Results tagged ‘ Jonny Gomes ’

Some Non Tender Thoughts

 

 

Alot of interesting things happened last night during the tender, non-tender deadline at midnight. Players got that realistic nudge of if they are considered a positive piece of the roster puzzle in 2009, or if they are totally expendable to the franchise.  Some names came across the board that you thought would be offered a contract, but ended up on the scrap heap with the rest of them.

 

There were a few names circulating who teams were trying frantically to try and trade before midnight to get some kind of value off the player before he left his old teams clutchs. Up until the witching hour, the Orioles tried to trade Daniel Cabrera and  in the same breath sign Lance Cromier to a reduced salary.  Neither player was offered a contract in the end, and that leaves the Orioles with an interesting starting pitching arrangement as of midnight. As of right now, only Jeremy Guthrie is penciled in the O’s rotation in 2009, but they do have options in the minor league system.

 

But some other names popped up on the radar after midnight that were suppose to be key pieces in their teams puzzles, but were discarded like old soda cups at the stadium when the clock struck midnight. Some have already re-signed with their old clubs, while a majority of the non-tenders are re-evaluating their careers and taking a breath before jumping back into the fire. 

 

 

                       

 

 

Philadelphia Philles Pitcher Scott Mathieson and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Norris Hopper resigned with their old squads during the night hours under a minor league contract. What was so wild about the Hopper non-tender is that it left the Reds, who also had their Fan Fest last night, with only 2 outfielders on their roster until Hopper inked his name on a contract.

 

  But some of the veterans that were left off of rosters last night will find solace today and  will not be out of work long. Several have had discussion already with clubs and it might be a minimal amount of time before they are signed, sealed and delivered to their new bosses’. But some names last night did not make sense on the syrface. Several of the names on the non-tendered list had great seasons and seemed to be in the plans before December 12th.

 

 

                    

 

 

Take former Astro Ty Wiggington, not only is he a super utility guy who can seriously play any position under the sun, but he left his old team with decisions to make no at third base. Wiggington was the Astros strongest candidate at third, and no it will escalade into a full blown battle for a successor at the position in the Spring. The 31 year-old hit a strong .285/.350/.526 in 429 plate appearances.  He probably doesn’t mind reaching free agency early in a weak third baseman market.  The Indians and Twins still have vacancies.

 

Then you have the relievers who seemd to put up excellent numbers and be on the teams’ radars for 2009, and got put out to pasture fast and without remorse. Such was the case of Florida Marlins’ reliever, Joe Nelson.  Wow…a 2.00 ERA still gets you non-tendered in Broward County.  He’s not effective as a close down reliever good, but he had a huge strikeout rate and is definitely a useful reliever in early innings.

 

 

 

 

The you have the case for my favorite whipping boy of 2009, Daniel Cabrera had been in the Oriole system for 10 years before finally getting the heave ho last night.  Let’s think about that again…………10 years.  This guy  has always been the ackwardly potent Orioles pitcher to face during a series. But his Dr Jeckle and Mr Hyde pitching style might have finally out stayed its welcome in Camden Yards. Many a hitter will tell you about pitches grazing the strikezone like a surgeon, then the next one is coming at your head without a want or reason.  At times Cabrera  posted very big strikeout numbers  and had impressive groundball rates.  With a fresh start, who knows.

 

 

                 

 

Now here is a non-tender that made sense due to a earlier trade, but why do you give up speed  and youth and keep an older outfield that will get older as the year progresses in 2009. I truly feel that  former Kansas City Royal Joey Gathright was a victim of the inside rebuilding of the team, but they are giving no consideration to speed and upgrades.  Gathright is one of the fastest men in baseball, and that can wreck havoc on a pitching staff if used correctly. Gathright will have a uniform in 2009, and will be dirt and clay-stained by the 5th inning after stealing a few bases.

 

Then there is the case of former Colorado Rockies outfielder, Willy Taveras.  Like Gathright, Taveras is a speed demon, but his recent plus/minus ratings in center field are poor.  And you can’t steal first base. And there is the mystery still humming around on why he was not considered healthy enough to complete a trade with the Mets for Tim Redding earlier in the week. This one might take a few months to really get to the heart of the problem, then we can move on and let Willy play baseball again…somewhere.

 

 

 

This next one is pretty personal to me, because I have known this guy for some time and know the BS and the challenges he has faced in 2008. His former team the Tampa Bay Rays considered him a valuable member of the roster before the first half break in the season. From that moment on, Jonny Gomes was relegated to the bench and had minimum chances and outfield starts.

 

Gomes is the type of player who needs to play every day. He lives and breathes off the emotions and the enrgies of the game. To put him on the bench without a sense of the games pace, you take him mentally and emotionally out of the contest. Gomes  got pop, and destroyed lefties outside of this year.  That’s about it though.  But sometimes, things like this are done for a reason. Maybe a change of scenery will do wonders for him, and finding a team who might need a power fourth outfielder or D H might  be his calling in baseball.

 

 

 

When the Los Angeles Dodger let closer Takashi Saito go last night, there was a sigh of relief around baseball. Here is a bona fide closer who might not cost and arm or a leg, who can effectively close out a game without incident.  Saito posted some  dominant big league numbers for the Dodgers, but he’s a huge question mark after having platelet-rich plasma injected into his elbow in an experimental procedure.  Sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but without all the Godzilla and Mothra figures.

 

I think we all know where former Washington Nationals pitcher Tim Redding will be throwing in 2009. Now that he is free and clear, the Colorado rockies will be knocking on his door and frantically calling his agent to get him signed quickly to the Rockies starting rotation. In the high alititude of Denver, he might be good for a sub 5.00 ERA as a back of the rotation starter. Tim, I hear the Rockie Mountain oysters are great at the Buckhorn. 

 

 

 

What did not surprise anyone in baseball is the  non tendering of former Milwaukee Brewers starter, Chris Capuano. Because of his last 2  injuries there might be a small question of the ability for him to throw effectively in 2009. Considering the Brewers are in need of a extra pitcher now, you might see him resigned to a lower deal with a few health incentives thrown in for good measures.

 

People seem to forget that Capuano has his second Tommy John surgery in May 2008. But his past exploits from 2005-2006 might get him a Spring Training invite and a possible rotation spot out it all if he is shown to be healthy and productive for the team.

 

 

But then you have players like former Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash, who was Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher in 2008. You have to think that the Red Sox are using thisa to get a reduced salary for the part-time catcher. But can catching Wakefield and watching your errors and passed ball totals skyrocket into space be worht the reduced cash flow.

 

But then you have guys like Aaron Miles of the St. Louis Cardinals, who was also non-tendered in 2007 before signing again for 2008 at a reduced salary. Could the team be again trying to use this as a measure to instill costs with a player who has come back one after being slapped in the face by his team. Hopefully someone like the  Cincinnati Reds might find him a better liking to their team and he move on over without giving the Cardinals the satisfaction of another stay on their roster.

 

In all, Major League Baseball saw about 36 players who recieve non tendered offers last night. Some of these players will resign for a small contract or even a minor league deal with some organization, while other are currently seeking and wanting another chance at starting and helping a team to the next level.

 

But for people like former Royals infielder, Jason Smith, the non-tendering was not as bad as the designated for assignment he recieved earlier in the day from the team to make a roster spot for   newly signed relief pitcher Horacio Ramirez before the non-tender deadline.

 

Love Me Non-Tender Candidates 2008…Part One

 

 

 

After all the Post season celebration have muffled to a silent roar, we embark on a journey that no player wants to roam. That journey down the road of arbitration. Where the road is lined with pitfalls and traps, one of tendering offers or letting the players kneel by the wayside to gather themselves after being cast off by their clubs. It is a time to reflect and expose the best and worst of this time of year for baseball. It becomes the time when you really know what your team GM and your coaching staff think of you as a productive member of their franchise. And the journey starts now……………….

 

 On this date, Friday, December 12th, every team in the major leagues must decide to either tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, or set them free as more glut in the 2009 free agent market. And while in past years the non-tendered players weren’t considered to be difference-makers, the list could be more interesting this year.  There are several players on this list who either had bad situation on their teams or might have been fighting back from injuries in 2008.

 

Players who are “tendered” on Friday are considered signed for 2009 at a salary to be determined, not less than 80 percent of his salary the previous season, and both sides continue negotiating. If a deal cannot be struck, the team and the player will each file a proposed 2009 salary in early January. Those figures are exchanged on Jan. 19, and a date for a salary arbitration hearing is then set for Feb. 1-21. 

 

If the sides still cannot come to terms before the date of the hearing, a representative for the team and one for the player present a case before a panel of arbiters, which chooses one salary or the other.  On the other hand, if a player is not tendered a contract before Friday’s deadline, he becomes a free agent.

 

A nationwide economic downturn has affected how Major League Baseball teams are conducting business, and in an effort to cut corners, the number of non-tendered players could increase, based solely on the market’s projected rise in their salaries based on arbitration data and past results.. The same can be said for the quality of those players. Some of the guys being considered for non-tender have been great contributors to their teams in the past, but not during the 2008 season.

 

Past  players non-tendered include David Ortiz, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Franklin, David Eckstein, and Chad Durbin.  Usually at least a few useful guys are unearthed. I am going to submit a few names that are being considered to be non-tendered starting at midnight tonight. Some of these names might sign free agent contracts with their old teams, but usually if a player is released from that team, they tend to float to another organization instead of resign with their old clubs.

 

Coming into the deadline are a few names that might mean somehting to several Tampa Bay Rays fans. A few names from the past are being considered to be non-tendered tonight. One of them is currently on the Rays roster and might have been pre-destined for this list during the season with the acquiring of Gabe Gross during the season.

 

 

                          

 

 

Designated Hitter/ Right-fielder Jonny Gomes has been the emotional sparkplug of this Rays young team for several seasons. But in 2008, after some spotty play in the outfield, both in left-field and right-field. Posting a ugly .167 batting average during the season might not bode well for Gomes to even be considered a contract in 2009. But one of the great facts of arbitration is that Gomes made $ 1.25 million in 2008, and the arbitration might not even give him a substancial increase.

