Tagged: Ben Zobrist

2009 Season Retrospective: Part Two

Welcome back everyone to my 2009 Rays recap. Well first, the Yankees and the Phillies will be playing in the World Series from Hell. I’ve had visions of this in nightmares. As a Rays and Braves supporter, it gets no worse. I will be boycotting the 2009 World Series, and I invite everyone else to join me. Let’s start enjoying football and fall weather. Though football would be more enjoyable if the 0–7 Buccaneers would win a game.

Now on to the recap. This time, it’s personal. Personal opinion, at least. I will be sharing some insight — good, bad and insulting — about this year’s team. Straight to the chase, here it is:


  • Jason Bartlett had an amazing season. Already the team MVP in 2008, he stepped his game up and delivered big offensive totals. He jumped from .286 to .320 and from one to 14 home runs. Those are staggering figures by his standards. If this is typical Bartlett from this point forward, we need to sign him long–term and build around him. Tim Beckham will have a few more years to develop.
  • Speaking of monster statistics, Ben Zobrist leaped from roleplayer to All–Star. The man known as “Zorilla” hit .297 with 27 home runs and 17 stolen bases while starting at six different positions. His most notable spots were second base and right field. He started making adjustments late in the season, which bodes well for his future.
  • Evan Longoria further cemented himself as a team leader. The first Ray ever voted to start in the All–Star Game (though unable to compete due to injury), he batted .281 with 33 home runs while improving on walks and strikeouts and establishing himself as the face of the franchise. He can be one of the best influences in the game in the next few years.
  • How about the rise of Jeff Niemann? The 2004 first round Draft pick finally showed his potential in the Major Leagues. He narrowly won the team’s ERA title at 3.94 with a nice 13–6 record. The Rays definitely made the right decision between him and Jason Hammel.
  • The Rays posted the two largest comebacks in franchise history in 2009. They battled back from a 7–0 deficit to win 8–7 over the Indians on May 15. They topped that by coming back from down 9–1 to a 10–9 victory in Toronto on July 25. There were those few times when the team displayed the resolve of a champion.
  • Tim Beckham made nice strides at Class A Bowling Green. The number one pick in the 2008 Draft hit () with five home runs and went 13–for–23 in base stealing, not bad for a guy who started 1–for–8. I think by 2011 his power potential will show. As long as his skills are being refined now, his potential ceiling is off the charts.


  • Situational hitting was lackluster. The 2009 Rays might hold an all–time record for most times leaving the bases loaded in a season. Bunting was slightly improved, but still far from perfect. And the strikeouts — more on those later — lost critical games. This was the reason hitting coach Steve Henderson was fired. The focus definitely needs to shift.
  • Almost the entire bullpen took a nosedive. J.P. Howell had its best ERA at a respectable 2.84, but struggled with a slow start and a rocky finish. He blew eight saves, among the most in the league. Grant Balfour slid back to Earth, running his ERA up from 1.54 to 4.84 as hitters figured out his fastball. Chad Bradford spent most of the season injured and was unproductive. Joe Nelson, the big offseason signing, was designated for assignment by season’s end. Dan Wheeler was the only consistently decent reliever. Just an excruciating year for these guys. They just need to implode some of that bullpen and rebuild it.
  • Need I mention strikeouts? Carlos Pena (160), Evan Longoria (140), Pat Burrell (), B.J. Upton () and Ben Zobrist (104) hit triple digits. Carl Crawford finished with 99. Jason Bartlett hit a career high, and Fernando Perez had 17 strikeouts in just 36 at–bats. The K’s helped kill this team’s playoff chances. Every hitter on the team needs to cut that down.
  • Pat Burrell = Epic Fail. .221 with 14 home runs does not an $8 million player make. If he doesn’t hit 30 home runs in 2010, he will go down as a huge disappointment and a waste of valuable money.
  • B.J. Upton, Dioner Navarro and Andy Sonnanstine all had miserable seasons, as I previously mentioned. Upton’s 42 stolen bases were the only real accomplishment among them. Trading Upton may be a real possibility, though I could give him one more chance. Navarro should be replaced soon — 2008 is looking more like a one–time fluke. Sonnanstine… we could have kept Edwin Jackson. Enough said.
  • Scott Kazmir tanked himself to a 5.92 ERA with the Rays. It dropped to 1.73 in six starts with the Angels before he became a postseason liability. Hopefully that performance starts silencing those Rays fans calling for Andrew Friedman’s head. We did get some value out of trading Kazmir, notably Sean Rodriguez.

That’s about it for this season. When I find out from ESPN who wins the World Series, I might be back. I should also keep everyone posted on any offseason roster moves. They already fired hitting coach Steve Henderson, but retained pitching coach Jim Hickey. I personally would have done the opposite, though the Rays do need to focus on situational hitting. Until next time, go Rays.

