Results tagged ‘ Pat Burrell ’

Credible Blogging begins with Leg Work

 

I remember back during my Mass Communication class in High School when my school newspaper advisor told us during a class lecture that at some time in our writing future, the subject of naming or not naming your “sources” for stories would turn our journalistic integrity into a slippery slope towards the negative, and the background work of our judgments to name or not name a source would play directly on our credibility as writers. Journalist have gone to prison and even been banished as if they had the Black Plague for misinformation and dishonesty in their writings.

And that simple premise of “watching your back” seems to make a lot of sense in today’s fast paced, electronic world of libel and slander where even a tongue-in-cheek reference can land you deep within a mountain of litigation, and then quickly, you and your writing integrity  could be sent sliding down the dark side like a mudslide even if you are totally right. Because that is essence of the culture today.  Injury someone emotionally or physically and some of the first words out of the mouth of the general public is “I will sue you!”. 

So dotting your “i’s” and crossing your “t’s” takes on a bigger role in the 5-second media world we have today. This weekend I was reading a very sordid and tangled web of “sources” and “unnamed sources” in a small series of blog postings by the New York Baseball Digest blog posting by Mike Silva. And while I was reading this account out of the New York area, that class discussion over 32 years ago  about sources came quickly to mind.

I was brought up on the old A P style book of journalism. Heck, back then it was the bible every Evening Independent Sports Correspondent and staffers used as a foundation for our story stylings.  And it suddenly came to my mind the old teaching of where if you make a statement associated with a source without credible sources or information, your stories foundation might crumble and not withstand a storm of controversy. 

One of the first thing I remember being taught was the fact that when you name sources or people with knowledge of an event, it is in your best interest to have two solid forms of evidence or information before even quoting one of them in your story. The reasoning for this method is to give your information a solid foundation so if you are questioned or receive a nice little legal writ, you have a secondary source that adds to your credibility on the subject matter.

Accuracy and credibility are the two of the founding cornerstones of retaining a loyal band of readers online. If they can get a sense of trusting your writings as the truth, then you gain readers and hopefully more web views of your postings. And maybe that is why it is so upsetting when I see a blog with half-baked writing principles and mis-guided information you know are half-truths at best.

Most of this simple misguided energy can be corrected with a simple credible source for your information. Some guy named “Joe Schmoe” who tended bar in such and such a club and overheard a conversation by player “A” and “B” about an event or something in regards to the Rays is considered “hearsay” at best unless you have a second person who heard or saw the same event.


RRCollections   Joe Nelson2009


An great example of the right way to document and solidify your sources was with the rumor I heard from a Rays player about the Tampa Bay Rays using their old 1998-99 Devilrays multi-colored logo jerseys during the Sunday July 12th afternoon game against the Oakland Athletics. I first heard a hint of this rumor back in late May 2009 by a player after a game, and I decided to dig a bit deeper into it before bringing it out into the light. Just because I now had one source doesn’t make the rumor a “truth” yet.

I first got a confirmation from a member of the Rays  field staff and another player as an additional source, but decided it might not be good to use them as my source. I do not like to use players as sources of information because they could decide to “clam up” and I might not ever hear another good morsel of information to track down. So I contacted someone within the Rays front office who deals directly with marketing and promotions and asked them to simply confirm or deny the spreading rumor. As soon as he  got back to me, that rumor quickly transformed into a fact, and I posted a Tweet about the upcoming event.


RRCollections

And because I had more than two sources to verify the possibility of the old “Rainbow Devilrays” uniforms were going to make an appearance again in that July contest. This in-depth  fact checking into the rumor gave me credibility about the event. And that is the one thing most people forget when they write online. Sure I can say almost anything about anyone on the team and maybe no one will call BS on me, but that is not the issue. Staying within the truths and admonishing the lies is the job of publications like the National Enquirer or Star Magazine, not the general blogging public.

If NYBD want to idolize those publications and style themselves in that realm of journalism, then go for it. But they have to be reminded that there are hundreds of websites like that all jockeying for the same morsels of media fodder. With every slight of hand missed fact and negative comment posted, the negative mountain is building around them. I know I would rather be the guy who will give his honest opinion and facts about an event, and I do shy from some of the “hot topic” stories around the league at time because I do not want to be 1 of the 2,000 people writing about the same thing day in, and day out.

We hear almost daily about some blogger somewhere who has given “fake” or mis-guided information and it in turn tends to affect all of our credibilities. But that doesn’t mean the “mainstream media” always follows the Golden Rule either. With the advent of sites like Twitter and the other social networks, fans can get  a snippet of information in the flash of a camera bulb and minutes before the “paid” media.

And that can be a slap in their faces at times. I posted a Twitpic of Pat Burrell’s new 70′s butch mustache during the 2009 season and also few “first” pictures of new Rays reliever, Jeff Bennett before the local media even reported it online. Here I am an unpaid and unsolicited fan got the scoop.


RRCollections

NYBD  made some critical errors when they did not get secondary sources checks on their quotes and information before posting it. Sometimes it is difficult to get that information, but if you can not prove it is 100
% true
, then it is a rumor. Blogs take a beating every day from the Media sources throughout the country as being slanderous and libel within an inch of their collective lives. For us to gain the credibility and the trust of the readers, we sometimes have to take it a notch above and sweat a little more for our information.
Anyone can write a rumor.

Anyone can create a mis-truth and start to perpetuate a lie. But if you really want to be known for your writings, do the leg work, strain the eyes to see beyond the words and ask the simple questions. Some times, the answers you get from a source can make your day. Other times it can disappoint and frustrate you. But every once in a while you get a tasty morsel and you do the work and build it into a credible masterpiece and then you can bask in the limelight and know you did it right……..the first time.

Burrell/Bradley bring back 80′s Deja Vu

 


RRCollections

I am starting to understand the slick marketing mojo of the record companies back in 80′s that had big time players like MTV and FM radio pounding  musical nightmare tunes into our heads over and over again until we all collectively began to hum them or yearn for their stupid lyrics. And maybe their videos were childish and repetitive, but for some odd reason they became one within the bubbling melting pot between our ears.

It was this sly ploy of marketing that made songs like “Safety Dance” a hit so long time ago. And I think that now Major League Baseball teams have begun a revival by borrowing a page from this ancient formula to make all of us see the light during the 2009 “Hot Stove” season. The 80′s seductive music/video mind warp is alive and well in the Winter of 2009.

And it is now using player’s names instead of music to constantly blitzing their persona’s over and over again to form a numbing effect on our brains so we accept their names with subtle refusal instead of stages and fits of outrage over the idea of them joining the ranks of our teams.

And this mojo from the past is beginning to work it magic on me. The Pat Burrell/Milton Bradley song and dance involving the Tampa Bay Rays and the Chicago Cubs is beginning to play upon my “Achy, Braky Heart”. The wild possibility that either player could possibly be walking into the other’s locker room on the first day of Spring Training( Feb 19th) as a new “breathe of fresh air” instead of a possible ticking time bomb is starting to melt my brain cells. 

The  media scribblings and poetic bloggers’ paragraphs are beginning to show the possible merits of both players getting a chance to again  be reborn upon the other roster and that they can regain some form of normalcy to their careers. It is starting to eat at the hardened enamel of my sensitive side the same way that tune by Men Without Hats burrowed into my mind and became a upbeat tune on my running Ipod. 

We have all heard  by now the negative muses and raves from Bradley about the (alleged)racist Cub fans near his post in rightfield along with his interpretation for his misguided “outs” toss into the stands of a game baseball.  And loud is the volume of the grunts and grumbles from his Cub teammates that he is no longer a welcomed sight in their presence. Some of this might be adulterated  “he said, she said” hearsay, and a perfect example of negative media fodder used to get a high dollar athlete out of a team’s hairs.

 And we all know that once a bridge is burned, it takes more than one person to rebuild any trust and confidence in both sides working together again. And personally, Bradley sent that bridge up ablaze with deadly flammables and is still sitting there silent.

But that type of flammable bridge occurrence has not been burned completely yet by Burrell in Tampa Bay. But his mis-timed  calling out of B J Upton near the end of the 2009 season in the Rays locker room did start the seeds of some clubhouse separation and alienation. But it is not at that critical emergency stage yet, and that might be a good thing, because if the bridge is not burned, then minds can still be open to change.

