The annual Citrus Series ended with three games at Tropicana Field, in which the Tampa Bay Rays swept the Florida Marlins by scores of 73, 32 and 52.
The crowds for the weekend games were not bad 35,790 for Saturday’s game featuring Pat Benatar, then nearly 30,000 Sunday. That is a good sign, right along with the fivegame winning streak.
The pitchers did very well throughout the series. James Shields earned a quality start Friday night and his bullpen shut it down for the win. Scott Kazmir returned Saturday and went back to throwing 92 MPH fastballs. He wasn’t horrible, which is an improvement. He allowed two runs in five innings with one walk and five strikeouts. David Price allowed two hits, but five walks, in more than six innings on Sunday. Chad Bradford and J.P. Howell teamed up to give the Marlins loaded bases with just one out, then a walk forced in a run. Howell realized where he was, then struck out Ronny Paulino and Ross Gload to end the sweep.
The bullpen has been great since June 8, as they have allowed seven runs in about 55 innings. Howell started out slowly, but has reverted to last year’s success. Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour have also improved following bad beginnings. Balfour is even striking out hitters with the slider now. By comparison, the Mets bullpen has lost nine games this month. I knew they were due to implode.
Speaking of imploded teams, the Toronto Blue Jays will host the Rays for the first time this season, which has been a long time coming. Roy Halladay returns from the disabled list just in time to face the surging Tampa Bay lineup. This concludes our fivegame winning streak. It’s been fun. Well, maybe a loss is not entirely automatic, just probable. Jeff Niemann needs to bring his twohitter Agame tonight. 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.
You may recall that, just yesterday (May 20), I wrote a piece opining on what the Rays should do with pitchers Scott Kazmir and Troy Percival, who have each been suffering from command and confidence issues this season. They have come up with one viable remedy that I did not include: both pitchers have been sent to the 15day disabled list.
The excuse for Kazmir is a right quadriceps strain, which is probably minor, but still causing a hitch in his delivery. There are other unofficial causes to his time off, such as the loss of his fastball and the need to clear his head. This is a good thing to do for him right now. Just get him away and let him heal. Then decide on another course of action based on his progress.
Meanwhile, Percival’s case may be a little more serious or, in fact, career ending. Right shoulder tendinitis is the official reason. It is a legitimate injury, as he has complained of shoulder pain. But it could be the end of the line. He has flown back to Riverside, California to speak with his family and consider retirement.
This is the fourth time since joining the Rays that Percival has seen the DL. He had hamstring and back problems in 2008, the latter of which kept him out of the playoffs. He never got it together after the middle of last season. Joe Maddon actually said that he would not be surprised if he did go ahead and retire. It would be an unfortunate ending to a great career, but seeing as he initially retired after 2006 due to arm injuries, he made a nice second effort. I think he should just leave it up to those who can still pitch a full inning without either pulling a muscle or blowing a lead.
In the place of the injured pitchers, the Rays have called up 23yearold shortstop Reid Brignac and 28yearold relief pitcher Dale Thayer from AAA Durham. Brignac had a good start, hitting .291 with three home runs so far for the Bulls. He is likely to be up as a reserve for a short time. Ditto for Thayer, who has an 0.93 ERA in 16 appearances with six saves at Durham. He also pitched phenomenally there last year, ending up with a 2.77 ERA (it was under 2.00 most of the season) in 52 games and racking up more than one strikeout per inning. He would make his Major League debut in his first appearance as a Ray.
Also being rumored to join the team soon is the one and only David Price, the number one Draft pick from 2007 who loudly burst onto the scene in 2008. In eight starts at AAA, he is only 14 with a 3.93 ERA with 35 K in 34.1 innings. He did, however, pitch five hitless innings in his last start on May 17. They are also allowing him to throw more pitches per outing as he refines the fastball command and masters the changeup. He could still boost this starting rotation right now and get a little more experience against some of the best competition out there. This would be a good move, at least for a few weeks.
As I write this, the Rays hold a commanding 151 lead over the Marlins at Landshark Stadium. Hey, look at that Brignac just got his first Major League hit. He has now put that 0for10 stint from last year way behind him. And Gabe Gross hit a home run. Good for him, he needed it. They led 130 after three innings, so I believe they should win this one as automatically as the Harlem Globetrotters win on tour. Until next time, go Rays.
