartoon character (in a good way), his curly shaggy hair removed for the first wave of Ray hawks, his energy and action synonymous with the energy and vibrant nature of the 2008 Rays and their “Magical Season”. He was a game-changer even back then. His emotional power rivaled his physical. His antics amused and confused us, but they were done with the right intentions. Some loved his reckless abandon while other thought it cost the team chances, you either loved him, or loved to hate him. Each had their own army of followers.

As one “Gomes” triumphed, another would in fall on his Rays sword. Brandon did not factor into the final demise of the Rays last night as he fought valiantly tossing 2 innings of shut-out baseball, but one to his 2 walks in tonight’s appearance came to his Gomes counterpart on 4 pitches, and might have set into motion some of the events that would conclude his Rays tenure, at least for now. Even before their 10th inning lead-off encounter tonight each Gomes was on a different path.

5 straight batters came to the plate and Brandon factored significantly in the innings outcome as Kila Ka`aihue bunted a ball into the air to him, Kurt Suzuki was struck by a pitch, then Daric Barton walked on 4 pitches. Suddenly Jonny stood 60 feet at Third Base with 1 out from inflicting his own sword upon Gomes. But Brandon regained some sense of composure and got Brandon Inge to strike out the n finally let someone else play as he pitched inside to Jemile Weeks and got him to tag a dribbler to teammate Carlos Pena who stepped on the bag and ended the drama.

But this outing, even thought it was triumphant in the end for Brandon set into motion some post game decisions, possibly fostered by his outlandish 7.71 ERA. That first Gomes-on-Gomes event of the evening would be their only meeting of the night as Brandon got 3 straight ground ball outs in 2 plate appearances for the Athletics as Jonny stared in from the On-Deck Circle. As Brandon walked from the mound to the dugout you have to wonder if he felt the “Gomes” energy shift towards the other dugout.

Jonny headed to the plate in the top of the 12 inning poised and focused on somehow finding a hole in Rays relief stalwart Joel Peralta’s game, hopefully pushing this contest towards a conclusion. In true Gomes fashion, with 2 strikes on him in the at bat, Jonny turned on a Peralta pitch and deposited it 354 feet into the Leftfield stands. There was an awkward moment during Jonny’s stroll around the bases a some in attendance clapped for him while others seemed perplexed as to if they should salute or Bronx cheer the effort, not knowing yet it would be the final dagger in the Rays winning streak’s heart.

In a second, one emerged as the game’s hero while the other felt more like Nero watching his city burn to the ground. Each played the game with extreme confidence, brilliant expectations, but in the end it was a mighty stroke that pounded the white sphere while the other Gomes could only watch from the confines of the Rays dugout. Who would have guessed at that moment one Gomes was set for glory, and the other destined for an extreme moon-lite car ride to the airport.

After the game Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman were nestled behind a closed door in discussions on options. Who would have guessed at that moment as one Gomes celebrated in a locker room not 50 feet from the other, his counterpart would be packing his belongings sent back to Triple-A Durham once again.

But that is the way it is with baseball. No matter if you are the hero or the goat, or just a bystander to the final blow, you never know your fate. This ended the chance of another Gomes-on-Gomes encounter in this series, but even as both pack for different destinations today, I have a feeling this will not be the last time they meet in 2012. We still have 7 more games between these two squads in 2012, so possibly this is not the end of the “ Tales of Two Gomes”………..To be Continued.

Beckham Career Could Go to Pot

When I saw him during February in Port Charlotte, Florida weeks ahead of the report date for the Tampa Bay Rays field players, I thought he finally had his ducks in a row and was going to strike hard and fast to hitch his wagon to a Rays roster spot. His body seemed more toned and muscular than before, and his concentration in the cages showed he had a serious intention to stay in the “Big Boys” camp as long as possible this Spring.

It truly felt like Rays prospect Tim Beckham had made a decision in the 2011 off season to finally thrust his name into the running for a infield slot with the team, and I truly had the vibe that only thing that would defeat Beckham in this process would be himself. So it was beyond disheartening today to learn Beckham has been slapped for the second time in his minor league career with a suspension for a “drug of abuse”.

50 games is a long time in the minor league system. It is more than enough time for a fellow competitor to pass you in stats, experience and possibly be a direct link to your season ending around September 1st instead of having a month up with the parent club. I guess Beckham’s “drug of abuse” which was pot has its own opinions as to whether it should be legal or regulated, but it is still a banned and illegal substance. We could debate for hours, possibly days considering this substance, but the final say is that minor league baseball considers it illegal and a harmful drug and the suspension has merit.