And the atmosphere within the Rays organization is still conducive to change, and a possible moving of Burrell is not mitigated by urgency, but more by the insistence of  upgrading personnel in his current position with a player the Rays were excited about before he originally signed with the Chicago Cubs.

But as we have seen in the Rays past,the minute a situation looks to become overly dramatic, changes come fast and furious. And as the varied opinions come forward about the lack of productivity from Burrell to possibly becoming a liability to Rays offense,the time might be perfect for a move. This is nothing personal towards the soft-spoken Burrell, but we needed a fire and energy like Bradley in 2009 instead of hearing Elvis’s farts boom louder than your veteran voice.

And with all of the recent sensory pounding of both names on websites and in blogs in recent days doesn’t it seem like the teams themselves are trying to convince themselves without a doubt at the same time that this is a good move? Rays Manager Joe Maddon think he can be a calming and intelligent “X” factor with the soothing rebirth of the combustive Bradley as a Ray.
 

Of course the Rays never outwardly discuss trades before they are completed, which in this case might be a disadvantage. But the fact that Bradley was highly regarded by the Rays last season might be a perfect appetizer for the Rays to become hungry for Bradley. We all know the two teams have loosely talked and maybe even traded a few parameters towards a deal, but as of right now…it is all just humming and waiting for the next sound byte.

The more and more the fact that this  expected trade is a good thing is being drummed into my mind by words and sound bytes,the more I want to take a step back. Because one of the biggest drawbacks to that 80′s marketing folly was that it created more and more baggage. Cassettes, DVD’s and even records still litter my belongings from those tunes that melted within my brain. And the one thing this Rays team doesn’t need is a change of  players  that produce an even larger set of baggage.

So I guess in the long run, if they can really convince me that Bradley is not more personally like the song “Maniac” and is more like The Little River Band’s “Cool Change”, then maybe there is a place for him in Tampa Bay. Heck maybe I  the trade does get to the finish line I can gather a small collection of the Rays Republic and we all hit the attics for our “Miami Vice” Sonny Crockett white suits and hot pastel-colored t-shirts and meet Bradley at the Tampa International Airport hotel bar for a drink with an umbrella in it while the  old guy at the piano plays the “Pina Colada” song and hope that the 80′s do not come back and bite us in the booty again. (sigh)  

Trade Rumors Already circling the Rays

 


Brian Blanco / AP

I really did not anticipate having to judge,investigate or even remotely consider any possible Tampa Bay Rays trade rumors until at least the dense cloud of dust settles after the end of this season. But a few shallow whispers have begun their funneling effects into  that increasing in sound funnel to produce some media-based thunderous voices screaming among the MLB masses. The exploding thought turbulence has produced such a level of bravado from these so-called “expert voices”  that the Rays are deaf right now from being in the cross hairs right now.

And that is the comedic part of all of this right now. With the season still running, I doubt Rays President Matt Silverman, or even Boy Genius Andrew Friedman have even remotely consider the thought of the possibility of any salary of roster changes before the beginning of the Hot Stove season. I mean the firepower prognosticators usually wait until after the World Series to spew the fire and brimstone that player “A” and player “B” might need to have a Realtor on speed dial.

And there has been one rumor trying to grow legs and walk on its own. The  jumbled facts and  increasing rumors surrounding this player have made him the new “it-guy” for the upcoming postseason. And the hot news has been circulating hard and heavy around the Tampa Bay area recently, and this rumor needs to be shot down and destroyed now before it truly becomes an animal amongst the usual chatter in the stadium during our upcoming season ending home stand.

Because if this constantly revolving rumors becomes truth without a great bit of clarity by either party, it could destroy three years work by the Rays front office to bring this collective talent pool to mesh as one. Just like that simple Baby Ruth candy bar in the pool in Caddyshack, sometimes the publics  narrow perception of something can cause chaos when it is simply our own minds running rampant. And do we need a symbol of  the illness “Me-dom” within the Rays clubhouse? We have already seen what a mouthpiece and constant attention hound like Keyshawn Johnson could do to a football team, do we really need a baseball example of that on the Rays?

And this gentleman has been heavily debated pros and cons in the  hallowed Sports programs so heavily lately it might be a sin if he is not mentioned to be headed to Tampa Bay,San Diego, or even in the refined halls of your MLB team. Milton Bradley has done some incredible things with his wooden bat in his career. He was such a terror to American League pitching in 2008 as a member of the Texas Rangers, but that was then, this is now. 

And yes, the Rays did chat and discuss the open DH position on this very 2009 team with him. Who really knows just how close that negotiation actually got before he decided to take the multi-millions laying in front of him on the table in Chi-town. But, the Rays can say with great wisdom that they avoided a PR hurricane of category 5 velocity by passing on him. Imagine the hailstorm of comments and signs if he tried to consider our Rightfield to be “racist” and prejudiced against his abilities and opinions. I shudder to think what vocals and signage would be rained down upon him nightly.

I guess you would not get that rainstorm of commentary if you did not  produce bonehead plays like throwing the baseball up into the Rightfield crowd during a game after only TWO outs. But that is another issue entirely. And the fact that these rumors are catching fire in Chicago of all towns is amazing to me. But the fact that the Chicago Cubs, even after an apology by Mr. Bradley will do everything within their powers to rid their franchise of this guy tells you he has overstayed his welcome amongst the ivy walls.

And the Cubs new management has already awoken to the facts they might have to eat an enormous chunk of Bradley’s 2010 salary, with no dressing, to even get  a team to  begin discussions on him. And wasn’t it nice of Bradley to saddle the new owners of the Cubs  as their first order of business after the season to be the expulsion of Bradley out of Wrigley Field. They finally get control of the team, and they have to deal with an out-of-control manipulator of the system………Irony in its simplest form.

And Bradley himself might be the trigger point to several deals considered outside of Chi-town. Names around the league might not even be mentioned until the baseball world knows the destination of the newest spoiled child of baseball. Could Bradley be the link piece for the second year in a row to the final destinations and possibilities for players this off season? And is he really that good to take such  great bargaining power away from some of the games power hitters?


Brule Laker @Flickr.com

Well, the ways the Rays have wandered into this puzzle is based on a rumor that they might consider a straight swapping of Pat Burrell for Bradley, with the Cubs maybe picking up most of MB’s 2010 salary. On paper, that could look really appealing to a team that could shed a $9 million contract and get a player for basically FREE in 2010.  It could free up revenues to maybe get a closer or some solid Bullpen help for the coming season, but do all of the possible negatives still outweigh the positives in this deal? Sure they can both hit, and they both might be in the wrong league right now, but does a swap like this really make sense? Or even have any serious foundation to even begin a dialog?

I am of the mindset that Burrell is a “National League” guy, with a swing that is adapted to the Senior Circuit. He has looked like a fish out of water this season, and if we can unload, I mean, get him back into familiar grounds, then he can strive again at the plate. Now I have not given up on “The Bat”, just think that he might be a perfect fit for the MLB player relocation program. But would sending the mild-mannered Burrell, who only caused one trickle in the wading pool with a guy who would be constantly doing Cannonballs and Preacher’s Seats into the shallow end of the pool be worth the risk? 

And if we did consider it, would their be an adapted clause added to Bradley’s contract that envisions penalties and possible financial slaps in the booty if he becomes a destructive force with the Rays? You would have to think that such a provision would have to be in place within the confines of Bradley’s contract before the Rays would even pick up the phone a second time. Friedman has always made it a policy to not discuss any trade possibilities or even the remote chance that the Cubs have already started a discussion towards unloading Bradley.

But you hope that in this once instance, if the Rays are considering a guy like Bradley we might at least get a “press warning shot” fired by Friedman over the Rays bow. I know players can change, and sometimes a change of scenery can be a boost to morale and production, but does it all equal a discussion, or is this more wind just gusting through our sails at a time when we are feeling low about our season? Consider this Rays fans, this team has divorced itself repeatedly from association with negative-based personalities before, and they have the mindset that a negative force can destroy a positive move in a heartbeat.


Zcreative@Flickr.com

So is a Bradley for Burrell trade even remotely possible if you  do not take the following into consideration. Would the Rays be a better team with Bradley in their line-up?  Can he be the force behind either Carlos Pena or Evan Longoria that will make AL pitching staffs throw to them instead of trying to work around them? The honest answer is Burrell right now is not feared by any staff. Sure there have been smatterings of great games and an occasional long boom boom, but they have not shown any consistent pace or motion, and that is counter productive to trying to keep pitching staff honest with the Rays line-up. Some day I think we should send up Burrell’s bulldog Elvis to the plate, at least he might run out there and bite a few ankles.

