The Rays have made their first major roster move since the Akinori Iwamura trade. They will send a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians for powerhitting catcher Kelly Shoppach.
This, of course, may signal the end for incumbent Rays catcher Dioner Navarro. He went back to being abysmal after his AllStar 2008 season, hitting just .218 with eight home runs and a paltry .261 onbase percentage.
Navarro could be traded, or even nontendered into free agency as Jonny Gomes was last year. The Rays have expressed interest in keeping Gregg Zaun along with Shoppach.
This would be one of the quickest falls from grace ever for an AllStar. Navarro’s 2008 season is looking like a onetime fluke.
Shoppach also had a terrible 2009, hitting .214 with 12 home runs in 89 games. This was down significantly from .261 and 21 home runs in 2008. He is also strikeoutprone, which was the last thing the Rays needed offensively.
However, Shoppach has shown more consistency prior to last year, and of course more power than Navarro could put together in three years. Zaun is the right player to balance out Shoppach’s weaknesses, whereas he was just a superior version of Navarro. Not to mention Shoppach had a few injuries last year that slowed him down, whereas Navarro has no known excuse. So at this time, this looks like the right move for the Rays.
Shoppach turns 30 in April, so he probably has a few good years left. Zaun is nearly 40 and he still plays, so Shoppach could be here longterm.
Until next time, go Rays… and Blue Jays, if you give Roy Halladay to the Yankees or Red Sox, you can bite me and the entire Rays Republic.
The Rays went down to Miami and took care of business early, jumping out to a 130 lead in just the third inning and going on to win 152 behind Andy Sonnanstine.
B.J. Upton led off with a hit (surprise!), then stole a base, and a Jason Bartlett tworun double gave Tampa Bay the first runs of the game. A second inning sixrun onslaught ensued against embattled starter Ricky Nolasco, featuring home runs from Dioner Navarro (2) and Carlos Pena (15). Both guys were in droughts in that department and finally picked it up with help from that south Florida humidity. Navarro had a fourhit night, his best game of the season. The third inning featured five more runs against reliever David Davidson (that’s not a redundant name), who threw 52 pitches during that time.
Hanley Ramirez’s home run that made it a measly 131 gave Sonnanstine his only earned run in six strong innings. It was perhaps a turning point in his season, as his last start began to be. He singled in his first atbat, then later walked, scoring twice. The bat was still there after the short layoff.
Gabe Gross hit a tworun home run, his second of the year, late in the game. He was in need, too. That’s good for him, especially against a left handed pitcher, even in a landslide game. Reid Brignac scored on that play following his first Major League hit, a single to center field. Congratulations, Reid.
Dale Thayer made his MLB debut in relief, pitching three innings to earn his first save. He gave up a meaningless run on a Dan Uggla double, but pitched very effectively and had a good 9294 MPH fastball working. He also displayed a nice, new moustache to commemorate the occasion. He is a late bloomer, but I think he may be for real as a middle reliever. I liked him at Durham last year and it’s about time he got at least a brief stint in Tampa Bay.
Every starter in the Rays lineup had at least one hit, and everyone who hit except Thayer and Ben Zobrist (who did make a nice sliding catch in left field) got on base. Everyone contributed. That is the best way to win. Every single person did something positive for this team. I commend them all.
Ross Gload of the Marlins became the second position player to pitch against the Rays this season. He stranded a runner at third base when Thayer broke his bat hitting the ball back to the mound. Gload went to The University of South Florida, so he is no stranger to Tampa. Still, his team lost.
Another bit of good news is, while the Rays helped my National League favorite Braves, the Braves gave them a boost in return. Kenshin Kawakami broke out of a cold streak and outdueled Roy Halladay to give Atlanta a 10 victory over the Blue Jays, who are due for some more losses. Both starters gave up zero runs, but the Braves’ Matt Diaz scored on a an eighth inning sacrifice fly by Casey Kotchman The game ended on a very close play when Martin Prado bobbled a ground ball, then caught it out of the air and fired in stride. A great stretch by Kotchman got the out for Mike Gonzalez and the Braves won a game they were given very little chance to win. Kawakami deserves a round of applause. This is what he came to America to do. How about a few more, please?