Even though Beckham is currently on the Triple-A Durham disabled list trying to rehab and conquer his wrist ailments, immediately the focus has to be re-directed towards this “drug of abuse”. The most important thing right now is the first move Beckham makes post revelation of his pot smoking reveal. Does he do counseling, treatment or can he go “cold turkey” and beat the ganja gangster? Whatever his plan of action, it must be swift, concise and show an honest effort and chance for change both in his lifestyle and his demeanor…Without the combination, his career could evaporate.

Truly this event could not have happened at a worst moment for Beckham. You had to think the Rays would of at least entertained the notion of bringing up Beckham with Rays slugger Evan Longoria out of the line-up for at least 4-8 weeks with his hamstring injury. Possibly Beckham would of gotten ample chances at either side of the second base bag to leave a lasting impression on Rays Manager Joe Maddon just as he had this Spring, but now all that prior work, all that hustle and sweat might just be for not.

This suspension doesn’t mean the team will turn its head away from Beckham. The Rays have established a long history of helping their player conquer abuse problems, and have held players within their system fighting internal demons, some with success, and some to utter failure. The path Beckham takes now will determine if he is going to be a vital cog in the Rays future, or possibly just another example of great talent before the Draft, and a fall from grace while establishing himself.

I hope Becks finds the light, turns the corner and proceeds to get himself straight and ready to again claim a shot at a Rays roster spot. Wild how not even 90 days ago Beckham had his entire Rays world in front of him for the taking. He was more confident, physically and mentally prepared like no other time in his career and put up some impressive displays both at the plate and in the field this Spring. I still think Beckham has the right stuff to be not only a Rays player, but one we cheer and embrace for a long, long time.

But first, Beckham has to step forward, profess and cast off his demons, then work to get healthy inside and out, get back to playing the game he loves and the rest will take care of itself. I hope Becks can make that transition, find that serenity and peace to expunge his demonic partner and again thrive both on the off the field. If he can do that, I promise to be one of the first to stand and applaud and hopefully shake his hand and welcome him back not only as a Ray, but as a true baseball survivor.

“Oh No….Longo!”

I swear at that moment I saw the cloth fabric of Tropicana Field move like a sudden wind gust had enveloped it. The collective gasp and exhale after a botched stolen base attempt by Tampa Bay Rays 3B Evan Longoria made the Trop. silent as we watched Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield and Rays skipper Joe Maddon trot out to Longo. I immediately let out a long drawn out moan of “Oh No! Longo!” that made a few people laugh as it sounded more like the old SNL Mr Bill character than my usual voice, but it hit me like a rock that suddenly one of the true keystones of this amazing run by the Rays stood favoring his left knee and we all wanted it to heal instantly.

This season Longoria seemed to want to be the “go-to” guy, he wanted the pressure, the stress and the responsibilities that go along with being the player constantly in the spotlight for both praise and criticism. It is always a good sign for a player to leave the field on his own power, but when it is a central figure standing there trying to keep his weight off his sore and aching knee, the Rays Republic could only think the worst. Even before Longo hit the Rays dugout steps the dulled whispers and a active hum hit the stadium.

The early prognosis is that Longoria is suffering a bit of soreness in his left knee region, but then we heard the three letter that instantly horrified us all..M..R..I. That doesn’t mean as much today as it would 3-4 years ago as every athlete even with a minor aliment gets this imaging test nowadays as a precaution more than a insight to injury. Still, this one test can see deeper into the situation, and possibly bring to the surface our darkest fears, a extended bench vacation for the Rays offensive weapon.

That would put a deep crease in the Rays offensive machine as Longoria was a key figure in the Rays 5th ranked American League offense, and was experiencing a great start in 2012. Going into this match-up against Seattle, Longoria himself boasted a .550 average with runners in scoring position, which lead the majors. To put it into deeper prospective in Longo’s last 12 plate appearances with runners in scoring position before Monday night’s contest, he was an astronomical 9-for-10 with 2 doubles, 2HR, 2 walks and 11 RBI. Instantly by this you can see a major clog in the Rays machine has a sudden health issue.

