Results tagged ‘ Sean Rodriguez ’
Sometimes I think we forget how lucky this Tampa Bay Rays team has been on the injury front over the past few years. Sure we have had untimely injuries that set this team back a tad, but not since their 2009 season have the Rays had their rabbit’s feet and luck slap them in the face like this. It’s been a long time since this Rays franchise has looked more like a M*A*S*H unit than a competitive baseball team.
It befuddles me a bit that we have a winning record and yet the boo-birds have come out not only targeting the wrong people, but also forgetting injuries are a part of the game, that is why there is a DL and call-ups to the majors. Even before Rays skipper Joe Maddon and Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield got Rays starter Jeff Niemann to the Visiting Clubhouse last night in Toronto, fingers began wagging and spit and vinegar ruled the roost. Heck, it not so long ago a Rays team dealt with this same rash of unforeseen injuries and watching players fall like Dominoes…I would think we would have learned a bit of ranting restraint since 2009.
Back in 2009 12 different Rays hit the DL at one time or another and amassed a hysterical number of 752 games missed over that 162 game season. Some spent as little as 6 games on the pine ( BJ Upton/shoulder surgery), while others, like the trio of RP Jason Isringhausen (137 games), RP Troy Percival (119 games) and OF Fernando Perez (130 games) spent most of the season either on the mend or recovering from some sort of surgery. This 2009 season was also the Rays season Carlos Pena missed 25 games due to a badly placed ( cough, cough) CC Sabathia pitch inside with a duo of fractured fingers.
The 2012 season is starting to become a bit of a mirror image of that 2009 injury riddled team, and I think we have not seen the end to the injury bug. How weird is it that both this season’s squad and the 2209 ( June 16-26) edition had 8 players on the DL. Downright freaky to consider that team lost so many “games” to their injured comrades, and this 2012 team as of game time tonight have banked 153 games in the DL bucket this season, not counting Jeff Niemann’s possible 40-60 game estimate.
For some reason we all forgot that this Rays team might have finally used up all their “good luck” fairy dust and for the first time since 2009, the Rays well-oiled machine has broken down not from dis-repair, but from the possible stress and strain each team endures over that 180 days during a MLB regular season. Do not blame Porterfield, Paul Harker or Kevin Barr.
I am sure Porterfield’s training room at Tropicana Field will be re-named “ M*A*S*H 33701” as the Rays players begin to arrive to the Clubhouse on Wednesday. Funny how as soon as Niemann left the contest there were cries and yelps about the Rays Training staff and their Strength and Conditioning. Suddenly the same group of Rays personnel who are considered by many to be one of the best in MLB were being thrown under a speeding bus without even a slight bit of fact or visualization to promote any wrongdoing or mis-diagnosis.
I truly do not know how Niemann threw even a warm-up pitch last night without grimacing in pain after getting hacked by that drive. That determination to even try and stay in the game is a testament to the true guts and courage of this team as a whole. I bet each and every player , especially those nagging injuries they hold to themselves and that we know nothing about. But injuries small or large come with the salary, and sometimes letting them fester and linger are not worth the price paid in the end. Some players might even be playing right now on borrowed time, and that is not a good thing.
Sean Rodriguez has a lingering strained pectoral muscle. Think about that injury for a second. S-Rod has a strained muscle in the chest region of the lead arm in his bat swing. Add onto scenario the blatantly obvious condition of throwing the ball diagonally across his body from the Hot Corner and you have to either be impressed or think Rodriguez is crazy to set himself up for a possible long term injury. Recent errors might be more due to trying to play through the injury than his throws follow through. I seriously do not know why S-Rod is taking the punishment and not resting himself, but then again, the drive and resiliency shown right now by just this one Rays speaks volumes to the commitment of every one on this 25-man roster.
There is no conspiracy, no covert medical pandemic or lack of adherence to conditioning drills that have led to this recent outburst of injuries. The plan truth is this Rays team has been dodging huge bullets and taped up more than a few “walking wounded” over this season and some injuries go under the radar until they burst out into the daylight.
Sports fans today want to point a finger, find a viable scapegoat to focus blame and their anger towards, and sometimes the wrong people get caught in the cross-hairs. How many people know Porterfield last night called the local NBA team, the Raptors last night trying to find an over-sized set of crutches to make Niemann’s pain a bit more bearable. You can bet Porterfield and his staff including Strength and Conditioning Coach Barr have put in plenty of overtime and extended hours mending, taping and even discussing ways this team can keep its members on the field, even for a minimal of innings or effort.