If you are seeking a huge bat with power, then you might have to stick with Burrell and take your chances he rebounds in 2010. Since 2000, Bradley has only hit 115 home runs. In comparison, Burrell has done almost that in less than 4 years.  And the fact that Burrell has only been on two teams, but Bradley, if added to the Rays roster, would be on his 8th team in 10 years.  I see a huge red flag flying on that situation.

People point to Bradley’s two straight seasons of over .900 in OPS as an i
ndicator of his increasing power and ability to get the job done, but in reality, they seem like a smokescreen to me. Sure in 2008 Bradley had his best season as a professional, but he also had a line-up that dictated he had to be pitched to, with sluggers like Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and a slugger-in-training Ian Kinsler in the Rangers line-ups. Pitching staffs had to pick their poison, and he might have been the least likely to hit a grand slam or winning run.

So the basis of any talk about a trade of these two players might have to be rooted in if the Rays want to truly dump Burrell and are willing to “rent” Bradley  for at least 6 months. You can easily see Bradley dealt at the Trading Deadline at the end of July 2010 no matter if he is the second coming, or becomes dead weight in the Rays line-up. If you had to push me into the “big chair” for the day and consider this option for the Rays, I would immediately delete any Emails and put the phone on “ignore” for any calls from the Cubbies. Burrell might have been a pain in the booty for the Rays Republic in 2009, but he has a higher threshold of possibilities for 2010.


Chris O’Meara / AP

If the Rays even did decide to consider Bradley, will they need a psychiatrist or sports psychologist on-call for him? Or maybe we can send him to one of those leadership camps that the Japanese executives go to like in the movie Gung Ho.  So with all the turmoil and the stress that Bradley could produce on the opposition, just how much might actually be turned back onto the fans and the team during down times? This looks to me like a total lose-lose scenario, and the Rays like betting on sure things more than projects. So I am going to hit that special “Mute” button within myself right now and not even consider any more rumors or even revolving chatter about these two players. Burrell is a Rays, Bradley is not, and hopefully we will never see him in a “21″ jersey for this team. not matter what the cost….period!

I am Glad the Rays passed on the Milton Bradley Game

 

When the news hit the Internet sites that the Chicago Cubs had seen enough of the explosive verbal game playing by Milton Bradley, the disgruntled outfielder, not the gamesman, the beseiged franchise actually was giving the Tampa Bay Rays a bold High five of confidence without even knowing it. Think about this for a moment, Bradley had come into Tampa Bay  several times during the 2008 off season looking for a deal to DH for this team, and the Rays at some point, might have been heavily salivating before turning their sights towards a more calm scenario by selecting ex-Phillie Pat Burrell.

In what was considered a huge signing for the Cubs for 3-years and $30 million, might have actually been a push-to-the-side by the Rays because of something their top brass,scouts, West Indies voodoo doctors or even their psychic friends network connections might have witnessed in the aging and sometimes volcanic Bradley.  I can now say without a hint of remorse, this non-signing might be the biggest vote of fan confidence I can give the Rays front office since Stu and the crew have taken over. It was a  visual dismissal of maybe again going through the notions of purging team demons and  shows they want to utterly dismiss all things negative to their brand of baseball.

Bradley unfortunately  would have come to the Rays with a van full of baggage, and maybe the Rays saw beyond the unfield contributions to the possible PR disaster that prevailed amongst the assembled stacks of steamer trunks and carry on bags to see that the stable environment of the 2008 Rays clubhouse might not be able to endure a extroverted maniac like Bradley and not implode upon itself.  And for that, I applaud the Rays 3rd Floor gurus.

It must have been so tempting to take a chance on a guy who had the highest OPS in the American League last season with the Rangers.  For that would be a huge upgrade in possible offensive outbursts for the team, but maybe the unpredictable outbursts of another nature put a huge red stop sign in their eye sights before extending an olive branch or contract to Bradley. But you have to wonder why the Texas team did not come out openly and entice teams to take on Bradley? Why were their not teammates and former coaches anxious to voice approval or even dismay over a team taking a pass on this guy?

    Tttarasiuk@Flickr.com

Could there have been a non verbal sign to other teams to take a step back and take a through psychological imprint of their team and see if one crazy piece would turn them spiraling towards the division cellar. Of course the Cubs seemed to have been the best scenario for Bradley. He was going to a team on the verge, and who had a high profile stickler for individual responsibility in their present Manager, Lou Piniella. It seemed like Piniella would be the perfect man to rein in Bradley when he went a bit, well ‘psycho”.

But this is not your older brother Piniella, his fight is still there, but has been dampened by the years. Not that the cooling properties of Aquafina had taken the fight out of him, but time had worn him down a bit, and he was not the same guy now. And that might have been a huge factor in Bradley even getting beyond just the ranting and raving stage. Piniella might have let him dig his own grave, and in retrospect, it might have taken his Cubs team down in the process.

Negative energy in a clubhouse can ruin even a bright sunny day in Wrigley Field. My grandmother had a saying, “It only take one grumpy soul to turn a room of bright sunshine  smiling people into a solemn, miserable lot”. Bradley might have done his worst damage to those arounf him, and not to just his own career. And because of that, Bradley was a Category 5 Hurricane stuffed into a small wooden box. You knew he was going to get out of that well made box, but you hoped to contain the damage to a small area, then retract him again within the confines  a bigger wooden or steel box to calm down and again become more human.

But why didn’t the Cubs see this internal fire and demon storm churing out of control themselves? The signs were all around them, but they chose or either ignore them or look the other way and just overly insure themselves. Did the Rays have a body language professional or a psycho analyst hidden in on the teams discussions with Bradley and  they watched him closely for signs of anxiousness, volitile moments, or even a sense of uneasiness sitting in that big leather chair? Maybe it was just a simple gut reaction or feeling that doomed the “Bradley Experiment” from ever darkening the Rays clubhouse doors.

What could have been the determinating factor that pushed him out of the Rays mindset and onto the Cubs?  Whatever that pencil thin item or viewpoint was, thank goodness we saw it before we got pen to paper and had him sign with the Rays and be witness in our front row seat to his emotional and mential implosion in front of our very eyes. Believe me, if he had come here and treated the Rays rightfield fans the way he scolded and admonished his Cubbie faithful, then I pity the franchise when the would read the venom I would have spewed amongst this page.

Maybe it was something as simple as a bad handshake. You know the type, felt more like a wet fish getting slapped into the palm of your hand than a powerhitter looking for a job. Maybe he didn’t look the Rays in the eyes while talking to them,or maybe he got  a tad upset because there was no half and half for the coffee? Whatever it was, thank goodness we did not have to endure,speculate or even experience the enduring nightmare the Cub fans and  his teammates have seen in the last few months. It is said to see a talent waste away in the petty and obsurd innder world they create for themselves. 

But also in this case, it is a bed he set, made and purchased all his own. Right now he might be his own worst enemy and is catching up to imfamous Steve Bartman as a hated figure in Cubbie folklore. So Bradley has been sent home from playing the game he “supposibly” loves, but doesn’t respect anymore. Hopefully the loss of time from his favorite game, and the revenue it creates for him will shake his  fragile foundation and he can again find a neutralizing center for which to build upon. If not, a team desperate for a power hitter will bite again on his services, but  that squad might have a contract laden with out clauses in case his act again surfaces and starts to divide and conquer another team.

Milton Bradley has given a lot to this game during his career. But it is what he has also taken and destroyed in it that will be remembered most by the fans of baseball. So the Rays dodged a huge bullet by instead staying with the coll, calm demeanor of Burrell in their DH spot. Burrell is beginning to heat up a bit, but the volitile nature and the negative energy doesn’t flow from him like it does with every word from Bradleys mouth right now. Bradley can still repair his career and go on to do things that will make people forget this episode. But the Rays door will not be open to him, and for once, that is a good thing.

Chemistry Boiling under the surface


Rob Carr / AP


There has been a huge cloak of silence since the heated riff this past week by Tampa Bay Rays players Pat Burrell and Carl Crawford in the Visitor’s clunhouse in Baltimore. It was initially reported by the StPetersburg Times that the two got into a heated argument before the team headed out for the stretching session before the start of Batting Practice for last Wednesday nights game.

