Results tagged ‘ Kelly Shoppach ’

More Answers than Questions (Thank Goodness) This Rays Offseason


At the precise moment on Friday night as the St. Louis Cardinal’s barrage of champagne corks began their ascent towards the heavens, 29 other Major League Baseball franchises heard only the undeniable audible signal that announced the beginning of their own rebuilding and tweaking process. These MLB clubs did not watch in awe and admiration as Cardinal fans and players took their ceremonial baths in bubbly, that precise moment beckoned each and every club to begin to unveil and move towards their own dreams of celebrating in November, 2012.

As the city’s faithful began their dancing beneath that mighty arch, baseball vistas from Seattle to Miami began their own quests to become the club’s to do that same celebratory display in November, 2012. With the first cork came the realization that the 2011 MLB season is in the books, and 2012 is there for the taking.

This morning as the Sunburns off last night’s celebration haze, the Cardinal faithful are rushing to outlets throughout their city for their World Series title mementos while the rest of the MLB is sprinting to possibly gain a sizable lead in retaining, replacing or reconstructing their squads to have the same experience in 2012. The off season folder have been plucked from their secretive hiding places and already things are in the works both behind the scenes and in plain view. The off season for everyone in Major League Baseball has officially begun.

Here in Tampa Bay, the Rays should have an pretty abbreviated laundry list compared to their 2011 off season “wish list”. Still a few additional key components have to be found, possibly tweaked or invited to re-sign with the young club to give the Rays that same competitive fire and drive that send them from bystanders to Wild Card darlings. Key decisions have to be made about certain rotation members tenures with the team. Certain arbitration-eligible players may find themselves without a team, and a few unexpected free agents might get an Spring Training invite to become a part of the Rays 2012 nucleus.

Already there is both optimism and pessimistic waves and valleys growing within the Rays Republic. Should the Rays offer another contract to DH Johnny Damon with possibly a $7 guaranteed payday plus the same attendance bonuses? Or should the club enlist the outside help of another high priced bat-slinger to bring a bit of intimidation and power to the Rays universe?

Will a few slots open up in the Rays rotation, or will pitchers like Matt Moore and the “Alex” duo of Cobb and Torres be shipped back to the minor until mid-May to stammer their arbitration clocks? The Rays scouting system and front office is bound to have to endure more than a handful of stressful and thought provoking skull sessions to decide if the Tall Texan (Jeff Neimann) or WD-40 (Wade Davis) have better talent and potential than the pitching trifecta punching their way through the thin glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the St. Petersburg clubhouse.

Will the Rays catching corps rebound with authority both at the plate and behind it with John Jaso possibly showing the same power and ability that made him a Rays darling in 2010, or will a bevy of Rays farm hand backstops like Jose Lobaton, Robinson “Honeynut” Chirinos, Nevin Ashley or the powerful bat of Stephen Vogt make Jaso possibly a Rays “dead man walking?

The glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the clubhouse in St. Petersburg could be broken by several players of these players and more this coming Spring. Could veteran C Kelly Shoppach’s September and post season heroics gain him another shot behind the plate with the Rays, or will the Rays decline his 2012 club option? I have a feeling one of these catchers will not be with the Rays come the mid-February report date.

Then there will be an endless bevy of flowcharts and statistical evaluations and scouting critiques to decide if Reid Brignac is the heir apparent at shortstop, or if infield journeyman Sean Rodriguez will be given a chance to unseat Brignac who was the Rays 2011 Opening Day SS. Some have said S-Rod gives the team more power and a consistent bat in the line-up whereas Brignac might have the deeper range and potential coming into Spring Training 2012. With a hot Rays SS prospect like Hak-Ju Lee and INF Tim Beckham still pushing their way up the Rays farm ladder, the current shaky foundation of Brignac will open discussions towards possibly having Rodriguez get more time in the 6-slot with the future only a phone call away in Durham come late season.

Then there is the biggest hot spot of them all, who will man the First Base bag for the Rays in 2012? Most might think current 1B Casey Kotchman will get a nice bump in pay from his $ 750,000 2011 salary to re-sign with the Rays, but that is pure speculation until the contract is sign, sealed and delivered. Even with First Base power behemoths like Pujols, Fielder and possibly Votto dangling on the lines, the Rays will not have a salary deviations to land a high priced acquisition, and Kotchman could be a bargain both in his defense and in his renewed vigor at the plate.

Possibly we will see the end of the “Sonny” era with the Rays. Andy Sonnanstine spent most of 2011 in Triple-A, and being arbitration-eligible again in 2012, might have worn the Rays colors for the last time. RP J P Howell also will enter the fray again, possibly also with the Rays on the fence to his ability to rebound from his surgery and again be the needed force in the Rays Bullpen. The Rays for once seem set at “leftie specialist” as both Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos should end any discussions of the Rays needing another hurler in that category.

Kyle Farnsworth seems destined to again shore up the back end of the Rays Bullpen with a $ 3.3 million 2012 club option on the books. But could the late season elbow stiffness possibly have the Rays a bit anxious of a possible Deja Vu circa 2008 “Percival” scenario? More Bullpen concern might be to see if Joel Peralta might like to remain a Ray, possibly with a extended 2-year deal.