But still the finger wag and the voices get louder and louder. Maybe the Rays Republic needs to point their finger in another direction. Possibly there is another culprit who deserves your spit and vinegar. Possibly the bottle of luck the Rays have been pouring out since 2009 finally ran out of magic. Maybe we should point our fingers to the person who is suppose to keep it full. Lady Luck, as Ricky Ricardo once said, “You got some explainin’ to do! ”
For awhile this Spring I was beginning to wonder and a bit concerned that Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon might have to pick his daily starter at short based on a Clubhouse game of musical chairs. Even worse, he might come up with a blind choice game of I-Pod musical roulette to decide his daily choice. I could imagine hearing “Glory Days” by the Boss playing loud in the Manager’s Office as Maddon opens the door and scribbles Elliot Johnson’s name on the line-up board. Thank goodness that is not going to happen….for now.
Even that kind of insane and luck-based playing system is a testament to the great underlying potential and great ability the Rays trio of SS candidates have in their singular arsenals heading into Opening Day. I do not remember another segment of Rays players who will make up the mercenaries of the middle who had as much ability and downright potential to shine bright and become the unforeseen gems of the Rays diamond this season. It been quite a while since the middle of the Rays infield has had this source of considerable true talent and strength pushing this position into forming an unbreakable backbone for this team.
Not since the departure of former Rays All-Star Jason Bartlett has the number 6 spot had as much experience, potential for greatness and have bona fide momentum changing abilities at their disposal. Literally the Rays middle infield could become a place where hit balls go to die. Just the thought of increased chances at put-outs, double play combinations and the speed and agility of this trio boggles the imagination. Possibly we could see the “pitcher’s best friend”, the 6-4-3 Double Play become an intricate part of the winning combination this season.
We “officially” know that Maddon might be playing a bit more Salsa tunes on his I-pod as Sean Rodriguez has received the first nod from Maddon has the Rays “main man in the middle” for Opening Day. It is a well-earned spot for S-Rod as he knew coming into the Spring the job was open and a good, consistent Spring could net him this desired spot. But do not discount the possibilities of Johnson and Reid Brignac forcing Maddon’s hand at time with streaks of their own, or defensive gems that could get them additional starts and chances to shine brighter and brighter.
Maddon has said this will not be a platoon-based middle infield, but I think it is way too early to dictate that with clarity considering all 3 of these players could start somewhere among the 30 MLB teams. I truly consider the present Rays trio to possess the offensive tools and power that could finally turn the bottom half of the Rays daily line-up card into an additional run-producing power source as well as showcasing some brilliant defensive stalwarts.
Tell me another time in this franchise’s history we have had 3 players who could bring the potential of the middle infield up to this previously unforeseen caliber. But depth like this can be a double-edged sword. Sure Elliot Johnson might see some additional starts in the outfield this season and be more of a plug-in utility player all around the field, but Briggy Baseball can also make Maddon change his mind a bit if he gets off to a splendid start at the plate, especially with some extra base nuggets.
That is not to say Brignac might not see some starts against crafty right-handers, or possibly weekly dose of getaway games and possible Sunday matinée’, but if Rodriguez should stumble out of the gate, there are options in place for Maddon to be swift with the marker and make changes. But that is what happens when you got 3 baseball players who have untold potential and limited spots and starts for them. But then again, it is a nice problem to have.
To finally have infield depth that can be plugged in and play to an outstanding level without skipping a beat. Who knows maybe the future sounds of a plethora of 6-4-3 double play combos will be music to all of our ears. I know I already like the rhythm and cadence of it.
Coming into this Spring, we all knew that this Tampa Bay Rays squad had front row dugouts seats for an old-fashioned knock-down, drag out fight for their shortstop position. Both Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac’s names were ranked 1 and 2 at the very top of the contending candidates list.
Rodriguez was hampered a bit early on in Spring camp by a linger cold, then a short setback after an Inter-squad game on March 8th brought to light a sprained left index finger possibly caused after Minnesota Twin OF Denard Span stole second base and S-Rod might have jammed his finger in applying the tag.
Suddenly it seemed timing might be smiling on “Briggy Baseball”, with a cane to separate himself from Rodriguez in the race by some considerable lengths.
