Results tagged ‘ Matt Moore ’

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.

Re-casting Possible for the Rays “Young Guns”?

It always amazes me when people make posters like this. It is creative, very well thought out in the ways of design, but the content sometimes makes a lot to be desired. It is not that I do not consider the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers that this artist selected for his poster to not be “Young Guns”, I just think a couple of pitchers who also made an 2011 appearance missed the photo cut.

Gazing at the poster several images of 2011 came rushing back to me, which several being possible final curtain calls for a few Rays. Some showed their magic in 2011, while some may have shown a bit of a bad slide, possibly signing their own visas for exit from the Rays universe. Still it is wild that this one photo to the right was presented on the first day Rays pitchers’ and catchers reported in Port Charlotte, Florida, and one person presented on the poster was not even among those assembled.

Rays phenom Matt Moore did not even report until the Rays minor league player’s strolled into the Southwest Florida community, but won a spot on the poster. It would be futile to not consider this southpaw a future staple in the Rays rotation, possibly making his next appearance after May 2012. Still it shows the defining depth and promise of the Rays hurlers that a guy not even selected for a Major League Spring Invite makes such a prominent figure on the poster.

But there is something that is bothering me about this poster. Something that today might not seem relevant, but could make the whole idea of the poster moot possibly even before the 2012 Spring thaw. I consider the duo of “Alex’s”, Torres and Cobb to have a prominent place in the Rays plans coming into 2012, possibly making their Opening Day debuts this season for the Rays.

That immediately raises the question on who I truly think might be airbrushed off this poster, possibly wearing different colors as the mid-February date approaches. The first pitcher that might get a new MLB address for 2012 could be right-hander Jeff Niemann. It is nothing personal, Niemann has shown great signs of brilliance on the mound, it is just that his risk factors in regard to injury setbacks and his up and down productivity make him a suitable pitcher to find another home for 2012.

Some people might be amazed that the “Tall Texan” has made 83 career starts for the Rays, but most of us are transfixed on his last 2011 start, in Fenway Park where Niemann was matched up against Red Sox hurler Jon Lester and Neumann posted up his 11th victory of the season. Niemann posted a 8-2 record on the road this season in his 12 starts, pushing him into the top 5 road records in the major leagues, including winning 8 of his last 9 road decisions.

Usually that kind of pitcher would not even be on the cusp of trade chatter, but the Rays have a bevy of pitchers trying to break through the barrier between the Triple-A Durham Bulls and a place on the Rays 25-man roster. 2012 might be the season where the Rays get significantly younger, and Niemann may only be the first to mosey into the Florida sunset. Niemann has had a good enough career and 2011 season to possibly get the Rays an up-grade in a few needed areas for 2012. I would put him at the top of the Rays list of available players come the Hot Stove season, and a pitcher more than a few teams covet.

The second member of the Rays current “Young Guns” who might need to worry is also Niemann’s hunting and fishing buddy Wade Davis. Even though he might have signed a salary respectable contract before the 2011 season, that could be a great tasty morsel to a struggling team with limited payroll looking for a viable starter with MLB experience. I guess I put Davis on this list because I consider the two “Alex’s” to have more up-side for the Rays in the near future than Davis, this is not about his present record or his injury in 2011.

Still, Davis is another Rays pitcher who has some valuable MLB abilities and could come at a respectable trade cost to another team. Worst thing here is that Davis would be a marked man in 2012 no matter what in reality. With the firm possibility that Moore will spend at least a few months in Durham before possibly making another visit to the Rays roster, Davis looks like a man firmly on unstable ground with no lifeline within reaching distance.

Even after posting a 8 inning, 2-hit start against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 25th, Davis might not have done enough to have teams kicking his tires this offseason. Davis won his last 7 starts of the season at Tropicana Field plus Davis posted double digit win totals over his first 2 Rays seasons, but it might not be enough to let WD-40 squeak by with a 2012 spot in the rotation. Davis may be in the same row boat as Niemann right now with financial numbers and the possibility of younger starters beating on the Rays doors being the catalyst for a trade, not his abilities.

Most would think I would have selected James Shields as one of the “poster boys” to be in the most jeopardy for 2012. If you thought that, you would not be totally wrong. Shields will possibly be dealt by the Rays, but it seems more logical for him to be separated from this team by the end of July, not this off season. With Moore, Torres and Cobb all having limited game experience, having a starting trio of David Price, Shields and Jeremy Hellickson to start 2012 makes the Rays an instant contender.

Shields 2012 salary would be a huge reason for his departure, but he also showed this season he has the drive and ability to still be a top flight pitcher and a value commodity for the Rays to start 2012. By the end of July, with free agency possibly on the horizon, the Rays might be more likely to trade Shields while his value is high to a contender outside the American League.

The poster is another reminder of the deep and promising rotation the Rays should be able to push up against their Major League Baseball adversaries for the next 5-8 years. Every one of these pitchers have the abilities and the skills to dominate and take a win from the clutches of any team, at any time. It is a rare and unique thing for the Rays to have such depth, but it is also a tragedy that some of their pitchers may ultimately experience their career peaks not wearing a Rays uniform.

“WE Want More Moore…Moore!”

During Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series I was sitting in a neighborhood saloon and it got pretty wild in there for a bit. Someone within this establishment somehow either pick this song 12 times in a row, or just decided via the emotional pull of a grand performance to showcase Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” over and over again. Seems so wild now considering 182 game ago Moore’s name was not even whispered at the Major League level.

When the Tampa Bay Rays pitchers and catcher’s first reported reported to the 2011 edition of Spring Training back on February, 16th I was on the field that day desperately seeking to see if Matt Moore had gotten a MLB camp Spring Training Invite. As much as I searched and trained my eyes, Friday’s Game 1 ALDS starter Matt Moore was not among the players meeting with Rays Manager Joe Maddon and principal owner Stuart Sternberg.

It wasn’t as if Moore didn’t know the directions or was even a stranger to the Port Charlotte complex where he toiled at the high Class-A level during the a 2010 season with the FSL South Division Champs, the Charlotte Stonecrabs. Moore actually started 26 games for the Stone Crabs last season compiling a deceptive 6-11 record with 208 K’s in 144 innings. For the second season in a row the stealth southpaw had racked up triple digit strikeouts, and further showed he had the pitch control well beyond his years.

Moore was not among the samplings of minor leaguer pitchers who got an invite to the MLB camp, but Moore did make his arrival later in the week with the rest of the Rays farm system arms. Already word had spread through the MLB scouting segments that the Rays had molded a second sparkling diamond out of their highly successful 2007 MLB Draft with Moore getting a lot more attention, especially from the assembled Rays avid female fans.

Moore might not have sparkled on the Rays diamond in the Spring of 2011, but the hurler who some say has the most infectious smile on the Rays started quickly showing fans and critics alike why his light was beginning to shine bright. Moore made an immediate impact during his 2011 minor league season at the Rays Double-A affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits.

Moore started 18 games for the Biscuits racking up 131 strikeouts against 28 walks. Sandwiched neatly in between those stats was an no-hitter in which Moore only needed 106 pitches and produced 11 k’s on June 16th. Possibly because of this event and his early dominance at Double-A, MLB selected him for the MLB Futures All Star game as a member of the U S Squad. .

It was a nice homecoming present for the Rays prospect that now called the desert state his off season home to come toss From the moment his first 95+ pitch crossed the plate in Arizona, whispers began to be heard all over the country about this Rays prospect’s velocity and uncanny control.

Some MLB Scouts have already been so bold as to compare him to the possible 2011 Cy Young Award winner Detroit Tigers First Rounder Justin Verlander. Other scouts have glowingly compared him to his future Rays rotation mate, Price. No matter what past or present pitcher Moore might remind you of, he is staking his own claim to fame now. .

It is still amazing to me that Moore only started in 18 games for Montgomery in 2011 and still came with 11 K’s of being the 2011 strikeout king of the Southern League. The Rays picked David Price with the first overall selection in the 2007 MLB First Year Draft. They waited 244 players before selecting the player who today has the world mesmerized. That’s right, Moore was selected with the Rays 8th Round selection, or the 245th player picked in that 2007 draft.

This native of a small mostly tourist and military Panhandle hamlet of Fort Walton Beach, Florida is swiftly becoming another pearl in the Rays fertile oyster bed of budding prospects. His performance in the US Futures All Star game did not awaken the scouts and opposition to his talents, it only let the door be open for the rest of baseball fans to see our jaws drop a bit with his velocity and control.

Moore was promoted to the Rays Triple-A affiliate, the storied Durham Bulls in mid-July and started in only 9 contests before the end of the International League season. But in that small span he earned 79 strikeouts against 18 walks to boast a 4-0 record plus a small woodpile of broken bats left in his wake. Over the course of the 2011 season Moore compiled another triple digit mark in strikeouts (210) a 12-3 record and a microcosmic 1.92 ERA.

On a crisp morning right before he was to head out to his off season home in Arizona, Moore got the call he has been waiting for since he first signed with the Rays. He quickly had to make arrangements for airplane tickets, scramble together a suitable wardrobe and get himself to Baltimore to meet up with the Rays on their last road trip of the season.

Moore who has been a starter for his entire career made his MLB debut as a Rays reliever, and got a rude “welcome to the Show” awakening in the Rays Weds night finale in Baltimore. Moore lasted 1.1 innings, and did retire the first 4 O’s hitter before usual Rays killer Vlad Guerrero lined a single and O’s catcher Matt Wieters welcomed Moore to the big leagues by depositing a pitch into the Camden Yards seats. Not an impressive start to Moore’s Bullpen days, but a real eye opener to the extreme care and control needed by the young southpaw when facing MLB caliber hitters.

The lesson learned under fire during that Baltimore outing showed through brilliantly as Moore got a chance to make his first MLB start against the heralded Yankees and quickly mounted his strikeout totals to double digits against the eventual AL East Champions. Moore, like his 2007 MLB Draft mate Price got his starter baptism under fire against the pinstripes.

Even more amazing about his Yankee outing, Moore was the only rookie pitcher since July 19, 1964 (Cleveland Luis Tiant) to fan at least 11 Yankees and hold the pinstripes scoreless in his first MLB start. But that was just red velvet to the icing that was soon to adorn Moore’s celebratory 2011 cake.

