Tagged: Carl Crawford

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.

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The Ups and Downs of a Ten Game Roadtrip

The Rays return home from a ten–game, three city roadtrip tonight to face the Yankees in a potentially season–deciding divisional series. I just returned home to Tampa myself on Saturday, back from a 16–day journey that went through the backwoods of Gaskin, Florida; New Smyrna Beach, Florida; a family mini–reunion in Escondido, California; and back to New Smyrna Beach. Thanks to this vacation and the All–Star break, I didn’t watch a live Rays game for about two weeks. I managed to keep track of their progress via the Internet, but I only saw a few highlights until late in the White Sox series.

So how about that catch Carl Crawford made in the All–Star Game? He robbed Colorado’s Brad Hawpe of a game–tying home run. This marked the first time Crawford had ever brought a home run back, and the only time Crawford will ever save Jonathan Papelbon. Between that and a single earlier in the game, but mostly the catch, Crawford earned himself the All–Star MVP Award. Congratulations to him for representing the Rays appropriately.

Following the Rays’ sweep of the Royals in which they made three consecutive eighth inning comebacks, it was time for a series in Chicago — and a place on the losing end of baseball history. On Thursday, July 23, White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle dominated the Rays for nine innings with no hits, no walks and no errors. A perfect game. Not even the old Devil Rays were ever victimized by perfection. But Buehrle did just that. Center fielder Dewayne Wise, who nearly robbed Cliff Floyd’s walk–off home run last year, deserves a lot of credit. He made arguably the play of the decade in the ninth inning to rob Gabe Kapler of a home run. So the Rays have made history in one of the worst possible ways.

I honestly have thought since last season that this team was the type that could be perfected. They strike out all the time and have trouble with certain types of pitchers, most notably left–handers who change speeds. That is Mark Buehrle. Rays fans have to watch these highlights forever now, so I hope this is not all the 2009 team is remembered for. Congratulations anyway to Buehrle.

Saturday afternoon started out just as badly, but later became one of the Rays’ greatest days. David Price’s fastball only reached the high 80s and he was torched for six runs in three innings by the Blue Jays. Tampa Bay trailed 8–0 through four innings and later fell behind 9–1. At that point I said that the Rays could bring in Fred Flintstone to pitch and it would make no difference. Then it happened — professional hitters actually started hitting. Carlos Pena hit a three–run triple off the wall in right center field that instantly cut the deficit to 9–4. It was 9–7 by the time the ninth inning rolled around. The battling offense and good bullpen work kept the Rays alive. Pena hit a towering home run off Scott Downs to make it 9–8. Willy Aybar, who had handed the Blue Jays at least one first inning run due to defensive ineptitude, then proved his worth by blasting a pitch to center field, over the head of Vernon Wells and over the wall.

Tie game. The Rays had come back from eight runs down to even it up, on the road no less. The game dragged on into the 12th inning, when Tampa Bay castoff Shawn Camp surrendered a go–ahead double to Jason Bartlett. Joe Nelson (in because J.P. Howell had already been used) walked three of his first four batters to load the bases. Could this comeback really go to waste? Aaron Hill thought it could. He had already hit two home runs. No third time charm, however, as Nelson struck him out to preserve the lead. Adam Lind then fell to The Great Equalizer by grounding out to second base. Rays win 10–9, capping off the biggest comeback in team history. They desperately needed that game to keep up the pace with the Yankees.

After a 6–4 roadtrip, those Yankees are next on the schedule. They enter Tropicana Field for a huge three–game series that could drastically alter the playoff race. With the Rays pitching their aces in this series, it’s about time to show the old news who the new kids are, just like we did in 2008. The Rays might have a better team on paper, so they should prove that on their home field. Until next time, go Rays.

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.

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.

A Swing and a Sweep

The Rays went 0–for–13 with runners in scoring position.

They left 11 men on base, as opposed to the Royals’ three.

James Shields received very little run support through his first seven innings.

Yet the Rays managed to win today’s game 3–2 and complete the sweep — their first sweep of 2009.

The victory can be attributed primarily to three men: Shields, Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton.

Shields picked up the victory, allowing only a two–run double to Billy Butler in eight innings of work. He walked nobody and struck out eight Royals.

Crawford, in addition to his 34th stolen base, hit his fourth home run of the year to cut the Rays’ deficit to 2–1 in inning number seven.

And then there’s B.J. With two outs in the eighth inning, he smashed the first pitch more than halfway up into the left field seats to give his team the lead. This homestand was his turning point. His batting average jumped up to .218, and his third home run of the season single–handedly won a game. Upton should now be feared once again.

We can’t forget Ben Zobrist, who stole his sixth base of the season; Joe Dillon, who picked up three hits; or Michel Hernandez, who scored on the Upton home run.

Nor should we forget former Royal J.P. Howell. He saved the game 1–2–3 against the 3–4–5 hitters. Despite his great stats, he has had trouble late in close games. Thankfully, this was 2008 Howell revisited. He did an incredible job. So did Matt Joyce catching Butler’s deep fly ball to start that ninth inning.