But this “horse race” was far from over as Brignac recently had his own dark turn recently after injuring his foot and now being basically “shelved” for the time being from game play as his plantar fasciitis injury will do more to dictate how soon before the end of the Grapefruit season Brignac can resume the fight for his 2011 Opening Day position.
Best case scenario has Brignac getting daily treatments, the injury tearing itself and then a short rehab period as the injury heals itself. Basically, if the injury takes too much time, Brignac could lose his slot in the shortstop battle with Elliot Johnson currently pining for an infield spot himself on the Rays roster, possibly even manning the 6-slot if Rodriguez has a fall from grace.
Some would say the 2-man horse race suddenly has a fast approaching dark horse coming up quickly on the outside (Johnson) and is trying to overtake the pack and get his nose squarely and firmly in the Rays SS race.
That is what is so frustrating about this recent setback for Brignac who knows all too well the sands in the Rays decision hourglass is fading and all Brignac can do is take a “wait and see” situation until his body makes the first move towards eventual recovery.
But his body better make a move soon or Brignac could face the realization of starting the 2012 season on the bench, possibly lower than second on the middle infield depth chart.
Another bout of bad timing is the injury is taking place at the time when his family strolls in from Louisiana and provides their annual Cajun Celebration complete with homemade Boudin, Jambalaya, Red Beans and Rice and a velvety bread pudding for teammates and Rays staff members.
Until Brignac get the “thumbs up” from Rays Trainer Ron Porterfield, he will just have to keep himself mentally and physically sharp hoping he can get into games near the beginning or middle of next week with an eye at sliding past Johnson for that second slot on the SS depth chart.
Then Brignac will have to up his game during the beginning of the regular season by slowly chipping away at Rodriguez’s grip on the SS spot, then thrust himself firmly into regaining his old starting spot. But for now all Brignac can do is hope and pray for a speedy tear and repair of his foot injury and his eventual return to the Rays line-up.
Timing, it can be said can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Briggy Baseball is hoping right now that time is on his side and he still has a fighting chance at possibly retaining his Opening Day spot in the middle of the Rays infield.
For some reason, I would make a solid bet of Brignac providing a huge last-ditch effort over the last few games to keep his game style fresh in the minds of the Rays staff, possibly winning this race by a single foot.
“Looks like we’re (the Rays) trying to get ou6 0-6 start out of the way early this season” #smartness”
Sam Fuld (@SamFuld5)
Is anyone within the Rays Republic ready to walk the gangplank, find themselves stressing out to the point of exhaustion so far this Spring? My advice to you then is to simply chill. Find yourself a shady spot, bask in the evening glow of the sunset and relax, it is Spring baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays will be fine, they are just tweaking and honing their skills with April 6th as the red letter day for their 2012 re-introduction to the rest of the MLB.
Sure the Rays have posted their first ever 0-6 start to the Spring schedule, but what do you expect when you have a fire drill of changes, bring in certain pitchers for obvious situation and sometimes the opposition’s momentum doesn’t stop like Rays skipper Joe Maddon’s classy old, but new ’55 Chevy (bad brakes). So what if the end of all 4 games this Spring have left you with a bitter taste, it is the Grapefruit League for gosh sakes.
But during these 4 losses to start the Spring the Rays have found as many diamonds as they have clumps of fool’s gold. Some of the competitions we have been eager to watch unfold have taken a few wild turns already, with some results showing light on some to favor, and a few dark spots that might extinguish a few chances in the near future.
I can easily dismiss the apparent late error today (Tuesday) by Rays SS Sean Rodriguez as he tries and entrench his name upon the line-up card as the team’s starting short stop. S-Rod might have made a bad play today, but his .750 average with a run scored in 2 contests shows Rodriguez came into the Spring wanting a starting gig to call his own.
S-Rod finds himself in a belly of the beast, a nice dogfight early with rising Rays SS prospect Tim Beckham who has suited up and played in all 4 contests, mostly after the 4th inning, but has shown the skill and athletic grace needed to one day man the Rays 6-spot. Reid Brignac, who was expected to be a throne in Rodriguez’s side as so far not cranked it up the needed notch to retain or keep his 2011 Opening Day SS spot. “Briggy Baseball” has gone 0-3 at the plate.