 

He might skate by and be offered a contract based on his loyalty and the teams’ need for at least some kind of right-handed bat in the rightfield corner. Situations could change in the next few months, but the Rays could “rent” Gomes for now and get a trade return on him later in the Spring if needed.

 

The Rays have other players who will be on the bubble on Friday, like right-fielder and left-handed bat, Gabe Gross. He might be the best cltch hitter the Rays had in 2008, but he also might be caught in the numbers games as the team just traded for the young and undercontract for 6 more years Matt Joyce. Both players have a defensive pedigree, and it all might come down to if the Rays think that Gross will win the spot and be worh the money to keep, or set Joyce up in right and let Gross go, hoping he remains to be put under a free agent contract at a reduced price.

 

This might be the tricky one for the Rays. Gross did everything asked of him in 2008. He also is a great clubhouse guy who is never in trouble and always helping the younger outfielders. His ceiling might be higher than Joyces’ right now after a banner year where he set career numbers in almost every offensive category. It was a year where he was used more, and saw more plate appearances than any other time in his career.  Gross might join Gomes on the free agent market where there is a glut right now for corner outfielders. If not for that trade during the Winter Meetings, Gross would have been offered a contract without question.

 

 

 

 

An ex-Rays who might be getting considerable consideration from his current team is the Houston Astro’s Brandon Backe. However, with the current state of the Astros’ rotation — they have little Major League-ready depth in their farm system and few backup options to protect themselves from injury and inconsistency — they may decide to hold on to the right-hander. And with a salary of only $ 800,000 for 2008, he might come in at a considerable discount compared to the free agents on the current starting pitching market.

 

Astros General Manager Ed Wade sounded like he’s willing to give Backe another look but at the same time noted the right-hander’s 2008 season was a disappointment and he’ll have to prove a few things in 2009.  But the Astros have very little pitching depth, and the three top prospects — Brad James, Sergio Perez and Bud Norris — likely won’t be ready for the big leagues come Opening Day. That alone may ensure Backe is tendered a contract on Friday.

 

 

                        

 

Another ex-Rays who has had to basically live out of his suitcase this past season is reliever Chad Gaudin. Two years ago it seemed that the Toronto Blue Jays were serious about the young pitcher and staked him a claim in their Bullpen. But during the off-season he was traded to the Oakland A’s where he started and relieved for the Athletics. He was then sent packing to the Chicago Cubs in the deal for Rick Harden as a key plug for the Cub’s Bullpen problems.

 

Since arriving in Chicago, Gaudin went 4-2, with a 4.26 ERA and got 27 strikeouts in 27.1 innings of work in 2008 for the Cubbies. Gaudin is known for his slider and his sinker, which both have above average movement to both sides of the plate. Also in his arsenal is a sinking change-up that can come in on left-handers. Gaudin might be a casualty of expectations in 2009, and might be non-tendered as rendered a free agent by the Cubs.

 

 

                       

 

 

Another possible casulty to the non-tender pile might be a National League pitcher who has been fighting to get into game shape for over a year after having 2 injuries in the past 2 seasons. Milwaukee Brewers’ starter Chris Capuano came to the team with high expectations. He was considered one of the top 5 pitchers in 2007 before a labrum injury forced him to have surgery on 10/11/2008.  Capuano rehabbed and was struggling to get into game shape when another injury hit him during 2008 Spring Training. This time a torn ligament in his left pitching elbow basically shelved him for the entire 2008 season. He was retroactively posted to the 15-day DL on March 27th.

 

 

He was twice transferred on the DL lists in 2008, going from the 15-day disabled list again on September 1st, then subsequently put back  on the 60-day DL on October 31, 2008.  Capuano’s case is complicated because he earned $3.75 million last season but did not pitch because of the injury. If the Brewers tender him a contract, they could not cut his salary by more than 20 percent, and it seems unlikely they would commit such an expense to a pitcher still rehabilitating.  If the Brewers in fact decide to non-tender Capuano, they would try to re-sign him to a new, less expensive contract for 2009. He’s eligible for free agency after next season.

 

 

There are other “big names” being considered during the non-tender phase of arbitration. A few might have seemed like promising rising stars in the MLB a few years ago, but might have had tough times and might be in consideration for being released by their clubs.  One of the most visible name on this list might be former 2003 Rookie of the Year winner Angel Berroa of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

 

 

           

 

Another name sure to be heard on Friday will be Baltimore Orioles’ pitcher Daniel Cabrera. The club has to decide whether to offer a contract to Cabrera. If Baltimore doesn’t, the hulking right-hander will become a free agent one year ahead of schedule. If the O’s do, they may wind up going to arbitration. Andy MacPhail, Baltimore’s president of baseball operations, said Thursday that he’s still trying to make a decision. Cabrera, although erratic, remains one of the most experienced starters in the Orioles’ organization .

 

Baltimore has just one starter penciled into next year’s rotation and is trying to add at least two veterans by trade or free agency this offseason. Jeremy Guthrie remains the only surefire member of the starting staff, and Baltimore must decide whether Cabrera is a replaceable asset or one that’s worth one last shot at trying to salvage his potential.  Cabrera has made at least 26 starts in each of the past five seasons, and he’s logged at least 140 innings in each of those campaigns. The 27-year-old started relatively strong in 2008, jumping out of the gates to a 6-5 record and a 4.33 ERA in the first half of the season. After the All-Star break, however, he was 2-5 with a 7.59 mark.

 

And still, the overall numbers represented an improvement on his previous season. Cabrera went 8-10 with a 5.25 ERA in 2008 and snapped a two-year streak of leading the league in walks. One year earlier, he went 9-18 with a 5.55 ERA.  I think the Birds will take a gamble on Cabrera for one more years and help place at least one more piece into the pitching puzzle for 2009. But I do think he will have a short leash in 2009 with the Orioles, and might be  a trade deadline casualty if he is again wild and uncontrolable next year. 

 

 

                      

 

Pittsburgh management has still not made a determination to whether or not they plan to offer a contract to right-handed reliever Denny Bautista before the midnight on Friday for teams to tender contracts to all arbitration-eligible players.  Bautista is the only one of the team’s eight arbitration-eligible players whose status is in question. The Pirates’ management team has had internal debates this week about whether or not to keep Bautista, though no resolution has yet been made.

 

The Pirates acquired Bautista late last June in a minor trade with the Tigers, and the control problems that Bautista had in Detroit and other previous stops resurfaced again with the Pirates. He allowed 28 earned runs and 28 walks in 41 1/3 innings of relief for Pittsburgh. He struck out 34.  Bautista earned $395,000 in 2008, just over the Major League minimum. He would be in line for a significant pay raise should he go through the arbitration process with the Pirates.

 

The Pirates will tender contracts to their seven arbitration-eligible players — Ryan Doumit, Zach Duke, John Grabow, Adam LaRoche, Paul Maholm, Nate McLouth and Tyler Yates. Of that group, Doumit, Duke, Maholm and McLouth are all arbitration eligible for the first time.

 

 

 

The Red Sox must tender 2009 contracts to all unsigned players on their 40-man roster by Friday at midnight ET. The only players this truly impacts are those eligible for arbitration. For the Red Sox, that list includes first baseman Kevin Youkilis, closer Jonathan Papelbon, backup catcher Kevin Cash and lefty specialist Javier Lopez.

 

Reliever Manny Delcarmen was seven days short of enough service time to qualify for arbitration, so the Red Sox can simply renew his contract in Spring Training. Cash is the most likely candidate to be non-tendered on Friday. The Red Sox’s catching situation is in a state of flux, as the team continues to negotiate with Jason Varitek and scour the market for trade possibilities.

 

Even if Varitek returns, the club might seek a young player with more offensive potential than Cash to be the backup. The Red Sox like Cash defensively, and he does a nice job of handling Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball. However, there’s a chance he simply doesn’t fit into the plans for 2009. Even if the Red Sox non-tender Cash, they are still free to negotiate with him or re-sign him at some point. The same goes for any non-tendered player.

 

 

                      

 

The Royals need to find some room on their 40-man roster and that could be accomplished on Friday, the deadline for clubs to offer contracts to players. When the Winter Meetings closed, the Royals had 39 players on the winter roster but had signed pitchers Doug Waechter and Horacio Ramirez. They’d also reached an agreement with pitcher Kyle Farnsworth, and when that contract is approved another body will be added.

 

Adding Waechter filled the roster and, by Friday, a spot will be needed for Ramirez. The Royals could designate a player for assignment or non-tender a player, in short, not offer him a contract. The only way a club can keep an unsigned player is to tender a contract. If a player is non-tendered, he goes off the roster and becomes a free agent. Then he can sign with any club, including the Royals.

 

 

One possible option for the Royals would be to non-tender pitcher Jairo Cuevas and sign him to a Minor League contract. Cuevas has been the subject of a tug-of-war between the Royals and the Braves, each team claiming him on waivers from each other in the last two months. One writer speculated that, in order to save money in an effort to sign shortstop Rafael Furcal, the Royals might non-tender such players as catcher John Buck and outfielder Mark Teahen who both figure to do well in salary arbitration.

 

 

 

 

 

Rays Send Jackson to Motown for Young Outfielder Joyce

 

          

 

 

To say that this trade took me by surprise would be a total understatement. I did expect to see Rays number 4 starter, Edwin Jackson maybe traded closer to the reporting date, but sometime baseball can sneak up and trick you sometimes. To say I will miss chatting with Edwin on the sidelines down by the Bullpen Cafe on Sundays.

 

 

 

 

When he first got traded to the Rays I made sure to chat with him while he was in his street clothes about this team and it might be the best thing to happen to your career to come here. He has grown alot as a pitcher, and I wish him nothing but the best in Detroit. And you know you better come over and shake my hand during Spring Training dude. 

 

But what really amazed me was the sly and calculated measures that Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman pulled off this caper. No one is baseball can say they saw this one coming at all. What Friedman did was trade away a sure thing starting pitcher, who is under arbitration this season, for a  young defensive right-fielder we will control for 6 years.