From top to bottom, all 40 of the Rays current roster members will undergo a evaluation soon. With free agents making visits to the Rays complex, and some packing their gloves for other vistas, this Rays off season has begun. Fortunately there are more answers than questions this season, but that will not hinder Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his staff as they find ample offense and suitable replacements for a few departing Rays. The 2011 season is officially in the record books, now comes the real fun for Friedman and his staff to bring the brilliance.

One Word Describes the 2011 Rays…Determined.

I was sitting somewhere last night and someone asked me one word that would describe the Tampa Bay Rays 2011 season. Instantly the thesaurus and dictionary capillaries went into overdrive. Images and events seems to transcend into my mind, clicks, bells and even a foghorn going off silently in my head until the one word seemed to shine bright…almost angelic to the forefront.

That word is determined.

That just seemed to fit this young crew of Rays this season. Baseball experts projected them fighting possibly for the third slot in the American League East, but rarely a soul found the courage to pronounce them “Wild Card” darlings. Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled the mantra “Find Another Way” deep into their collective psyches to show that the road to success this season would be determined by their own want and aspirations.

When the Rays announced their 2011 Most Valuable Player during their last home stand, you could have effectively split the trophy into 25 parts for each night it seemed a new hero, a determined athlete who wanted to celebrate not postulate came to the rescue of this Rays squad. From the Rays starters to the Bullpen, From First Base to the Right field corner this team was a determined unit, with each player having their shares of defining roles in this season.

It was simple inspirational to me to see the eternal youth of Johnny Damon steals bases, turn singles into extra base hits, show a excited and zestful leadership that turned the volume up on this team. Even guys like Sean Rodriguez, Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer and Alex Cobb made impressions, showed their potential and raised the bar throughout this season. From veteran to rookie, this team seemed happy and content with passing the cap every night for someone else to lead the way to victory.

The confidence and the character displayed by the Rays rotation seemed to cement this mentality. They always pitched as if no lead was safe and minimal runs were needed. Even when their offense sputtered and shook, the Rays hurlers stepped up their game, produced amazing results and tried to make the bridge between starter and Bullpen one built on success not teeter-tottering towards the abyss. Always determined, the Rays all posted more than 10 wins, and Rays records seemed destined to fall nightly.

Even with Evan Longoria fighting injury and inconsistency, this team found other ways to produce, induce and collect runs, hits and amazing plays. I always think it shows the true spirit and merits of a team when their key figure has a bad night, or series and the guys around him rally and pull together to produce outstanding results. Sure Longo might have lost a few National followers with his down season, but locally, we saw his heart, his character tested and the end result was a determined athlete wanting to again get to that high level of expectation.

From the All-Star break on, Longoria found his rhythm, found his groove and along with the rest of the Rays, found a way to bypass the expectations and the naysayers to celebrate Mumm’s style. B J Upton has taken a lot of strife and ridicule over the past few years for his base running gaffs and his seemingly lack of hustle, but this season he showed his bat still has the goods, and his defense is up there with anyone in the Major Leagues.

When the going got tough, Upton stepped up his game determined to make more than a few broadcasters whisper, make more than a few teams fear his bat, his speed and his skill in the field. He might not have had an All Star season, but Upton did have a season worth remembering. His stats might not glow bright into the night, but his timely strokes and impressive defense kept the Rays in games when most fans around the ballpark thought the Rays would flounder. Upton became a clubhouse leader, even if the rest of the stadium didn’t know it.

The essence of this 2011 Rays team was based purely on determination. Every game they seemed to be the underdog, and they pulled out magic. On the road they stepped up their game to historical heights, almost seeming like they were possessed on the road while bedeviled at home. When their home record finally reached the .500 mark, they began to watch it also soar as high as their post season aspirations.

The 2011 edition of the Rays is firmly in the books, their legacy is bound not by their win and loss record, but by the feats and accolades of determination, spirit and never giving in to the temptation of failure. Truly the word “determined” fits this team like a glove from the exploits of Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach to the mystical magic of Matt Moore this Rays squad might have started their own simplistic dynasty built on the sole virtues of eluding defeat, embrace success and showing determination can be the virtue that rewards those willing to sacrifice, strive for the brass ring, and willing to endure.

Maybe the 2012 Webster’s Dictionary will include the 2011 Rays Team Photo…..seems only fitting.

If You Don’t Believe Now, Better Check Your Pulse



Words would just ruin the moment. Here is a photo essay of complied photos from the great AP photographers Mike Carlson / Chris O’Meara and Getty Images Photog  J. Meric  on the field and deep within the bowels of Tropicana Field  tonight. 




 

Last, but not least, the Home Run trot that began the celebration!



Do We Need to Worry About Farnsworth?

Some have blurted out the notion lately that the Tampa Bay Rays will exercise Kyle Farnsworth’s club option at the end of the season without delay. For some reason, I am smelling a bit of lingering Troy Percival aroma right now on someone’s shoes. Sure Farnsworth has a really “Rays friendly” $ 3.3 million dollar salary for 2012, but if his elbow flares up and he needs any surgery or down time, it could be a huge kink in the Rays late inning armor.