The second spot thought to have more than a few Rays eyes glued to it, the back-up catching position has seen the Rays two young guns Robinson Chirinos (.500) and Jose Lobaton (.333) basically trying to 1-up each other as the 2 back stops have produced great numbers. 2011 Durham Bulls catcher Steven Vogt has proven in the last 4 games he is not ready for the Comedy Corners of America just yet posting up a .375 average with 2 doubles to go along with his .650 Slugging Percentage. Suddenly the Rays back-up catching role might have a dark horse, with the initials “S V”.
So even as the Rays have clunked to their first ever 0-4 record in their 15 Spring seasons, with the way the line-up card has needed the large spacing of your First Grade writing tablet combined with an over-sized eraser and giant pencil production from the regular 2011 Rays line-up has shown this team is better than their record.
In the first 4 innings of these 4 games the Rays have given up 6 runs while scoring 2 themselves. That is also a bit deceiving as the Rays sandwiched their 2 worst performances giving up 2 runs in the first 4 innings during their Opener to the Minnesota Twins, then 3 today as the Twins visited Port Charlotte. In between that, the Rays gave up only 1 run in the first 4 frames of their 2 middle contests.
Surprising enough, the guy the Rays have penciled in as an apparent relief pitcher possibility for 2012, P Wade Davis only went to the mound on Monday in Sarasota and blanked divisional foes the Baltimore Orioles with an outstanding 1-hit, 1 K effort over 2 innings. That puts more pressure on SP Jeff Niemann and possibly rookie Matt Moore to produce or possibly not be wearing a Rays uniform on April 6th ( home opener).
So do not fret the 0-4 record. It is a passage of Spring to test and put some of the younger guys through the paces and situations that will make them better MLB future players. Some of the Rays losses might have been avoided if the “A” team had gone the distance, but in the Spring, it sometimes looks more like a Church League softball game with constant line-up and position changes and number that reach up to almost 80.
One last note, keep your eye on Rays Spring invitee OF Jeff Salazar who has 1 of the Rays 2 Hrs, plus is sporting a 1.375 OPS and .875 Slugging Percentage this Spring in 4 games. They Rays are said to want to carry at least 5 outfielders this season, and if Salazar keeps up his pace, he could be the 2012 edition of Sam Fuld and find himself not only a roster spot, but considerable playing time, even in the early innings. Let’s just hope the bus trip up to Tampa on Weds with SP James Shields taking the hill for the first time this Spring…Maybe it is just the time for some Big Games James to break this streak.
On Wall Street, the Trades and Acquisitions Department of large investment firm have the covert mentality of the CIA and other branches of International intrigue that use initials. Knowledge is power, and with that, secrecy and the movements under that umbrellas come at a premium.
So far this Winter we have heard and seen some of the clandestine targets and near misses of the Tampa Bay Rays, who operate under their own initialed powerful and might organization, the MLB, has taken the art form of gliding amongst the darkened halls with silent whispers to a new level. As we have learned in the past, the Rays have a circle of trust within its Fourth floor domain that no constants, syllable or even grown are visualized or voiced when the always alert media comes a-callin’ with trade rumors and whispers in the wind.
Some moves might be counter-moves, made to seem directed towards a general target, but suddenly change direction, showing a more devious and unimagined alternative plan. Take the recent movement by the Rays to get the services of free agent outfielder Coco Crisp. That’s right, the same Crispy critter who almost walked into a James Shields hay maker in 2008 that might have shattered Shield’s pitching hand.
Who in their right Rays mind could have seen this one coming? Of course Crisp decided he like to stay on his dock by the bay and rejected the Rays advances. We know Crisp and Shields have buried their hatchet, but have all the bad blood been drained within the Rays Republic in regards to Crisp? That, my friends is blowing in the wind now, and great fodder for Happy Hour discussions. But the outfielder chatter did not stop with the Coco one, there was another attempt, or stab at Seth Smith, and adequate fielder and hitter in his own right to possibly be a Plan B to the Crisp covert ops.
But you got to ask of there is a problem within the Rays outfield we do not see, or are we possibly looking 4-moves behind the mind right now of Rays Executive VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. I was content to think we might see Desmond Jennings in Right field this season trading spots with Matt Joyce who I thought made his presence known for the full-time gig, even against southpaws. I had come to terms my myself that B J Upton might wear a question mark on his uniform instead of the # 2 this season as his tenure in Rays Center field is more rental than lease with an option to buy. Was starting to think someone named Damon might have the only true answer.