Moore was selected as the Rays Pitcher of the Year for 2011, and then only days later was told my Rays Manager Joe Maddon he would be the ALDS Game 1 starter. The 22-year old southpaw instantly became the first pitcher in MLB history to start his team’s first post season game after only 1 official MLB start in his career. Moore also became the only the second youngest pitcher (22yrs,104 days) to take the hill in the post season since Oakland A’s sent Vida Blue ( 22yrs, 67 days) back in 1971.

Suddenly there was instant debate on if Maddon should throw a rookie into this cauldron of pressure and importance. All Moore did was shake off the worries and media inflicted turmoil and throw an impressive 2-hit ,6 strikeout shutout on 98 pitches, 62 for strikes. Moore even made another historical first for himself becoming the youngest starter to ever win his team’s first game of the post season.

Adding onto his miraculous accolades of Game 1 of the ALDS, Moore became the first rookie pitcher since Yankees hurler Jim Beattie to win his team’s first post season contest. Moore joined the like of Yankee Beattie (ALCS), Dodger Joe Black (1952 WS), Yankee Spec Shea (1947 WS) and Pirates P Babe Adams (1919 WS) as the fifth rookie in MLB history to complete such a feat.

Moore also became the first rookie in MLB history to pitch at least 7 innings and allow no runs and 2 or less hits in a post season game, and the second youngest all time to Yankees starter Waite Hoyt who did it during the 1921 World Series. When Maddon came out to finally get his talented rookie, I was one of many around that Mahogany bar raising his glass saluting the Rays rookies phenomenal feat, while mimicking and replacing  multiple words of Idol’s,…… “With a Rebel Yell, WE Want More Moore!…… Moore!”.  

Third Time Will be the Charm


Now that the surreal moments of Wednesday night have had enough time to fester within my mind, it still somehow resonates emotionally through me at the most inappropriate moment like Christmas,New Years and my birthday all rolled into a finely wrapped hotdog wrapper. I honestly do not want to let it slide into my subconscious, but want it to surround and comfort me as we begin our quest at 5:07 today for another chance at the golden chalace.

I want to still savory and hold tight this third bite into the MLB post season with the same intenity and fevor as I cherished in 2008 when we set sail on our maiden voyage into the turbulant land of post season baseball. But this time the waters are charted with landmarks, perils have been exposed and the journey is up to more than just fate and a sprinkle of luck. This time we came to play hard ball.

Even though the sweet sticky remains of the champagne celebration have been washed from my clothes and body, it’s scent still lingers in a place where all memorable sensory experiences go to rejoice and to be remembered. The first time I tasted that celebratory nectar it was anticipated, the second was a prize gifted out of this team’s knack for resilience, but the third, well the third time definitely is the glittering jewel.

For this thrid venture into the Major League Baeball post season solidifies the fact the Rays are not a fluke, that this team was not granted anything. This third stroll into the playoff garden was not manufactured by the “Baseball Gods”, but by young martals who have strived all season long to live their long-haired sensei’s mantra of “Finding Another Way”.

This Rays squad advanced into the post season not on their laurels or their past efforts, but on their own sweat, blood and tears. Whispers immediately emerged just past midnight Thursday that “the Yankees gave up” after the David (Baltimore) laid upon the corpse of Goliath (Boston). I am not sure of New York RP Scott Proctor’s mindset at the moment, but failure was probably not an option.

I actually find it kind of poetic justice that former Rays, now Red Sox LF Carl Crawford who in my ESPN dairy basically set up the Rays internal fires to conquer the Boton behemoths played such a critical role in their advancement. Crawford did not know his miss of a liner by Oriole Robert Andino would set such a firestorm in motion.

Proctor, who was on the mound when the news spread around the Trop like wild fire did not know of Crawford’s missed opportunity. When he threw that ill faded pitch inside to Evan Longoria he had no idea that Longo would pull in his wrists, re-elevate the bat and get just enough to curl the pitch within a space just under Section 137 of Tropicana Field.

Ironically, the same spot Longoria’s Home Run curved over was the same section of fencing taken down by the Rays stadium staff to help Crawford possibly steal a few Home Runs back in 2007. For once, it seemed the Rays universe had used its karma of “ what goes around, comes around”. With the ball clearing jut to the right of the 317 signage, I swear the Trop’s roof rose 5 inches.

 To say pandemonium broke out would be an understatement. What actually happened was an entire region exhaling at the same time, from a moment of sheer deafening silence to even Yankees and Rays fans embracing the moment. World came together, frustrations melted, hope,destiny,fate and their new friend karma all embraced during the scene.

Finally those around baseball knew emphatically that this Rays squad was built to last, not to fade away like some others. The very fabric this team was built on was woven by the mantras and the teachings of Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his trusty quips and quos.

From 9=8 to 9>8 to “The Rays Ways” to the 2011 mantra “Find Another Way” this team has matured, grown wiser beyond their years and embraced youth along with veterans. What we truly witnessed Wedneday night was shocking to some within the baseball world, but in reality, they knew the potential was there.