On Saturday night, from the moment Farnsworth got up to begin throwing in the Rays Bullpen, his mannerisms and delivery just seemed a bit off from my seat right behind the Rays Bullpen mound. His pitches before he entered the game in the top of the ninth inning just didn’t seem to have their usual crisp bite to them. His new found friend, the cutter, simply seemed to a bit flat, almost hovering in the zone a little too long.

Of course I am not a Pitching Coach, but if I saw a cutter that was not spinning crispy and not starting to dive bomb out of the zone for the corner, I would be wetting my lips that I was about to have a good plate appearance. Sure Farnsworth threw 14 of his 22 pitches for strikes last night, but two of them unfortunately struck spectators gloves in the Rightfield stands. This is not the usual intimidating Farnsworth, this is more like a wounded deceptive Percival.

In a span of 6 pitches, the Rays went from leading 5-3 to seeing the Red Sox tie the game 5-all. Farnsworth only productive out of his appearance came courtesy of his first batter Boston SS Marco Scutaro who hit a grounder to Farnsworth, who completed a simple 1-3 put out before the fireworks began. After that first out, Boston’s explosion quickly turned into a possible Rays implosion. And this is not the first time this week the Rays Republic has seen Farnsworth look more unsure of his stuff right now than his usual intimidating himself.

I am not trying to insulting Farnsworth right now with the Percival reference, but the way Farnsworth is throwing the ball is eerily reminiscent of the same thing activities that preceded Percival’s two Rays injuries that ultimately turned out to be lingering injuries that Percival was hiding from the team.

You only have to go back in time to 4 days ago (September 7th) in a closely contested game against the Texas Rangers to see there is a weird pattern starting to develop within Farnsworth’s late inning success that is beginning to become a bit concerning to me, especially with this Rays squad starting to breathe life back into their post season goal.

During that September 7th contest, Farnsworth gave aup a monster shot to Rangers INF Ian Kinsler and that homer helped Farnsworth record only his second blown save since a road contest back in Kansas City back on July 23, 2011. Suddenly Farnsworth has materialized into someone less reliable, less dependable than the guy who’s 2.00 ERA was ranked # 1 among American League closers before Saturday night’s 2 Red Sox rocket shots destroyed his chance for save # 24. Uncharacteristically Farnsworth as of late has looked more like“Wild Thing” than “Sure Thing”.

The main conclusion you have to summarize is that Farnsworth might not be completely healed, or might be shunning off the intense pain factor in his right elbow to instead try and be a veteran presence and defensive stalwart because of the Rays fragile situation in the Bullpen. Farnsworth might be hiding a simple truth. He is hurt, but does not want to be a cause or reason for the Rays stumble even for a simple hiccup in their playoff chase.

But “taking one for the team” is a noble and respectful thing usually within baseball, but not a great attribute when you are counted on and you do not have your stuff at the A+ level Farnsworth possessed before his recent “late season vacation” due to elbow soreness. Considering Farnsworth has surrendered 1 Home Run allowed for every 63 batters faced (10-HR, 633-BF) since 2009, this latest plunge into the darkness has merit for Rays Republic worry.

Hopefully it is just another fluke blown save appearance, one that is now out of Farnsworth’s system, but the recent home blown save string has to begin to worry more than Farnsworth, it has to worry Rays Manager Joe Maddon and the Rays Republic. If Farnsworth were to go down with an injury at this juncture in the post season run, it could cripple a vital cog in the Rays late inning machine.

I’m not trying to say the Rays need to investigate for themselves, do medical tests on Farnsworth’s elbow, maybe it is just simply time for the Rays to let someone else take the 9th inning reins for a few games. Let Farnsworth get himself has his glorious out pitch, the cutter, back into that defined groove that moves us so well after Rays victories.

I hope it is just simple fatigue or that his pitches right now are just missing their marks, but the only one who knows the truth is Farnsworth and Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach who came on in the 9th to go behind the plate. I have a feeling neither of them will be speaking about it anytime soon. But we need full disclosure right now, hurt or not, something is just not in sync right now with Farnsworth, and it needs to be fixed fast, or catching Boston will be the least of the Rays worries.

Shoppach Finally Won Me Over

Not sure why it took me so long to see this “other side” of Tampa Bay Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach. Most just get to see that focused and persistent of his Rays game day persona on the diamond where achieving positive results are warranted and his emotional outbursts tend to be genuine to a fault. Not sure why I held a wall up towards Shoppach, not wanting to really know this guy.

It is true I wasn’t a firm member of the Shoppach admiration society when Shoppach first came to the Rays from the Cleveland Indians. I somehow initially considered him a retread version of former Rays disgruntled employee Dioner Navarro. You know, good behind the dish but mediocre standing at it.

Maybe it was his Red Sox past that kept me from seeing him in any hint of early positive light. Possibly I mis-labeled his game day intensity and focus as arrogance and bit of a conceit instead of their true intentions. Got to admit now, I wasted a lot of time avoiding this guy like the plague when I should been open to seeing his true colors.