The moves towards Crisp and Smith have me wondering just how much confidence the Rays have in Sam Fuld, Brandon Guyer or even Justin Ruggiano to be that 4th asset in the OF puzzle…or if their own Rays existence is also under the microscope as possible trade fodder? It is almost as if I should think of 20 of the 25 names on the Rays roster not named Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist are stapled to the Trop turf, but everyone else is up for discussion at some point. And now comes internal gossip the Rays might not have held onto Smith if they had signed him, but used him as more enticing bait for another morsel….How quickly the tides turn in Tampa Bay.
But that is what the Winter Hot Stove season is all about right? Making the waters boil and seeing who rises to the top of the pile and who settles to the bottom, possibly there until the late July Trade Deadline timetable. Early this Winter we had the Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Willingham, Carlos Beltran and finally an afterthought of a Anthony Rizzo acquisition spinning in our head’s before the new year. Sometimes I wish I had a mouse with a lipstick camera or a house fly with a video feed to give me something tangible and substantial to write about before it hits the general airwaves.
I’m beginning to think we need to contact the modern Sherlock Holmes I saw on BBC the other night, he sees in that altered universe realm, and can be perfectly comfortable thinking 6-8 moves ahead of the rest of us mortals. For some reason I think a MI-6 License to Kill might be easier to obtain than a Rays trade whisper. Sure there are still cracks in the Rays armor, but it is in the field personnel and not on the front office lines. Questions abound around the infield now with the Rays inquest towards trying to secure Brooks Conrad and Ryan Theriot.
I had the notion to think it might be a slip up, a showing of their cards that possibly Sean Rodriguez is penciled in at Shortstop and Second in a platoon, and Zobrist again will carry at least 5 gloves to every Rays contest. I thought for a moment I might have cracked a hidden code, possibly being 1-move ahead of the pack with the Rays inquiring about Conrad and Theriot, but their talents were to be as bit players not starters in the proposed Maddon 2012 Tour. Foiled again just when I thought I had inched forward with something of substance again left with poached egg on my grill.
But one day. Ahhh, one day someone will crack the code, bring about the wheeling and dealing to the surface, not with the realm of full disclosure, but with hints, smatterings of intel and possibly make us all giddy again about what really lies behind the Rays Carolina Blue curtains. But I am left right now with the pure facts I will never be in the Rays circle of trust, never be an intricate part of the Rays always unfolding covet machine, finally realizing with crystal clear clarity my best guesses at trades are just those…guesses.
I guess I will have to be content that the powers that be that invisibly move within the 4th Floor sanctum is hard at work making the Rays a better oiled machine. A more precise instrument to take into the 182 battles that make up an MLB season. That I can sleep better at night knowing Friedman is out there somewhere already in work mode to answer those question we have not even asked yet. Still, the Ryan Madson rumors have me curious….I wonder if there is a motorized mouse online I can buy, or what time is it in London?
Usually around this time of the year Tampa Bay Rays blogs begin to countdown their top moments of the season. It was a historic season by many aspects. The team posted their third trip in four seasons to the October party, but also we saw so many of the Rays post their own moments of wonder and amazement it has to have all of us giddy with emotion knowing there are less than 100 days before the fun all begins again for 2012.
We saw the emergence of “the Legend”( Sam Fuld), the formulation of the “Magic of Kotch” (Casey Kotchman) movement, and also saw the further maturation of the Rays top tier players David Price and Evan Longoria. We saw Sean Rodriguez move across the diamond to the 6-hole and show why he has always been a prized reward of the Scott Kazmir trade. Desmond Jennings came up and proved once and for all he is not a “Crawford”-clone, but has his own power, style and base-stealing magic.
Matt Joyce proved he had the stuff to hit left-handers, and Ben Zobrist again show the “Zorilla” style traits we all fell in love with during the 2008-2009 campaigns. From starters to Bullpen the Rays hurlers showed promise, unexpected magical moments and the durability of the staff graybeard as James Shields merited Cy Young consideration.
2011 was suppose to be a rebuilding season, but the only rebuilding the Rays did was on their reputation and solidarity to fixate on that post-season goal and drive towards it with vigor and vitality. This season will not go down in Rays history as the most productive on paper, but the 91 wins posted by this squad were 1 better than their rivals the Boston Red Sox and produced another champagne moment within Tropicana Field.