2009 Season Retrospective: Part One

Now that the Tampa Bay Rays’ 2009 season has been completed, here are some facts and figures from the season, including the good, bad and completely miserable:

  • Record: 84–78 (Third place)
  • Home Run Leader: Carlos Pena (39)
  • Stolen Base Leader: Carl Crawford (60)
  • Best Starter ERA: Jeff Niemann (3.94)
  • Batting Leader: Jason Bartlett (.320 — Franchise Record)
  • Best Bullpen ERA: J.P. Howell (2.84)
  • RBI Leader: Evan Longoria (113)

Longoria also led in runs scored (100). B.J. Upton was second in stolen bases (42). Matt Garza finished just behind Niemann in ERA (3.95). Howell led the team in saves (17), but also in blown saves (8).

  • Pat Burrell: .221, 14 HR in 122 games
  • Dioner Navarro: .218, 8 HR, 18 walks in 115 games
  • B.J. Upton: .241, 11 HR in 144 games
  • Andy Sonnanstine: 6–9, 6.77 ERA in 22 games (18 starts)
  • Grant Balfour: 5–4, 4.81 ERA (1.50 in 2008)
  • Scott Kazmir: 8–7, 5.92 ERA with the Rays in 20 games; 2–2, 1.73 ERA with the Angels in six games
  • James Shields: 11–12, 4.14 ERA

So without six busts and a mediocre season from Shields, this team probably would have made the postseason. Every one of those guys could have done much better, as they have before. Thankfully, they were aided by the surprising Ben Zobrist (.297, 27 HR, 17 SB) and Bartlett (30 SB, 14 HR; one HR in 2008).

  • Five players (Pena, Upton, Longoria, Burrell, Zobrist) struck out more than 100 times, while Crawford reached 99. Bartlett had a career–high 89 in 137 games. This is actually down from last season, when seven players reached triple digits.
  • Crawford stole his first 32 bases consecutively, but ended up being caught 16 times. He claims he was safe on half of those, and I can recall at least one (in New York) where he was indeed safe.
  • Troy Percival remained on the payroll the entire season, despite posting a 6.35 ERA in 14 games before going home in May. He still earned $4 million.
  • Lance Cormier and Randy Choate were the anti–Percival, pitching surprisingly well after signing minor league contracts. Cormier held down a 3.26 ERA and Choate 3.47.
  • Longoria hit 8 home runs with 26 RBI against the Red Sox.

Those are some random bits of information to close this out. Join me again soon for Part Two: Honest Opinions. Until next time, go Rays… and anyone who beats the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies.

All-Star Break Happenings

Hello everyone, it’s time for my one and only All–Star break update. I have to sandwich this between a Thursday–Sunday vacation I just took in which I had no Internet access and a flight to San Diego tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. So I’ll do what I can in talking about my teams and their headlines.

  • Jeff Francoeur got traded to the Mets? Seriously?
  • Carlos Pena competed in last night’s Home Run Derby, where he narrowly missed advancement to the second round. Albert Pujols would like to thank the fan who brought an out over the wall and turned it into a home run. Pena had a bad pitcher, Scott McNulty, who threw the ball outside 90% of the time. And he’s an assistant baseball coach at my school. Maybe I should interview him about the experience. I’ll leave out the “bad pitcher” part.
  • Speaking of the Home Run Derby, I thought Nelson Cruz, who lost in the finals to Prince Fielder, was quite impressive. Looking at him, I can see that he’s a good all–around player with an easy power swing. I would like to see him go on to big things. He has already shot up from “Four–A” journeyman to All–Star.
  • Despite my approximately 3,300 votes for Pena, he did not win the Final Vote. I also voted against Shane Victorino because he’s a Phillie, but he won anyway. I would like to thank Dustin Pedroia for opening up a spot for Pena, though I’m surprised Ian Kinsler isn’t there. He should be, he deserves it.
  • The Rays stand at 48–41, 3.5 games behind the Yankees and six games back of the Red Sox. They have started slowly making their move lately, though the last place Oakland A’s have inexplicably given them a lot of trouble. At least here there was no long losing streak prior to the All–Star break. The Braves are 43–45, a half game ahead of the Mets, which is hilarious. I hope the Mets crash and burn for the rest of this season. And beyond.
  • Jeff Francoeur got traded to the Mets? Seriously? He was sent packing for Ryan Church in Thursday night’s trade, the first between the Braves and Mets in more than 15 years. Francoeur had been on the chopping block for several weeks as the Braves had run out of patience, but I never thought they could send him to the enemy. Church didn’t think he would be a Brave either, but here he is. He’s been the better player since last year, and his left–handed bat gives the Braves options between him and right–hander Matt Diaz. This may be a good deal.