Over the past month or so I have gotten to see a different side of Shoppach. Not from personal one-on-one conversations over a Vente cup of Starbucks brew, or even on the Rays sidelines. The avenues that opened my mind towards Shoppach was his muses and 140-character visions Shoppach displayed daily on the social media site Twitter.

If it wasn’t for his Twitter handle @ShopHouse10, I would not have known about his deep seeded Starbucks daily obsession, or his love for his old Alma Mater, Baylor University. Maybe that is what bonded me finally to Shoppach, his love for the Baylor Bears. That was the college squad I last played for before taking my next step in my football career, and I hold my moments in Waco,Texas very close to my heart.

Or maybe it was his selfless actions pre-game before the Rays first “Tweet Up” when Shoppach made a point to stroll down to the Rays Bullpen with his own personalized Rays Tweet In T-shirt nestled above his glove complete with his signature in black Sharpie. Shoppach walked over and I almost took the t-shirt, but did the Southern guy thing and made sure the girl next to me got the new found treasure.

It was a grand gesture that finally opened my eyes and mind to the honest fact that Shoppach is truly a “Good old Boy” at heart, and someone I had misjudged. Even though the first day Shoppach wrote on Twitter I made sure to re-tweet his new handle and promote a new Ray on Twitter, that moment instantly made me a Shoppach fan.

Maybe I should have known that Shoppach had those Texas traits embodied in him as I had transfused into me those 2 years in Waco. Possibly his 2010 walk-up song “She’s Country” by Jason Aldean should have awoken me, but that small but grand gesture that afternoon sealed the deal for me.

Heck, I take my cap off to Shoppach, not a lot of Rays players who boast Twitter accounts came down there that afternoon to socialize with the “Rays Tweet Family”, but Shoppach made a point to show his support, even though Shoppach was starting behind the plate that day. Pity it took me this long to see this real side of Shoppach.

Especially since these last handful of home games might be the last time I get to holler towards him as a member of the Rays. Shoppach is one of the three Rays who have pending 2012 club options that will be addressed by the Rays front office after this season. All signs point towards the Rays declining this club option considering the recent bevy of young backstops showing their skills and prowess in 2011. Shoppach’s days are surely numbered with the Rays.

But that is the nature of the business side of baseball. Sometimes you just start to see someone true abilities and intentions and they are gone. But this brief recent discovery of Shoppach’s other side will keep me checking in on him no matter where he puts his glove in 2012.

I have found a player who I can respect both on and off the field for his comments, efforts and his beliefs. Keep posting those great 140-character glimpses into your mind, I am eager to get to know a little more about @ShopHouse10 every day. By the way, I agree with your Twitter follower @LeeBarlett, Starbucks should have a local Tampa Bay confection for the rest of 2011 called the Caffe Vanilla Shopalatte….just sayin.

Intriguing Assortment of Rays Choices for Trade Deadline Shoppers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Win Some, You Lose Some… A Tale of Twofer’s


Not sure why, but this abbreviated 2-game series against the New York Yankees felt so bitterly anti-climatic. Made the fact that neither the Tampa Bay Rays or the visiting pinstripes can thrust their chests out as the absolute “ winners” or “losers” of this peculiar series.

Maybe the pure fact that each squad left the Tropicana Field AstroTurf on Tuesday night sporting identical 1-1 seasonal records took some of the emotional victory out of it all. We are going to have to get used to it this week as 2-games series will dot the Major League Baseball landscape as a way to get the MLB schedule in line for the fast approaching InterLeague showdowns starting this weekend.

It really felt odd during this series to not have that third game to push a bit of supremacy to one team for at least a little while. With only 2 contests in this series, it was hard to focus or even divulge which team might have an advantage in the final 16 games between these two increasingly bitter rivals.

Each of these contests showed a display of polar opposite styles of play with one teams just seeming to not be quite in tune, or just a step behind.

With the Rays playing under the .500 level at home this season ( 11-13), this series really had me worried since the Rays had not scored more than 5 runs in their last 22 home games. Suddenly in the 6th inning, the Rays finally found their missing cask of mojo and quickly posted 5 runs on the board in front of the home crowd.

Oddly enough, the offensive outburst came after Rays Ace David Price was out of the ballgame and did not fact into the decision. Their energetic explosion included 3 Home Runs and helped paced the Rays to their 24th victory of the season. The opening series win got the Rays on the threshold of possibly finally secure a .500 mark at home this season.

The Yankees came into this series with a bit of drama within their ranks, but possibly the loss to the Rays on Monday night pulled them together enough to put out a great effort on Tuesday night to supplant the Rays dreams of hitting that home .500 mark. These 2 games were as different as night and day for each squad as they took turns taking advantage of each other’s minor mistakes, missed pitch locations and each dug the knife in deep to provide enough momentum to secure a win.

The Tuesday contest started to show some signs of being a great pitching display match-up between Rays veteran James Shields and Yankee youngster Ivan Nova. Each pitcher made a few early mistakes and saw solo shots by Rays INF Elliot Johnson and Alex Rodriguez exit the ballpark into the grandstands before the Yankee began to fluster Shields to produce a second error to Rodriguez, plus spot the Yankees to a 4-1 lead.

