Results tagged ‘ Wade Davis ’

Filling the First Base Hole is Crucial for Success


It is no secret among anyone in Major League Baseball right now that the Tampa Bay Rays are in need of a First Baseman. Be it from a trade, a free agent or maybe even a budding star caught between a rock and a potential All-Star, the Rays will find their man, but at what price?

Heck just for conversation and a few giggles, can Andy Sonnanstine play First Base? Seriously I am not applying Sonny name to the 1B fodder list, it is just he has done everything else for the Rays, plus he will finally get a gig where he can hit daily.

You can immediately take names like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Jorge Posada and Derrek Lee out of the think tank mostly because of the fear it would cause instantly to the Rays payroll situation. Even past Rays familiar names like Russell Branyan, Eric Hinske, Brad Hawpe, Jorge Cantu, Adam Kennedy, and Carlos Pena might give each of us a wonder if they can again be monster at the plate and huge pillows in the field, but their tenures have come and gone for this team.

Dan Johnson, the Rays 2011 Opening Day starter refused a assignment and is also within the free agent wading pool. His exploits, especially in the latter weeks of the season have made him a folk hero in Tampa Bay, but his dismal early season slump in 2011 made in more than expendable. Johnson has unfortunately had a yo-yo existence with the Rays from his plucking off the waiver wire, to a year in Japan courtesy of the Rays, to being a part of this team by proxy in Triple-A Durham then emerging with memorable Home Runs and spontaneous eruptions of power. If only he could get that power spurt to last 180 days during the regular season.

Interesting name do pop out at you from the list of potential young free agents like the powerful ex-Yankee Juan Miranda. The former Cuban baseball star signed a reasonable $2 million contract with the Yankees in 2006, and like former team Cuba team mate and current Rays farm hand Leslie Anderson, Miranda has not shown the verbosity yet to possibly warrant more than a casual look by the Rays. That and a limited MLB experience which mired Miranda with a .226 career average, this might take him out of any Rays consideration.

 Michael Cuddyer might be an interesting name to associate with the Rays in their 1B quest, but his Type A status, which could cost the Rays draft pick might be a huge stop sign to any advancement towards his name. We all know how the Rays value their draft picks, and accumulate them like canned goods to weather any impending payroll storm. I actually would love to see what Cuddyer would do with his photographic talents if given a few extra months of Trop photography….but that is not a reason to sign him (bummer).

There might be a few young tradeable names to ponder for the Rays, but then again it might come down to the “want “ list by the other franchise, possibly killing the deal in the initial chatter phase. If the Miami Marlins do indeed get Price or King Albert to guard their First Base bag, it will be interesting to see how the team positions Gaby Sanchez for relocation. With the Marlins pretty set with at least 3 starters on the books, there is room for rotation adjustments and improvement, but would someone like Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann or an Rays prospect on the cusp plus a young catcher like Jose Lobaton or Nevin Ashley be enough to land the powerful Marlin?

Or could the dangling of Cincinnati Reds young hitter Yonder Alonso be the morsel that tempts the Rays into digging into their roster and farm system possibly bringing Alonso to Tampa Bay where he will have a free range position in front of him unlike in Cincy where Joey Votto is cemented at 1B for the immediate future. The problem with Alonso is not his value, but the deal it would take to possibly separate him from his Reds jersey and into a Rays uniform.

Would Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman be willing to possibly delete SP James Shields from his roster even before Spring Training, or can be package a deal possibly including some middle infield talent, plus a budding pitcher and possibly another player to get this deal done and put a solid body with a few years of flexibility at the corner position for the Rays? Alonso might be a power upgrade over the Rays 2011 First Base corps, but will he be the fielding gem the Rays need to keep their defensive fielding advantage intact?

Even though other First Baseman names out there like Lyle Overbay and Jason Giambi might tweak a bit of Rays interest as potential platoon members, their salaries definitely might be out of the Rays comfort zone, immediately dissecting their name from the 1B Carousel.