The back and forth bickering went for a few minutes before Rays starter James Shields stepped between the two and gently eased Crawford away from Burrell. What was not known at the time to the public is the fact that Burrell, the MLB veteran, but not a Rays veteran, might have crossed that imaginary line and called out one of his fellow Rays.

I am not finding fault with Burrell trying to be productive and emerge as a clubhouse leader since Carlos Pena was injured, but the “tough love” treatment is not the norm in the Rays environment. Burrell seized the moment to fire up a higher energy and motivation level during the last leg of the Rays demoralizing road trip.

But the tough chatter actually backfired on him,and might have alienated him with more than two teammates. For the betterment of the team, both Burrell and Crawford left the heated discussion in the locker room. I actually have always admired the old clubhouse wisdom of “what happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse”. And to be totally honest, Burrell tried to provide some positive vibes since the loss of the Rays clear clubhouse voice, Carlos Pena who was back in the Tampa Bay area after his successful hand surgery.

But the way the heated episode unfolded, it might have played better in another teams clubhouse, and did not fit the Rays persona at all. The laid-back Rays crew is used to Maddon taking them into his office for private discussions, or even impromptu talks out on the field before games. The harsh venom and criticism pointed towards a fellow teammate was not usual component of this Rays squad.


Brian Blanco / AP

There were 29 players present from the 2008 Rays roster in the Team Photo taken with me nestled in the middle last May. A total of 14 players from that American League Championship roster no longer wears the Rays logo. But even in their absence,this Rays team has a deep and respected core of players that this 2009 team was built around.

Including Burrell, the Rays have added 12 different players, either signed or promoted from the minors experiencing their first Rays season.And that is a huge bowl of new personalities and attitudes that needed to be meshed into one unit. Some has seen this incident as a crack in the Rays armor, that maybe everything is not so great in happy valley. But the reality is that the 2008 squad had a great chemistry and a common bond that might not be duplicated ever again by the Rays.

Both Maddon and his Coaching staff have used road trip Travel Party themes and events such as the “All-White” ensemble or the recent “Ring of Fire” tour as bonding moments for this team. Each events has seemed to bring this team more together and forming as a unit, but hopefully this episode has not taken them a few steps backwards in their development as a unit.

The plain truth might be that there are a few coarse sandpaper personalities on this years team that might grind upon a few of the fine grit members of this team unit that embodied the 2008 team. Trial and error has been the happy medium to try and mesh this team solid  again. Distrust and walls might have been pushed up by this small outburst, but in the long run, they too should fall by the wayside.


Bill Koustroun / AP

A veteran like Burrell is sometimes looked upon for motivation and inspiration. This episode might have been a misguided attempt for him to also put his personal stamp on this Rays squad, but it  should not undermine his leadership skills. But the road he took that day just ended up in disaster than in harmony.

There have been speculation that this Rays squad might have finally just fell apart under the guise of stress and failure after the Boston debacle on that day. But emotions run high in sports, and sometimes a change in the regular routine can spark an uplifting of spirits, or it can cause damaging effects beyond repair. The calling out of a fellow teammate did nothing more on that day than divide their clubhouse for  a few moments.

Burrell might have a new found respect for Crawford now by him defending a teammate. And that is sorely missed by this team right now. With Pena out for the season, this Rays team of introverted players will have to go beyond their own personalities and keep the fires burning  hot up until October 4th.

Burrell was in the wrong for calling out a teammate in so many ways, but it was not productive of Burrell to call out someone hitting the same Batting Average as himself, plus a player who has been battling an injury bug of his own this season. But he might not have seen the hidden devotion and team bond that still remained from 2008. This recent episode may soon fade to black and never rear its ugly head again.

You have to admire the strength to try and fill the leadership void by Burrell, even if it had a alarming result. But that also might be an issue for Maddon and his staff to consider before this team departs after the last game. The team will discuss off season goals and aspirations for 2010. Maybe one of the biggest goals of this team coming into the 2010 Spring Training might be a few more veterans standing up and being counted on as leaders on this team. Trial and error should not be the way to test the fabric of your team. You should be able to trust your instincts and know it will work. Burrell got some on-the-job training in that art form.

 

Sink or Swim Time for the Rays

 


Jim Prisching / AP

I am beginning to think I will need to bring some Dramamine to the game with me this week. Considering the offensive wave swells the Rays ship the last few weeks it is a common place to feel a hint of motion sickness. The Rays recent offensive rollercoaster is beginning to feel more like an oceanliner stuck out to sea in rough weather than a smooth ride along the Tampa Bay area’s Intercoastal waterways. Change need to begin now to right the balance of the ship before it is too late.

For this team to even visualize a remote boarding pass to the 2009 Playoff islands, it  will have to become a more consistent and reliable scoring vessel. People it is past that “Crunchtime” phase. With less than 60 days left in the season it is past the “do not worry yet” phase of the cruise.  And it is surely time to make a some changes before the ship begins to take on water (losses) and we are all left watching it sink under the waves.

Not meaning to make it so dramatic that this team is  headed for disaster like the HMS Titanic, or even the USS Minnow, but consistent run producing and timely hits are the ballast needed right now to secure this ship’s balance. I know Rays Manager Joe Maddon like to take these games one game at a time, and that is admirable from a deck officer’s standpoint. But right now this team needs a shakedown cruise more than any battleship in the MLB Navy.

They need to re-focus, re-energize and re-evaluate their  short term goals right now. The horizon is getting darker by the moment because of their  shifting of powers among the other fighting ships in the Rays division. Those “it’s only one loss” optimistic thoughts of the last few months are now biting at our stern to almost push us to a “win at all costs” mentality. But to even go all-head full speed right now, a few subtle and responsive changes need to be made to right the ship and keep all of us sailing into the first days of October.


Paul J Berewill / AP


Maddon spoke last night of going on a long bike ride today around the Tampa waterfront before heading to the ballpark. Hopefully some fans have decided to put posters and suggestions along his bike path to help him along with his thought process.  There are a few things that could help this team tremendously in the coming months. Some are right in front of us, but have not been made. Others might take a bit more finesse.

The first  measure to undertake is the shifting of power at the Rays Designated Hitter and First Base.
This idea might not go over well at first, but even to use it only a weekly basis then take the data in and then proceeds from there might be the right course of action. I am not making either Pat Burrell or Carlos Pena walk the plank, but might give them some needed time to refocus and find that fighting spirit we saw so much of in 2008.

The Rays have a huge asset in Willy Aybar. He was one of the unsung heroes of 2008 for what he did in his limited roles during the season. But he was consistent and reliable, which is missing right now at DH. I heard it said once when I was in Kuwait that a good leader can make decision on the fly, can make a drawback into a victory with good though processes and though out moves.

Well, here is my devised plan for good or evil to get the Rays ship balanced and ready for the fight. Take Aybar and his ability to play both the DH and first base roles and combine them into a well executed plan. Since Maddon is such a spreadsheet and sabermetrics fan, use those figures pertaining to Pena and Burrell and formulate a plan of using Aybar at either position to utilize his switchhitting  bat.

In essence, if Pena has a weak average against a pitcher, let Aybar take the first 6 innings of work at the plat and at first base, then make a defensive change after the opponent’s Bullpen get involved in the game. By using Aybar in three at bats a game where Pena might have shown weakness against that pitcher in the past, you could produce three chances to succeed.

Do the same with Burrell. If Aybar has a good showing against a pitcher in the past, and Burrell is struggling against him, then Aybar should get the nod right now. You can always insert Burrell into the lineup later in the game to still get him at bats. Basically, I am asking Maddon to go with the hot hand right now. Be it a back-up, a starter, or a guy struggling to get out of a rut.


Steve Nesius / AP

Let’s take tonight’s Red Sox starter Jon Lester as an example.  If you take the two games that Lester has faced Burrell and Pena this season you will see the opposite ends of the hitting spectrum. Burrell has gone 2 for 5 (.400) against Lester this season with 2 RBI. But Pena has gone 1 for 6 (.167) with 3 strikeouts, plus a HR and 2 RBIs.  Bit to throw a monkey wrench into this one, Aybar has not gone to the plate against Lester in 2009.