Somehow the Rays did not have the guns to provide a second night of lighting up the Trop’s roof orange and could only muster another run thanks to a Ground Rule double down the Rightfield line by Ben Zobrist in the bottom of the 9th. 6-2 was as close as the Rays would get as Mariano Rivera came on to get former teammate Johnny Damon to ground out to first for the Yankees 21st win and gain a game on the Rays.

But the night was not without drama. Well, at least on the Rays side of the coin. In that last inning, Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach hit a high fly ball deep into the stratosphere of the Trop that seemed to bounce off one of the infamous catwalks.

In every video replay you can see without a doubt the path of Yankees Leftfielder Brett Gardner was alter and diverted by the “ping-pong” action of the ball as it careened off one of the overhanging steel structures. Gardner did somehow position himself under the ball even with a last moment change in his body direction to bring the ball into his glove.

Initially it looked like the ball had hit the C-ring, which would award a solo Home Run to Shoppach. Rays Manager Joe Maddon urged Home Plate Umpire Gary Darling and the rest of the crew to convene and discuss the play for a possible review.

The Umpire crew made the right decision to review the play as it was not clear by television replays whether the ball bounced off the B-ring, or the C-ring. One would produce a Rays run, the other the second out of the inning.

In the end, the Umpires got it right as post game video showed the ball struck the B-ring on its lowest point before heading towards the C-ring. That made it a catchable ball resulting in the inning’s second out. This contest really wasn’t that close, but the Rays have a habit of last inning heroics, and at that moment Rivera was not in the ballgame.

When you play a divisional rival, you love that third game so you can vocally display your pride. This 2 game series basically added a single win to each team’s record, provided some interesting fodder for the future contests, and above all showed that these 2 squads are closer in abilities than their payrolls suggest.

Sure I would have loved a second win on Tuesday night to provide a statement by sweeping the Bronx Bombers, plus the addition of finally getting back to a .500 record at home. With the Rays heading out on a 8 game road trip, which includes a 2-game series in Toronto, plus 3-games series each against the Tiger and Marlins before the Rays hit the comfort of home Turf again.

By ending up the series at 1-1, it did not give either team an advantage in the American League East division except take one win away from each other. This series did not have the usual pomp and circumstance of a Yankees stroll into the Trop, possibly having a bit of the internal drama within the Yankees organization stealing some of the thunder of the match-up.

These two high powered squads will not mix it up again until a 4-game series (July 7-10) in the Bronx as the last series each team will have before the All Star break. In the end this abbreviated series got each team’s feet wet in their 18-game seasonal series.

Gave each team’s pitchers and hitters a quick glimpse into what each team has to offer, and what changes need to be implemented before their next battle. Still kind of weird that here we are in mid-May and this is the first time either team has played each other in 2011. I guess you win some, and you lose some, even in the battle of the MLB schedule

Simple Arithmetic: Jaso + Rays = Success


jasox-large.jpg 

The more you watch him play, the more you seem to visualize the hidden persona that is within Tampa Bay Rays rookie catcher John Jaso. There is a cerebral side to him that only a select fraction of friends of Rays fans have ever seen off the field because Jaso is a bit different that the catching norm when it comes to usual physical demands of a Major League catcher. It is common knowledge that to play behind Home Plate and take the constant hammering catcher do on a daily basis from errant breaking balls and foul tips you got to have a few screws loose. But maybe Jaso’s nuts and bolts are tighter than you think.


Here is a rookie ballplayer who is so “green” conscious that several times during the 2010 MLB season he had a friend drop him off at the back gate entrance to Tropicana Field to carpool or save energy. But that isn’t the only quality that makes this young catcher unique. Then again, don’t get caught up in the old analogy that Jaso is one of those enigmas wrapped in a riddle, that usually sits behind the plate for Jaso’s sin or folly is actually that he is just a little more mathematically inclined than most of his catching brethren.

On more than one occasion during his rookie campaign with the Rays, Jaso has vocalized his future aspiration of possibly becoming a mathematics teacher after his playing days are finished. I can easily imagine Jaso walking around a high school or university classroom entrancing his students with his profound joy of analytical equations and formulas and professing to the invisible magic that lives among the numerals that most of us only love to see on our weekly paychecks.

You could easily see someone with the passion and excitement of numbers like Jaso possibly changing many young lives with just a few paragraphs about algorithms. But right now he is trying to change a few lives with his bat and his play behind the plate for the Rays. And it works to Jaso’s advantage that mathematics plays such a central component of his life. The art of catching in the Major Leagues is a position ultimately steeped in game time probabilities and a everlasting sea of predictable percentages.