 A new chapter starts today at 5:07 EST. Even though it is a return engagement against a known ALDS foe, this time the Rays are coming. In their corner is the aspect of playing the last 2 weeks as if they were already in a “must win” scenario. Scratching, clawing, finding that “other way” to win. This series will be defined on who blinks first. Who wants it more. Who still has that drive within them when the dark cloud emerge.

We already know the Rays have that fire, that intensity, that drive within them to be the last men standing. I know so many have already thrown the spotlight towards the Texas Rangers, and that is perfectly fine with me. Since their 1-8 start the Rays have made people take second glances, made even the best teams squander wins and leave the field wondering what happened.

My prediciton, Rays in 5 games. Time to wrangle some Rangers.

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!



I am Betting on the Wild Card Factor

Now that the Tampa Bay Rays have let it be known to the entire baseball world that they want to be “Club C” in a possible 1-game playoff “winner, winner chicken dinner” type format, will there be more Rays surprises before the beginning of the Wednesday night season finale game at Tropicana Field?

Could this team pull their own unforeseen “Wild Card” from their pitching deck of cards for a potential American League Wild Card determining game set for Friday, September 30th at Tropicana Field? Problem is, will the Rays pick a staff “Ace” or go with another card hoping for a little Rays good fortune. 

If the Rays have a gut feeling that they might be in line to use their previously announced “Club C” option of facing the winner of the game against Red Sox and the Angels, would the Rays go outside their usual comfort zone and play a hunch, possibly scratching Rays southpaw David Price from his last start of the season, giving the ball instead to top prospect SP Matt Moore.

This scenario could easily play out if the Rays think they will be facing a one contest game of baseball roulette to decide if they are post season “worthy”. If it plays out even closely that the Rays would have a playoff game on Friday night in Tropicana Field, wouldn’t you want an Ace on the hill who can give you that win?

Some have said that fellow Rays starter/Ace James Shields could come back on 4-days rest and provide an a possible “Ace in the hole” sequence for the Rays for that Friday contest, but then you lose Shields in the American League Divisional Series until possibly Tuesday, October 4th which could line up to be Game 3 of the ALDS and a Rays home contest.

If Price pitched on Wednesday and the team did not seal their fate that night, Price would possibly not pitch again until Game 3 of the ALDS if you go by the present schedule on MLB.com. Seems like the Rays might be doing some midnight oil researching the possible match-ups of each of these two pitchers against their ALDS hosts either the Detroit Tigers or the Texas Rangers. Kind of hoping for a Rangers versus Rays re-match…We have some unfinished business to conclude from 2010 .

If Price is the starter of a AL Wild Card determining game on Friday night, he would essentially be lost until Game 4 or 5 realistically for the ALDS. But if Price pitched in the possible Friday AL Wild Card determining game, it would make Shields the heir apparent ALDS Game 1 starter, plus a possible second start in Game 4 or 5. The Rays might just have to play the odds, rub a few rabbits feet, possibly get Price’s palm read somewhere.

Or the Rays could pull one of the bravest moves of 2011 and end up giving the ball to Moore in a Friday deciding game of the Rays fate for the post season. Immediately people might think this is crazy, but Moore is definitely throwing the ball better than Rays starters Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis right now, so it might be a more statistically dominant suggestion over Shields or Price.

Not trying to throw the Rays young prospect into the fire here, but if you need dominant pitching and a guy who neither the Red Sox or Angels have scouted with a huge amount of game film, Moore might be a nice monkey wrench to throw into the works.

That also would free up Shields to be the ALDS Game 1 starter, with a potential for another ALDS start in Game 3. Then you might have Price come back as a potential ALDS Game 2 starter if the MLB schedule changes enough for Game 2 to be moved to Monday, October 3, and also be on the hill (if needed) for a deciding Game 5 in Detroit.

Here is where it gets tricky and you almost want to be in on the wave length conversation between the ears of Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. But some thing are easily apparent, and should make trying to decipher Friedman’s brain waves a non-brainer (sorry Andrew).

When you consider Rays AL Rookie of the Year candidate Jeremy Hellickson is a better option than Davis or Niemann in Game 2 or 3, that could lead to an odd scenario of the Rays 4th starter even getting a chance to throw considering the travel days schedule, or if the Rays are in a “must win” situation.

For some reason Moore’s name keeps flashing within my mind as the key “Wild Card” to the Wild Card. If the team uses him on the mound for the Wednesday night regular season finale, it places possibly David Price as the potential Friday night starter. If Price starts on Friday, it would push him towards the back end of the pitching probabilities for the ALDS.

If you put all the cards on the table, look at them realistically for a moment, Moore should be the Friday night starter if the Rays have a 1-game last ditch shot at the post season. That way the Rays would have Shields on the hill for Game 1 of the ALDS, either Price ( even on 4 days rest) or Hellickson for Game 2 in Detroit.

But then again, this all could become moot if the Rays run the table winning both of their remaining contests and the Red Sox stumble against in Baltimore, or Texas eliminates the Angels threat. I still think the double nickel (55) will be the Wild Card factor, I’m betting on it.