So now it’s off to New York, where men become legends and rats become roadkill. The Rays performed admirably in the last two series, so they better not screw it up now. Until next time, go Rays.

An Uptonian Swing, A Utopian Finish

The Tampa Bay Rays have put themselves too far behind to win on too many nights this season.  The comeback spirit has been limited in appearance and longevity.

It rose from the grave dramatically Friday night.

The Rays hosted the Cleveland Indians, needing to get back on track after the James Shields loss Thursday night.  Scott Kazmir fired rockets right out of the gate — off the bats, that is.  Grady Sizemore hit the game’s first strike over the wall and gave Cleveland a 1–0 lead.  Kazmir would be tagged for seven earned runs in just 3.1 innings.  This jobber of a performance appeared to be enough to carry the Indians to victory.

But even down 7–0, the Rays stayed in the game.

A pair of defensive gems in the fourth inning limited the damage.  Gabe Gross made a leaping catch at the wall to turn a Matt LaPorta bases–clearing extra–base hit into a sacrifice fly.  The very next batter singled to center field, at which point B.J. Upton fired a strike to the plate and nailed Mark DeRosa on a great block of the plate by Dioner Navarro.  Though the call was borderline at best, the Rays needed it and took it.  (Indians manager Eric Wedge did not, however, and was ejected.)

Tampa Bay threw together a string of hits in the bottom half and made it a 7–3 game.  This was at least within striking distance.  The highlights were an Upton steal of third base following a double and a series of singles from the middle of the lineup.  Lance Cormier shut down Cleveland for 2.2 innings of scoreless, hitless relief.  If not for him, the score would have likely been more like 12–3 and the Rays would have rolled up the sidewalk and shut it down.  The sixth inning saw two more runs to inch closer at 7–5.  Carl Crawford earned his 23rd stolen base in as many attempts, then scored on an Evan Longoria single.  A short–hop throw on a double play attempt by Jamey Carroll scored Longoria and made it a two–run deficit.

Troy Percival pitched (in middle relief where he belongs) a perfect seventh inning.  The Rays brought it to within one run in the bottom of that inning on a Jason Bartlett double, Navarro sacrifice bunt (which he has executed proficiently as of late) and a wild pitch.  See, kids, runs can be manufactured too.  Upton (11) and Crawford (24) executed a double steal, but Longoria struck out and Willy Aybar popped up the first pitch following an intentional walk to Carlos Pena.  Bases left loaded once again; Rays very close, but still not there.

J.P. Howell rolled through the eighth inning (not before a disagreement with Victor Martinez), then Ben Zobrist led off for the Rays.  Here he comes again when he needs to tie the game on one swing.  He fouled off Rafael Betancourt’s first pitch about 300 feet down the right field line.  Well, at least he knew how to time the fastball.  He got another one, and you know the rest… Mr. Timing has done it again!  The Rays come all the way back in a game presumably left for dead and force the tie.  And I am now convinced that Ben Zobrist can hit a home run whenever he wants to.  That man can play god with a bat.

Shin–Soo Choo, who homered early in the game, led off the ninth inning with a single.  Dan Wheeler came in and got himself two outs before walking Ryan Garko on four pitches, two of which could have been called strikes.  Matt LaPorta could have welcomed himself to the Major Leagues with one swing, but a fly ball fell into Upton’s glove at the warning track.  Game still tied 7–7.

Bottom of the ninth inning, the Indians had only one hit after the fourth inning, during which time the Rays had overcome the largest deficit ever to be erased in franchise history.  B.J. Upton, who had suddenly started swinging the bat like he should (2–for–4 with some nice, long at–bats) led off against Luis Vizcaino.  Upton got to 3–1 before a solid swing produced a line drive down the left field line, but foul for strike two.  He has had trouble with two strike counts and high fastballs this season.  In fact, he has had trouble with almost everything.  Not a single home run has he hit in over a month since returning to the lineup.  Vizcaino gave him a high fastball, the bat connected… and you can cue a slow motion effect and John Williams’ “Chariots of Fire” because that ball is gone and the postseason Bossman Junior Upton is back!  The Rays came back from seven runs down a few innings into the game and gave the home fans an epic win to cheer about.  They beat the Indians 8–7 and made the top of every highlight show in America.  Not to mention, they might have turned their season around.

I always like to compare this team with a 1992 Braves due to last year’s striking resemblance to the 1991 Braves.  That Braves team was under .500 in last place in the final week of May, then rumbled back and ended up in the World Series.  This team may once again be mimicking their path to glory.  This was a key turning point that will not soon be forgotten.

All this on a day where the (modern–day) Braves had a walk-off win of their own.  And so did the Yankees.  We can settle for two out of three.  But the Rays had the single greatest walk-off victory of the entire season to this point.  They were written off by everyone except themselves.  Special thanks to the bullpen and the entire lineup, especially Upton and Zobrist.  You earned this, now even Kazmir can celebrate tonight.

Until next time, go Rays.