With Jaso’s ease at taking in large quantities of numbers and simultaneously filtering out the mundane and unusable with quick precision, it will make him more in tune with his game day play calling duties behind the plate. With a razor sharp mind based firmly within the guidelines of logic and statistical reasoning, it makes him a clear asset for the Rays, especially at a key defensive play-calling position like catcher.

l_bd1ca444f26547a8bc7f6464c4e18693.jpg
 
Even on the offensive side of the game Jaso has taken the usual boring pitching charts and reports and deciphered this information to solidify his place on this team as an offensive weapon. For years the Rays have coveted a catcher who could also hit for average and take a patient stance at the plate. Jaso has delivered on both counts and also filled an unusual need for the Rays.
Jaso is not your prototypical MLB lead-off hitter, but Rays Manager Joe Maddon used a few of his own mathematical equations to consider his young catcher for the lead-off spot in the Rays line-up 45 times during 2010 season. To show the rarity of putting a catcher at the top spot, only a pair of fellow backstops Jason Kendall and Rollie Hemsley have graced the top of their team’s line-ups as often as Jaso did in 2010.

Want to put Jaso’s lead-off status into a more funneled down wisp of probabilities and clarity? No other rookie has ever started more games catching and batted lead-off in one season than Jaso. Sure he might have only started 41 times behind the plate and hit lead-off in 2010, but that mark completely destroyed the previous record held by Hall of Famer and former Philadelphia A’s catcher Mickey Cochrane who held the previous mark of hitting in the lead-off spot only 13 times in 1925.

All of this statistical brilliance might not have evolved if Jaso had not had an open mind to change this past Spring in Port Charlotte, Florida. It was during the early stages just after Jaso reported along with the Rays roster of invited pitchers’ and catchers’ that the Rays staff sat down with Jaso and explained that his probable chances of him making and retaining a spot with the Rays unless he devoting some extra time and energy to revamping and reformulating his catching basics behind the plate. Jaso needed to quickly subtract a few bad habits and add a few more wrinkles to his current catching foundation.

With the help of Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos, Jaso began a intense and prolific change to his overall catching style. By infusing a quicker throwing style and more profound blocking techniques, it easily multiplied Jaso’s overall chance to finally aspire to the Major League level. Jaso quickly adapted and performed his changes with precision and became more acquainted to his new stances and throwing motion. Even with his quick renovation to his catching persona, the Rays still had Jaso start the season with the Rays Triple-A club, the Durham Bulls.

But when Shoppach went down with a knee injury, Jaso was quickly recalled from the Bulls on April 13, 2010 and became a key member of the Rays catching equation. Jaso still shows signs of falling back into bad habits behind the plate on breaking pitches in the dirt, or holding onto foul tips. But he showed the initiative of picking the brain of Ramos and Cursi in further developing his overall catching and his ability to show improvements on a daily basis were quickly noticed by Maddon and his Coaching staff.

Since the mathematical classification of statistics seem to be at the true heart of the game of baseball, let’s look at some other of Jaso’s accomplishments that could ultimately make Jaso the first name on the Rays flowchart both in the line-up and behind the plate again in 2011:

*** Jaso’s 59 walks in 2010 led all American League rookies in that category and beat the previous Rays rookie record set by Akinora Iwamura set in 2007 by one lone walk.

*** No one in Major League Baseball had a better walk to strikeout ratio (59-39) than Jaso in his 339 plate appearances.

*** The last American League rookie catcher to finish the season with a OBP ( .372 ) as high as Jaso’s (min 100 games) was New York Yankee great Thurman Munson with a .386 OBP in 1970.

*** Jaso finished in fifth place in the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year voting garnering only a single third place vote. That put him right on the heels of fellow Rays starter Wade Davis who finished in fourth place, but Davis’s tally only included fourth place votes (11).
 

003.JPG

 

Mathematics has always been a key component to Jaso’s life off the diamond. And now his love of numbers and probabilities is also starting to help him control his fate on the field. Jaso was a career .291 hitter in the minors for the Rays, and his bat has never been seen as a negative element for him.

Playing the odds and taking calculated risks have come out to his advantage during his rookie season. If Jaso can keep his analytical mind trained on his hitting, and keeps evolving defensively behind the plate, the Rays might have finally found the all around catcher that they have been searching for.

I could see Jaso standing in front of an auditorium or classroom with his trademark post-game Birkenstocks with his excited voice bellowing through the room about the symbolic notations of mathematic principles and the simple origins of numerals. But all that will have to wait as Jaso took full advantage of the opportunity presented to him this last Spring by the Rays to heart to change his catching style.


Maybe Jaso has finally found a feasible conclusion to his personal internal algorithm with a future in the Major Leagues. With more Summers in the Sun predicted for Jaso, it should give him more than ample time to finally come to that long sought after analytical final conclusion that his career in the Major Leagues might just be the best mathematical solution Jaso has ever solved.

John Jaso + Rays =Success.
 
 

Time to Push Navarro From the Rays Nest


 
l_9f37fa2673194878901e05fa9ca0d43a.jpg 

 

Sometimes I can visually see vividly in my mind a few of the Tampa Bay Rays staff inside the dugout tunnels or near the clubhouse during games banging their heads against the wall in regards to the antics and misadventures involving Rays catcher Dioner Navarro over the past two seasons. The mire fact that Navarro is still on the Rays 40-man roster even at this moment just baffles me to no avail.


Navarro in my mind is one of those professional baseball players who just seems to be more of a heavy albatross around the neck of this franchise than any measure of a good omen. It just seems to me personally that Navarro must have had a few unflattering photos or video of someone somewhere within the Rays organization. I guess that is the rationale I have to put into my mind to explain how Navarro still has a coveted spot upon the Rays 40-man roster.