10 Years Later, “Heart and Hustle, Redux”

2011 is the 10th anniversary of the Tampa Bay Rays up tempo slogan “Heart and Hustle” that signified and branded a Rays squad consisting of a hodge podge of vets and rookies who meshed together to play a energized style of Rays baseball. Sounds kind of familiar?

That same highly energized and enthusiastic slogan could easily be stamped upon this 2011 Rays squad. Truly it is the essence of this team’s “ fire in the belly “heart and “never say die” hustle that has lead this ball club from the April darkness of the American League East cellar to them gaining momentum, slowly escalating onward and upward towards a 6-game shootout with the slumping Boston Red Sox and surging Los Angeles Angels for the potential AL Wild Card post season prize.

Even 10 years later, heart and hustle still seem to be firmly within the foundation and backbone of the Rays team culture. From the extreme performance last night from their youngest player on their roster RP/SP Matt Moore to a their oldest “young at heart” performer OF/DH Johnny Damon who only has to look at his ring fingers to visually show he can help lead this young maturing band of baseball brothers to that last glorious plateau in late October.

 I mean how can you root against a team where Damon, who was born in 1973 is still grinding out extra base hits and stealing bases like rookie sensation Desmond Jennings. Just because Damon is adding nightly to his future Hall of Fame resume, the pure magic he sees within this team is not lost on him that the Rays have the drive and confidence to take this thing to its final destination, then party like rock stars.

Even the Rays usual whipping boy B J Upton has pushed his numbers high and higher as the number of games diminish, possibly knowing within his mind this might be his last chance at post season glory with this Rays club before the Winter could dish out a harsh reality to him and the Rays Republic. Right now Upton is playing like a man possessed, or who knows the window of opportunity is beginning to be shut.

Do not get me started on this Rays rotation where from top to bottom we have seen 10+ wins by each starter, and had glimpses of magic from often maligned SP Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann. We have seen Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson get a secondary nickname just for 2011, “HellROY” as he burns towards the finish line.

Even the Rays rookies are set to make a little history of their own as Jennings needs only 2 stolen bases over the next 6 games to become the first AL rookie with 10 HR and 20 SB since the Rays own Rocco Baldelli and Kansas City’s Angel Berroa set the mark in 2003. Hellickson has a .290 ERA and a .208 opponent average, the fifth best rookie performance…ever.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s mantra of “pitching sets the tone” has definitely sparked some beautiful music from his hurlers as the Rays collectively have held the American League to a .236 average. The last AL team to post such numbers was the 2001 Mariners who had the same .236 average. Oh, and by the way, that Mariners club made the playoffs. Rays starters have gone 7+ innings 77 times, 21 times more than the second closest squad, their AL East rivals the New York Yankees.

Amazing enough, this Rays pitching staff has thrown 1,024.1 innings (most in AL) and leads the AL with a 3.51 ERA, 15 complete games and has allowed an AL-low 593 runs. All this by a staff that has seen all 156 prior 2011 Rays game started by pitchers drafted and developed by the Rays, the only team in the majors this season who can boast that claim. Plus, they are riding a 758 consecutive streak of starters under the age of 30…an MLB record.

Along with their upward trend in pitching, the Rays have solidified their overall defense to the tone that the Rays have committed the least errors in the Majors (69), and their combined .988 Fielding Percentage is tied with NL powerhouse Philadelphia for the top slot in the MLB. Talk about “hustle”, this Rays team has committed only 4 errors in their last 17 games, and only 17 in their past 53 contests.

If ever there was a Rays team that demonstrated that mantra of “Heart and Hustle”, it is this 2011 squad. This Rays squad was 9 games out of playoff contention on September 2, 2011. No other team in MLB history has overcome that many games in September to get into the post season. The closest comparison would be the St. Louis Cardinals (who trained in St. Petersburg, Fl) who were in 3rd place and trailed the Philadelphia Phillies by 8.5 games on September 3, 1964.

History is definitely on the Rays side right now as the Rays have already secured their 4th straight 10 win seasonal series against tonight’s foe, the Toronto Blue Jays, the most against any Rays opponent. The Rays are also a combined 25-8 against the pesky bird in Tropicana Field over that same time period. Also working into the Rays favor is their lifetime 6-4 record against the Yankees in the last series of the season, including a dismal 1-2 mark in 1999.

Since 2001, the Rays have beaten New York by a 5-2 mark during the last series of the season at Tropicana Field. This 2011 squad has a chance to possibly duplicate some more late season angst upon the 2011 AL East Champion Yankee just as they did back in 2001 when the Yankees won the AL East and the Rays beat them 3 out of 4 games heading into the post season

The Rays past “Heart and Hustle” campaign centered on their rising stars and a few veterans getting their last swings at glory. Maybe we should collectively called this Rays prospect of the Rays 2011 Renaissance and possibly Rays history repeating itself, “Heart and Hustle Redux”. I think it fits perfectly like a glove.

We Want Moore Cowbell!

Hmmmmm, I think this scene feels vaguely familiar to me. Southpaw is promoted to “The Show” for the first time in his career just as his new team is beginning to encircle a post season bid. Energy around his promotion is high as he meets the club on a road trip, destined to be a part of a struggling Bullpen unit. Man, I swear I have heard and seen this same set of parameters played out before and I guess Yogi Berra was right….”It’s Deja Vu all over again”…Rays style.