I’ll be watching the All–Star Game tonight as I pack for San Diego. I’ll be staying for six nights at a little family reunion in Escondido. We should be seeing about 30 of our relatives, including a few that I haven’t met. Hopefully we have some baseball fans in the house. News just broke that Evan Longoria, the first ever Rays starter in an All–Star Game, is out due to an infected ring finger. I hate that for him and the team. Good luck to the remaining Rays and Brave in the game tonight, and until I’m back, go Rays.

Your 2009 All Stars

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 All–Star 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 All–Star 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 All–Star 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 on–base 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 20–20 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:

American League:

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)

National League:

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 late–inning 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.

Rays Beat Phillies Twice to Win Series

After the shellshock of the Rays’ 10–1 series–opening loss, the World Series rematch turned around in favor of the home team and Tampa Bay ousted Philadelphia with victories in the final two games.

David Price got hammered for six runs, five earned, in the very first inning of the series on Tuesday night, capped off by a three–run home run from John Mayberry, Jr. From that point on it was over. Once again Price threw strikes, but once again threw them right over the middle of the plate and got hammered. He should soon discover the balance between walking everyone and getting hit hard. Location becomes very important at this level. Though I still don’t think he should be sent back to AAA when Kazmir returns.

Matt Garza put on a show in Wednesday’s game, only allowing one run in eight strong innings. Pat Burrell greeted ex-teammate Joe Blanton with a towering two–run home run in the second inning. He now has just two home runs this year, but both have been long. And he hit one or two balls high off the Green Monster earlier this year as well. Maybe this series sparked his flame. The Rays also poured on five insurance runs in the eighth inning, all with two outs, against J.C. Roidmero and Chan Ho Park.

The rubber match started out as a hitters’ duel. Andy Sonnanstine further jeopardized his job status by surrendering four first inning runs. Not to be outdone, the Rays scored three times in each of the first two innings against the unluckiest name in baseball, Antonio Bastardo. Sonnanstine settled down back into good form and shut the Phillies down for the remainder of his start. Ben Zobrist (16) and Willy Aybar (6) hit big home runs in the Rays’ 10–4 win.

Jason Bartlett has broken the team record with a 19–game hitting streak. The previous record was held by Quinton McCracken, the Devil Rays’ first leadoff man, who hit safely in 18 consecutive games in late 1998. Bartlett proves time and time again that he is money in the bank and that the Twins were wrong to trade him. Had the Twins played Bartlett in 2008, they would have been in the playoffs and not the Rays, guaranteed. Keep it going, just stay in that comfort zone and keep on hitting.

As was reported a few days ago, Akinori Iwamura’s days in Tampa Bay might not be over yet. His ACL tear was discovered to have been partial, not complete as initial MRIs indicated. He had arthroscopic surgery and is now out 6–8 weeks. This means he could return in September alongside Fernando Perez. Even though Zobrist has effectively taken the second base job with his incredible season, Iwamura gives the Rays more options. We know how much Joe Maddon loves lineup options. And he had been hitting .300 prior to the injury, so this is very good news.

The Rays play the Marlins tonight in a battle of Floridian aces. James Shields faces the 7–1 Josh Johnson. Get some runs for your top pitcher, Rays. We know we can use all the wins against teams like this. Until next time, go Rays.

All Stars: Vote Today and Vote Ray

The 2009 All Star Game is quickly approaching. Live on July 14 from St. Louis, we will see the best (and most popular) players in the game on one field. So, as a Rays fan, I am heavily voting for my team’s players, especially Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford and write–in Ben Zobrist.

Pena leads the American League in home runs, yet he trails the elite Chris Davis in the voting. Yes, the Chris Davis who is hitting .194 with 101 strikeouts and just 14 walks, with nine fewer home runs, who plays for the Rangers of all teams, is ahead of Pena. This is a travesty of the highest order. Pena is a much better player than Davis. He deserves more respect.

Longoria should be leading the league in votes. Until recently he was. He has been a key catalyst in a somewhat disappointing lineup. If he got in last year, why shouldn’t he start this year? He will… just keep on voting for him.

Bartlett should start too based on his stats and reputation as a winner. He is hitting .373 with a career–high seven home runs and 14 out of 15 stolen bases. He has also been a defensive wizard and the anchor of the infield. Derek Jeter leads him by a landslide in voting. Is he having a good season? Yes. Does he deserve to be there? Probably so. But he will be the starter solely based on his reputation and Yankee fandom. Bartlett should be this year’s starter, no question.

Crawford is currently fifth among outfielders. Several of them deserve to start, so Crawford should at least get into the game. His incredible 37 stolen bases and counting, added to his .307 batting average, make him a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year and for All Star consideration. The most exciting players should get in. Crawford is one of them.