In my honest opinion, I am still hopeful the Rays can plug in Rays 2011 First Baseman Casey Kotchman as a exclamation point into this pondering question. Still there are questions within this easy solution to the Rays First Base dilemma. Kotchman’s biggest stumbling block to him possibly getting a multi-year deal might be his ponderance for low power numbers. Still, if the guy can get the needed hits, place himself up near .300 and produce scoring opportunities and drive in runs, does that vault him over a guy who might hit 20+ HR and have a average glove?

This decision on the immediate horizon for the Rays has to have their direct and undivided attention. This current opening that the Rays need to fill this off season is the keystone of their defensive alignment. Get the right glove and bat into this slot, and the Rays could see their offense suddenly pull a Rasputin and emerge from their slumber with their lumber. Whatever happens, this one move will send immediate signals on the way the Rays want to do business in 2012.

Sure you would love to possibly see someone like Cantu come back, or possibly entertain a Pena reunion, but those scenarios might not be in the compromised deck of cards the Rays have for 2012. Possibly a Alonso or Sanchez could fall into the Rays hands, but at what cost, and is Rays pitching really such a high point that losing a Shields, Davis or even a emerging Cobb or Torres not produce a few shock waves?

This one movement by the Rays front office this Winter will be watched closely by the Rays Republic because First Base is just that critical a spot for the Rays, and only a solid corner man will fit nicely with the square peg shape of First Base.

Will Price’s Venture into Arbitration Facilitate a Rays Countermeasure?

Southpaw starting pitcher David Price easily can be considered the most important cog to retain in the Tampa Bay Rays surging competitive machine. His potential is limited only by his own tinkering and shifting in his pitching grips. His confidence and abilities might have taken a direct hit in 2011, but his first season as a Rays “ace” definitely showed he has huge potential and “up-side” to grow into the role and Price is eager to embrace these challenges.

As his abilities have grown, so will his seasonal salary, with Price garnering a sustainable $1.25 million for 2011, Price definitely will see his bank account expand in the coming seasons. Some people among the Rays Republic were shocked when Price opted out of his original 6-year $8.5 million dollar payday recently with the Rays. After achieving Super Two status this past season, Price was in a position to not throw a curveball into the Rays 2012 plans, but possibly offer a bit of salary stability if the Rays would talk about an extended foundation in the Rays fold. Price was set to earn $ 1.5 million for 2012, plus garner the last deferred installment payment of his $ 5.6 million signing bonus from his original Rays contract signed on August 15, 2007.

Some have said publicly that Price executing his right to refuse his 2012 option of $ 2.433 million was a formality, possibly a venue for the Rays and Price to discuss another deal for the long haul. But his decision to exercise his right to refuse his option might put a few of the Rays “wishes” for offensive help on the back burner for a bit possibly putting handcuffs on the Rays front office from getting that needed offensive firepower to stay competitive.

Then again, the move by Price could be a calculated risk with Price knowing he could bring a sense of salary stability with an extended deal instead of the financial darkness that always overshadows the arbitration process. The Rays currently have club control over Price until 2015. But with Price’s decline of his 2012 set salary, his suspected 2012 salary jumps tremendously from the $ 2.4 million figure to between $ 7-8 million dollars just for 2012.

Price could go instantly this off-season from a true Rays payroll value to potentially being the top dog (sorry Astro) within the Rays salary hierarchy. This off-season both Price and arbitration eligible CF B J Upton could both possibly take between $14-16 million of the Rays payroll between themselves. That is why a long-term understanding between the Rays and Price should be on the table this Winter.

Price’s decision definitely puts the Rays front office behind the 8-ball this Winter to either sign Price to a team friendly extension, or face the reality that his escalating arbitration salaries after 2012 might make Price more of a liability financially as his abilities escalate upwards. You wonder if the Rays will stand by patiently watching as Price’s salary escalates yearly finally seeing the Rays faced with another Scott Kazmir or Carl Crawford situation as his worth exceeds the Rays fiscal abilities.

This move by Price could transition into a finely packaged extended stay with the Rays for the southpaw, or be the first indicator of his own exit visa being stamped with a potential 2015 date. possibly shipped out before that expiration date. Rays payrolls for the next few seasons might not venture even close to the previous high of $72+ million dollar threshold back in 2008.