Everyone starts from scratch tomorrow as Jeff Niemann goes for the Rays against… they don’t know, apparently. They need to make a decision quickly or the Rays will just beat them badly again. Maybe even by forfeit. That would be sweet. By the way, the Rays officially called up David Price to start Monday’s game in Cleveland. Show them again why you are the heir to the throne. Until next time, go Rays.
In this season of Rays firsts come another welltimed first that will help lead to the biggest of all, a division title. In their 14th try, they swept a doubleheader (now 167 in that department), beating the Orioles 52 and 75. James Shields allowed an early home run to Lou Montanez in game one, but in the middle of the game the bats arrived, chipping away bit by bit until they won by three runs. Shields has now done what Andy Sonnanstine had been expected to do before, tying Rolando Arrojo’s 1998 mark of 14 wins to tie his Rays single season record. Congratulations James, you really deserve it the way you have served us.
Game two looked like a role reversal of game one, with the Rays jumping on Alberto Simon, a recent Mexican League signee, before blowing the lead behind Mitch Talbot. Each pitcher was making his first MLB start, and it looked like Talbot, a prospect, would be tagged with a loss against a nonprospect, who did pitch quite well. His mid90s fastballs with lateral movement were nearly impossible for Rays hitters to do anything with that is, until the eighth inning, when the pressures of the big time caught up to him. Down 51, Ben Zobrist lined the first pitch into right center field for a triple, then came home on a groundout on the next pitch. After the next out, Evan Longoria hit a first pitch high fastball halfway to Virginia to make it a 53 game and force Simon to the bench. Then Rocco Baldelli flashed back with an infield single, followed by a walk to Gabe Gross, against Jamie Walker. Walker, who has been hammered by the Rays all season (ask Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett), then allowed Bartlett to burn him again with an RBI double. Dioner Navarro, who had caught the first game, pinch hit and officially turned the tides in Tampa Bay’s favor, lining a two run single to center field. Not to be satisfied with a one run lead, B.J. Upton doubled Navarro home to make it 75. The six run eighth inning was a sure sign of everything that’s right with the Rays. They scored runs in multiple ways with almost everyone in the lineup, coming together on the road through exhaustion to pull out an epic win. I don’t know about the team, but it certainly got me ready for the playoffs.
Speaking of the playoffs, great news for the team and bad news for detractors everywhere as tickets for the first two Division Series home games are completely sold out. (Hopefully including the tarped off seats being uncovered.) There will be tens of thousands of die hard Rays fans creating a Sea of Blue in Tropicana Field, an atmosphere that has guided the Rays to a nearly perfect record in front of large crowds. For the record, I did register for playoff tickets, but of course I didn’t win the fan drawing for the remaining seats. At least they sold out far in advance, which is nothing but excellent for the franchise.
The Rays can win their division as early as tomorrow by completing a sweep of Baltimore, combined with a Red Sox loss. Boston just clinched its own playoff spot, eliminating the Yankees for the first time in 15 years (so there’s even good news in that), but their party will be short lived and one time only. Ours just keeps on hopping. Until next time, go Rays.
Those 2008 Rays… just when everyone wants to give up on them and leave them for dead, they storm right back in their faces. One step back, two steps forward. The cliches are actually coming true this season in Tampa Bay. There is not one disappointed Rays fan right now, as they have defeated the Boston Red Sox two games to one at Tropicana Field to gain a two game division lead. They have now won 90 games yes, 90win Rays, believe it or not and are now down to a magic number of three (Rays wins/Twins losses, and we get them next) for a playoff berth. These last two games coming back from the vicious Monday night beating usually reserved for Monday Night RAW, have been two of the most important and exciting victories ever for this franchise.
That Tuesday night game cost me about a gallon of water and a few hours of time best saved for work, but it was worth the wait. The Rays’ Andy Sonnanstine and Josh Beckett matched last week’s pitcher’s duel with more of the same. The Red Sox scored on a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning, an unearned run charged to Sonnanstine (after an unusual Evan Longoria error, which followed a hit that only occurred thanks to a missed third strike call). An inning and a half later, on the very first pitch, Carlos Pena launched a hanging Beckett curveball for his 29th home run of the year, hitting the first row of left center field seats and tying the game at one. In the ninth inning, Boston decided to call on Justin Masterson to avoid using Jonathan Papelbon. Maybe they should have thought about avoiding defeat. Jason Bartlett’s leadoff single fell into right field between three fielders, followed by a mildly controversial walk to Pena. He swung and missed a fastball that would have made the count 12, but timeout was called before the pitch due to a stray bullpen ball entering the infield. Out of the Red Sox bullpen, too. Pena ended up walking on a close 32 pitch. Two batters later, Cliff Floyd took an 02 slider to the shinguard to load the bases. Dioner Navarro stepped up, fell from 20 to 22, then hit a hanging sinker right back up the middle. Very far up the middle, in fact. The ball flew over the head of a desolate Coco Crisp, Bartlett scored, the Rays won, and victory ruled the day. The ball actually bounced over the wall, but the game ended after one base anyway… the Mets have the Grand Slam Single, and the Rays now have the Ground Rule Single. This is what pennant races and playoff games are all about.