Soon the Rays front office could end all of this mind boggling insanity and possibly non-tender Navarro, thus setting set him free upon the rest of the MLB. Or could the Rays be hoping and praying for someone to be willing to trade even a few minor league prospects for their catcher who now seems to have his Rays days numbered.


Why in heck is this guy still got even a hint of possibly securing another year with the Rays after his blatant disregard for his own club after he walked away from the Rays on October 7th because his name was omitted from the American League Divisional Series 25-man roster. How in his mind could Navarro really think he deserved a ALDS roster spot over the more productive pairing of current Rays catchers Kelly Shoppach and rookie John Jaso?


Could his agent have possibly diluted his mind to such a state that Navarro took the omission as a disrespectful move by the Rays instead of the right personnel move considering Navarro’s 2010 track record? Might that roster omission by the Rays fueled Navarro’s frustrations and made him implode and pack up catching gear and leave the Rays clubhouse for maybe the last time?


Or was this another visual outburst of denial by Navarro of the ever increasing valley between the team and himself after Navarro spent his time from June 24th until his call-up on August 31st with the Rays Triple-A affiliate in Durham, North Carolina. The fact that Navarro openly told the team on October 7th that he was “going home” instead of staying with the club and working out in case of an injury to any of the Rays catchers’ should have pushed him beyond the confines of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s doghouse and given Navarro an instant exit from the Rays 40-man roster.

 

But still, the Venezuelan catcher still sits upon the 32 names currently resting on the Rays 40-man roster this off season. Isn’t this the same Navarro who became certainly expendable in the Rays minds back during Dec 2009 when the Rays first had thoughts of trading away Navarro, but the return was not considered beneficial to the team’s future. Wasn’t Navarro the figure on the Rays roster who should have been more aware and concerned for his job when the Rays traded one of the Rays top farmhand pitchers Mitch Talbot to the Cleveland Indians for Shoppach.
l_5d94c3405bca4754b4260d9d63ca8b83.jpg

Shouldn’t that transaction by the Rays during the off season been a clear signal to Navarro that his Major League job might be in deep jeopardy? Instead it just seemed like Navarro, who had seen the Rays bring fellow backstop Gregg Zaun late in 2009 did not seem to heed the warning signals. Instead it seemed that Navarro just tried to do just enough to again hold onto one of the Rays two catching positions.

Even during the Winter of 2009 when teams like the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays were hunting for catching options, the slow-footed Navarro did not peak anyone interest farther than a casual phone call to the Rays. During the 2009 off season the Rays did think long and hard about non-tendering the arbitration eligible catcher, but again he somehow had enough believers in the Rays staff to fend off his departure.


More and more in 2009 and early 2010 the Rays faithful had to witness the extreme casual attitude behind the plate when Navarro basically saw balls hit the dirt in front of him and he mysteriously missed the balls and had to chase them around the Tropicana Field backstop. It was if Navarro had stepped into a hole defensively that he could not get himself out of in time to save his starting job.


But now as another arbitration time is quickly approaching it is time for the Rays to send a loud and clear message to their one time All Star catcher. It is time to cut the string between Navarro and the Rays and set him along towards another team. With the emergence of Jaso and the stability of a contract with Shoppach for another season, it would be ill advised to hold onto an arbitration eligible Navarro who could demand a $ 2.9 million salary even with his demotion during 2010 to the minor leagues.

It is time to let the slow-footed catcher makes his way out of the fold of the Rays and into the glaring sunlight to see his true worth around the Major Leagues . They say a mother bird sometimes has to push a baby bird out of it’s nest to make it realize it has to fly. It is time for this bird to definitely get pushed out of the Rays fold. Some might call it a reality check for Navarro, but I consider it more a relief of catching albatross from around the necks of the Rays. Fly away little Navi, Fly away!

 

 

 

Rays Getting their Virtual Hands Dirty on “We Farm”

 

Back when I played sports, the Internet was still in the early infant stages and wireless devices consisted of maybe a walkman or a portable transistor radio. The advent of WiFi technologies and World wide gaming communities had even came into anyone’s mind yet. Mostly we just played a variety of cards games like Poker or Hearts to bid the time before suiting up for warm-ups or during our transport to and from our charter flights.

Laptop were not even in the future thought process yet, and the Apple I Pod and I Pad were possibly just dreams or faint ideas still in computer technology think tanks.


With the advancements of the wireless and computing technologies all around us today, the Internet and games of chance with a side order of obsession are just a small mouse click away. I have a few friends who have plunged deep into the online farming community on Facebook known as “Farmville“, but as of now, I am still virginal and not partaking in that ritual farming industrial community. I
t is intriguing and a bit understandable that the players within the Tampa Bay Rays might have caught onto the growing fever of these downloadable games where compulsive endurance and chance both seem to rule the process.

These games seem just perfectly suited for a bunch of baseball players due to the odd facts that during a 162 game Major League Baseball season, there is a huge amount of “down” time usually spent away from home, waiting for something to happen (pre-game, rain delays) that could entice a person to become entranced into developing and cultivating an online community of their own.