Let’s expand a bit more into the offensive presence of Longo for this 2012 Rays squad. He already has 19 RBI in 95 plate appearances in 22 games. That is a huge improvement over 2011 when it took Longoria 151 plate appearances to hit the same mark. Longoria had 15 RBI in 13 road games this season as well as since last June, his 105 RBI in 120 games leads the entire tier of sluggers in Major League Baseball.

If Longoria spends any significant time off the field it hits the Rays in a multitude of areas. It takes a huge piece of the Rays hitting factor our of their 2012 equation as well as a team on-the-field General and leader. Even with his fumble-itus recently at the Hot Corner, his experience and solid foundation at Third Base will open a huge hole with only utility guy Elliot Johnson and possibly Jeff Keppinger currently on the Rays roster who can play the spot with any consistency. It would also throw a huge monkey wrench into the Rays winning formula that has already sparked an impressive 8-2 record over their last 10 contests.

It is too early to think negatively. Longo maybe needs a day or two off his feet in the field, possibly resting and icing the knee. I do not want to fathom the thought of 30 days or longer without the Rays spark plug at the Hot Corner, I would rather think of this as a short vaca to do some much needed R&R.

Possibly as early as this afternoon or tonight we will know more, so I will keep the negative Nelly stuff deep within me, hoping the MRI shows minimal or no significant damage. I know the Rays Republic are sending positive vibes and emotions to Longo, hopefully they have the power to heal and bandage this evolving Rays situation. I truly did have the shivers last night watching the event, and it was hard to stay positive. Hopefully Maddon will be the bearer of great news later today.

Time to Re-Joyce

The title says it all. How can you not even consider any act of rejoicing for the pure fact that Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Matt Joyce is not only off to a great start in 2012, but has gotten more than a fighting chance to show his stuff against left and right-handed pitchers this season. I understand the post-2012 thinking of Rays skipper Joe Maddon of Joyce wade into the Rays hitting pool slowly, but the guy has proven he doesn’t need a platoon partner. I mean what else does the guy have to do to get a full-time gig? It is time to finally throw Joyce into the deep end of the shark tank and see if he can dog paddle or swim like a cow-nosed ray.

Coming into the 2012 season Joyce was riding the accolades of his first All-Star selection, playing in 142 games during the season, and posting up some impressive number during his first season of Maddon loosing up the reins. So far in 2012 Joyce has posted up a .308 average with 7 extra base hits, including a current streak of going 8-for-20 over his last 5 games with 3 HR, 3 RBI and has scored 8 runs. Joyce has hit safely in 8 of his last 9 games batting .375 during this span. Unfortunately so far in 2012, Joyce has seen a bit of struggles against left-handers who have tried to expand the outside corner of the strike zone on him, but Joyce has pushed up a .222 average with a solo HR and 3 RBI.

 That might not get a resounding vocal of support from Maddon, but considering Joyce has only had 18 at bats against lefties this season, Maddon might still be playing the odds with Joyce. But seriously, hasn’t Joyce over the last few weeks proven he can stand tall in the box against hurlers from either side of the rubber? Why go back to the old Maddon mindset of putting Joyce on the pine when Joyce might be finally adjusting to the outside pitch offering and getting into a groove mentally of knowing what is in store for him during plate appearances against southpaws. Why not let Joyce mature and get some valuable plate time proving he is an all-around hitter, not just someone who can blast one against righties.

Of course a lot of this early 2012 success has also been on the heels of the Rays not having a legitimate tag-team partner to interweave with Joyce after Rays CF B J Upton went down even before the 2012 season after a Spring Training game collision with LF Desmond Jennings. Sure maybe Joyce has not posted up amazing numbers to get his name scribbled in daily against left-handers yet, but the guy is learning with each step in the box, and sooner or later he will find that rhythm and bat cadence that will produce the run scoring opportunities and boast his confidence at the same time.

Going to be interesting especially on Sunday to see if Maddon goes against his old judgment concerning Joyce and gives him a day on the pine against struggling Twins leftie Francisco Liriano. You would think this might be the perfect test for Joyce going against a hurler that has posted a 11.91 ERA and has given up at least 5 earned runs in his 3 2012 starts.

Still when you hit .290 against right-handers with 16 HR and 60 RBI during the 2011 season then mirror image that with a glaring contrast of a .219 average with 3 HR and 15 RBI against lefties, it makes a decision to bench you statistically solid. But if you look deeper at the splits, Joyce got 370 chances against righties while he only went to the plate 92 times against southpaws last season.