But take into account that during the 2008 regular season Aybar did face Lester in 2 games. In those contests he went 2 for 6 (.333) with 2 doubles and a run. So while we are bring up Aybar’s 2008 stats, lets check out Pena’s stats against Lester. Pena went 2 for 7 (.286) with a double and a HR against him. With those facts in mind, it might be a good idea to start Aybar at first base, give him a few at bats, then switch Pena as a defensive move later in the ball game.

Burrell has shown some offensive might against Lester, and it could trigger a nice showing by him tonight. So let’s play Devils Advocate here and check out the statistic for Weds. night Red Sox starter against all three players. Brad Penny did not play for the Red Sox at all in 2008, so Aybar and Pena do not have any data against the right-hander for that season.

But in 2009, The Rays have already faced him twice this season. Burrell has gone 1 for 6 (.167) with a RBI and 2 strikeouts. And in almost a mirror image, Pena has also gone 1 for 6 (.167) against Penny this season with a double an RBI and 2 strikeouts. Again Aybar has not had an at bats against Penny so far in 2009. In this scenario you could use him at DH in the game with the possibility of using Burrell either as a pinchhitter, or put him in at DH after a few innings for Aybar.

The 5 and 6 hole in the lineup right now needs a bit of tweaking. In the opening 3-game set against the Yankees, that the Rays lost two of those games, Burrell and Pena went 2 for 21 in the series. Add onto that the 10 strikeouts and only 1 RBI produced and
you see a dark hole beginning to form in that spot in the lineup.

Now against the Kansas City Royals in their 4 game set the pair did look a bit better, but still below par. In that series the duo went a combined 6 for 23, with 6 RBI and decreased to only 9 strikeouts in the series.  But to overshadow both of their days was the fact that Aybar saw action in all three games in which he went 3 for 8 with 3 runs scored and 2 RBI.


Steve Nesius / AP

What was even more impressive from Aybar was the fact he hit a homer on Monday afternoons game from each side of the plate. So to say that Aybar is not a needed piece right now for this Rays vessel is to have a false sense of security that the ship will right itself with no changes. Aybar getting a chance at the wheel might just be what this team needs right now.

Things happen for a reason. Sometimes they happen for us to adjust out thinking to steer clear of impending dangers. But other times they happen to make the trip more enjoyable and more smooth for everyone involved. So hopefully as Maddon was cruising over the bridge into Davis Island today some kid had a sign that said, “Let Willy Aybar take the Wheel Skipper”. And with that hopefully it can bring about change, a shifting of the ballast, and bring this Rays season back into its natural balance.

Reality Check: Pat “The Faucet” Burrell

 


Ben Margot/ AP

I think it is time people. I am in a mood of discontentment and astonishment into the  further downward spiral that has taken over the hitting of Pat “the Faucet” Burrell. You have gone from a slugger who was celebrating with a World Championship, to a guy struggling to hit above the .250 mark this season. It is time for an Intervention. It is time for the stark truth with nothing held back and the hopes that the reality of the situations  basic shock and awe turn him towards a state of offensive recovery.

You are currently pulling this team down with him now, and that is something I will not have happen without recourse. I will not let a sinking ship devour this team and take them from playoff consideration. This is a pefect spot for the notion of “put up or shut up” right now. It is the time of the season when good teams churn out wins, and the bad teams just try and play the ‘spoiler” role. Pat, the Rays played that “spoiler” role for 10 seasons, and we did not like it then, and we hate it even more now that we have tasted the fruits of success.

Do we really need to show you that tough love concept to get you to  buckle down in this offense. Do I have to go all “Philly” on you and boo and jeer to get you so frustrated you want to succeed again. The hard-nosed, hard shell Philly faithful were not always your fans in the past. You had a chance to gain a new set of admirers here in Tampa Bay, but that might be wasted by a sub-par batting average. Maybe it is time to put out the stone cold demeanor and stark reality your signing might have been  mistake. Come on Pat, prove me wrong, I dare ya!.

Have you considered this Mr Burrell, that before your Busch Gardens inspired corkscrew up and down hitting streak that you have not performed even to within a 10th of your contract price. There are guying hitting in the minor leagues for under $ 65,000 a year that would run circles around you right now, and would kill to be in your shoes.

We had a guy here once named Vinny Castilla. Ask him how it felt to have a losing team’s crowd boo him on the field at the beginning of a game. Ask them how he seemed to give up before the first pitch because of the vocal barrage that hit him at third base in the top of the first inning. You are so lucky to not have to go out in the field and get met with a blanket of boos and jeers before you step to the plate the first time in the game. You have had the Rays dugout as your personal cocoon to keep you from the boo-birds who can not stand to see another DH candidate hit under .250 for the season. You just have to pop up four or five times a game from that warm environment……..must be nice.

And we are all over this urban legend that the switch from the National League to the American League is such a drain on your swing and batting persona. Get over it Pat, because we are totally over it.  We gave you until the All Star break as a courtesy, now it is time to shine. We got your fellow Rays teammate Gabe Gross last April 24th in a trade with the Brewers, a NL team and he did okay for his first season.

He made up for his lack of bat power with contact hitting and spectacular plays in right field. Oh, and he only hit .209 in the NL before coming over and hitting .239 in the American League. What Gross did that you seem to be missing is put his head down and concentrate on his hitting, and some memorable shots began to happen for him. And his season seemed to blossom in August, which is just one day away right now. 

What  great Rays feats have you done besides your game-winning HR on July 7th against Toronto for your first walk-off hit as a Ray. How can that even compare with  the year Gross in 2008. Well, coming into August, Gabe had hit only .215 for the season before he went on a bit of a roll and rocked to a .293 average just in August 2008.  That also began a time where he showcased a few special Gross inspired moments with the Rays. Yes, it was only August 6th when he hit that 437-foot 2-run homer that started the Rays rally against Cleveland.

Or maybe it was the fact that 14 of his 38 RBI last season either tied or helped the Rays take the lead. Or if you really want me to add insult to injury, maybe it was the fact that Gross hit 4 HR and 11 RBI in that month to help propel the Rays towards their first playoff run.  That is almost as many as you have so far in 2009, and he did it in one month. See Pat, you only have to look down the bench for a guy who was in the same spot as you in 2008. But Gross put in his licks at the plate, and the ball began to fall for him. Baseball is a simple game. You hit the ball, you catch the ball, you throw the ball. Everything else is just repetition.

Now this is not to mean you are a quitter or even remotely considering mailing in the rest of the season. But the reality is that both you and Carlos Pena right now are pulling this offense towards a bad  spiral in the abyss. The hole that you both are presenting in the 5 & 6 spot in the line-up are beginning to wear this club down to the bone. The guys above you and below you have done their jobs, and some of them are having banner seasons. But the middle of the batting order is a dead zone. Oh, do not think I am not angry right now Pat, but I am trying to kill you with kindness in hopes it snaps you into the right frame of mind.

Remember that Castilla dude I mentioned before, well he also tried to mail in the season and the Rays cut him like a cancer out of their team. And that was when we were a losing team. Why should we allow some one who can not even hit his weight to still take up valuable at bats when you have a hitter like Willy Aybar sitting next to you chomping at the bit for a chance to play. Last season Aybar took full advantage of his spot roles and became a instant success in the Rays system. Do you think he is not wondering why he is not getting some of your at bats? I know I wonder that at times.

You really need to go down there and shake Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s hand. Because I know if this was still a ‘Lou Pinella” based ship, you would be below deck scrubbing the pewter instead of holding a 34 inch bat in your hands. Do I really have to tell all these people and the baseball world why I have renamed you “The Faucet”. I was hoping you might get going and I would not have to vocally throw it out there time and time again why you deserve a new nickname. Oh, I am saving “The Bat” for when it is right, but right now, the other one is so perfect for you. Just think of me as your friendly Roto-Rooter man.


Jim Prishing / AP

“The Faucet” is because you can go very Hot and ex
tremely Cold at any moment during a game or series this season, but you never remain warm for too long. I guess the word “streaky” fits you like a glove right now. And I will be the first to pull back your old nickname if you can just put the bat to the ball to manufacture some offense.  Last time I thought you were hot you embarrassed me when I put it into a blog you were “heating up.” You went on a tear of 6 strikeouts in the next two games and slumped further into the abyss.