SP Jame Shields has a bevy of club option salaries of $ 9 million ($1.5 million buy-out) for 2013 and $ 12 million for 2014 on the immediate horizon, and these high dollar figures will make him instantly expendable as early as July 2012. Current Rays offensive spark plug 3B Evan Longoria will see his 2011 salary double from $ 2 million to $4.5 million in 2012 with club options on the horizon that balloon to $7.5 million (2014) to $11.5 million in 2016. Even 2B/OF Ben Zobrist will see his coffers increase from $4.5 million in 2012 to a possible $ 7.5+ million club option in 2015. Suddenly this Rays cohesive core has an impending high salary expiration date.

This whole Price situation can go a multitude of directions. The two sides could sit down, iron out an extended stay with the club with team friendly terms. Or the Rays could venture into the unknown void of the arbitration process that will surely see Price’s value escalate skyward on a yearly basis until Price is a high dollar risk and an instant trade commodity.

This fiscal nightmare has been on the horizon for some time. With extended deals signed prior by Zobrist, Shields,Longoria and last season with SP Wade Davis. The Rays financial nightmare scenario might have been set into motion by Price’s option out of his low-ball 2012 salary. Other members of the Rays young core will soon reach salary arbitration for the first time and financial decisions will have to be made as to the breaking point nears for this Rays expanding young nucleus.

That is the fiscal reality of the Rays. They are a franchise that is currently treading water in a deepening financial MLB ocean as salaries push them under and they gasp for needed financial relief. There is the potential for salvation, or the realistic drowning financially of this franchise. Either way, the Rays player movements this Winter will definitely define their direction and their commitment towards their young core. Within the next few years with a few budding stars pushed out by their impending financial burdens, not their talents.

The final rendering of their movements with Price will either send out shock tremors, or sighs of relief. Price is the keystone to this movement. The first to walk through this fragile threshold, and he will definitely not be the last. Price is wandering into the impending darkness not knowing his final destination, but hopefully the Rays will illuminate the path with their trademark sunburst and make the whole journey pleasant for both sides. Price is betting his Rays future on it.

More Answers than Questions (Thank Goodness) This Rays Offseason


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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




 

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



I am Betting on the Wild Card Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Years Later, “Heart and Hustle, Redux”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The August “Whack-A-Mole” Experience

I love the smell in the morning of the August Trade Waiver drama. It is simply surprising to see who get through this seasonal “Whack-A -Mole” fandango without a single waiver claim, and those who find themselves popped on the noggin being smacked back to the reality of possibly leaving their present squad.

It sometimes seem to work exactly like that classic kid’s arcade game. Every MLB team has their own mallet that they can either whack or smack their collective desired player (mole) square on the head and try and claim them. But the wild part is their present team can pull them back down into the safety of their own 25-man roster and back off the waiver wire with not a hint of their real intentions.

It is clear arcade gamesmanship at it best. The first action of a team posting it player upon the waiver wire is exactly like the mole poking his head out of the hole. Up for all 29 other MLB head honchos to see and possibly mangle for their own team. But here is where it gets really interesting, the team that posts the player has all the advantages, not the person manning the heavy mallet.

You would think it would be the opposite, but then you would be sorely wrong. Even thought it might be a nice therapeutic action to pop a veteran or budding MLB player on the head, he could without warning be pulled back, offered safety again without his claiming club getting a viable chance to claim their prize. Not even a slew of tickets would emerge from the machine, sometimes this game is all or nothing.

That is where the real gamesmanship comes into play. Sure you could smack the daylights out of a player like Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields when his head pops out of the machine, but the Rays front office could be also baiting you for a Winter discussion and pull Shields back into the comfort of the Rays fold. Suddenly you are left holding the bloody mallet with all to see you covet Shields.

Most of the time this scenario is the end result. Teams place the heads of their viable commodities firmly in the game to see who wants to take a whack at acquiring them, or has more than a passing interest. Some like Rays OF/DH Johnny Damon got completely through the game without a single thump upon the noggin, but still there might be a hidden want for his services.