The atmosphere within Tropicana Field after the completion of the sweep of the Boston Red Sox was simply electric and definitely had that same intensity and vibration of that “Magical Season of Baseball” back in 2008. So maybe it was a bit apropos that the Tampa Bay Rays front office nod their heads like the “Butabi brothers” in approval to bringing up uber prospect pitcher Matt Moore.

It is eerily reminiscent to a similar move the Rays made back in 2008 when they brought up another really talented and confident southpaw who also had 3 MLB quality pitches in his arsenal. You might remember this young phenom better now as @DAVIDprice14 via his ever expanding Twitterverse following. Seems like the right time to give Moore a taste of the MLB lifestyle with a side order of adrenaline and excitement of a post season run that is about to kick into overdrive.

Price will be the first person to respond that his time in the Rays Bullpen during the post season adventures of the Rays solidified his drive and determination to become a front line administrator of Rays karma to teams wanting to pop the Rays off their path to a potential post season journey. Even better for Moore right now is the fact the always friendly and open Price is there for Moore to pick his brain, help him adjust and secure his name in Rays lore just as Price did 3 years earlier.

Back in 2008 Price came up and solidified a Rays Bullpen that was not in total crisis, but had more than a few people worried about their back-end potential. With the recent injury concerns and temporary shutdown of de-facto closer Kyle Farnsworth, Moore could help seal the expanding gaping wound a bit, possibly even getting a chance to duplicate Price’s own historic moments in the future.

Right now though the key will be to get Moore acclimated to the pace of the MLB game that is extremely elevated from his previous Double-A and Triple-A outings. Guys at this level expect to see knee-bending breaking stuff being tossed around daily, and may try and feast upon the young Rays pitcher. But Moore has shown a great aptitude for changing his game plan and modifying his arsenal in the past, it will just have to be done on-the-fly right now.

I truly expect to see Moore tested in the MLB fires in this Baltimore series as a member of the Rays Bullpen. Possibly in a early 7th inning outing to give him a taste of what will be in store for him soon in the hostile Boston surroundings, or as the Rays move towards the end of their season with their usual last romp through the AL East foes jungle.

Moore will be pushed, he will be mentally challenged and maybe even find early success if he keeps his emotions and mind in check. Reminds you of another southpaw who not only found success, but gained a reputation for toughness, reliability and eventually became the ace of a young and budding staff. Moore might not be Price, but isn’t it great he has the “example” sitting right next to him cheering his name in support all the way. I can see the signs now adorning the Trop on the last home stand, “WE Want Moore Cowbell !”.


Did Shields Throw his Last Pitch for the Rays?

 

 

Sometimes we have to do things we do not like in life. Sometimes the idealisms and good things we have collectively done in our lives really do only amount to a hill of beans. With baseball becoming more of a business and streamlined industry every season, sometimes even the good guys can lose out because of one inconsistent season. There is one member of the Tampa Bay Rays who might have a interesting Winter, and possibly be venturing into another clubhouse this Spring.


We are not talking about Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, or even Joaquin Benoit. Even though he is a pitcher, his worth to this Rays team can be measured in many variations, but also his 2010 statistics show a decline not witnessed before in his short Rays career. With talent like Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson and the rest of the Rays farmhands knocking at the Rays backdoor, James Shields might find himself the odd man out by the end of the Winter.

This is the time you start to hoist up a starter like Shields and see who take long glances or inquires deeply on his tenure with the Rays. This is the time you take small meetings and discuss the future without or without the Rays Opening Day starter for the last three seasons. Just because you were a vital cog on Opening Day three years straight doesn’t mean you are invincible or “off limits”. Rays team tenure doesn’t really mean that much on this young squad, it only means you have been here a while.

 

It doesn’t matter in the long run that Shields was the 2009 and 2010 Roberto Clemente recipient for the Rays, or that you designed your own T-shirt as a Rays fan giveaway. It doesn’t matter that you are the oldest member of one of the youngest rotations in the Major Leagues. In the end it just comes down to if you still have enough value to possible get the Rays some of the pieces needed to formulate another winning line-up or Bullpen.


Shields has the past stats and the veteran leadership to command a good piece from a competitor in return for his services, and being signed already to a pretty low cost contract considering his experience, his value will ultimately be set by the top tier veterans who hit the Free Agent market. But with the earmarking of Shields even being considered as trade bait comes the reality that he might also be viewed as a questionable commodity considering his uncharacteristic sub par 2010 season.

Simply put, could Shields have already peaked as a pitcher and we are suddenly seeing his decent from the top tier of pitchers, or is he just not making adequate adjustments during the game that have seen his seasonal ERA climb from 3.56 in 2008 to balloon towards a 5.18 ERA fort his season. No one will question the heart of Shields as he ventured past the 200+ inning mark for the fourth straight season, but could it have come with a cost this season for Shields. Could his pitches have finally been charted and projected so well that now they seem routine or forced to the plate?