You started out the season on such a high note hitting your first Rays HR against the New York Yankees in the home opener. There was excitement in the air from the banners going up into the rafters and the anticipation of the new season. All was good in Burrell-land. But then the stark reality hit and you did not get your second Rays homer until your old team came here during the Inter League schedule. Your old team mate Joe Blanton served you up a mistake breaking ball that you hit out for only your second boomer of the year. Worst yet, you went 33 games and 104 at bats between homers after averaging 33 homers a year for the past 4 seasons.

And now as we are about to hit the stretch run, and you are coming off a July where you are hitting only .232 since July 5th. That might be a Burrell improvement for 2009, but it is taking down the hopes of  a Rays second playoff berth. And for that I can not let you slide Pat. We yearned for that excitement again. And you are a key piece to getting that chance again. August is a new month, and can be a good starting point for you to improve and show that you are the Rays type of player.

Sure you might work hard on and off the field beyond our eyes, but it is what we see between the lines that matter to us. You might have the admiration of your teammates and the staff, but we do not see that side of you here. We have seen the reserved and simply weak side of you so far in 2009. Oh, I want to throw you under the bus so bad, but we need you right now. We want you to make us admit we were wrong. We want you to show us that you got the guts and the glory still within yourself.

We want that Burrell that was advertised to us in the  Phillies statistics over the last 4 years. We want those averages of 99 RBIs and 103 walks to show their faces. We want to see the guy that only trails the Nationals Adam Dunn in walks over the past 4 years with 413 bases on balls. We want to see the same desire and passion that got you noticed in Philly after you were drafted in the First Round out of that quiet school in Coral Gables,Florida. Show us that University of Miami swagger again that we have seen for years from their athletes.

Be true to the fans, and be true to yourself and all will be fine.  In the 39 games since you came back off the DL we have seen basically shortstop numbers out of you. And I do not mean Jason Barlett-type numbers. You have hit only .209 with 4 HR, 6 doubles and 11 RBI. Those are not the type of  power numbers a guy hitting fifth should produce. It is a no surprise that the guy hitting in the eight spot, Dioner Navarro is kicking your butt at the plate, and he is having a down year.


Steve Nesius / AP

Your average with runners in scoring position is .292 this season. Not great, but it is showing you have had opportunities to drive in runs and produce. You just have to put some Scotch bonnets into the mix and flame up that average a bit to show that you have the killer instinct. Either that or let Aybar take your at bats and do not let the Rays suffer with you. As a key signing this off season, it is your duty as a teammate to leave it all out on the field every night. I have to admit Pat, some nights it seems that your English Bulldog Elvis has left a firm example of your at bats on the Field Turf. 

If that is to imply your bat leave a doggie residue, then so be it. This is the time to shine. One more game and a new month is upon you. I am not telling you to take tonight off, but to start the ball, get the hits and show the hustle  we know is within you and the crowd will again cheer. If not, that smattering of jeers during the Yankee series will just fester and grow until it can not be stopped by hiding in the dugout. It is time to man up and produce Pat.

I can not say it any other way. It is not like you are going to refund any of your salary back to the team because of your downfall. And it is not like we expect you to hit .750 the rest of the season either. Get some good hits, run well executed plays on the bases and the game will flow back into the positive for you. If you can not do it for yourself, do it for the kids in the stands that still believed in the Burrell magic. Do it for the women who have swooned when they saw you at Fan Fest only to be disappointed that the object of their affection is heading towards the bottom. 

Do it for that guys to the left and right of you in the dugout. You know they are giving 110 percent every night and they have failed too this season but have not slacked off in the least. And last, do it for Elvis. That is right, do it for your English Bulldog. If it means bringing him to the game like you did in Philly  the second hafl of the season every night, then outfit the car so you can do it. Westy will find someone to dog sit him for you. Heck, I will watch him if you like……but he better like french fries.


Brian Blanco / AP

But most of all, do it for yourself. You got that beautiful ring this April in Philadelphia during a ceremony you flew in especially for that day. You got to hear the cheers and the noise that winning can spawn. You got to taste and smell what winning can do for you and a team. But most of all, you got to see why you have worked so hard all those years. If you can not do it for anyone else listed above, do it for yourself.

You do not want to be 60 years old and wonder if you could have done better. I know I did not go out of the game on my own terma and I see regrets and mistakes all the time I would change in a heartbeat. You especially do not want to sit back after the 2009 season and bask in the negative and let it consume you. It is time to shine.

Come on Pat, I do not want to really get upset and fully call you out onto the carpet again this season. This was a mild, nice intervention compared to the first two drafts of this blog. Maybe it is because I still believe the season is far from over. Maybe it is because I faith in my heart until it is plucked out by my sense of reality. If you can not do it for anyone else, do it for yourself Pat. You and I both know the drive and passion it takes to win. Now all you have to do is apply a little elbow grease, spread your stance a little bit and drive the ball. The rs
t will follow……trust me.

Burrell is beginning to Heat Up!


Charles Riedel / AP

Sometimes the National and local media can do some of the weirdest and funniest things in print without them even realizing it at the moment.  We all know about the typos that can make someone else’s life a living hell for a while until they issue a retraction/correction to hopefully make the issue go away, or at least lessing the glares and stares. But then there are times like after Friday nights Rays come from behind win over the Kansas City Royals that might just set the tone for the squad during the second half of the Rays 2009 season.

About 2 am this morning I wandered online to check out to see how my MLBloggers Fantasy team did during the first full night of games since the All Star break (I am leading division 1). I then decided to go to www.raysbaseball.com and check out the game’s headlines. I am not sure what I was expecting, maybe some journalistic man crush love towards Rays Designated Hitter Pat Burrell, who went 2 for 5 with 3 RBI and a run scored in the Rays victory. Maybe I was hoping for a glint of respect thrown Burrell’s way because his home run started the run back towards the victory.

But instead I was greeted with a headline that read, “Longoria’s homer caps Rays’ comeback”. Maybe I was hoping that the webheads were about to do what I was considering in my own mind, that Burrell needed a media “hug”. I must have been dreaming to think that Burrell might get some much needed attention after his early season struggles with his neck injury and some very weak hitting in the first half. Maybe I was hoping they might show some props towards the guy. We, the fans always knew his bat would go on a streak at some moment this season.

Well, honestly, I am not the biggest Burrell fan, but I loved his initial signing by the team. It was a positive upgrade to the position, and the sky was the limit on that day.  I enjoyed the fact we were getting someone who had more speed than  ex-Ray Cliff Floyd on the bases. And I was enjoying the fact we got someone who did not need to swing for the fences like  current M’s HR stud Russell Branyan, who had only a few more hits than homers when he was the Rays DH. I guess what I was expecting was a Rays rendition of former M’s great Edgar Martinez.
 

But I think after the way 2008 went for us, someone like Burrell coming to the Rays was a blessing, not a curse. If I had faith in former Rays players Randal Simon and Vinnie Castilla as hitters, Burrell could rest comfortably I was not going to jeer him either. I understand that coming from playing every day in leftfield to just sitting on the bench and hitting 4 times a day is an huge mental and physical adjustment in your mind as well as your body. I get that part, and maybe that is why some great hitter make lousy DH’s.

I get the fact he was coming to the American League and would need a bit of time to adjust and scout some of the league’s best before he hit his stride again. But his injury time could have been spent studying  pitcher’s video provided by Rays video honcho Chris “Chico” Fernandez.  And he might have done just that, but are not privy to that information. Heck, he could have bought a subscription to MLB.TV and watch any game in the AL or NL this season at any time. He could have done home study on his big screen of any AL pitcher while he was rehabbing his neck situation. It was time for him to begin to piece it all together.


Brian Blanco / AP

And finally the moment came during the Rays last home stand . It began to seem like he was transforming himself at the plate. It seemed that all  of the sweaty work in the cages and behind the scenes were about to come to maturity and we could again cheer Burrell without any doubts. Hey, the guy was beginning to hit solid long ball out and  you could hear the different sound in the bat when he struck the ball now with renewed authority. He was beginning to look like that same guy that played in leftfield in Philly for so long.

He looked at home in the batter’s box again. During the Rays last home stand, Burrell went a combined 7 for 23 with a homer and  5 RBI. But  what came to prove he was waking up at the plate was the fact he added 5 doubles during those six games to showcase that the power was coming back in his swing. Pat Burrell was beginning to fulfill the DH role with attitude and power, just like the Rays envisioned when they signed him during the offseason.