Before Joyce sent a pitch into the Rogers Centre seats in the top of the 7th inning against Toronto Blue Jays southpaw ace Ricky Romero during the Rays April 17th loss, Joyce has been feast or famine with round-trippers against his leftie foes. In 2011, Joyce got all 3 of his Home Runs against left-handers in a span of 13 at bats, and before his blast in Toronto, these were Joyce’s only Home Runs ever hit against lefties in his career.

Seems to me possibly Joyce is starting to find his moments against southpaws, possibly figuring out a wise and honest approach to putting bat on ball and producing results in his starts against the type of pitchers who used to “own him”. Since Maddon is a purveyor of the statistical elements, hopefully the recent actions by Joyce in the batters box will give Maddon the hope and confidence that Joyce can handle any pitcher, any time, in any situation and prove once and for all he is another valuable weapon in the Rays hitting arsenal no matter who is on the hill.

Rays Need to Wipe the Tarnish Off Their “Golden Arms”

Coming into the 2012 Major League Baseball season I do not think there was anyone connected with the game who had any major concerns about the Tampa Bay Rays starting pitching or their overhauled Bullpen. Most proclaimed them to be a pitching staff that was a year older, but considerably wiser beyond their years. From the only over 30 member of the starting rotation James Shields to rookie Matt Moore, the Rays were definitely a young staff to be wary of this season.

But how reality can change. How quickly things can go sideways, produce holes and show the Rays have a few situations, and not all of them have immediate solutions. Things looked up quickly for the Rays “Golden Arms” after sweeping the 2011 American League East champs, the New York Yankees at home. Quickly people were singing the praises of this young bunch of hurlers who seemed to have the midas touch, the “Golden Arms” moniker seem appropriate. Even after a hiccup of only winning one of three against the favored Detroit Tigers, the Rays seemed destine to head into the land of the Lobster and chowder with confidence and a chance.

Suddenly over a 3-game spread the Rays starters looked vulnerable, giving up extra base smashes that usually find a glove, or produce outs. Even though pitches were being placed perfectly in their quadrants, bats met ball almost like they knew it was going to be delivered there, without much sweat or guessing. Instantly eyes and fingers began to watch these Red Sox for clues or suggestions of a more clandestine reasoning for the Rays sudden fall from pitching grace. In an instant the once mystical Rays seemed bewildered and confused as speculation ran rampant that their secret formula had been deciphered and pilfered producing 3 straight dizzying losses to their divisional rival Boston.

The Rays seemed plagued by an aspiration more towards mediocrity than their acclaimed meteoric prediction. In a flash the Rays tumbled from the grace of promise to fall 0-3 and closer to the .500 mark before their ace, James Shields delivered them from the folly of losing all 4 contests to these Bostonians. Some say the difference was a change of habit, a visual game of hide and go seek where Rays catcher Jose Molina would do his best impression of hiding the corner and seeking the calls on the outside corners. Even if the strike zone did gain a few inches, it went both ways, but it did give Shields and the Rays a fighting chance.

You want to dissect the Rays starting staff and look for a fundamental reasoning for the Boston meltdown, but you will not find it. Tongues wagged that Moore was tipping off his pitches, but the same game outcome and hit barrage beset veteran hurler David Price and 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson. How could a staff that stifled the Yankees less than a week before suddenly fall flat against a divisional rival they had winning history against in their ballpark. It is not like the Rays came into Boston complacent or sporting a superior record, somewhere the dike developed a leak and not until Shields hit the hill did it get plugged with success.

Some might contribute this strange quandary to the fact of a plethora of afternoon contests on this road trip, but that is the easy answer. The hard answer is this young staff is still maturing at times and can be vulnerable. The real answer is Hellickson and Moore have the abilities to shut down any American League offense, but if their control ticks even an inch off the plate, the Home Plate Umpire might not give that extra inch. That comes with experience and knowing which Umpire might be open to balls skipping the corners and who runs a tight strike zone. Worst thing is on any given night that variable could change without warning or hint.

We all know already if Shields and Price have the motors revving and are on point, only they can cost themselves a victory. Worst thing that could happen to the Rays is one of these two going down, or experiencing even a short span of wildness or ability to sit guys down via the outside corner called third strike. There is a gap between the experience levels of these two and the duo of Hellboy and M&M. Not even sure the tallest member of the silent assassins, Jeff Niemann can put himself into that middle ground at times. Even though the 6’9” Niemann can show the skills of an ace during his streaks, when he is off his game, weird things happen. You might consider Niemann a liability compared to the other 4 starters on this team, but when he is in his groove and popping balls into the strike zone, he looks more like a #3 starter than the back end option at #5.