It is almost like a visual game where others see what you are craving, wanting to thump into submission and take back to your roster as a prize. Interesting enough, even if you land one hard and heavy upon the exposed head of Shield’s, the Rays can pull him back to safety and he is no longer an exposed asset for the rest of the MLB to smash and dash.

Shields is not the only Rays player to be pulled back into his team’s safe haven with at least one square hit to his cap region. The Rays Republic have even seen their closer Kyle Farnsworth get a firm planting upon his frontal lobe, but the Rays pulled him back to the comfort of the Bullpen. B J Upton has been the latest Ray to receive a compound headache and a possible plane ticket out of Tampa Bay.

The Rays can either discuss a trade possibility, or pull Upton back into the Rays confines safe until at least the Winter Hot Stove season. The Upton talks or balks will be interesting. It will showcase either that Upton is a viable part of the Rays current post season march, or Desmond Jennings or Sam Fuld have started to erase the “Upton factor” from the Rays game plan.

More intriguing is the firm possibility that Upton was claimed by an American League team that has a good relationship via the trade with Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and could facilitate an Upton move with a few healthy and young and budding MLB relief options in their present fold. Should be a few interesting days until either the Rays pull Upton back to the safe confines, or send him to possibly play with the seagulls nightly up at a vista on the Great Lakes.

During this waiver period the Rays will pop out many of the Rays rostered minions hoping to find the right suitor, trade situation and possibly a future piece of the Rays always unfolding puzzle. This is not a game about “likes” or “dislikes”, it is still about a game where the person with the most toys win. And to win in this business, some times you got to whack a few moles. 

Rays Need to Plot a Victorious Course in Seattle

I swear some times the Tampa Bay Rays use my heart like a toy yo-yo. They seem to tear it out of my chest, fling it down and then slowly up until it is again within my chest. I do not take any heart medications, but after a few of the recent games, including today’s back and forth battle…I might consult a doctor.

Is this going to be the hidden mantra of this team to push the limits of faith and trust, or will they again have a solidified basis for all of us to believe and rejoice in nightly. When this team goes on losing streaks, even the rare ones on the road, they do it with a loud bang.

How else can you describe the man-handling of the Rays top tier pitchers David Price and James Shields in this series. Even rookie Jeremy Hellickson was left pondering the “what if’s” during his lackluster performance to start this 4-game whirlpool of emotion.

Can we blame the chatter and talk among the players and fans regarding the Trade Deadline, or is it the curse of this ballpark where Rays wins always seem to come at a premium, even with the great California mountain range in the background.

Starting this contest this Rays squad was a season high 11 ½ games behind American League East front runner Boston with 58 games left, another AL East title may be beyond reach. Even though the /Rays are a considered the third best team in the American League, they are also the third best currently in their division. And their 7 ½ game deficit to the New York Yankees is bringing more than a few of us mild to severe heart palpitations.

This season is again starting to mirror image a bit of the 2009 Rays season where no matter what they did, it was one hit, one win, one pitch away from securing something magical. But the good news is the Rays head to Seattle next, where wins have been extremely rare lately. The reality of the Rays losing 5 out of the 7 games currently on this road trip tends to sho maybe this team peaked too early.

Again, after the first week this team had, any push upward, even towards a .500 mark seemed like a gift from the Baseball Gods. Mixed into this losing streak was the questions about this teams offense, their run support for their starters, and why certain teams just seem to choke the Rays into submission.

It was only three weeks ago this same Rays team was 49-39 matching their high-water mark of 10 games over .500 and were sitting in the catbird seat just 3 ½ games behind the Red Sox. In these 21 days, the Rays have gone 4-11 and have tumbled 8 games farther behind their divisional foes farther into the dismal abyss.

Again a dark cloud looms for the Rays as they jet northward to Seattle. Mariner’s starter Erik Bedard, who might be making his last M’s start will get the call. When healthy, Bedard has been a Rays killer. Post that with the stat that the Rays are a MLB worst 7-12 against the AL West, and we might hear a few late night screams.