Burrell might not have shown great numbers over the span of the 27 games since his return to the Rays line-up. And he might only be hitting .207 since his return, but  his bat has been on fire lately. During this 27-game stint he has hit 3 HR, 11 RBI  and walked 15 times before Friday night’s game. He is seeing the ball better, and his rising batting average is showing it. But the real sure fire statistic that his hitting is starting to bubble is the pure fact he hit two doubles in two of the three games against Oakland right before the All Star break.

What was so remarkable about that feat is it was his first multi-hit games since the April 13th Home Opener against the New York Yankees. Add that to the fact he hit only his fourth career walk-off homer against Toronto’s Brandon League on July 7th, which also was his first Rays walk-off hit this season, and you see a hitter finally hitting his groove. The power is coming back into his game. Last night’s home run got overshadowed by the late inning 2-run blast by Longoria, but it was Burrell’s shot that made the run for the victory possible.


Brian Blanco / AP

Without his homer, the Rays were not within striking distance of the Royals in that contest, but that was mentioned a few paragraphs down in the story online. You see, Longoria and Burrell each went 2-5 last night with a key HR in the win. Who do you think the media thinks he more of an attention draw right now….Burrell or Longoria? Maybe it is good that he is giving him the low profile treatment. Maybe this is just the thing to force him out of his hitting comfort zone and make him take some chances at the plate that will propel his  bat, his batting average and the Rays skywards.

For the team to have a solid c
hance at defending their title, Burrell has to stay hot and produce like he has for the last two weeks. We all know about his past exploits. How Burrell has averaged 31 HR, 99 RBI and 105 walks in the last four seasons. We get the idea that great things can come from his bat.  But this is the time for him to show the Rays fans why he was brought here.  I am again happy to add the middle name “the Bat” to Burrell’s name. He is getting hot at the right time to not only salvage his season, but to be a key component to the Rays charge to the postseason. 

Pat “the Bat”. That has a nice ring to it. I know we have to thank the Phillies fans for that moniker, but it is fitting right now for him. He might have only gone 2 for 5 last night, but in retrospect, that makes him hitting .400 since the All Star break. And those kind of numbers will not only help the Rays fans breathe easier, but also give Burrell some room to feel comfortable at the plate.
 

Second Half Thoughts

 


RRCollections

About now the Tampa Bay Rays players and coaches are beginning to arrive at Royals Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri eager to get this second half of the season started and off to a winning note.  Missing from today’s workout will be Evan Longoria, who is at the ESPN ESPY awards, but he should be back in time for the Friday night game. Also missing will be Rays reliever Grant Balfour, who is delayed in his return back to the team after attending his grandfather’s funeral back home.

This clubhouse will be alive with stories and excitement following the three day mini vacation that most of the team’s players had since the end of the game Sunday afternoon. But you know the real group to keep an eye on will be the five players and 6 coaches who attended the All Star game who will be holding court about the last few days and the parties and events surrounding their All Star game adventures.

You have to wonder how many times  Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos will tell the tale of the fantastic catch by Carl Crawford with his first hand account of the play only 3 feet beyond the Bullpen fence.  Or you really want to imagine how many times Crawford has now picked up that crystal bat and swung it towards the heavens as if he was using it at the plate.  And you really want to know where the new keepsake is hidden that Ben Zobrist got after the final out of the All Star game. That ball that will forever link him to the All Star game.  Or maybe to hear the tales from Carlos Pena on the “pitches” that got away during the Home Run Derby.

After today all those adventures and stories will have to be put back on the shelf to be retold during rain delays and night flight to other cities as the Rays will renew their quest to get back into the playoff picture this season. At this critical point in the season they are only 6 1/2 game out of the top spot, but they know that even if they hit the 93 win mark, they might be out of the playoffs this season. So their effort will have to take center stage starting tomorrow night as they take on the Royals in a 3-game series. Then they will head to the southside of Chicago for a 4-game series against the White Sox. Then it is on to Rogers Centre to take on the Blue Jays in a 3-game weekend series before finally coming back home to finish out the month.

This next week will be a  critical key indicator of any possible playoff push by the Rays. They truly have to adjust their mindsets and come back from this 10-game trip with a 6-4 record or better to begin a forward trend towards the top of the division. This is a road trip where a .500 record will not do them any justice. They have 3 games against a division foe, and 4 games against a caliber team in the White Sox to see just how good this squad is right now.  They are currently seven games off their 2008 pace, but even at this time last season they only held onto the American League East top spot by a half a game lead over the Red Sox.


Mike Carlson / AP

The road is going to be  a rough component for the Rays the rest of the season. They will play 17 more game on the road against just their division, and they will play host for another 24 at Tropicana Field. 41 times between today and the last game against the New York Yankees at Tropicana field on October 3, 2009. And so with a 41 game swing in any direction, the Rays will have to capitalize on their road opponents to make up some distance in the standings and give themselves any wiggle room the rest of the year.

But the road has not been kind to the Rays, who currently sport a 18-26 record outside the confines of the Trop. And the road mindset can be tricky at times considering the Rays pitching staff has not been great away from home so far this season. In their 44 road games this season, the Rays staff has a 4.52 ERA, and have given up 53 homers. Every statistic is higher on the road but hits. They have actually given up 5 less hits than at home, but they have not been able to stop rallies and scoring chances by the opposition on the road. So when James Shields take the mound tomorrow night against the Royals the Rays have to adjust their minds to almost feeling at home and strive to take this three game series from the Royals.
 

That would be a huge boost for the rest of the road trip if they got out of the gate in a positive manner.  But the Rays will have to continue to improve both on their defense and their offense if they plan on contending in late September and October. They will have to get on a good and fast run right now and gain momentum to achieve their postseason dreams again this year. The road will end up being the key to any playoff dreams.

But with the Rays top three pitchers, and the emergence of Rookies David Price and Jeff Niemann, the Rays have the horses to pull it off. The Bullpen has suffered a bit of a let down recently after blanking people since late June, but again they will be needed to step it up a notch to regain their edge and superiority.  And speaking of needing an edge, a few players who have begun to awaken at the plate again need to step up for the team to make any strides in the division. Crawford, Jason Bartlett and Zobrist have done their part to keep the offense clicking, but now a few other members of the team needs to do their part to propel the Rays.

Designated hitter Pat Burrell went 4 for 11 during the recent Oakland series and the ball sounded solid off his bat for the first time this season.  For the team to go anywhere the rest of the year, Burrell is going to have to step up his game and contribute on a nightly basis for the Rays to surge. And he is not the only one who needs to kick it up a bit right now. Evan Longoria started off the season simply on fire before he began to cool down during the first weeks of July. He has gone 7 for 40 in the last 10 games with only a single home run.  And during that period he has also drove in only three RBI.


Steve Nesius / AP

But there are great signs of the team’s sleeping giant offense making a second half run. Carlos Pena came out of a homerless streak recently during the Oakland series to get his game back on track. But his 5 for 33 mark in the last 10 games shows that the meat of the Rays order needs to awaken for the team to get any wins.   But then again the pleasant surprise of the season, Zobrist has been the big bat in the middle of the order going 10 for 35 with 1 HR and 6 RBI over the last 10 games. And that is a weakened set of statistics&nb
sp;by him right now. Between the 3 and 6 spot in the lineup the Rays are lacking some critical firepower.

But for what is missing right now in the middle of the order, the top and bottom of the lineup have come together to piece some huge wins for the team recently. Catcher Dioner Navarro, who has been flirting with the low 200′s most of the season has gone 5 for 13 in his last four games and has been instrumental in the rays scoring chances in the last two series Even the duo of Gabe’s have come up big for the Rays in the last week. Gabe Kapler has been hot recently going 6 for 17 with 5 RBI in his last 10 games. And Gabe Gross as emerged again going  7 for his last 26 to move runner around for the Rays.

But the consistent hitter for the Rays right now  have come out of the second and seventh spots in the lineup. Bartlett has come up big lately going 7 for 31 with 3 RBI while maintaining a .347 average for 2009. But if you really want to talk about pressure and coming strong right now, you have to point your finger at Crawford. Not only has he been great on the field defensively over the past 10 games, he has been incredible at the plate. 


Steve Nesius / AP

He has gone 8 for 37 and has stolen only four bases. the entire team is in a bit of a funk, but some members are still trying to keep the Rays heads above the waterlines.  For the team to have the added success the rest of the season, B J Upton will have to keep getting more hits and chances on the base paths.