 

 

 

Holy Cow! You mean we actually traded for a guy who will be fighting for a roster spot this spring and if he still needs some seasoning, we can send him to Durham without recourse. That is simply amazing and well outside the usual Rays thinking of the past. It is a pretty calculated mis-match that we got a guy who will only get better, while giving up the same in Jackson.

 

The only problem is, Jackson would hate to be the long reliever in the Bullpen and the trade was a blessing for him.  Considering how far Edwin Jackson has come in 2008, you have to admit, the Rays could have asked for more and been well within their rights. But the trade answered questions and provides key answers to situations that would be difficult to achieve in March or April of 2009.

 

By doing this trade now, it actually benefited both teams even before decisions are being made for 2009. Jackson will move into the Tigers’ rotation with a good spring and will continue to grow as a starter in this league. People forget he posted 14 wins this season, which was a personal high for him, plus he had some of the best command of the season on his pitches late in the year.

 

The bad thing for Jackson is that the Tigers ex-Pitching Coach was Chuck Hernandez, who worked alot with Jackson when he was here with the Rays. Jackson has been developing and inproving on his off-speed pitches and we will see him again early in 2009 when the two teams meet on March 26th in Lakeland during Spring Training. It will be the only time these two teams meet in the spring this season.

 

 

 

On the other side, we get a player who is also a Tampa-born and raised player. He attended Armwood High, just outside of Tampa and then moved over to Florida Southern University in Lakeland for college. Joyce was selected by the Tigers in the 12th round of the 2005 Amateur Draft. Following the 2007 season, he was selected as the 7th best prospect in the Detroit farm system.

 

In 6 games against the Tampa Bay Rays this season, Joyce played left-field and  went 3-18 against the team during late season series as the Trop and at Comerica Park. He batted .167 against the Rays, with  a .286 On-Base Percentage. He played extremely confident outfield for the Tigers, and actuallyt gunned down Jonny Gomes at second base in the last game of the season in Detroit.

 

 

 

For the year, Joyce batted .252, with 16 doubles and 12 home runs and 33 RBI’s in only 92 games. Joyce ended up 6th among AL rookie with 12 homers.  He hit a career best 2 homers in a game against Texas on August 19th in Arlington, Texas.  He had a career high 4 hits on July 3rd against the Mariners at Safeco Field. Also of note, he drove in a career high 5 RBI’s on July 21st against the Royals in Kansas City.

 

On paper this trade looks like one done to actually minimize the confusion and the stress in the spring of having to find a destination for a starter to make a spot for rookie sensation David Price. With Jackson now out of the mix for a spot, that will leave Jeff Niemann, Andy Sonnanstine, Wade Davis, Mitch Talbot and Jason Hammel to fight for the 5th rotation position.

 

But the true measure of this trade is in the advantage the Rays now have with a young and improving outfielder under their control for 6 more seasons. This will give them stability and confidence to maybe evn use Gabe Gross as trade bait to get a right-hand bat for rightfield before the reporting date. It is a win-win for both the players and the team for a change. Both get a change of scenery and a chance to fight for a top spot right out of spring.

 

I will raise my bottle to you Edwin this weekend, and hope that you find success and happiness in Motown.  And I will be seeing you on the visitors’ side when the Tigers visit the Trop on September 4-6th, 2009.    You can count on it!!

Rays General Manager for a Day

 

 

 

One of the hardest jobs in all of  baseball is not the Managers’ position, but the title of  General Manager. I think that more GM’s have taken a bullet for the failures of their teams than any of baseball field mangers. It is said that the stream of blood runs downhill after a slaughter and usually that blood starts at the scalp of the GM, who is the first sacrificial lamb for the public and the media. 

 

The position has a bit of give and take from the bottom to the top, but for all intentions, can be the lonliest post when things are going bad for your team . You have to dictate and slice through all of the BS coming out of the clubhouse and the publics mouths, plus select the  most rightious information and  sage advice from scouting to make a calculated and educated gamble on a player or a team situation.

 

For Rays General Manager aka Boy Wonder of 1 Tropicana Drive, Andrew Friedman, so far in his tenure in the position, the scale has been weighed heavily in his favor. Considering that less than 3 years ago he was not even involved with the Tampa Bay Rays, and his name was no more known in public circles than my name. But in three years  with help from  wily old veteran G.M. Gary “Obi Wan” Hunsicker he has built upon a solid core of players and  eager staff members to reign  alone on top of the G.M. mountaintop. 

 

Decision after decision went wrong for him in the beginning. He stayed silent and towed the line on trade talks that could have meant the world to the team, and moved on ones that might have dealt them a death blow in the past.pile  But with a few years of plus and minues calculations, the Rays G.M. has eliminated the risk management portion of his position and is seeing only sunny skies and rainbows right now.

 

 Well, on today’s front page, MLBlogs asked a simple question that will either rock the nether worlds or simply go down as more Internet babble and ramblings by people who love to play God behind a keyboard. I am one of those ramblers, but I can atest to countless hours of thinking about this ( 2 hours) and entered debate after debate during the morning to strengthen my fortitude and latitude to accept this challenge. I am to become the G.M. of the American League champions for a short time and plot the course for the Rays cruiseliner. Hopefully I will not need a toll for the river Styx after I am done with my opinions and raw mental brainfarts. But in the office of the G.M., even ordering coffee can be met with critcism and  second-guessing.

 

 

                    

 

 

I am not sure if I want to play a higher power, but I would like a crack at a few             situations I would consider if I was the Rays GM for the next few days in Las Vegas. With that in mind, I am going to put myself in WWAD ( What Would Andrew Do ) mode and trya and make a few educated guesses as to the betterment of the Rays  roster and their minor league system. I even have a play that should be added to their 40-man roster before Friday, or lose him to another team is a sure bet.

 

 

 

So, here we go, I am acting GM of the Tampa Bay Rays for about an hour. My  first round of business will be to get minor leaguer Rhyne Hughes on the 40-man             roster. Hughes had a monster Arizona Fall League and might be going the route that current Rays pitcher James Shields took a few years back. Hughes made                       the All- AFL selection squad and hit the cover off the ball in Arizona.

 

He has been at the Double-A level in 2008, but might start there then move up to Triple-A depending on the Bulls need for a power first baseman. But getting  this kid hidden on the 40-man roster is a vital cog that has to be done ASAP. The Rays took care of a roster spot on Monday evening by assigning pitcher Chad Orvella, who is coming off of shoulder surgery outright to the Durham Bulls.

 

 

The Rays might not have as many holes as usual this coming year, which actually plays well into their hands during negotiations with players. There are several key             guys up for arbitration like Dioner Navarro, Jason Bartlett, Edwin Jackson and Jonny Gomes. In the next several weeks a few of those guys might not be here by trade or being released by the team. I would put more money on the trade situation than losing all value for the players. Even a guy like Gomes, who had a miserible 2008, has value to a team looking for a 4th outfielder or even a DH for hire.

 

I am going to cut to the chase in this blog and attack the two main needs for the team in 2009.  The right-field slot and the DH position are highly publicized and ‘must need’ positions on the team. I have a few ideas about each and will explore them in two ways. First to list the free agent solutions, and then by trade.

 

 

               

 

 

First off, let’s tackle the need for a DH or bench player for the Rays via the free agent market. With the recent lunch date with Milton Bradley going so well for  the Rays, the only thing standing in the way besides a contract is if the guy is worth losing your first round pick for him.  With Bradley being considered a top tier free agent, the team would have to forfeit a draft pick to secure his signing.

 

 

                            

 

 

Another plus about Bradley that the Rays can build on is his ability to protect hitters in front of him bcause of his .324 average last season. To add onto that is the fact he also hit 22 home runs and struck out only 112 times last season. He is also an on-base guy, posting .439 On-Base Percentage, largely because of  his 80 walks. His sttitude and personality quirks have also mellowed with age and he has become a calm force in the locker room. He might not be Cliff Floyd, but  the guy commands respect and leads by example.

 

 

                  

 

 

The second alternative to a DH via the free agent wire is also a very  attractive one for the Rays.  Mostly  because this player can still contribute in the field at some lengths and could be a valuable asset to the club. Also considering some of the milestones he is approaching, he could be a great PR tool for the team to attract fans. If you have no figured it out yet, it is Ken Griffey Junior. I have been  a huge Griffey fans since his Mariner days and would consider him in a second  for the DH position.

 

Junior might have slipped a bit in production in the last few seasons, but he also has been playing the field almost every day while in the National League, and took over center for the Chicago White Sox after being traded at the trading deadline in 2008. If he was to be a DH, with an occasional stroll into the outfield, he could protect his knees and still hit daily for the team.  Griffey hit only a combined .248 between both leagues in 2008, but his low amount of strikeouts ( 25 ) shows that the plate discipline is still there and he can rebound off a bad 2008.

 

The Rays might be able to get Griffey at a Florida discount becuase of his home being in Orlando, but still might command about $ 4-6 million a year. Griffeys’ 2008 salary was set at about $ 8.2 million, which would put him out of Tampa Bay puse strings if he commands the same salary in 2009. 

 

Bradley made about $ 5.25 million last season. If Bradley wants to play on a competitive team for 2009, he also might be into giving the Rays a discount on base salary with some incentive bonuses tied to production. I would think a $ 4 million dollar salary with up to 2 million in incentives might do the trick for Bradley.

 

 

           

 

Let’s now consider the right-field  slot. I honestly feel that the team can  find a suitable player who is right-handed without breaking the bank in 2009. Alot of names have been tossed around lately, but there is aslo one that has not come to the surface yet in refference to the Rays. Brad Wilkerson has been playing right-field in the majors for a long time. He started 2008 with the Seattle Mariners, then moved onto the Toronto Blue Jays and provided great relief and power from the right-side of the plate.

 

Most of baseball has not even considered him after a sub-par 2008 while both rehabbing and trying to fit into a tight outfield situation in Toronto. But he might be a low cost alternative to the high priced guys seeking positions through the MLB. His sub .250 average for 2008 was mostly covered by his injury that he tried to play through before going down and finally getting healthy.