Even though he is not on the ballot, the legend of “Zorilla” needs to go to St. Louis and be honored as he should be. Ben Zobrist has single–handedly won or sealed the win on several games this year for the Rays. His on–base percentage of .400 and 15 home runs only begin to tell the story. He has driven in 42 runs and hit most of his home runs with runners on base and/or in late, close game situations. He has played his best defense despite being moved around the outfield and middle infield. At age 28, he’s even running better (8–for–10 in base stealing). Most importantly, he has been the Joker card in the Rays’ deck. He can be placed in there anywhere at anytime and get the job done. With World Series home field advantage on the line, Zobrist is exactly the kind of player the American League wants. Take him, Joe Maddon — you won’t regret it.

I’m also voting for a few of my favorite Braves, notably Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Nate McLouth. I am absolutely not voting for any Red Sox, Yankees, Mets or Phillies. I would encourage you to follow my lead.

Don’t forget to vote for the 32nd member of each league’s roster in the days leading up to the game. Then watch the game July 14 on FOX. I’ll be watching it the night before I leave for a six day trip to San Diego. Until then, vote today and vote Ray.

And watch the epic World Series rematch at Tropicana Field. Rays vs. Phillies starts tonight with David Price vs. Jamie Moyer. If you can get there (I can’t), please buy tickets and support your American League champions. Until next time, go Rays.

Nationals Three Up, Three Down

Tropicana Field’s turf was not about to be sullied by the horrendous Washington Nationals, who despite having a few good players, entered this series at 16–42 with manager Manny Acta on the chopping block.

The Nationals’ ineptitude showed in droves against the Rays as Tampa Bay took the sweep to extend its winning streak to five games.

Friday night saw Matt Garza spot Washington three first inning runs, two of which were driven in by Elijah Dukes in his first at–bat against his former team. I wish he was banned from baseball. The Rays, however, shut them down after that and slowly came back. It culminated with a two–out, two–strike home run by Gabe Kapler of all people. He entered the series hitting .173 with that one home run in Yankee Stadium. He basically doubled his productivity for the entire season.

The great part about the home run was the event that led up to it. The usually reliable Nick Johnson, who had let the game–tying double bounce over his glove earlier, overran Kapler’s foul pop–up and dropped it. The very next pitch gave the Rays the lead. From that point it was game over as they won 4–3.

Early trouble hit Andy Sonnanstine on Saturday night. Ryan Zimmerman’s first inning home run (my annual salary says he’s on the All Star team) gave Washington a 1–0 lead. The Rays entered the bottom of the sixth inning down 2–1. Not for long. After starter Jordan Zimmerman was pulled following five good innings, Jason Bergmann came in. Just as I do to him in video games, the Rays teed him off. Ben Zobrist launched a three–run home run after hits by Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. Then Gabe Gross promptly hit a two–run blast. Five runs, no outs. Longoria later hit a two–run double off former (Devil) Ray Jesus Colome. The Rays won 8–3.

The series finale should have been a lock as James Shields faced Ross Detweiler. But it certainly was not automatic. Again thanks in part to Dukes, Shields put the Rays in a 4–0 hole in the fourth inning, which quickly became 4–2. Two innings later after a Gabe Gross walk, Kapler struck again as he lined a game–tying home run over the short wall in left field. Now he’s finally hitting like Popeye — he already looks like him. Two more innings later, Carlos Pena doubled, then pinch hitter Willy Aybar stepped up. His routine ground ball bounced off third base and rolled into left field, becoming an RBI double. Since they are the Nationals, they got nothing done against J.P. Howell and the Rays won 5–4.

This was a sweep the Rays needed and should have earned. Sure enough, they did. Though Howell downplayed it after the game (“It’s difficult to sweep any Major League ballclub”), this just had to happen. It was a key series at home against possibly the worst MLB team ever assembled. Good thing they got it.

Not only did they get it, the bullpen rolled right through it. For the entire six–game homestand, in more than 20 innings pitched, the relievers’ ERA was 0.00. No earned runs for six full games. That entire crew did an outstanding job. For that we thank you.

I would also like to point out that B.J. Upton stole six bases in this series. He took two in each game, which is an amazing feat. Especially seeing as he was never caught. Carl Crawford also stole his 36th base, Zobrist his eighth, and Reid Brignac his first in the Major Leagues. The Rays are the fastest team to reach 100 stolen bases since 1991. I enjoy watching this team run. It’s arguably their greatest strength.

Now it’s off to Colorado, where the Rockies will enter having won 11 consecutive games. It’s like that epic 2007 streak cut in half, and it’s still great. Maybe this is a sign that they are due for some losing. The Rays are on a streak themselves. Can they keep it going? As Joe Maddon said after today’s game, “I was a power hitter when I played in Boulder.” So the power bats can certainly use the altitude. Until next time, go Rays.