Rather than dwelling on the embarrassing Rangers series and the Rays giving back their goodwill as they are ever so accustomed to doing, I would like to address the 2009 AllStar Game and its participants. Four Tampa Bay Rays, breaking last year’s record of three, made it into the game with the possibility of a fifth.
Evan Longoria won the voting at third base by a landslide, and for good reason. He has hit 21 home runs and is up about 20 points on his batting average in 2009. He is still doing just about everything he did last year and making his case as a top MVP candidate. Congratulations to the first ever Tampa Bay starter in an AllStar Game. Now do us proud.
Jason Bartlett was voted in as a reserve shortstop by the players. He should have been the starter, and would have been if not for the reputation and Yankee votes for Derek Jeter. He is hitting around .360 with eight home runs he had one last season and has stepped his game up in just about every possible way. And he was already the team MVP last year.
Carl Crawford is another very deserving name. Hitting around .320 for most of the season, Crawford now has eight home runs and a blistering 41 stolen bases. Add a few more walks and he would be Rickey Henderson. This lineup falters without a jump start from him. This will be his third AllStar appearance.
Ben Zobrist was a controversial, but sensible, selection by Joe Maddon. Not even a regular starter for nearly two months, Zobrist has hit home runs and done all the right things when games were on the line. He has 16 home runs, eight stolen bases and about a .400 onbase percentage. He has elevated himself in literally every facet of the game. Just like in the regular season, Maddon can play him in several different spots here. And I know he is not the guy to let this get to his head.
Carlos Pena can also be voted in as part of the Final Vote on MLB.com. He leads the league in home runs and usually plays an outstanding first base. I would like to see him finally have this honor and share it with many other Rays and their loyal fans.
On the Atlanta Braves front, they only managed one representative: catcher Brian McCann, who had the credentials to start despite a slow start to the season due to eye injuries. Those have obviously since been corrected. He has been the bright spot in the lackluster offense for the Braves. Chipper Jones is still doing well, Yunel Escobar is having a good year and Nate McLouth was a welcome boost, but McCann is gluing them all together. He has also had to work with a 60 percent turnover in his starting rotation and has done a very good job with them.
I think the biggest name left out was the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler. He was only hitting .255 as of tonight, but was already near 2020 and has been the spark plug to the Rangers in the absence of Josh Hamilton (who won a starting job anyway). He is in the Final Vote, but I have to vote for Pena. Our apologies to Mr. Kinsler, though his team beating the Rays makes me feel less sorry for him.
Here are the starting lineups:
C Joe Mauer
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Dustin Pedroia (Should have been Kinsler)
SS Derek Jeter (Should have been Bartlett)
3B Evan Longoria
OF Jason Bay
OF Ichiro Suzuki
OF Josh Hamilton (Should have been Crawford or Torii Hunter)
C Yadier Molina (Should have been McCann)
1B Albert Pujols (Obviously)
2B Chase Utley
SS Hanley Ramirez
3B David Wright
OF Ryan Braun
OF Raul Ibanez
OF Carlos Beltran (Will not play due to injury; replacement to be announced)
On an unrelated note, I would like to mention that pitcher Alex Koronis has made his professional debut with the Princeton Rays as a lateinning reliever. The former Tampa Spartan earned a save in his debut on June 30 and has pitched two scoreless outings. This is the first time that I can say a player that I covered, no matter how briefly, has gone on to bigger things. In addition, former Spartan Jose Jimenez hit his first professional home run with the Arizona League Angels on June 23. Keep it up, guys.
Now we have to find out who the starting pitchers and the final men will be. I’m voting for Pena and alternating between Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval and Matt Kemp. Anybody but Shane Victorino because we don’t need any more Phillies. Congratulations to the All Stars, and until next time, go Rays.
The Rays returned home this week and returned to last week’s form, winning two out of three games from Joe Maddon’s old Angels team despite losing the opener.