 

 

                              

 

 

This is the one position on the Rays that I think they can make a great trade that can help both ballclubs. In the past, the Rays have been linked as the third team with the Chicago Cubs for Jake Peavy. But the real factor is that they do not need the Cubs to make a trade with San Diego. The Padres are seeking a shortstopn and a pitcher to replace two players currently either treaded or deep into discussion to part the Padres.

 

Tampa Bay was eager to pout in a claim for Brian Giles on the waiver wire in 2008, but got one-upped by the Boston Red Sox. The Sox blocked the attempt to claim Giles to keep him off the Rays roster and maybe get him for themselves. Giles did not want to go to the Red Sox, but might be open to a Rays attempt at a trade because they have a true opening for him in right-field.

 

 

 

 

One problem with this trade off the bat is the amount of salary owed to Giles in 2009. The Rays might not be willing to take on the entire amount of the 2009 salary and would want to offset some of it by having the Padres eat a bit of the contract. The players’ that the Padres could get for Giles could be a nice smorgasboard of up-and-coming pitchers and a infielder.

 

The Rays have a abundance of pitchers who are log-jammed at the minor league level and might be willing to part with a MLB level pitcher and a Triple-A starter. The pitchers in question could range from Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel to Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot. All have been at the major league level and have proven to be quality pitchers.

 

 

The Rays also have a few infielders who could be packaged in the deal, which includes Reid Brignac, Elliott Johnson, who have limited major league experience to Ben Zobrist or even Jason Bartlett who have MLB experience. Zobrist is actually a player who could play any role for the Padres and is still under contract for 2009. Bartlett is arbitration-eligible, but might only cost about $ 2 million a year fater the hearing.

 

Giles is my trade target for the team in 2009. I think if the team packaged Jeff Neimann, Jason Bartlett and maybe another reliever, Dale Thayer or a Double-A player, plus take on  $ 2 million dollars of Giles salary, we could have a great deal for both teams. But that is just my opinion here.

 

 

So here we go, I have taken on two trouble spots for the Rays in 2009 and tackled them my way. How do I think I did as GM for the Day for the Rays?  That depends on if I can get these guys signed sealed and delivered for Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the boys by Febuary 2009.

 

 

Rays First 3 Arbitration Eligible Players…Infield and Bench Positions.

 

      

 

The Tampa Bay Rays did not have a single Type “A” or “B” free agent to offer or turn down arbitration on December 1st, but that does not mean the road will be paved with gold for the Rays in 2009. They might have some of the toughest decisions yet as a franchise as they currently have 6 members of the 40-man roster  up for arbitration before the beginning of the 2009 season. 

 

But next year will be even worse,  with a total of  7 Rays going into arbitration for the first time. The current 2009 class includes a crowd favorite, an developing  outfielder turned pitcher, a foreign-born ironman and a couple of huge pieces of the upgraded Rays infield. I will try and explore the 2008 season for pluses and minuses only based on statistics and facts pertaining to the regular season.

 

 I try and put myself within Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman’s head and look at statistics and possible risks for these players based on results compiled during the 2008 regular season.  I will attempt to seperate the postseason from the regular season and not use them as a primary evaluation, but as bonus materials to decide and make a prediction on the outcome of the Rays choices, and paths during the 2009 arbitration process.

 

I am going to evaluate the first 3 guys that compose key parts of the infield and a current bench player and slightly used outfielder who plays better when he is in the flow of the game. So without further ado:

 

 

Jonny Gomes:

 

Here is  a tough one for me. I can see the positive  of this new team role model  and how he has become more of a fan favorite in the last few years. And the fans’  respond to his home-spun Rays energy like a bug to a lightbulb. But this is ultimately a baseball decision, and sometimes good players have to be dragged under the carpet when they are not pulling their collective weight on the team. Gomes has done as much as he can with what he has been presented in 2008, but will it be enough to satify the new Rays urges and wants for their offense?

 

The worst part of determining  if Gomes is the player the Rays need right now is that he is like the proverbial rolling stone, and he gather energy and motivation from activity, not from just sitting on the bench.  Some People may also call upon the fact that he has had a swinging door between Durham, North Carolina and St. Petersburg, Florida the last 2 years. This is not a positive and good thing for such a powerful young player to develop  into a hitting  rut so deep he has to go down to the minors to correct himself.

 

It is a little more than a swing adjustment, it is mostly pitch recognition. Gomes seems to have a difficuly time reading some cutters and sinkers coming into his body before they expolde and tip over the outside of the plate for a strike. Professional baseball is based on the fact that you usually get a hit at least 3 times in every 10 at bats. To even hit a solid .300 nowadays you have to study the leagues pitchers’ and their collective release points and angle variables even before stepping to the plate. To some players this is a formality and they tend to be able to hit anything thrown their direction. Others have to make in-game adjustments to fit the changes, and Gomes has been slow, but actively trying to play catchup and learn to adjust on the fly more in 2008.

 

Gomes has to develop a little more give and take in his set strike zone to be an  effective hitter for the team in 2009.  In 2008, Gomes only had a paltry  178 plate appearances for the Rays. Not a huge amount, but was he being sat down more for plate discipline, or for a lack of consistant ability to hit with men in scoring position and producing scoring situations  when he did get his chance at the plate.

 

His .183 batting average speaks volumes to me about the type of pitching he saw in 2008. Gomes has never been really strong at recognizing the breaking points late on a pitch. This has put him in alot of 2-strike situations during the season, which lead to costly and unnecessary outs. His On-Base Plus Scoring average was a dismal  .670, not the perfect prerequisite for a power hitter off the bench. 

 

For a guy who had been pretty hot with his bat to begin the season, Gomes became an offensive liability by the end of the season. He was swining at more pitches outside the strike zone trying to get something going, or maybe jump-starting himself out of a slump as deep as a ravine in the Grand Canyon.

 

  In comparision to 2007, Gomes had a total of  393 plate appearances  that season and still struck out 126 times for the Rays. That is a high number, but his .244 average and .620 OPS were indications he was seeing the ball more and hitting better pitches in 2007 than 2008.

 

 

So you have to ask yourself if Gomes got  more pitches to hit in 2008, what would he have done with them?  The statistics show that Gomes saw at least 676 pitches in 2008, and he swung at 48.1 percent of them.  He did have a good contact rate of  76.3 percent, including foul balls. This shows that the bat was getting to the ball, but not into the field of play for him. In 2008, he got pitches to hit, but only had 44 percent chance of the ball going between the foul lines.

 

Based on all information, do you take into account his community and local fan base as a reason to keep him or  even offer him arbitration in 2009? The decision ultimately has to come from an evaluation of Gomes by Rays Hitting Coach Steve Henderson. If Henderson sees a viable way to increase his productivity and think he is an under-used, but key piece to the Rays’  2009 machine, you have to offer him arbitration.

 

 

 

 Based on his 2008 numbers, Gomes might not get a huge jump in salary, but it will be a significant increase from his 2007 salalry. Gomes might come away from a hearing with a salary in the $ 1.2-1.3 million dollar range based on service time and hearing guidelines.  Such an amount would keep a valuable member of the Rays team here, and also give  him time to further study his craft, and then decide on his fate with his maple bat.

 

 

 

 

Dioner Navarro:

 

Here we have a guy who I truly feel had a banner year in 2008. Do I expect him to have the same year, or even build on it in 2009?  I hope so for his sake, every season Navarro has been here, the Rays have thrown a veteran catcher at him to see if he buckles or falters. He  never seems to falter far from his true self.  Navarro did an amazing job in 2008 by taking control of the Rays young staff and showing a veteran leadership role in every aspect of the game

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This did not go unnoticed by his peers or the Rays’ faithful as Navarro was rewarded with a selection to the American League All-Star staff by Boston skipper Terry Francona. Navarro rewarded Francona with 7 innings of solid catching, great throws to nab baserunners’ and timely hits for the All-Star squad in New York. At the time of the All-Star game, Navarro was hitting over .300 and was in an  impressive groove both behind and at the plate for the Rays.

 

He ended up hitting .295 for the year, but had only 470 plate appearances after an early season injury took away valuable plate appearances from him.  Navarro ended up hitting above the league average for hits, and set a personal hit total of 126 for the season. He came up with 7 home runs and lowered his strikeout rate during the season. A true test to him finally having confidience to follow his personal strike zone and sticking to it.

 

 

He was in control of his staff and commanded the respect from all of them. A well publicized blow-up with starter, Matt Garza showed that Navarro was no longer just playing catch back there, but was there to win and established him as a valuable commodity behind the plate for the Rays.

 

Based on his 2008 numbers, Navarro was only out-hit by Minnesota’s Joe Mauer in the AL for catchers, and his average lead the  entire Rays lineup for 2008.  His 54 RBI’s were  10 more than his previous best 44 RBI’s set in 2007 with the team.  He got hot at the right time for the Rays, hitting .317 for September during the Rays playoff push. 

 

He also  excelled in throwing behind the plate, and increased his caught stealing ratio to 34.8 percent this season. That total was ranked third in the MLB, and second in the AL.  When compared against all catchers in the AL with at least 100 games, he was second only to Cleveland’s Kelly Shoppach in the fewest bases allowed this season.  He also had a .944 fielding average for the season,  which put him 4th in the AL.

 

 

 

Based on the upswing of both his statistics and his thrust to become a on-field leader for the Rays, I think that the team will reward Navarro with an arbitration hearing and he can expect to increase his salary to around the $ 2.3 million dollars in salary for 2009. If the young catcher can regain and establish himself behind the plate again in 2009, he will cement himself in the Rays lineup for a long time.

 

 

 

Jason Bartlett:

 

Who would have thought that a year ago that Jason Bartlett would have such an effect on the 2008 season for the Rays. Last November, when he was traded to the Rays from the Twins, most people thought he was a throw in candidate and did not see the unlimited amount of potential in his game. How much different a year can make, as Bartlett became the middle gunner in a well-tuned and aligned Rays defensive infield.