The Rays starters just have to wipe the tarnish off their “Golden Arms” and again show the wealth and worth of their abilities to get the Rays close games that their offense can overcome and post wins. The Boston series was a debacle by any sense of the word, but this Toronto series might be the true test for the Rays starters. If they can harness themselves and post a winning edge in this first series in Canada, it could be a great launching pad into their home stand and again having people feel “golden” about this starting staff.

Did the Red Sox Signal Corps Find Success?

They’re just really hot right now,” Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times after Thursday afternoon’s 3rd loss in a row to the Boston Red Sox. “It’s almost like they knew what’s coming almost. They’re on every pitch. They’re on the fastball. They’re on the breaking ball. They’re on the change-up. They’re on everything right now. They’re really locked in.

Doesn’t take a baseball genius to decipher a little bit of hidden meaning in Maddon’s comments. But maybe Maddon is on to something. Sure stealing signs has been around since the invention of the game and unless you use a video tape system or other technology that can give you in-game information, Major League Baseball will turn it’s eye away from the situation. If you have every notice during Rays game, one of the Rays starters, and usually Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi will both keep an accurate account of the game stats, type of pitches and their results for future analysis.

This can be used in the future for predictions, but is not plausible for in-game use. Some thought the Rays pitching staff might be showing “tells” or tipping off their pitches during the Boston series. Seems a bit far-fetched when you consider the Rays sent hurlers David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie Matt Moore to the hill in the first 3 contests, and they did not seem to exhibit any visual “tells” in the delivery, arm slot release or facial movements. There are 3 valid reasons the Red Sox might have gotten the upper hand on the Rays this series.

First off, Red Sox Manager Bobby Valentine is an astute student of the game who also caught for many years and knows the art of trying to both conceals and transmit false signals to prevent the stealing of signs. A smart Manager would have someone down near the back-end of the dugout watching in at the catcher, possibly seeing similarities, constant familiar movements or even a flash of a painted nail to signal the true intended pitch.

Just as quickly that player could tip his cap, stand up, clap his hands or do any number of audio or visual patterns to signify a certain pitch being thrown to the plate. This is not an illegal activity, but does seem to hide within the large gray area of the unwritten rules of baseball.

A great second indicator that the Boston brood might be fishing for signals is the fact the Red Sox brought in former Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach to be their primary backstop this season. Do not forget, it was this same Red Sox organization that gave @ShopHouse10 his first decent chance and taste of MLB life as a Red Sox prospect. Got to think the Red Sox have grilled and formulated a game plan in advance with information on pitching patterns and possible signal combinations so to get a bit of an edge against this young and talented staff.

This is also not illegal, and is a rather commonplace occurrence after a player leaves one team and joins another. But a catcher knows all the nuances and particulars of a team’s signal calling process. Even if the Rays changed their system this Spring, there is still leftover signals, patterns and small tell-tale signs that could trigger an all out discovery or disclosure of a team’s battery signals.

Still, Boston could have done their business the hard way and just watched game film from this Spring as these 2 squads played each other 3 times with the Red Sox coming away with wins in all 3 contests. Valentine could have had his off-the field staff tear down game tapes looking for patterns, “tells” or even a system that developed out of the constant movements of the Rays catchers this Spring and possibly into late 2011. He could have done it by dissecting the Rays Spring patterns, taking a slice of Shoppach’s past knowledge and sprinkled in a bit of his long history both as a spectator and catcher in the MLB.

Or maybe it is just as simple as Valentine figured out the Rays common “indicator” signal that all 3 of the Rays catchers from Jose Molina, Jose Lobaton to Chris Gimenez might have used when a player was on base. The “indicator” is usually one or two patterned finger or body movements made to try to throw off someone stealing signals, but if discovered, or if the pattern is somehow revealed throughout a contest, it can be a green light to the First and Third Base Coaches to alert hitters to what might be coming.

Even a calculated and synchronized system of random catcher movements and finger motions can be dissected within the scope of the game, possibly making the catcher the one giving up a “tell”. Even though it is illegal to videotape the concentrated area of the catcher for possible signal interception, the Centerfield camera always gives a perfect view into the heart of the plate, and signals can be deciphered quickly.