But there is a shining light on the horizon, or at least for tonight in that the Rays showed pride, confidence and a renewed vigor at the plate in the final innings to hand the Athletics at least one loss in this series. Now it is off to the town of coffee and seafood to battle a Seattle club that until recently had been in their own cauldron of disappointment.

This series might decide more than who stays and who goes as the Trade Deadline approaches, it could prove to be the final resting place of the Rays 2011 post season dreams. Sweeping Seattle would not push the Rays into playoff consideration, but the confidence and stride as they headed back home could help them face their home field demons with more vitality.

A lot os going to be riding on this 3-game series. A chance for redemption in this un-Rays like road trip. A sweep would push their present 10-game road trip record towards an even 5-5 mark. Not the expected Rays road results, but would be a 4-game winning streak heading into a 10-game home stand with revenge games against Oakland and Kansas City on the horizon.

Watching this Rays team over the past few nights have been an adventure with emotions running rampant from pride and hope to despair and frustrations. This 2011 Rays squad might not have the depth and stability of the 2010 squad, but they have more than enough in heart, courage and determination. Let’s hope those latter emotions lead the Rays to victories and not another sequence of heartaches and turning the channel. 

Shields Finds “Another Way” to Victory

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Since the beginning of the 2011 Spring
Training, Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been stressing the
mantra of finding “Another Way” to win games this season. Most of
the Rays squad has taken the skipper’s words to heart and have been
re-tooling parts of their game to help the team transform a few
opportunistic situations into victories.

Rays starter James Shields has taken a part of his game to the next level, and that might be his personal

stamp of “Another Way” for his pitching in 2011. The art of the
pick-off is a bit foreign to most right-handed pitchers.


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Because of their angle towards the
plate, and the extra motion needed to throw across their body to
First Base, the pick-off play is a lost and sometimes forgotten
special play within the game. But in 2011, it seems that Shields has
found a way to again stoke a level of fear in base runners when he is
atop the hill.


If you look at the Major League
Baseball leader board among pick-offs, it is usually dominated by
mostly left-handers who have a distinctive advantage throwing-wise to
nab stray base runners. But in 2011, Shields and another Rays rightie
Wade Davis had combined for 4 pick-offs already this season. Then Shields took his game into hyper-drive today.


That was before today’s afternoon
performance against the Cleveland Indians that saw Shields erase 2
separate base runners, one who was in scoring position. Somehow, some
way Shields has amped up his usual throw to first by deceptively
getting the drop on runners this season.


Maybe it is his use of his upper body
to throw towards the bases, or possibly his footwork has improved so
severely it boggles base runners into a trance. Not sure if that is
the real reason, but it is great to see another direction and another
tactic providing positive results for the Rays pitching staff.


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Seriously here. After Shields picked
off Indians OF Michael Brantley off First Base in the bottom of the
third to end the inning, it marks his 4th pick-off of the
young season. Suddenly Shields had a chance to catch current pick-off
leader Oakland LHP Brett Anderson who coming into today lead the
majors with 5 pick-offs.


Then 3 innings later in the bottom of
the 6th inning with Indian Shortstop Orlando Cabrera in
scoring position with power option Cleveland LF Shelly Duncan at the
plate, Cabrera was caught leaning towards Third Base and was picked
off by Shields easily.


I know at the moment Shields did not
know he had tied the MLB lead, but the grin on his face was ample
notice that not only did the play erase a sly base runner, but it
also ended the inning and negated another scoring threat by the
Tribe.


Suddenly not only was Shields change-up
something for hitters to worry about, now they also had to worry
about him turning and burning a throw towards the base with a chance
to eliminate any and all base runners in sight. That can be a very
valuable weapon. It can put a notion of taking a shorter lead,
possibly getting into a runner’s head when Shields is on the hill.


In the end, this change in Shields game
plan could keep runners at bay for a while as they sort out why he is
becoming so deadly. That could also play into runners not trying to
stretch out their leads on the bases for a bit, and might keep a few
runs from scoring. Some might call it intimidation, some might call
it slight of hand, I call it just what it is….”Another Way” to
win ballgames. And Shields is using his new weapon to his advantage
to secure a few more “W’s”.  


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