 

Bartlett improved the Rays defense so much by just playing shortstop that the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers of America gave him the  Team MVP honors for 2008.  But he also did it with his bat when Bartlett hit  an impressive . 286 for the Rays, and made contact on 86 percent of the pitches he saw in 2008.

 

Like Navarro, Bartlett hit .371 in the final 39 games of 2008 and provided excellent hitting with runners in scoring position ,and  provided countless extra base hits.  He led the AL in hitting against left-handers, hitting a brisk .379 for the year. That mark was also 4th best in the MLB in 2008.  He was a combined 20-28 on the base paths, but  was an impressive 9 out of 11 with steals of third base in 2008. Any time he was on base, he was a threat to steal or take an extra base on a hit or a run.

 

 

Bartlett slugged out an .386 average in August, the highest average for that month in Rays history, and the second best ever for a Rays player. He hit .297 for the year with Runners In Scoring Position.  The one  bitter downside to his play  in 2008 was the time he missed due to injuries. This showed a big  gaping hole in the Rays’ defense and the team did win and play tough without Bartlett, but struggled at times. The team went a combined 78-47 with Bartlett in the lineup in 2008.

 

 Another  very visible downside was his .970 fielding average and 16 errors this season.  Bartlett made a few mis-guided efforts during the season, but his outstanding defensive plays at other times during the season can surely cancel out the errors and miscues. His defense stance was outstanding and truly made the trade for him an huge plus for the Rays. If he could get to the ball, he made a valiant effort to record the out for the team. 

 

 

Based on the  ability of Bartlett to secure for the Rays a defensive decrease in costly errors and a huge upgrade at his position, I think the team should award Bartlett with an arbitration hearing for 2009.  Based on the arbitration process, he might garnish a 2009 salary in the range of $ 2 million dollars a season, and  that will be a great value at that amount for the team. I also hear a rumor that the Twins might want him back. If the Rays sign him to a 2-year deal at a great price, he would be an extra value to the Twins…………you never know……… 

 

 

Please be advised that at anytime the Rays could swoop in and sign any of these 3 players to a contract before their arbitration hearing dates. I am only using the amounts as a feeder for the possible increase and financial rewards for the teams extrordinary  2008 season. It is not to be taken as a set  award amount or even a pre-determined hearing reward, but as a calculated guess based on past arbitration hearings and  my own personal opinion.

 

Both Bartlett and Navarro might even be entertaining an offer at this time from the Rays for multiple years, or even a longer extension. This is just a “guess-timate” on the 2009 salary if the team does not offer or entertain a multi year contract, and decides to go for a one-year contract for the players. At any time the team can either trade or even release any of these players and the arbitration would be a moot point.

 

 

Tomorrow I will take on the last 3 arbitration eligible players on the Rays 2008 roster and give the same evaluations of their 2008 seasons and the expected financial results of a possible arbitration award.

 

 

The final 3 candidates are: Right-fielder Gabe Gross, Number-5 Starter Edwin Jackson, and Relief Pitcher Grant Balfour.  All 3 have interesting numbers for the season and multiple reasons to consider or deny arbitration for 2009. Be it the World Baseball Classic, an ever increasing confidence in their game, or potential finally getting a chance to rear it’s head, Major League Baseball players know that their last season is always a tell-tale sign to their futures.

 

 

 

 

Rays Goals 6-10 for 2008 Exceed Expectations

 

          

 

In the beginning of the season I set 10 goals or written items that I hoped the Tampa Bay Rays would complete to become a more productive and successful team. At the time we all did not know the type of franchise success we would see in 2008.

Also stuffed into that list was a few personal obsevations ands wants for the team in 2008. I did a middle of the year evaluation of the list on July 18, 2008 and saw that the team was focused and moving forward in achieving outstanding success on the field.

I am again going to go over the high and lowpoints now after the season is over. I am no longer going to assign a letter grade to the options because this has been a totally “A” year in all aspects. There is no way I could see this coming, and the team took the region by storm in 2008. 

 

The blog today will focus on the items 6-10, and the logo unveiling last November in St. Petersburg, Florida at Straub Park.

 

 

 

As everyone might remember, 12 months ago we set out changing the basic style of the team with a logo change and a uniform retro-fitting. Gone was the old “TB” on the hat that had a ray centered beneath the “TB” symbol. In came a clean looking “TB” in a great marine blue color. Then you get to the uniforms that were streamlined into a more uniform design without the old “Rays” on the chest area of the uniform.

The uniforms went from a white and green basic jersey with blue pinstriping on the sleeves to a retro looking White and Blue model with a logo that popped with the odd shaped “R”, and the sunburst in the center of the logo blasting out for all to see. The team held a fantastic outdoor event to unveil the new look with most of the players coming in for the event.

The new design was met with some crtics wanting the old Rays look becuase it had a modern flair without being boring. Others were upset that the away jerseys would not have the “Tampa Bay” moniker blazen across the chest of the players anymore. It was replaced with the new logo “Rays” across the chest.

          

 

Other were debating why to let go of the entire past for the new look. One thing the Rays did leave “old” on their jerseys was the flying ray patch on the sleeve. The team decided to continue that tradition and  replaced the dark black and colorful ray with one that matched the teams new blue and white jerseys. All in all, the new look showed the team was trying to move beyond the loveable losers’ of the past and were hoping for a new attitude in Tampa Bay.

 

 

                

 

Starting with the bottom of the list at number 10, was the Akinora Iwamura must feel at home at second base.  To sya he did not do a superb job this year would be an insult. the guy went from a position where he has won Gold Gloves in Japan to a new position for the betterment of the team. Not only did he do it with grace and style, but he made himself a front runner for years at the position.

Iwamura was one of the people nominated for a Gold Glove this year at second in the AL. He only committed a handful errors all year long and ended up ranked 4th among AL second baseman in his first year ever at the position. He became a vital cog in the Rays double play combination working with Jason Bartlett like he has been playing to position all his life.

The hardwork and the determination of Iwamura to make his transition flawless was carried out to a “T”. Aki stood tall and in the pivot long to make sure the team got a chance to complete every double play in 2008. He was also instrumental in the field making countless great plays behind second and relaying the ball into home. Iwamura has found a new home at second base, and will be even better in 2009.

 

 

 

 Number 9 stated that catching had to hit a new high this year. Well, that will be an easy one. Dioner Navarro started the year off on fire and got hurt. When he returned, he stayed above the .300 mark well into the second half of the season before falling below that mark for the only time in 2008. Behind the plate he took more control and exercised his own playcalling alot this season.

But the action with Matt Garza in Texas in the ruffle on the mound and in the dugout finally put him on top. It showed that he had the heart and the determination to lead this team behind the dish and put his stamp on the team. With his new confidence at the plate translated perfectly to his time behind the mask.

For the season, His batting average for the year was only behind Minnesota’s Joe Mauer at the position in the AL. That is a huge change from the guy battling to stay above .191 during the first half of 2007. Navarro continued during the first half of 2008 getting better and better every game. He was rewarded with his first All-Star invite and was key to the tying and winning run for the AL in the game. He caught 8 innigs in that game and solidified his place among AL catchers with is performance.

 

         

 

Number 8  was about the 1-2-3 setup guys securing the game. Well, this one is a bit tricky. the Rays Bullpen showed a huge upswing in 2008, but the closer role was up in the air alot more than expected in the year. Troy Percival was signed to make a solid end to the Bullpen but went down numerous times during the season.

His back and knee did show the wear and tear of all his MLB years, and by the end of the season he was on the DL and did not even get posted to any of the Rays post season rosters. His health situation put the pressure on the young Rays and they responded brilliantly in most cases.

From J P Howell and Grant Balfour securing the 7th inning for the Rays nightly, to Dan Wheeler or even Jason Hammel being called on to put out the fires in late innings, the young squad held together and mixed and matched nightly to get the Rays the victory.

It was not your picture perfect way to run a Bullpen, but the Rays did make it happen and post one of the best turnaround years ever for a Bullpen. The young guys matured and got valuable experience, and the veterans stood tall and made the plays when they were needed in 2008.

 

                           

 

Number 7  was that the right-field guy has to be consisitant and kick butt.  You would have to define that a bit more to really decide if it was a successful year or a failure. I have it more at a banner year for finding the right guys finally, but it could have been a lot better organized.

Jonny Gomes and Eric Hinske got most of the early reps in right during the beginning of the year. With the trade for Gabe Gross, the Rays brought in a guy who had never been counted on like this to raise the bar for the team. Gross came in and put his defensive and offensive stamp on the position early.

Gross made countless great play in the field and became a electric guy at the plate. He hit a 436 foot homer on August 6th that just showed the improvements he had made with the Rays. Gross made a massive improvement to the position to the Rays before the trade dedeadline.

After the return of Rocco Baldelli, the right-field platooning took on a more effective mode. You had the defensive skills of both guys as  a plus in the field and had bats fron both sides of the plate to balle pitchers’. The Rays had a solid core in the last half of the season, and the addition of Baldelli proved amazing at the plate during the rest of the year and in the playoffs.

 

     

Number 6  was our prospects need to improve. This became a double-edged sword to the Rays in 2008. We saw guys like Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac and Ben Zobrist come up and solidify the infield when needed, but the additon of these prospects did not make the difference for the Rays. Zobrist was the most consistant of the guys from the minors in coming in and making the job his in 2008.

Zobrist was being counted on to be the “go-to” guy in the Ray’s lineup in 2008. An early injury set him down and it took some time before he came back up and made his mark offensively this year for the team. He developed a offensive style that was not seen in his game before 2008.

Pitching saw Grant Balfour come back up and not back down an inch the rest of the season. Balfour came on and argued and grunted on the mound and held batter at bay most of the year. His willingness to not back away from heavy hitters made him a valued player in the Bullpen this year.  But the guy who made the entire minor league system tremble this season came up in September, and will not have to even think about the minors in 2009.