Rays Manager Joe Maddon instilled a “Find Another Way” mantra on his troops early this Spring and several players in the Rays fold responded by showing their abilities are on par with this league even if their MLB service clocks show minimal numbers. Jennings might have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2011 he should be the heir apparent to the Rays lead-off hitter the Rays for 2012. Joyce finally got the at bats to prove he can be the Rays everyday right-fielder and run producer.
All five members of the Rays 2011 posted over 10+ victories with Shields leading the field with a 16-12 record. Not only did Shields lead his young Rays comrades in “W’s”, he also topped the squad in innings pitched (249.1 innings), strikeouts (225) and ERA (2.82 ). Filling in gaps within the season the Rays saw the promise of brilliance of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and the late season relief pitching of Alex Torres.
Pitching definitely defined so many of these great Rays moments, but the bats did not remain silent during the carnage. We saw new closer Kyle Farnsworth struggle but post a career high with 25 saves, but we also saw the season toll takes it effect on one of the most intimidating players in the game. But the Rays Bullpen which featured 3 lefties for most of the season closed down offenses with RP Joel Peralta providing his own brand of set-up brilliance as well as posting 6 saves. From inning 1 to 9 this Rays team’s pitching tried to set the tone and bring home a win on a nightly basis.
Who will forget that Home Run hit by Longo to seal the Rays post-season against the Yankees on the season’s last day in extra frames about the same time ex-Rays LF Carl Crawford missed a dying quail in Baltimore to propel the Rays into the October party.
With that singled out win on the last day of the 2011 campaign, the Rays ended up posting their only winning September ever with a 16-10 record. It also secured the squad’s third straight 90+ win season, How pale does that starting 1-8 record look now in retrospect as corks exploded within the Trop’s confines and players and fans celebrated together.
Rookies earned their Rays letters this season at an alarming rate as Moore, Brandon Gomes,Torres, Jake McGee and Jeremy Hellickson combined to bring home 8 of those 16 September victories among them, further showing the promise and prosperity that should bring about more moments of celebration and excitement in 2012 for this talented 5-some. Each of these 5 hurlers definitely earned their Rays letterman’s sweaters complete with a shaving cream pie.
But even with the emergence of the rookies, some of the Rays players saw their season as constant reminders of the ever-changing MLB environment. Pitchers J P Howell and Andy Sonnanstine began the 2012 Spring Training with high expectations and a want to show their abilities for this team. Sonny ended up in Triple-A Durham for most of the season, and Howell who came on later in the season never seemed to find the right groove or positive upward momentum. But that is the joy of the New Year, resolutions can be made, and the past is just that…past.
The 2011 season has long been put into the record books, but 2011 is slowing winding down towards it’s last tick of the clock and should be remembered as a season of true fortitude, ever-present resilience and a combined team-wide confidence stemming from the veterans to rookies that this team could win on any given night.
But still if I had to pick a moment of clarity for the Rays, a scene that showed the drive, commitment and determination of this squad it was on the 180th day of the season, in the 12th inning Longoria proved once and for all he is the man to follow on this squad even before his 31st Home Run made human contact in the right field stands. So as we begin to enter the 15th season for the Rays, Sonny has found a new home with the Cubs, Maddon has darkened his hair a few shades.
Changes are still in store for this team before they cross the Port Charlotte, Florida threshold this Spring. Some players have solidified their spots on the roster while others have the Rays scouting and Coaching staff wearing out the erasers on their pencils trying to mesh and mold this squad to take that next step. Can’t wait for that crystal ball to fall in NYC soon because that will symbolize that 2012 is squarely upon us, and the memories of 2011 are just that…fond and precious memories.
At the precise moment on Friday night as the St. Louis Cardinal’s barrage of champagne corks began their ascent towards the heavens, 29 other Major League Baseball franchises heard only the undeniable audible signal that announced the beginning of their own rebuilding and tweaking process. These MLB clubs did not watch in awe and admiration as Cardinal fans and players took their ceremonial baths in bubbly, that precise moment beckoned each and every club to begin to unveil and move towards their own dreams of celebrating in November, 2012.
As the city’s faithful began their dancing beneath that mighty arch, baseball vistas from Seattle to Miami began their own quests to become the club’s to do that same celebratory display in November, 2012. With the first cork came the realization that the 2011 MLB season is in the books, and 2012 is there for the taking.