In the end it is a part of the game until you have hard concrete proof to the contrary. Considering Valentine and Shoppach could have brainstormed before the series began and when the indicators might have been discovered, the rest came fast and furious. But you want to think it was just an offense coming alive and no ulterior actions that hindered the Rays pitching staff this series.

But a clear indicator that possibly the system was compromised came to light today as starter James Shields held the Red Sox to a 4-hit shutout to break not only the Rays losing streak, but possibly the tale of the stealing signs. No matter if the Rays got duped by Boston this series and they did figure out the patterns and signals, it just goes to show you that not all information can be tied to a computer, a spreadsheet or even a video. Sometimes the human eye can figure out the game just as quickly and turn it into an advantage. I hope no signs were stolen, but who would fess up if it was true?

 

Time For The Rays To Act Like Contenders, Not Morgue Meat

I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. Guess that is the only way to describe the scene that played out in front of me and the rest of the Nation after the fifth inning today. There is no other team that I hate seeing the Tampa Bay Rays lose to than this Boston bunch. And losing 2 out of the first 2 to begin the 2012 seasonal series, that just makes my stomach turn, burn and totally feeling like imploding.

I am not going to call anyone out for this loss because it has been 30 minutes and I am suppose to focus on the next day’s game now, but there is still some residue on my shoes and it doesn’t smell like roses. I tried to drum up the confidence game yesterday in my post by stating we have these types of losses during a long 162-game season, but against a divisional foe, the loss hurts double in my heart and in the standings. Worst part of it all is that this game seemed well in hand, then the mighty hand of something purely evil and nasty plucked the stingers off the Rays one-by-one until it seems our eyes glazed over from disbelief.

These types of losing streaks can be endured, but not when it gives glee and happiness to fan base that truly wishes and prays that the Rays choke on their pride and emphatically drown in their own tears. The scene on the Fenway grass today after the 5th inning seemed more likely to be one played out on a sappy medical drama where the patient comes into the facility in perfect health, has a great prognosis then somehow a severed jugular burst forward and instantly we were in a life or death struggle with no angels in the wings to pluck us from the obvious. The Rays right now look more like morgue meat than contenders, and that has to change…stat!

I so want that last sentence to be untrue, but there are fragments and obscure pieces missing that would make this whole enchilada complete. Some members of the pitching staff seem so at ease and “ in the flow”, while others seem to be going through the proverbial motions and not delivering up quality or quantity yet this season. It is frustrating when you have seen and felt the possibilities of this 2012 Rays team, then they stumble, fumble and look more like a pre-2007 Rays squad.

But here is where we do our work as fans. It is our job right now to keep the faith, push our chests out and take the insults and sharp criticism of this team’s downward turns and stand firm, stand erect, and above all stand united. For if even one of us falters in our belief and hope for this team, the dam could spring a leak and that will lead to a river of deplorable chaos and false propaganda with a Bulls Eye painted on each member of this team.

As the Rays unite as a team, solid in their goals, commitment and belief in themselves as individuals and a collective team, we must also stay the course, throw up the encouraging even in the face of the disenchanting truth. It is time to either bail out the boat and know survival is in sight or look in the distance for the school of media sharks awaiting any wobble or bob from this team and their potential.

Definitely One to Forget in 30 Minutes

Figures this kind of horror would unfold on a day like Friday the 13th giving the Tampa Bay Rays another game to drop into the loss column, hoping a bout of sudden amnesia makes us all forget this lopsided horror fest that was bestowed upon the Rays today. This is the kind of game that makes your stomach turn and your brain fry for trying to find positives among the carnage, find something good to build upon going into another 3-straight afternoon scrambles with the Boston Red Sox.

This is definitely one of those Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s “30 minutes and forget the loss” moments, even in the close confines of the Rays visiting Boston clubhouse. But there is seriously no reason to fret, no re-occurring bouts of worry or hysterical platitudes to describe this game. We have to let it go, watch it fly away and stomp on it if it tries to again darken our doors. Every season the Rays have a game early on in the season that makes you doubt yourself for a second, then you remember it is only 1 of 162. Last season it was the entire month of April, but I think you get my drift here.

With this being the Rays 15th season, there have been more than 15 of these games that rip our beating hearts out and get served to us to digest with angst and worry each year. This one unfortunately happen early on, and with a rival we have to subdue to again quench our October champagne thirst.