 

 

David Price was the Rays first selection in 2006. He had been annointed by many even before stepping on a MLB mound to be a phenom. Price did nothing to set that rumor to expectation down after his stint against the New York Yankees in New York. Price got better and better every time he hit the mound and became a inspiration to the team.

To out this into prospective, the Rays had enough confidence in this rookie in the ALCS to put him on the mound to finish off  Game 7 against the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox. Price performed brilliantly and helped paced the Rays during the playoffs.

The rest of the prospect system got a bit muddled in 2008. Desmond Jennings went down with an injury and saw limited time this season in the minors. Jake McGee went down with an arm injury and had to have Tommy John surgery. But even with these high ceiling guys going down, players like Fernando Perez came out of no where and made you know that the Rays prospect system is alive and well.

 

 

So here is the first of 2 end of the year goal realization blogs.  Goals 6-10 were finalized today and I will write about 1-5 tomorrow. All in all you have to admit that the Rays saw a increase in every aspect of the game in 2008. Every player on the team stepped up in the season and made it magical in their own ways. 

 2009 will be a year of expectations and the either success or failure to improve over 2008. It will be a harder road for the Rays in 2009. People will be gunning for the team and will not be broadsided anymore. That in itself might be the biggest challenge for the team next year. Living up to the expectations of the local fans and media after a darling season.

 

What is the Future of Jonny Gomes?

Jonny Gomes has been the emotional barometer of the Tampa Bay Rays for several seasons. You can tell the general attitude and outkook of the bench by staring at his face. He is truly one of those guys who holds his emotions out there for everyone to see and has no agendas.

 So what are we to expect now that Gomes has been relegated to the bench and sees only spot duty in the outfield due to injuries. He is not longer the go-to guy for platoon duty in rightfield, or even the first option off the bench against left-handers anymore for the Rays.

 He is seen most nights peering over the dugout rail cheering on his team mates and pumping up his team when they need it most this year. But do the Rays truly have reservations about Gomes coming into his first journey into arbitration. Does he stack up well enough to get a push upwards in salalry to the $ 1 million dollar mark, or is he still a project in training for the team.

          

 When Rays manager Joe Maddon first came on board 3 years ago, Jonny seemed to be one of his trusted foot soldiers. He counted on Gomes as either a rightfielder or a DH against some of the best in the AL nightly. But as time went by, did Maddon lose some of his confidience in number 31 and put him on the bench as a added weapon, or becuase he still doesn’t know how to use him right at times.

 Gomes can be a total nightmare or a rally energizing bunny in the outfield. On more than 1 occasion, you have seen him throw himnself towards a sinking ball and either make a spectacular catch or an odd miss by feet. Is the fact he is not the best running outfielder on a team blessed with speed his downfall. Or is there another reason he see spot duty when injuries pile up and he is needed.

 Early in the season I really liked the power hitting duo of Gomes and Hinske in the rightfield. It gave the Rays a power option from each side of the plate, and also gave them a veteran influence on the bench. Now that Baldelli is seeking a new contract, Gomes is fighting for his life to stay on this team.

 Gomes had dealt with bad hitting streaks before in his career and has either ended up in the minors or on the bench. In 2008, Gomes hit only .182 in 154 at bats for the Rays. Is that enough at bats for a guy who is dependant on quality swings and time at the plate to imporve his swing and timing. Batting Practice can only do so much to imporve your hitting. Game situations are critical to a guy like Gomes for consistant movement and fluid strokes with the bat.

Could the fact he was left off all the post season rosters be a sign on the wall that his days as a Ray might be coming to a close. Could it be that the Rays might hear his arbitration hearing and just decide to release him before Spring Training.

 Or, he could be given a chance to again DH fulltime with a short leash and the expectation raised as to his place on the team. We might not know what is going to happen for a few weeks here, but he is worthy to be on this roster.

 Gomes has had a rough time in the end of the season for the Rays, but if his line on September 28th is any indication, you have to believe he still feels he can compete and be productive for the Rays in 2009. Gomes went 2-for-2 that day with 2 RBI’s. Proof that he still has the killer instinct and can deliver for the Rays.

 But can an isolated scoring binge after going 0-14, with7 strikeouts  since August 3rd be a sign of decreasing talent or him just vegging on the bench without game action. Could Gomes be his own worst enemy right now and be pressing and trying to hit for the fences each time up instead of hitting the ball and letting the chips fall where they may. A single is still a hit, and a stolen base is still a premium on this team.

 In his limited at bats, Gomes till hit 5 homers and posted a .383 slugging percentage for the season. The talent is there, and the ability is anxiously waiting for a shot to explode at the plate. But his rushing of his swings and blatant uperc ut for the outfield walls is apparent to everyone in the seats at the Trop. 

 Gomes is trying to make a point by slamming the ball instead of hitting like the Gomes of the past. That Jonny would go barrelling into second base head first and be as pumped up by a double as a homer. That Gomes would be slapping George Hendricks hand at first base after a nice single through the hole. And that Jonny seemed to be enjoying baseball every day.

 For emotion and for outward attitude and confience you can’t beat Jonny Gomes, but the Rays have to make a difficult decision in the offseason as to if he is in the futre plans beyond even 2009. He is a great bat off the bench in a critical time of the game. But does this rob him of his life power by having him come up cold and not into the flow of the game.

 Gomes is the type of player that feeds off the games energy and responds accordingly. He is as excited as anyone at a great play or a huge out. Could letting him go to another team like the Oakland A’s be the answer. Or is letting go of this emotional locomotive be a downfall of the clubhouse psyche they tried so hard to build in 2008.

 The Rays have a few huge decisions to make this offseason to contend for their AL East and AL pennant in 2009. Will Gomes be made a part of the team, or will he again be relagated to cheerleader staus and spot duty in the field or at the plate. Either way, I think Gomes will succeed not becuase he has to, but because he can…………anywhere.

Rays Win Last Gameof the Season in 11th Inning

 

Rays 8, Tigers 7

 

I was glad to see that Rays Manager Joe Maddon let Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi take out the lineup card today before the game. I have known Scott now for about 8 years and I know of no one else in the organization who has done more and wished more for every pitcher who has graced the mound at the Trop. From the late Joe Kennedy and Cory Lidle, to David Price and Mitch Talbot, Cursi has warmed them all up and made sure they were up to the task of pitching for the Rays. 

 He is one of the unsung heros of that Bullpen that most fans would never know die to his low key demeanor and style. But he ia also a viable reason alot of these guys feel so calm and secure going out to the mound. He is the silent Bullpen Coach. And the honor today was fitting for one of the Rays hardest workers over the last 10 years.

 

                      

I am saddened to know that after today’s game, Detroit Tigers’ Pitching Coach Chuck Hernandez was let go by the team. Hernandez was with the Rays in the minor league system before finally coming up tho the major league level and leading the team in t lean years. He was here in the infant days of Scott Kazmir, and as a leftie, he could illustrate and teach Kazmir about the tough job of a lefty in today’s game. I know who ever get this great coach next season will see how fast this guy can fine tune and turn a Bullpen into a winner.

I also want to alert fans of an upcoming video to be shown in the Rays Playoff games. The video will be members of Maddon’s Maniacs, that group that first brought the cowbell into a cult status at the Trop. You might know them more by their bright yellow shirts with the screaming baseball that looks like Rays Manager, Jow Maddon. This group was formed several years ago to act as a cheering conglomerate in their sections of the stadium.  So look for the video on the Jumbotron during the Playoff games, and Go Rays!!!!!!!

 

Rays 8, Tigers 7

 

                               

James Shields

It was just a formality that Rays starter James Shields even hit the mound today. The Rays were using the start as a stretching out period to get Shields some work before he starts the Rays first Playoff game in the Trop. next Thursday. Shields came out and threw 10 pitches in his 1 inning of work and got the Tigers to go down 1-2-3. All 3 outs were on ground balls and were alternated between the 3 infield positions.

 

Mitch Talbot

Talbot is in the mix as one of the guys the Rays were going to discuss before deciding if he was to be on the team’s first ALDS  25-man roster. After today’s performance, I have a feeling that the young rightie will have thrown his last pitch this season for the Rays. It has been a wild season for Talbot, first brought up for 48 hours before heading again for the Triple-A Durham Bulls. In today’s relief appearance, he never looked calm or in control on the mound.

Talbot had an eventless 2nd inning as the Tigers went again down 1-2-3. But in the 3rd inning, the tide began to turn for the young pitcher. Brandon Inge hit a smoker down the leftfield line into the corner and ended up with a double, with no outs in the inning. Inge moved to 3rd on a Wild Pitch by Talbot. Ramon Santiago then walked to put men on the corners for the Tigers. Curtis Granderson then took a 2-1 count the deposited the ball into the leftfield stands for a 3-run homer, and put the Tigers up 3-0.

In the 4th inning, Talbot had a few control issues and gave up 5 walks in the inning. Edgar Renteria singled to right to lead off . After Dusty Ryan flied out to center, Inge, Santiago,Granderson ans Gary Sheffield all walked to scored 2 runs in the inning. With those runs crossing the board, Talbot was done for the day. In his 2.1 innings of work, Talbot gave up 5-runs on 5-hits, and gave up 5 walks on 71 pitches for the Rays.

 

Rays Bullpen

The Rays Bullpen then combined to post 4.2 innings of scoreless work lead by  Rookie David Price going the first 1.2 innings and striking out 2 batters.  After Price, Dan Wheeler came on for 1 inning and posted 2 strikeouts and 2 walks in his time on the mound. With today’s appearance, Wheeler now has 4 straight years of at least 70 appearances in a game.  His 26 holds is tops on the Rays, and 4 short of the AL lead held by the Angels’ Scott Shields.

Then Troy Percival came on and got a hitless inning to boost his chances of being added to the post season roster.  Percival has been on notice that Maddon wanted to see a effort and control during his last  appearance this season. In his last 8 appearances, Percival has not been too impressive, he has given up 7-hits and 9-runs in 5.1 innings of work.  Opponent’s are hitting only .188 against him this year, good enough for 7th in the AL. Trever Miller then came on in the 8th inning and pitched another scoreless frame for the Rays.