This morning as the Sunburns off last night’s celebration haze, the Cardinal faithful are rushing to outlets throughout their city for their World Series title mementos while the rest of the MLB is sprinting to possibly gain a sizable lead in retaining, replacing or reconstructing their squads to have the same experience in 2012. The off season folder have been plucked from their secretive hiding places and already things are in the works both behind the scenes and in plain view. The off season for everyone in Major League Baseball has officially begun.
Here in Tampa Bay, the Rays should have an pretty abbreviated laundry list compared to their 2011 off season “wish list”. Still a few additional key components have to be found, possibly tweaked or invited to re-sign with the young club to give the Rays that same competitive fire and drive that send them from bystanders to Wild Card darlings. Key decisions have to be made about certain rotation members tenures with the team. Certain arbitration-eligible players may find themselves without a team, and a few unexpected free agents might get an Spring Training invite to become a part of the Rays 2012 nucleus.
Already there is both optimism and pessimistic waves and valleys growing within the Rays Republic. Should the Rays offer another contract to DH Johnny Damon with possibly a $7 guaranteed payday plus the same attendance bonuses? Or should the club enlist the outside help of another high priced bat-slinger to bring a bit of intimidation and power to the Rays universe?
Will a few slots open up in the Rays rotation, or will pitchers like Matt Moore and the “Alex” duo of Cobb and Torres be shipped back to the minor until mid-May to stammer their arbitration clocks? The Rays scouting system and front office is bound to have to endure more than a handful of stressful and thought provoking skull sessions to decide if the Tall Texan (Jeff Neimann) or WD-40 (Wade Davis) have better talent and potential than the pitching trifecta punching their way through the thin glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the St. Petersburg clubhouse.
Will the Rays catching corps rebound with authority both at the plate and behind it with John Jaso possibly showing the same power and ability that made him a Rays darling in 2010, or will a bevy of Rays farm hand backstops like Jose Lobaton, Robinson “Honeynut” Chirinos, Nevin Ashley or the powerful bat of Stephen Vogt make Jaso possibly a Rays “dead man walking?
The glass ceiling between Triple-A Durham and the clubhouse in St. Petersburg could be broken by several players of these players and more this coming Spring. Could veteran C Kelly Shoppach’s September and post season heroics gain him another shot behind the plate with the Rays, or will the Rays decline his 2012 club option? I have a feeling one of these catchers will not be with the Rays come the mid-February report date.
Then there will be an endless bevy of flowcharts and statistical evaluations and scouting critiques to decide if Reid Brignac is the heir apparent at shortstop, or if infield journeyman Sean Rodriguez will be given a chance to unseat Brignac who was the Rays 2011 Opening Day SS. Some have said S-Rod gives the team more power and a consistent bat in the line-up whereas Brignac might have the deeper range and potential coming into Spring Training 2012. With a hot Rays SS prospect like Hak-Ju Lee and INF Tim Beckham still pushing their way up the Rays farm ladder, the current shaky foundation of Brignac will open discussions towards possibly having Rodriguez get more time in the 6-slot with the future only a phone call away in Durham come late season.
Then there is the biggest hot spot of them all, who will man the First Base bag for the Rays in 2012? Most might think current 1B Casey Kotchman will get a nice bump in pay from his $ 750,000 2011 salary to re-sign with the Rays, but that is pure speculation until the contract is sign, sealed and delivered. Even with First Base power behemoths like Pujols, Fielder and possibly Votto dangling on the lines, the Rays will not have a salary deviations to land a high priced acquisition, and Kotchman could be a bargain both in his defense and in his renewed vigor at the plate.
Possibly we will see the end of the “Sonny” era with the Rays. Andy Sonnanstine spent most of 2011 in Triple-A, and being arbitration-eligible again in 2012, might have worn the Rays colors for the last time. RP J P Howell also will enter the fray again, possibly also with the Rays on the fence to his ability to rebound from his surgery and again be the needed force in the Rays Bullpen. The Rays for once seem set at “leftie specialist” as both Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos should end any discussions of the Rays needing another hurler in that category.
Kyle Farnsworth seems destined to again shore up the back end of the Rays Bullpen with a $ 3.3 million 2012 club option on the books. But could the late season elbow stiffness possibly have the Rays a bit anxious of a possible Deja Vu circa 2008 “Percival” scenario? More Bullpen concern might be to see if Joel Peralta might like to remain a Ray, possibly with a extended 2-year deal.