But as Rays Manger Joe Maddon stresses, “Starting pitching sets the tone of a game.” Shields is the one guy on the Rays staff who needs to see an increase in the runs scored during his starts. The team has only scored an average of 2.61 runs/game for him. The only Rays starter to even get close to 5 runs of support was Andy Sonnanstine, and he is now in the minors. This team surely has the ability to turn the season around and gain ground on both the Yankees and the Red Sox and battle until the end for that playoff spot.

Certain things will have to fall into place for the Rays to make a surge both in the win column and in the standings. But this first road trip will answer so many questions and provide extreme answers to their chances of even getting back to defend their title. There needs to be a total boost from the bench to the Bullpen for this team to take the next step. They have been there before and they know the level of commitment and sacrifices needed to achieve their goals.  Starting tomorrow night with the first pitch by Royals ace Zack Greinke to B J Upton the team will be able to regroup, re-focus and re-energize to shoot towards that ultimate goal.

The clock has started ticking, the Rays are getting ready to toss the ball and do some light hitting before finally going back to the hotel tonight. In that short amount of time the assembled Rays need to come together and feel that power and strength of this ballclub. The prize is within sight, all they have to do now is reach up and grab it and hold on tight to the end. Hopefully their grip will be tight, and their will is strong.
Go Rays!

Smells like Team Spirit

 

Oh now that was fun. That was the kind of series I have been waiting for the entire year. You know the kind of three game set that shows you the grit, determination and the moxy that is still beating in all 25 members of the Rays roster during a three game festival of ray-dom. Sure you might say that it took a few extra innings to get one of those wins, and it took some last inning heroics to get another, but isn’t that considered a character-building moment that you dream you team would have before they make a run at their division’s top chair?

And so after the Rays sweep of their divisional menace the last few season, the pesky Blue Jays, we have another fly coming in tonight that could buzz the Rays tower a few times and make for another extremely exciting series, the Oakland A’s. And do not be disillusioned, there is an elephant on their team logo for a reason. This is another team that never forgets, never lets down, and is carrying a hot hitting Adam Kennedy at third base right now. Hmmmmm, didn’t that guy used to wear a Rays jersey? Oh yeah, before we traded him for the Dillon-aire.

But getting back to the last three cardiac-filled series, the Toronto-Tampa Bay series again showed who wants this right now, and who is about to have a drastic Fire Sale to maybe unload some older talent ( Rolen) or mis-guided youth that is not hitting, fielding or might already be dead inside ( Rios). I have to admit, after the power outage, the kid invasion of the Trop., and the constant numbing pain in my index finger from submitting votes in the All Star Game Sprint Final Vote ( last free ad promo of the year) I almost missed an ace coming of age finally.

Sure we saw the best pitcher in the American League take the mound in the bottom of the first inning in Roy Halladay, but we also got to see some of the magic and excitement that David Price will have in store for us for the next……… well, a long time. Seriously people, the kid showed why we have so hyped up about him getting here this year. He cut back dramatically on his walks yesterday, which is a great aspect all in its own little world. One solo stroll to first is all that King David gave up to those eyeballing Jays. Oh, and they did try and test him a few times, but the strikezone was his real friend yesterday afternoon.


Brian Blanco / AP

And that will put a smile on even the most frugal and cold-hearted Rays fan. But people forget, we have had promising young hurlers before who have dissolved in front of our eyes. And even this season we have seen the trio that helped us land our first playoff berth go a bit south with no run production, or untimely meltdown of an inning or two and cost us a chance to see the orange lit dome from the Sunshine Skyway bridge to the Howard Franklin. Just because the team is having their second best record ever is not enough right now.

But seeing Price embrace and go back to some old thinking, like not even over emphasizing the scouting reports but going out there and throwing “his” game, it might have been a major break through for him at this level. We all know the kid has a million dollar arm, but like “Nuke” LaLoosh in “Bull Durham”, we were starting to think he might have a bit of a ten cent head on the mound. I am glad he proved us wrong. He needs to keep proving us wrong the rest of the way through the season, or at least for the next 5 years.

But it was no passing of the torch moment people. Halladay just doesn’t have the energy in his arm and body right now to beat the Rays. You seem to forget that he is 10-3 this season, and two of those great losses have come to the guys with the sunburst on their jerseys. And that is a major coup for the Rays. Beating the best is the way to regain this division and also set the tone for people to think twice before playing us right now. And that might be a better weapon for the Rays right now. The fact that team have begun to again question this team in a positive way is an indication that maybe we are finally over the hump and striving for the top of the hill again.

The last three games have given me this renewed feeling of the team getting it at the right time. Think about it here. Going into the break it was a disaster in 2008 after a 7-game losing streak to the Yankees and the Indians, people all around baseball were questioning the Rays staying power and mental toughness. Well, if we can gain some great ground in the next 3 games, with some help of either New York or Boston slipping a bit, we could be within 3 games of the top spot just coming out of the All Star break.


Brian Blanco / AP

And with a possible 6-game winning streak still on the stove, it would make them one of the hottest teams in baseball since the end of April. Did you know that we are only one win off the top spot since April 30th for wins in the entire MLB. From that date until today the Rays 39 wins are only second to the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers 40 wins apiece. That mean the Rays have fought from their 8-14 record on April 29th to a stellar 39-25 mark as of today. Let’s see, a 31-11 mark and we are worried about this team.

Heck, maybe we are wearing those dark-colored glasses a bit too tight on our faces. There are 27 other teams that are envious of that mark. Even the Boston Red Sox have only gone 37-17 since the end of April. With the Yankees finally catching the Red Sox, you can bet some of their eye glances will not be towards the Rays scores right now, but to see what the pinstripes are posting. That is a great thing for the Rays. We snuck up on the Jays and then put them in a vise and they lost 5 out of 6 against us in the last few weeks.

That thrust them down below us to wallow with the worry that the Orioles might get hot and pass them for the cellar spot.  But do not get lost in the fact that two of the Rays recent win have come in Walk-off fashion, which is an emotional rollercoaster of its own here.  The Rays have done it by timely hitting by Pat Burrell, Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist. The three guys they need to get hot again to make any charge at the top spot again in 2009.  But then again, maybe this team is starting to believe in themselves again.

Some times I find that hard to believe, but as Rays Manager Joe Maddon likes them to think about a game for 10 minutes after it is over, maybe the mindset is finally drilled into their brains to not cherish a win, or discount a loss into bits and are finally “living in the moment” of the games. That can be a great weapon, that tool of selective memory and association. It can make you put your best food forward and forget the past within moments. It instills a eagerness to fight as if it was the last game, plus gives you the added confidence of not holding onto the past.

Ahhhhh, The last few games have had a certain scent to them that reminds me of something. It has that tart bitterness of realization, the after aroma of blood,sweat and tears left on the turf and the sweet sme
ll of victory. But to go along with all of that is certainly the aspect of winning their eighth straight game at home in yesterday’s matinee. Yes, that is it, that smell of Dome Field Advantage. The knowing and yearning of going to a contest and having that  flowing fragrance of  a possible blow-out or one-run win in the atmosphere even before the First Pitch.

The Rays have manufactured the second longest winning streak at home right now behind the 11-game streak set April 22-May13th of 2008.  In all, they have won 22 of their last 27 in the confines of the dome, which translates to the best record again in the MLB at home passing both the Dodgers and the Red Sox with yesterday’s win. The smell rising off that 29-13 record is again the basis of the Rays winning streaks, but it is also a indication that their earlier falls from grace when they played most of their games on the road were just figments of the real Rays team.


Brian Blanco / AP

Most people when they come to a baseball game smell the freshly made popcorn, the meaty aroma of hot dogs roasting on circular rollers. Me, I smell something else. I can smell the faint odor of fear right now in the visiting teams. The anticipation in their sweat of a long night with cowbells and loud vocal responses from the crowd. I love the smell of a ballpark. Not for the human smells or the food, but for that perfumed air of winning and confidence can just intoxicate you like a few $ 9 beers, but doesn’t leave you with the mental pain the next day of hops and barley.

It is the smell of victory, and it is still just on the tip of my tongue. It has no aftertaste or even a hint of regret. Like the 1980′s icons Kiss said so effectively in one of their great songs, I just want to “lick it up” and come back for more. Maybe this three game series against the A’s will also intoxicate you, and want you to again feast at the Rays table. Hopefully he does, and if not, we will get you soon enough…..trust me.

 
 
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