It has now been confirmed that 2008 first overall Draft pick David Price and four others have been sent down to AAA Durham to start the season. My reaction to this, and likely the fans’ reaction as a whole, is not as negative as that following Evan Longoria’s trip to the Minor Leagues last season. Here is the rundown of those who are going to the Bulls:
John Jaso, C: No surprise here. He barely saw AAA or the Rays last season, so he should be sent down for more seasoning. Up through AA, he had phenomenal walk/strikeout totals and had decent natural power. If he elevates his game one more level, there may be a spot for him on the big stage someday.
Elliot Johnson, IF/OF: Little surprise about this one. Here is a guy with big tools, especially in the speed and defense departments, but still dealing with several flaws (too many strikeouts, low onbase percentage). At age 25, his time is starting to run out, but a little more seasoning wouldn’t hurt.
Reid Brignac, SS: This guy is good right now, but he had a subpar Spring Training with the Rays’ Major League team, though he did get a few big hits. This is not a player that the Rays need languishing on the bench. He missed part of 2008 in AAA, where he had a bit of a down year. So he needs another year, and since he is only 23, he can still grow by leaps and bounds. He can eventually either move to second base in case Iwamura gets injured or leaves the team, play shortstop if anything happens to Bartlett, or become serious trade bait with Tim Beckham moving up the ranks behind him.
Justin Ruggiano, OF: Some fans certainly saw this as surprising. Ruggiano, who turns 27 on April 12, was seen as a strong candidate for the fifth outfielder spot in B.J. Upton’s absence. Even with decent Spring Training stats and playing time, he still got the shaft. I think it may be good for him, as while he has proven to be a 2020 threat in AAA, he still has holes in his game one could drive an 18wheeler through. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts and become a more polished product. He may do that with a touch of Durham.
David Price, LHP: And of course, the big one. When I heard that Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel were out of options, and that Price was still mastering his changeup, I knew this had AAA written all over it. I think this may be a positive experience for him. He can get back into shape against lesser hitters and perfect that changeup that will elevate him from setup man to staff ace. With less than a year’s worth of professional experience, there are still things he can learn to get better. Meanwhile, I think Niemann should be the fifth starter to begin the season. I don’t know what to do with Hammel… trade him? Well, if the Rays can get a better deal for Niemann, they should pull the trigger on that and take their chances with Hammel. It’s more than likely that Price will be with the Rays for most of the season anyway, so they should not be losing too much.
Speaking of Niemann, he made a strong case to be the fifth starter last night against the Pirates, pitching four innings of onerun baseball with zero walks. This is a relief after his atrocious ninerun outing last week. A rare Adam Kennedy home run put the Rays in the lead early, and a strong bullpen led them to victory. If every possible reliever on this team does as well as he can, the Rays have as many as eight frontline relief pitchers. (Percival, Balfour, Howell, Wheeler, Shouse, Nelson, Isringhausen, Bradford.) Could we have any more depth? Well, there is always Lance Cormier. Until next time, go Rays.
The 2008 World Series started unfavorably for our Tampa Bay Rays, but has now been evened up. The series is tied at one as it heads north to Philadelphia. It was very refreshing to see the Rays come back, just as they did against the Red Sox, and avenge a game one home loss to make things easier on themselves.
Game one of this World Series was started by the Rays’ Scott Kazmir and the Phillies’ Cole Hamels. Kazmir was quickly tagged in the first inning by a two run home run from Chase Utley. This sent the Rays to the plate in a manner in which they are accustomed: down. They were dominated, with the exception of a Carl Crawford home run and a two out RBI from Akinori Iwamura. Hamels brought his Agame, but while Kazmir pitched well and the bullpen held down the fort, the Phillies never surrendered their early lead. Brad Lidge made a save against the 345 hitters look like a Class A rehab stint. They held on to defeat the Rays 32 and steal a big road game at Tropicana Field.