 

                          

Edwin Jackson

Then in the 9th inning, Maddon inserted usual Rays starter Edwin Jackson to close out the game for the team. Jackson started the 9th by throwing some hard stuff around 96 M.P.H. plus against the Tigers.  But Sheffield ended up hitting a single into rightfield to lead off the inning for the Tigers. Magglio Ordonez then hit a 2-run homer on a 2-2 pitch to left to tie the game at 7-7 and send the game into extra innings. Jackson ended up pitching 2 innigs and gave up 4-hits and 2-runs, while throwing 43 pitches.  The homer gave Jackson his first blown save of the year.

 

            

 

Powerful 5th inning

 In the end, Jackson ended up winning the game when the Rays won the game in the 11th inning. With the win, Jackson joined fellow starters former Rays Rolando Arroyo and James Shields as the only Rays starters to win 14 games in a season. The win was Jackson’s second in the week and puts him at 14-12 for the season. This is a massive improvement over the 5-15 he posted last season.

 

In the first 4 innings of today’s game, the Rays went down in order and did not seem to have the offensive firepower today. But in the 5th inning, the Rays began to attack Tigers starter Zack Miner. Rocco Baldelli hit  a leadoff homer 423 feet to centerfield to put the Rays finally on the board. Willy Aybar the hit a double into the leftfield corner to put another Rays into scoring position. After 1 quick outs, Eric Hinske hit a 2-run shot to rightfield  402 feet over the scoreboard to bring the Rays to within 2 runs, 6-4.

 

         

 

Big 8th Inning Rally

In the 8th inning, the Rays sent 9 men to the plate and scored 4 runs to Rays up 7-5 in the game. The inning began with John Jason hitting a ball throught the hole between short and thrid for a single. Then Dan Johnson hit a liner about 15 feet off the ground to put 2 rays on base with no outs. Fernando Perez then walked on 8 pitches to load the bases for the Rays. Jonny Gomes then hit a ball that went over centerfielder Curtis Granderson’s head and over the wall for a Ground Rule Double.

Gomes got 2 RBI’s on the play. Aybar then walked after Baldelli struck out to give the Rays a man on with 1 out. Ben Zobrist then hit a grounder to right to score Perez and move Gomes to third base and Aybar to second base and Zobrist to first to load the bases again for the Rays. Ruggiano then struck out, and Hinske walked to score Gome and leave the bases loaded for Jaso.  Jaso  was till at the plate when Aybar was called out on a runner’s choice for the 3rd out of the inning. But the score was now 7-5 Rays.

In the 10th inning, with the scored tied, Gomes tried to turn his single into a double and was tagged out at second for the 1st out in the inning. The play was a bit too aggressive, but Gomes could have gotten the base if he slide to the infield side of the bag.  Aybar hit a screwamer into foul territory down the rightfield line that Mike Joyce caught for the third out.

 

             

 

Ben Zobrist

For the game, Zobrist went 2-5 with 2 RBI’s and a run scored for the team. But it was his solo homer in the 11th inning that sealed the win for the Rays. Zobrist has now hit 4 homers in 4 games against the Tigers this weekend.  In hitting his 12th homer of the season, Zobrist is showing a new power aspect to his game that was not there last season for the Rays.  His 12 homers this season have come in only 198 at bats for the Rays.

 

         

 

ALDS Opponent

The Rays might not know their opponent in the ALDS until maybe Tuesday because of the make-up game tomorrow between the DEtroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox have to win that contest to advance into a one-game playoff for the AL Central division title against the Minnesota Twins.

If the White Sox do lose tomorrow, the Minnesota Twins will be the Rays opponent when they start the divisional series on Thursday at Tropicana Field. If the White Sox win both contests, they will represent the AL Central in St. Petersburg, Florida.

 

Apology

 

For some reason I have a mental block some night and get Ben Zobrist’s name wrong.  I want to send a apology through my  blog that it is not intentional, and I love your mohawk a bit more than Trever Millers’. Zobrist has been on fire lately, and I have smoldered a bit by messing up his name.  I am sorry Ben, and I will try and not let it happen again. 

Rays Lose Third Straight to Tigers

 

Tigers 4, Rays 3

 

If Rays fans remember, right before the end of the first half/All-Star break we also had a bit of a losing season and naysayer were predicting that the Rays were about to feel the heat of the closing in Boston Red Sox. We got through that debacle and came out like a rose winning the A L East last night.

 

 I think we are having the same kind of mental laspe and fatigue we suffered in that series versus the Cleveland Indians. If you remember, we came out of the All-Star break on fire and ready to be the dragonslayers of the world. I am of the mind that it is good to sometimes lose right before you need your big wins. It gets you into another mental state, and actually transfixes you on the goal at hand……..to win the ALDS in 4 games.

 

Not know who we will play is not a big thing. We have played the teams in the A L central enough to know that they will both be good opponents for us.  If I had to pick a opponent, I would pick the Chicago White Sox. I know we have had trouble with their lefty pitchers this year, but I also know that we can beat them at U.S. Celluar Field. We did win that series 2-1 earlier in the year, and I honestly think that we match up better with them for a series win.

 

To play against the Minnesota Twins so soon after out homestand debacle might work more into the Twin’s favor than into the Rays. We might have an excuse for the Sunday game (hangover city), but the 3 games played before that day were so closely contested that it was a crapshoot every night as to who might take control of the game. And their lefties also played a few numbers on our guys. So, here to hoping that Chicago wins on Sunday and takes the Tigers to task on Monday at home to win the division and get to come to the friendly confines of the Trop. for the first 2 games.

 

Matt Garza

 

Coming into this series against the Tigers, Rays starter Matt Garza has gone 0-3 in th 4 career starts against the Tigers and has posted a 4.84 ERA against them.  The Tigers Magglio Ordonez has feasted on Garza in the past going 5-11 against him prior to this start.  Garza was making his 30th start of the season. Garza comes into the game with an Opponent’s Batting average of .246 this year, the best on the Rays staff this year.

 

In the game, Garza got off to a great start getting the Tigers to go down 1-2-3 in the 1st inning. But in the 2nd inning, on a 3-2 count, Garza hung a breaking ball that Miguel Cabrera deposited in the leftfield stands for his major league leading 37th homer of the season. Garza got out of the rest of the inning without incident. In the 3rd inning, after issuing a walk to Brandon Inge, Garza got a 3-6 double play to end the inning.

 

In the 4th inning, Ramon Santiago came up and slap a ball to the right of Garza that the pitcher picked up and 1-hopped to Dan Johnson at first base. The play pulled Johnson off the bag and Santiago was safe at first on Garza’s errant throw.  The error was only Garza’s 2nd of the year. Ordonez then got on base on a single to centerfield to put 2 runner on base for the Tigers. Rays catcher Miguel Hernandez then committed a pass ball and the runners advanced to put men on third and second with no outs in the inning.

 

Garza had a bit of bad luck on the first ball hit to leftfield in the 5th inning today. Mike Joyce hit a ball high in the air to Justin Ruggiano in left, and Ruggiano looked prepared to catch the ball for the 1st out, but it missed his glove and bounced over the outfield wall for a ground rule double. This would have been the first out of the inning. Edgar Renteria then hit a high chopper to Ben Zobrist at short and Zobrist took the play to thrid, but the tag on Joyce was not in time. This put men on the corner with no outs in the inning. Inge ten came up and hit a deep sacrifice fly to score Joyce from third and score Detroit’s 2nd run of the game.

 

Granderson then came up and hit a ball down the first baseline that Johnson fielded and threw to 2nd, ten Zobrist tried to complete the double play, but a high throw pulled Johnson off the bag. That put Granderson at first with 2 outs. Santiago then walked, and Ordonez hit a single into rightfield to score Granderson and notch the score at 3-3. For the start, Garza went 5.1 innings, and gave up 4-hits and 3-runs in the game on 74 pitches.

 

 

Jeff Niemann

 

The Rays went to the Bullpen after the top of the 6th inning, and Jeff Nieman came out to pitch for the Rays. Neimann started the inning by walking Gary Sheffield on 6 pitches. Sheffield then tried to steal 2nd base, but Hernandez overthrew the base by 10 feet and the ball sailed into centerfield. Hernandez was given an error on the play, and Sheffield was standing on third with no outs in the inning. Neimann got two quick outs before Renteria hit a double down the leftfield line and put the Tigers up for good today 4-3. Neimann got the Tigers to go down 1-2-3 in the 7th inning.

 

In the 8th inning, Cabrera lead off the inning with a double to right on an 0-2 count. Sheffeild walked for the second time in the game to put 2 men on for the Tigers.  Tiger’s catcher Dane Sardinha then came up and  put down a bunt to the right of the 6’9″ Neimann, and he slipped and fell to the turf not able to complete the out.  Neimann did get 2 quick outs to keep the Tigers from adding any runs in the inning. Niemann ended up throwing the Rays last 3 innings,and gave up 3-hits and a lone run to take the loss for the Rays. The loss evened his 2008 total to 2-2 for the year.

 

 

Ben Zobrist

 

With the Rays resting a majority of their starters’, the Rays put Ben Zobrist at short for the game. Zobrist made several key plays for outs in the contest, but it was his bat that did the most damage in the game. Zobrist went 3-4 on the day, with 1 RBI and 2 runs scored in the contest. In his first at bat, he hit a ball to shallow left-center for a single.

 

The play moved Fernando Perez, who had walked to start the game to third with no outs.  Zobrist lead off the 3rd inning with a single to deep center. And in the 5th inning, Zobrist hit his 11th homer of the year on a 1-2 count to put the Rays up 3-1 at that moment.  For this series, Zobrist has now hit 3 homers in the 3 games in Detroit. In his last 4 games, Zobrist has now gone 7-14, with 3 homers and 5 RBI’s for the Rays.