From top to bottom, all 40 of the Rays current roster members will undergo a evaluation soon. With free agents making visits to the Rays complex, and some packing their gloves for other vistas, this Rays off season has begun. Fortunately there are more answers than questions this season, but that will not hinder Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his staff as they find ample offense and suitable replacements for a few departing Rays. The 2011 season is officially in the record books, now comes the real fun for Friedman and his staff to bring the brilliance.
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.
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!
Not much of a dessert guy myself, but tonight, the Toronto Blue Jays got their just desserts. Funny how it was not a shaving cream pie, or even a Carvel sundae, but it was a special Tampa Bay bundt/bunt cake that did the trick.
Who would have thought the recipe for again awakening the Rays offense would be to start off in the bottom of the 2nd inning playing “ small ball”. That’s right, not aiming for the fences, but putting the bat on the ball and squirming it along the AstroTurf woke up not only the Rays bat, but reminded the Jays defense this team doesn’t quit.
Sure Ben Zobrist did his best “2008 Zorilla “ impression crushing a ball into the Rightfield bleachers for a short-lived 1-0 lead. Then after a Casey Kotchman fly out, B J Upton showed why the Rays gambled and kept him here instead of sending him away. A well crafted single to Leftfield, then well placed 9 iron shot by Matt Joyce into shallow Center put the Rays in a position to make some early noise.
With Joyce and Upton in scoring position, Sean Rodriguez dropped a beauty of a bunt just in front of Jays starter Carlos Villanueva who then proceeded to commit a costly error as Upton stamped on Home Plate. That was the first sliver of the bunt/bundt cake.
Then Rays rookie catcher Robinson Chirinos put down his own little bounding ball of short happiness for a infield single to First. Joyce came in to score, and all of a sudden it was 3-0 Rays on top. Second helping of bundt/bunt cake with a little extra dab of frosting.
All of a sudden last night’s lone Rays run scorer decided to get into the action himself as rookie speedster Desmond Jennings wanted to deliver his own bit of sugary goodness by placing a perfect bunt in front of Jays Third Baseman Edwin Encarnacion who was playing back hoping for a double play ball.
Suddenly bases were loaded with Rays, another slice of bundt/bunt cake delivered. Finally Johnny Damon ended the sugar rush by delivering a long and deep sacrifice fly to Centerfield that easily scored Rodriguez to make it 4-0 Tampa Bay. All of a sudden a little bit of pre-game prep work by the Rays in bunting drills snapped their offense out of its funk.
When the Rays came up in the bottom of the 3rd inning, it seemed the Jays were still infused and decimated by the Rays bunt barrage, and possibly a little sugar shock. Villanueva, a former Jays reliever, couldn’t seem to get out of his 2nd inning stride and quickly the Rays added some more morsels to their run/ sugar intake.
Of the 8 Rays hitters to go to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd inning, 4 produced extra base hits, and the Jays saw 4 more runs cross the plate. Suddenly after solo homer by Kotchman, a double by Joyce, Rodriguez getting pelted with a pitch, Chirinos decided it was time to put the cherry firmly upon the cake and delivered a 3-run shot to Leftfield that left more of a bitter taste in Villaneuva’s mouth than sweet.
Ex-Rays bat boy and Jays starter Jesse Litsch came in and stopped the flow of Rays runs getting Damon to strike out swinging.
Finally the Rays had figured out a way to get out of that 1-2 run lead routine with the Jays and tack on some needed runs with the small ball, then using the long ball to seal the win. This is the type of offensive show that we have seen so often in road games, but has been few and far between at Tropicana Field.
With a win tomorrow during the Parks and Recreation Day, plus the Rays Tweet Up, the team could head into their 3-game series against the Oakland Athletics, who the Rays hope they can extract some more sweet revenge on this weekend. This is the home offense we have been anxiously awaiting. Pining to see finally break through and produce at home.
What happens during the Thursday matinée will go a long way in providing comfort and stability that this team has finally broken out of the home rut and will again dominate. A win tomorrow will put then back at square one with a 26-26 mark at home.
Tonight the Rays delivered a beauty of a game hitting on all cylinders, providing not only a huge run support cushion for Rays starter James Shields, but a solid effort with this team finally figuring out their home crux. Tonight the Rays did deliver a sliver of just desserts to the Jays, but hopefully it is only an appetizer of what is to come in the next 4 contests.
Bon Appetit Rays Republic, for tonight, let the Jays eat some humble pie.