977.2 innings over a career is an incredible feat that so many other MLB quality pitchers’ wish they could count on their resume’. Combine that with a franchise high 56 victories and winning the Rays only World Series game, plus an added distinction of winning the Rays first playoff game (2008 ALDS Game 1), and you get a resume’ few can argue with around the Major Leagues. But even with those lofty accomplishments firmly within his grasp. Shields has also has some moment in 2010 that we all wish we could somehow forget.

What Rays Republic member can forget that Shields, as the eldest member at 28 in the Rays rotation gave us a few times where we all openly gasped at his lack of control at critical times this season. Currently Shield sis riding a 5-game losing streak all the way back to his September 4th loss in Baltimore 8-4 to the Orioles. Lost among that losing streak is the positives that Shield’s 853 innings pitched since 2007 is the 3rd most in the American League behind only starters’ Mariners Felix Hernandez (879.1) and Tigers Justin Verlander (867.0).

Even though Shields only missed the Rays strikeout lead by one single K to fellow starter David Price in 2010, Shields had 5 games of 10 or more strikeouts this season, a career high. Shields strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.67 was the fourth best in the American League , but punctuated hard on his record was his 15 total losses, which also was a career high. Accenting this downward trend further is the fact Shields gave up 34 Home Runs, first in the American League and led the Major Leagues 128 runs allowed and 117 earned runs allowed while surrendering 246 hits, which tied him for the MLB lead with Chicago pitcher Mark Buehrle.

And odd point to Shield’s rollercoaster 2010 season, he was on the hill as the Rays starter for Oakland Athletic starter Dallas Braden’s perfect game on May 9th in Oakland, California. Shields last victory was August 29,2010 in Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Combine that with the fact Shields only logged 7-plus innings twice in his final 18 starts and you see a reason to wonder about the once solid Rays stalwart.

The last time Shield threw for 7-plus innings was his start against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field when he went exactly 7 innings and picked up the win in the Rays 8-6 victory. Shields left that contest with a 7-3 lead. For some reason Shields has gotten more predictable on the mound for the Rays. His change-up is still his mystery pitch, but with him starting to overload his throwing of it in key situations, hitters are beginning to adjust and wait on the slower pitch.

Even in fastball counts Shields has been relying more on his change-up to get him an advantage, but has instead just gotten a fresh ball from the Home Plate Umpire. Because of this, it makes Shields expendable for the first time in his MLB career. Even with one of the best change-ups in the Majors, Shields might have to re-evaluate the pitch in the off season and tweak it a bit to bring himself back to game form for 2011.

With his team friendly contract of several one-year options ( $ 4.25 million in 2011) there is the flexibility for another team to try Shields on for size without a long term commitment. With the Rays also seeing two of their other starters begin to reach past the million dollar mark in salary in 2011, it makes him more expendable because of salary than for his 6 Home Runs allowed to the Toronto Blue Jays in 4 innings of work back on August 7,2010. Funnier still is that Shields only gave up one more Home Run in his other 6 starts in August.

Maybe it is time the Rays break their ties with one of their senior members of their pitching staff. Possibly a change in scenery will do wonders to Shields refining his crispness on his pitches and finding another team that will value his devouring of innings. Right now With Hellickson and possibly Matt Moore sitting at the Rays backdoor looking for a spot and a chance to perform at this level, it puts a target squarely between Shields shoulder blades.

 

Suddenly it will be more about future potential than past accolades for Shields. More on the focus of the Rays upcoming 2011 business model than on his T-shirt endeavors. It will center squarely on whether it is time to cut ties with Shields, or try and ride his coattails for one last time hoping for a meteoric rise rather than a star fizzling out.


Shields is still a valued commodity around Major League Baseball that needs to be dealt to induce Rays farm talent a honest chance to rise to his once great level. It might just come down to the black and white on the page instead of the color and personality Shields brings to the Rays. Possibly we saw Shields exit his last Rays game during the ALCS never to wear the Rays sunburst again

Rays Minor League Awards 2008

 

 

I know it has been a few weeks since the team announced their award winners for the Minor Leagues during the last homestand. I was actually saving this for one of the off days of the ALDS, but I never got around to posting the results before today. So I apologize for the late posting of all the winners, and hope to find a few picture of them online to supplement the winners names.

 

In the recent years, the Rays have established and upgraded their presence in the Dominican Republic and in Venezulan Winter Leagues. These outposts will be a far reaching arm of the Rays instructional and scouting mission into the baseball rich countries of Venezula and the Dominican Republic.

 

Dominican Player of the Year                                Cesar Guillen

Dominican Pitcher of the Year                               Juan Wilsino

 

Venezulian  Player of the Year                               Alejandro Torres

Venezulian Pitcher of the Year                              Devivis Manares

 

The Appalachcian League  Princeton Devil Rays ended their season  at 24-38 this year. The team is the first step for players to get a feel for the rigors and the responsibilities of playing professional baseball. The team is a great first stepping stone in the Rays organization at the Short Season level.

 

 

Princeton Player of the Year                                      Elias Ostero

Osteros lead  Princeton in hitting with a .332 average.

 

Princeton Pitcher of the Year                                    Matt Moore

Moore had 1.66 ERA and 77 strikeouts for Princeton this season.