Game two, meanwhile, would be a very different story. James Shields took the ball against Brett Myers. Almost everyone expected this one to go the Rays’ way and tie the series. From the first inning on, this sentiment proved accurate. Tampa Bay took its turn at attacking in the first inning, going up 20 on a walk, a single and a critical onebase error that allowed the next two groundouts to score runs. There you have it, Phillies fans: Blame Jayson Werth for bobbling the ball. They would manufacture two more runs to go up 40. The Rays actually caught a huge umpiring break from Kerwin Danley when he allowed Rocco Baldelli to walk rather than striking out on a check swing. He would later score. Big Game James left surprisingly early, after 5.2 shutout innings, but he certainly did his job in keeping his team ahead. Dan Wheeler came in and scared me before escaping a sixth inning jam without a run scoring on his way to one full scoreless inning. After he struck out Werth with a runner on base, Joe Maddon boldly and wisely summoned David Price in for the long haul. He escaped that jam with the 40 lead. He gave up a home run to, of all people, extremely lighthitting Eric Bruntlett, then a ninth inning run on an error by Evan Longoria. (Sidenote: What is it with all the infield errors lately? What are they, the Bad News Rays?) However, Price struck out Chase Utley on three sliders, then induced a Ryan Howard groundout to end the game. The Rays won their first World Series game, 42, and tied the series.
Game three will feature a battle of opposites as Matt Garza faces Jamie Moyer. Garza = Young hardthrowing right hander. Moyer = 45yearold soft left hander. By the way, the first game drew a 9.2 broadcast rating on FOX, winning the night against stiff competition. Who says the Rays can’t draw? Everyone? Well, as Lewis Black says, “Once again, the masses are wrong.” So until next time, go ratings winning Rays.
The Rays are going to the World Series!
Did anyone out there think those words would be echoed across America in 2008? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
Well, it has happened in the franchise’s 11th season. It became official when Chip Caray screamed those aforementioned words as Akinori Iwamura touched second base and leaped in celebration. The last 1990s expansion team to reach the World Series has finally done it. After a historic meltdown in game five and a lifeless game six, the seventh game turned on its head and did the same to baseball.
Willy Aybar scoring on a goahead single and hitting a home run to pad the lead; Matt Garza pitching amazingly well despite an early home run; David Price proving to be the present as well as the future. What do those events equal?
9=2, of course.
With the 31 win in game seven, every baseball expert and just about every fan is proven wrong. Yankees? Old news. Red Sox? Couldn’t stand up to the heat.
I stood behind this team, my local franchise, for its first ten painful seasons. I still remember hearing about their first ever minor league game. I have vivid memories of their first pitch, the first game, and the first win. I watched Wade Boggs’ 3,000th hit go into the right field stands. I’ve seen the debuts of blue chip talents like Kazmir, Upton and Shields.
As great as all of that was… nothing up to this point could ever compare to this improbable American League Championship run. I knew all those lean years were building towards something. And finally, in 2008, we have our something. This is an amazing, inspirational story that we should be telling kids for decades to come.
Now we have a World Series to win, so beware Philadelphia. I think we can take you. We start Wednesday night, so be here.
Until next time, go 2008 American League Champion Rays.
After the Rays took their 41 hangover loss to Francisco Liriano and the Twins, it was time to make their final roadtrip and chase the division championship. Their first stop: Baltimore, a haven for tradition, legendary sports figures, and years of bad baseball. I actually met an Orioles fan over the weekend… we do have that common Yankee dislike. And the Red Sox too. Anyway, it was announced Sunday that last night’s series opener would be started by David Price. It would be his first Major League start, and for both the 2007 first Draft pick and the Rays as a whole, it would be by no means insignificant.
Facing an unknown named Brian Bass, Price found that hits would come at a premium for both teams. No Ray reached base until the fifth inning, when Bass walked the bases loaded. A two run single by Akinori Iwamura drove in the first two runs of the game. Price let Baltimore tie it in the bottom half following Evan Longoria’s third error in two games (hopefully I’ll never have to say that again), and departed after 5.1 innings with the game tied. He surrendered two runs (one earned) on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts. The Rays, who only had three hits in the game two from Jason Bartlett to go with eight walks, took the lead on Bartlett’s second double and never looked back, winning 42 behind a solid bullpen performance by Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler. Combined with Boston’s timely 43 loss to Cleveland, the Rays gained a critical game in the standings and are now up by 2½ games with seven left to play and the magic number at four.
Price did not disappoint in his 88pitch outing, throwing his mid90s fastballs from start to finish and showing fairly good pitch command. He wasn’t bad for a first start in a road game with playoff implications. His team picked up the win, so he’s probably satisfied for now, but determined to only get better. Which he will do in the near future.
The Rays have a doubleheader at Camden Yards tomorrow, which hopefully will earn them their first doubleheader sweep in franchise history. There is no better time than this one to do it. Why not slice that magic number in half? Until they do so, go Rays.