 

 

Rocco Baldelli

 

Coming into the game, Baldelli is hitting .260, and has played in 25 of the last 44 games for the Rays. He was the D.H. today for the Rays against the Tigers. Baldelli went 1-3 today, with 2 RBI’s. It was his lone hit in the 1st inning that set the pace for the Rays. After Perez and Zobrist were on 2nd and 3rd respectfully, Baldelli hit a smash that 1-hopped to the right-centerfield wall and scored both men to put the Rays up 2-0 in the game. Baldelli also got on base in the 3rd inning when Detroit starter, Dontrell Willis hit him with a pitch.

 

 

Better Defense

 

With the Rays 2 errors today, they have now committed 90 errors for the season. That currently puts them as the 4th best defesne in the American League. Even with this decrease in their defensive mistakes, the Rays are making their mistakes come back to haunt them this season. And in the playoffs, a single error can change the scopre of the game in an instant.

 

 

Twins and White Sox

 

With neither of these teams seeming to want to win the American League Central Division, it looks like the Chicago White Sox will have to conclude their season with a Monday make-up game against the Tigers.  The Twins currently lead the division by 1/2 of a game after both teams lost again today. Both teams will be playing at the same time tomorrow, and if the Twins lose and the White Sox win, it will  come down to the make-up game for the White Sox to take the title and move on to face the Rays on Thursday night at the Trop.

 

 

Cowbell Kid

 

I was on my Myspace page today and got a bulletin from the Cowbell Kid. He was urging fans who might have an extra ticket to share to contact him and he will buy it from you. He was unable to get a ticket through the regular channels and was hoping a generous Rays fan would help him out. He is willing to pay for the ticket and maybe give you a Cowbell lesson.

 

Seriously, I might not agree with the guy on a few issues, but he is a fixture at the stadium and should enjoy it with the rest of us regulars.  And, I feel he has toned himself down a bit in the last few months to the point of everyone loving him again, even the old ladies in the front row.

 

So if you have an extra ticket and think you can spare it for the guy, go to his Myspace page and let him know as soon as possible. He would really appreciate it……………. 

 

 

 

 

Rays are Stymied by Tigers Again

 

Tigers 6, Rays 4

 

What is it about old hairband songs and the American League. I am starting to believe that in this Karaoke inspired world that we are playing too many golden oldies and adapting them to our team as models of our character. Remember a few years ago when the Chicago White Sox were tearing up the playoffs, the chose a Journey song as their muse. “Don’t Stop Believing” is a great song, but not one I would every tag to a baseball team. But then I never thought the Rays would have Survivor of “Eye of the Tiger” cult status do a free concert to celebrate our Playoff success.

 

The Rays have been comtemplating who should throw out the first pitch at the Rays ALDS games. My choice is first Dick Vitale for obvoius reasons. Vitale was inducted with me in the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame in the same year. I still have his chair sign in my collectible folder. He is also a clssic example of the kind of fan we love. Loud, proud and totally bonkers at times.

 

But the guy to throw out the second pitch will get alot of debate. I think it should be Kevin Costner. He has done so many concerts both for the Rays and the Durham Bulls this year that he has been a symbol of the new logo, jerseis and attitude since his Straub Park concert.  He is also a consumate baseball guy who is a true fan of the game. And his character Billy Chappell, is still one of my favorite baseball heros.

 

Tigers 6, Rays 4

 

 

 

Placido Planco

 

I hope that Placido Planco only has a sprained ankel or a turned ankle after that collision at home plate with Dioner Navarro in the bottom of the 1st inning. He came into home pretty hard towards the right foot and shinguards of Navarro and he might have caught his foot under Navarro and twisted before crossing the plate.  He was replaced in the top of the 2nd inning and you did not see him on the bench area, so maybe he was sent to get some X-rays to rule out a break or any ligament damage.

                               

 

B J Upton

 

What can you say about B J Upton since he came back off the bench a few games ago and has been hitting the cover off the ball. Tonight Upton went 3-4, with 2 RBI’s and 2 runs scored in the game. And to top it all off, even with his bum shoulder he was able to muscle a homer out to leftfield in the 5th inning. It was only Upton’s 9th homer of the season, but it came at a time when the Rays needed a shot in the arm to get back into this game. His blast put the Rays within 2 of the Tigers, 5-3.

 

Upton was a combines 1-19  on this roadtrip before tonight’s game, and has played in 8 of the last 9 games for the Rays. Before his injury, Upton was hitting .396  in his last 48 at bats.  Upton also stole  second base after walking tonight to give him 44  for the season. That is currently good enough for 2nd in the AL, 5 behind Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox.

 

 

Andy Sonnanstine

 

He has been trying  for the last 7th starts to reach his 14th win for the Rays. Tonight was his last chance to grab at that golden ring this season for the Rays. Coming into tonight Sonnanstine has gone 0-2 since his last win against the Los Angels Angels back on August 18th. Alot of the problems have been after his exit in the game, but Sonnanstine also has done some damage himself this season.  For example, in his last 3 starts, he has gone 19.1 innings and given up only 2 Earned Runs on 16 hits, while posting a 0.92 ERA.

 

Usually when you have a almost 3 games worth of totals like that you tend to have at least 2 wins in the books. But Andy has been snakebit and has been awarded nothing in those 3 starts. He is a guy who keeps you in the game and gives you a chance to win every time out. But tonight, he got his 9th loss of the season by just not hitting the right spots to one certain Tiger batter.

 

Sonnanstine got into trouble in the first inning tonight and it put himself and the Rays in a big hole early in the ballgame.  Curtis Granderson fought off Sonnanstine’s pitches and finally walked after 7 pitches to open the game. Sonnanstine then walked Placido Polanco to put the first two Tigers on base. Magglio Ordonez then took a 0-1 pitch the drilled it into the leftfield corner to score both baserunners.

 

Miguel Cabrera then hit a sharply dipping ball that B J Upton grabbed off the turf and completed a double play by throwing to 2nd base and tagging Ordonez out at 2nd base.  The Gary Sheffield came up and hit the first of his 2 homers to righfield to put the Tigers up first 3-0 on the Rays. Ramon Santiago again camne back to bite the Rays tonight in the 2nd inning when he hit a 2-run homer to left to up the score to 5-0 Tigers. Santiago has now hit 3 homers in 2 days against the Rays. He had 1 homer the entire season before this series.

 

 

Rays Bullpen

 

After the 2nd inning, with the Tigers up 5-0, the Rays began to shut down the high powered Tiger offense. The only hits between the end of the second inning and the 8th inning , was a single to left by Sheffield in the 3rd inning and a single by Dane Sardinha in the 6th inning.

 

David Price came on in the 6th inning with 2-outs and hit the first batter he faced, pinch-hitter Brandon Inge. He then walked Sardinha on 4 pitches to load the bases. Price got Santiago to line out to Gabe Gross in right for the final out of the inning.  Price then came out in the 7th inning and got 2 quick outs before being replaced by Grant Balfour with  Ordonez comint to bat for the Tigers.

 

Balfour got Ordonez to end the 7th inning. Balfour then got Cabrera to strike out before leaving a breaking ball up and Sheffield hit his 499th career homer to right to put the Tigers up 6-3. Balfour then got Mike Joyce to strike out and Inge to ground out to Akinora Iwamura to end the inning.

 

           

 

Frustration Level:  HIGH

 

In tonight’s contest the Rays left 14 men on base. This is a stat that I have been harping on for almost the entire season. It is one that can make or break a team during a short series like the playoffs. The Rays have had breat opportunities to capitalize and score runs, but something always happens in thses situations.

 

 

Plenty of Scoring Chances

 

That tonight’s game, in the 3rd inning Upton got a fielder’s choice to the pitcher and scored Bartlett from third base, but Iwamura was forced out at second for the 2nd out of the inning. With Upton on first, Carlos Pena popped up to third to end the rally. Then in the 4th inning after Navarro hit his 27th double down the leftfield line, and Gabe Gross walked to put 2 men on base, Eric Hinske struck out to end the inning.

 

In the 5th inning, the Rays did start their most impressive rally of the night with Upton hitting his 75th career double to left to start the rally with 2-outs. Pena then hit aball up the middle to score Upton and Evan Longoria hit a ball through the hole at second base to put himself at first and Pena at third with Cliff Floyd coming to bat. Floyd ended up striking out to kill the rally

.

In the 7th inning after Upton hit his 9th homer of the season, Pena hit a beauty up the first baseline for a single. Longoria followed with a shot through the hole at shortstop and the Rays had 2 men on with 1-out. Rocco Baldelli pinch-hit for Floyd and struck out on 5 pitches. Navarro then hit a long fly ball to center for the 3rd out.  In the 8th, the Rays again mounted a rally with 2-outs in the inning.

 

Jason Bartlett hit a ball deep into the shortstop hole for a single. Iwamura then hit a single just three feet left of Bartlett’s hit to put 2 men on with 2 outs. Uprton then hit a single to short and loaded the bases for Pena.  Pena hit a long fly ball to Granderson in center for the 3rd out. In the 9th inning, Baldelli walked on 5 pitches to give the Rays a runner. Navarro then hit a blooper to center for a single. He was then replaced by pinch-runner Jonny Gomes. Willy Aybar then hit a nice ball down the first baseline and scored Baldelli from second base.  With Gomes now on third and Aybar at first, he was replaced by pinch-runner Carl Crawford.  But two quick fly balls by Zorbrist and Bartlett ended the game and the rally for the Rays.

 

 

Rays Win by Default Tonight

 

With the New York Yankees winning 19-8 against the Boston Red Sox,  the Rays’ players and coaches’ and fans will be celebrating into the wee morning hours with their first AL East title in the books. I know this is not the way the guys wanted to win this title, they wanted to win it on the field. It is important for these guys to actually have the chanceto win it on the field for their confidience level going into the playoffs. You never want to back into the playoffs in any manner, much less win your first division title by default.

 

Still, the excitement of finally fulfilling the goals set in Spring Training should be the thing right now. The fact that the Rays can still win their last 2 games and make tonight a moot point in this default setting.  Thi is the first time since the Rays first season that someone other than the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox have won the American League East title.

 

 

 

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