During the 2010 MLB season, I have heard many whispers about an ever growing obsession within the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse of several downloadable games and obsessive-compulsive programming that acted as buffers to the game pressures and simultaneously garnered internal competitions between the players. This rumor encircling the Rays clubhouse did not have to do with any World Poker Tour card playing websites, or even Fantasy leagues.

Somehow the Rays clubhouse, who all seem to have embraced their WiFi friendly Apple I Pads, has developed a budding cultivation within the online farming communities in the “We Farm” game. A game that is FREE to download from I Tunes or Apple, but can be as addictive as a large cup of caffeine if you give it a chance.

Several members of the Rays clubhouse have become a bit addicted and currently spend countless hours tending to their crops or designing the perfect scenario to be awarded a possible Blue Ribbon animal or get picked as the “Farm of the Week”.

 
Most of us who do not cruise an Apple based I Pad system might not have even heard about this downloadable game for I Pads and Apple WiFi devices. This farming community gives game players the tools to make the barnyards of their dreams. Farmers who range from city slickers to real life rural country boys, have taken to this addictive game. As the 2010 progressed, more and more of the Rays roster have been engulfed by this addictive competitive game.

Maybe it is purely the fact that they can be a simulated Roy Oswalt and outfit their personal farms with tractors, hay balers, sprayers and even build produce stands to sell their farming products just beyond their own fields. Maybe it is the majesty of knowing you can surrounding your property with multi-hued outhouses or the great non financial aspect of breeding and raising your own digitally rendered faux horses, pigs, sheep, cows, duck and even ostriches within a online community that has peaked their brainstems.

Maybe it is something as simple as a PG-13 rendition of an activity that everyone, including involving their children into helping on the farming projects that can be developed mutually as a entire family inspired working farm.


The game seemed to have introduced into the Rays clubhouse by Rays starting pitcher James Shields, who used to help tend and tailor his young daughter Ashtyn on her own “We Farm” spread on off days and during a Rays home series. Quickly the competitive fires rushed through the Rays locker room as David Price, B J Upton, Matt Garza, Kelly Shoppach, Matt Joyce, and Shields were suddenly going head-to-head on their own farming communities, trying to be the best in the Rays small kingdom.

When late season addition Chad Qualls came to the Rays via a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Qualls soon fell quickly into the Rays farming community battles. There is even a section of the game where you can have your friends and neighbors take pictures with you and your prize winning animals at the county fair. I wonder if Price has done that feat yet?
This farming community game has become such a web hit that the currently have their own Youtube Channel, and their own social media outposts to keep you updated and in tune with the whole sha-bang of new additions and words from game players all around the globe.

 

Even heard a wild rumor of some “We Farm” trash talking and farm challenges being issued by the Rays farmhands. Maybe if the Rays finish off the Rangers tomorrow in that Game 5 finale, for their next road trip (possibly to New York City for Games 3-5 of the ALCS) the Rays could all dress in blue overalls and straw farmers’ hats as a team homage to the “We Farm” gaming site. .

Heck they would be heading to the big city, the Big Apple, why not dress accordingly with their new found obsession. Think “Green Acres” or Petticoat Junction” if you need any motivation here. There are still plenty outside the city limits of “We Farm“-ville who do not understand the total intrigue and pull of the competitive game…..yet.

But you can bet that those already playing in the community within the Rays clubhouse will take their time converting more than a few other Rays roster members as they pick them off one-by-one and get them interested in the great off season treat of playing this game as a possible team bonding unit for 2011. Could also be a great way to indirectly see how teammates and friends are doing in the off season as everyone goes their separate ways until mid-February.


Wonder how many of the Rays players have unlocked the Diner at Level 23 that come complete with a surly waitress? Or the possibility of owning your own Drive-In that appears on Level 33. What a treat it would be to pull your pick-up backwards into the parking spot and watch the movies from the comfort of an old chair in the bed of your truck. Wonder if any of the Rays players have currently unlocked the farmhouse upgrade in Level 35 of the Outland Chateau?

These games can be great stress relievers and a great way to get your mind off the pressures and bottling emotions that can be constantly churning in your mind and stomach this time of the year. They can be hotel and airplane lag time deviations that can give you an outside visual or a faraway place to recharge, reconnect or just restock your chicken coop.

With the level of intensity all ready churning in the Rays clubhouse over “We Farm“, it will be amazing to see the level numbers and the upgrade or “Gro” options that the Rays involved players will have selected and presented to their colleagues come this Spring. It is a harmless and victimless game of competition that has no victims, no weapons or gore unlike some other obsessive online simulation games.

It is a great way to kill a few hours in-flight, during a rain delay, or possibly just before heading out onto the field for Batting Practice. Leave it to Shields to be the one character with tunnel vision in the Rays clubhouse that doesn’t let his every day actual job slip too far from his mind while playing online.

In Shields perfection on his farm he has constructed a baseball diamond within a surrounding mesh of blueberry bushes. Maybe there isn’t a corn option yet on Shield’s levels, but if there was, it would truly be his own personal slice of a Field of Dreams…Tampa Bay style.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 279 other followers