They lost the first game 43 as James Shields only surrendered two earned runs out of four total. Carlos Pena made his sixth error after having made two in 2008. Despite a Ben Zobrist eighth inning home run and solid relief work from Grant Balfour, Randy Choate and J.P. Howell, the Rays fell to Jered Weaver and Los Angeles (of Anaheim).
The bats came out in droves in game two, picking up a lackluster performance from Jeff Niemann (3.2 IP, 5 R, 4 ER) to beat usual Ray killer John Lackey 95. Pena and Willy Aybar homered off Lackey while Zobrist (7) and B.J. Upton (18) picked up stolen bases. Lance Cormier rescued Niemann with more than two innings of shutdown relief. Jason Isringhausen, Joe Nelson and Dan Wheeler showed their Agame as well as the Rays evened up the series.
The rubber game was the best of both worlds: the bats kept on swinging, the pitchers kept mowing the Angels down. Evan Longoria snapped an 0for19 stretch with a towering home run off Centerfield Street, his 14th this year and the first of four Tampa Bay home runs. Carl Crawford (5), Dioner Navarro (4) and Pena (19) also hit home runs. Crawford added his 35th stolen base, on a pickoff throw no less, and Gabe Gross stole two for the first time since… ever. He went 3for4 with a walk, pacing the bottom of the order.
David Price needs to keep his pitch count down, though he doesn’t give up runs. He walked six batters in just 4.1 innings, but also struck out six and allowed just two hits. He kept his team in this game, but needs to stop walking everything that moves and just get outs. The bullpen, as it did for Niemann, came to the rescue as Balfour, Choate and Nelson struck out six more hitters and only allowed four baserunners. The Rays won 111 and won the series.
Now with the Washington Nationals, the worst team baseball has seen in years, in town, it may be the perfect time to give the bullpen a break. Matt Garza starts tonight against rookie Craig Stammen. And no, Stephen Strasburg will not be seen in this series.
Now on to roster moves: Pat Burrell is returning for the Nationals series. This is a team he should be familiar with, having played in their division for several years. His strained neck may finally be healed, though he was 1for13 with six strikeouts in his low minor league rehab. In exchange, Matt Joyce was sent back to Durham. I think it’s unfortunate because this guy can drive an extrabase hit off anyone, but the fact that he was hitting .188 and needs to play everyday somewhere justifies the Rays’ decision. Hopefully we see him in the AAA All Star Game (vote for him here) and back up here by September. The way Gabe Kapler has slacked off, somebody needs to pick him up.
Jason Bartlett will be rehabbing with the Charlotte Stone Crabs this weekend. As speed is a key asset to his game, his ankle injury has been treated with great caution. Hopefully he burns everyone out on the bases and shows up in Colorado ready to pierce the thin air with bullets.
In the Draft, the Rays took Fred McGriff’s distant relative LeVon Washington with the 30th overall pick. A high school middle infielder currently healing a shoulder injury, Washington runs faster than Tim Beckham and projects to be a high average hitter with decent power despite his small frame. He compared himself to Jose Reyes, which I would say is accurate.
They also selected Georgia high school catcher Luke Bailey in the fourth round. A first round talent coming off Tommy John surgery, this guy could be a steal in the long run. The Rays took a big gamble on Bailey, and I see it ultimately paying off. That surgery works miracles these days.
With the 349th overall pick, the Rays selected Alex Koronis, a junior pitcher from The University of Tampa, which of course is my school. He might not sign because he has another year of eligibility, but he has been the Spartans’ goto guy out of the bullpen, according to coach Joe Urso. He can close games, pitch in long relief, or even start and go the distance. I interviewed him for a newspaper piece not long ago, and I can tell you he’s an interesting character and a good guy. So whether or not he joins the Rays, he’ll go on to a bright future.
Now let’s beat those Nationals and not continue our legacy of playing down to inferior teams. I like how Kevin Kennedy brought that up after last night’s game. Until next time, go Rays.