Sure it’s Friday the 13th, but it was also the Rays 7th game of the season. Guess even the pondering of lucky numbers against hidden evil intended numbers did not match-up in the Rays favor today. Maybe Wade Davis forgot to rub his lucky rabbit’s foot ( you know he’s got one…somewhere). Going into the contest I had a good vibe knowing the Rays were sending old lucky 2×7 (double lucky?) or pitcher David Price (#14) to the hill for the Boston home opener. Thought he might be our double-dose of a potential Rays good luck charm, our defender from these kinds of evil scores, but alas the sleeping evil beast that can be the Red Sox awoken and bite Price firmly in his box score.

Sure it is one contest, 1/162th of a season, but this one will hurt for a while. But sometimes evil things happen to good teams. Momentum can switch, be caught in the wrong cycle and spin out of control making the good and bad intertwine, changing all aspects of fortunes and re-distributing lucky bounces and odd hops to even the most disciplined defenses. Losing is never a fun thing to watch. It cuts into us deep because we feel we have the tools and arsenal to win every night but sometimes good intentions, luck and even the best frame of mind can fail anyone.

Well, it has been 20 minutes, time to forget this one and move onto tomorrow. Hmm, maybe Maddon has something here, I’m starting to feel a bit better.

Rays Shortstop Trio Could Become the Gems of the Diamond

For awhile this Spring I was beginning to wonder and a bit concerned that Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon might have to pick his daily starter at short based on a Clubhouse game of musical chairs. Even worse, he might come up with a blind choice game of I-Pod musical roulette to decide his daily choice. I could imagine hearing “Glory Days” by the Boss playing loud in the Manager’s Office as Maddon opens the door and scribbles Elliot Johnson’s name on the line-up board. Thank goodness that is not going to happen….for now.

Even that kind of insane and luck-based playing system is a testament to the great underlying potential and great ability the Rays trio of SS candidates have in their singular arsenals heading into Opening Day. I do not remember another segment of Rays players who will make up the mercenaries of the middle who had as much ability and downright potential to shine bright and become the unforeseen gems of the Rays diamond this season. It been quite a while since the middle of the Rays infield has had this source of considerable true talent and strength pushing this position into forming an unbreakable backbone for this team.

Not since the departure of former Rays All-Star Jason Bartlett has the number 6 spot had as much experience, potential for greatness and have bona fide momentum changing abilities at their disposal. Literally the Rays middle infield could become a place where hit balls go to die. Just the thought of increased chances at put-outs, double play combinations and the speed and agility of this trio boggles the imagination. Possibly we could see the “pitcher’s best friend”, the 6-4-3 Double Play become an intricate part of the winning combination this season.

We “officially” know that Maddon might be playing a bit more Salsa tunes on his I-pod as Sean Rodriguez has received the first nod from Maddon has the Rays “main man in the middle” for Opening Day. It is a well-earned spot for S-Rod as he knew coming into the Spring the job was open and a good, consistent Spring could net him this desired spot. But do not discount the possibilities of Johnson and Reid Brignac forcing Maddon’s hand at time with streaks of their own, or defensive gems that could get them additional starts and chances to shine brighter and brighter.

Maddon has said this will not be a platoon-based middle infield, but I think it is way too early to dictate that with clarity considering all 3 of these players could start somewhere among the 30 MLB teams. I truly consider the present Rays trio to possess the offensive tools and power that could finally turn the bottom half of the Rays daily line-up card into an additional run-producing power source as well as showcasing some brilliant defensive stalwarts.

Tell me another time in this franchise’s history we have had 3 players who could bring the potential of the middle infield up to this previously unforeseen caliber. But depth like this can be a double-edged sword. Sure Elliot Johnson might see some additional starts in the outfield this season and be more of a plug-in utility player all around the field, but Briggy Baseball can also make Maddon change his mind a bit if he gets off to a splendid start at the plate, especially with some extra base nuggets.

That is not to say Brignac might not see some starts against crafty right-handers, or possibly weekly dose of getaway games and possible Sunday matinée’, but if Rodriguez should stumble out of the gate, there are options in place for Maddon to be swift with the marker and make changes. But that is what happens when you got 3 baseball players who have untold potential and limited spots and starts for them. But then again, it is a nice problem to have.

To finally have infield depth that can be plugged in and play to an outstanding level without skipping a beat. Who knows maybe the future sounds of  a plethora of 6-4-3 double play combos will be music to all of our ears. I know I already like the rhythm and cadence of it.

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