 

 

The Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York-Penn League is a short season Class-A stop for the Tampa Bay Rays. The team ended their season 9 games back of the Staten Island Yankees in their division. But the Renegade are expecting big things in 2009 with their strong finish to the 2008 season.

 

Hudson Valley Player of the Year                         Kyeong Kang

Kang split time between left and rightfield in 2008 for the Renegades, and hit .279, with 15 doubles and 7 triples on the year.

 

Hudson Valley Pitcher of the Year                       Nick Barnese

Barnese appeared in 13 games this season , going 5-3 for the team. He also had 2.45 ERA, and struck out 84 batters in 66 innings, and allowed only 1 home run this season.

 

This is the last season in Columbus for the Catfish. They will be relocating to Bowling Green, Kentucky for the 2009 season.  The Catfish finished their last season in the Southern Atlantic League with a record of 40-26, and finished 5.5 game out in the Southern Division. Columbus is a lo Class-A destination for the Rays minor league players.

 

Columbus Player of the Year                                      Reid Fronk

Fronk hit .287 , with 29 doubles and 17 homers for the Catfish. Fronk also had 83 RBI’s and 74 walks to lead the Southern Athletic League.

 

Columbus Pitcher of the Year                                   Jesse Darcy

Darcy threw 133 innings for the Catfish, and was 7th in the league in with a 3.05 ERA. He alsotied for 3rd in the league in WHIP at 1.05.

 

The Vero Beach Devil Rays will also be moving in 2009. Theyw ill move to the Tampa Bay Rays’ new Spring Training home in Port Charlotte and will be under run mutually between the Rays and the Cal Ripken baseball group. The name of the team has not been decided at this time. This team is a high Class-A farm team for the Rays. Vero Beach ended up at the bottom of the Florida State League’s Eastern Division with a 20-46 record for 2008.

 

Vero Beach Player of the Year                                  Ryan Royster

Royster ended up with a .265 average for the D-Rays, and 58 RBI for the season.

 

Vero Beach Pitcher of the Year                               Jeremy Hellickson

This is Hellickson’s 2nd award as the Minor League pitcher of the Year for a team in the Rays minor leagues. Hellickson  went 7-1, with a 2.00 ERA. He also had 83 strikeouts and a .90 WHIP for the Devil Rays.

 

The Montgomery Biscuits were the Southern Leagues Champs in 2006 and 2007. The Biscuite were eliminated from the post season  byt eh West Tenn, Diamond Jaxxs. The Biscuite are the Class-AA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished their season 2nd in the South Division with a 35-33 record for the year. 

 

Montgomery Player of the Year                                 Chris Nowak

Nowak lead the Biscuite with a .295 average, with 80 runs and 35 doubles on the year. He also had 15 homers and 77 RBI’s for the Biscuits.

 

Montgomery Pitcher of the Year                               Wade Davis

Davis had a record of 9-6 , with 107.1 inning pitched for the Biscuits. He also had  81 strikeouts and  3.85 ERA for Montgomery before being promoted to Triple-AAA.

 

The Durham Bulls won the Southern Division title with a 74-70 record and made it to the International League’s Governor’s Cup final before losing to  the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees. The Bulls are the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

Durham Player of the Year                                          Dan Johnson

Johnson hit for a .307 average to rank 6th in the International League. He also had 25 home runs and 83 RBI’s on the year. Johnson also lead the International League in walks with 84 this season.

 

Durham Pitcher of the Year                                       Mitch Talbot

Talbot ended up with a 13-9, with a 3.86 ERA for the Bulls. Talbot was 4th in the league with 141 strikeouts and had a 1.24 WHIP.

 

The Rays Minor League  players of the year was really no suprise to the Rays faithful in the stands that day. Both of these players had remarkable years in which they made huge strides to make impressions on the Tampa Bay Rays Coaching staff.

 

Minor League Pitcher of the Year                            David Price

Price was selected by Baseball America as the Mnior League Pitcher of the Year before the event at Tropicana Field. Price went from Class-A Vero Beach through the Rays Minor League system to become a September call-up for the Rays after Durham was eliminated from the International League playoffs.

 

Minor League Player of the Year                            Fernando Perez

From the first day Perez took the field at Tropicana Field for the Rays he has done nothing but impress the Coaching staff and might have made a good reflection to get a long look in the outfield for the Rays in 2009. Perez hit .288, with 107 hits at Durham this year. He also was 3rd in the International League with 43 stolen bases this year. He has been considered the fastest man in the minors by Baseball America.

 

The final award of the night is the Erik Walker Community Champion Award. the award is given to the Rays’ minor leaguer who shows teamwork,sportsmanship and communit involvement. The award was created in honr of Erik Walker who perished in a canoe accident in October 2006. 

 

Erik Walker Community Champion Award                  Matt Springs

 

Springs was a catcher with the Montgomery Biscuits in 2008, and is heavily involved in the Montgomery community. He is volunteer in the Alabama Summer Reading Program at the Community Center in Prattville, Ala.  He was also involved in the Biscuits’ Junior Press conference twice this season letting school age kids 10-13 get a chance to ask questions and write a story about the Biscuits and Springs’ during the year.

 

 

 

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