My vision of Rays playoff games came last night, featuring the bats big and small taking the hammer to Tim Wakefield (see, he only owned the Devil Rays, not these guys) and winning 103. Matt Garza had a mediocre pitching performance drowned in offensive support, pitching 4.2 innings on three days’ rest. Willy Aybar, Gabe Gross and Fernando Perez all homered, Aybar and Perez (normally switch hitters) doing so right handed against Wakefield. David Ortiz’s two home runs only dented a catwalk and the stat sheet. The Rays are now up by two full games in the American League East division, and the magic number for their first division title is now ten. The playoff magic number is a mere three following Minnesota’s 64 loss to Cleveland. This means that if the Rays win their first two games against the Twins, they will clinch their playoff berth on Friday night, on ESPN, in a game that I am attending. I sincerely hope they can pull it off then and there I would love nothing more than to be in that rocking house when the celebration begins.
Now it’s time for the Rays to beat the Twins back into their own dome and rightfully claim their playoff spot. Until they finally accomplish this historic feat, go Rays.
I have recently been on another brief blog hiatus thanks largely to the actual move from one apartment to another that took place last Friday, the days of cleaning and unpacking, and my new school quarter starting this week. I’ve been a bit deprived on baseball lately. Except, of course, for the 79th All Star Game from Yankee Stadium, a showcase of baseball’s greatest players. And Jason Varitek. There were three Tampa Bay players for the first time ever in an All Star Game, those guys once again being Scott Kazmir, Dioner Navarro and Evan Longoria. They all got their playing time not only that, but they actually made positive contributions to the game and affected its outcome.
Navarro was the first Rays player to appear, pinch hitting for Varitek (wisely) with a runner on base. His strikeout and subsequent throwing error obviously didn’t help his cause, but greater things were on the way. Longoria pinch hit for designated hitter Milton Bradley and hit the game tying ground rule double, making it 33 in the eighth inning. Navarro then threw out Cristian Guzman at second base to send the game to extra innings, and he probably should have scored the winning run in the 11th inning, but home plate umpire Derryl Cousins incorrectly called him out at the plate on what was a great throw from Nate McLouth. It would have been irrelevant if Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler had been correctly called safe by umpire Tom Hallion on a steal of second base. So after the umpires granted the game’s eternal extension, Kazmir finally appeared in the 15th inning after every other pitcher had been exhausted. Having thrown 104 pitches two days earlier, there was cause for concern, but Kazmir represented his team with pride by throwing a perfect 14pitch inning to set up the American League’s win in the bottom half. So now if the Rays do pull off the 1969 Mets turnaround, they’ll host four games of the World Series at Tropicana Field. In the last 25 years, teams with home field advantage have gone 205 in the World Series. So the cost of losing this game is very substantial. At least the Rays helped their league win.
Speaking of the Rays and winning, they returned to action tonight at home against the Toronto Blue Jays and edged out an exciting 21 victory to snap that seven game losing streak. James Shields allowed one run in seven innings, pitching well with no run support. That is, until Ben Zobrist entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning down 10. In a scene reminiscent of Akinori Iwamura teeing off Clay Buchholz, he took A.J. Burnett’s inside pitch and launched it deep into the right field seats down the line to give the Rays their margin of victory. J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour stranding that runner at third base in the next half inning definitely assisted them as well. But tonight’s victory was all about Zobrist, who has caught Navarro’s sense of timing his home runs. Shields deserved to win, and he did.
Now this whole winning concept that they had most of the first half has to keep resurfacing as the Red Sox don’t ever seem to lose. Not to mention those pesky ancient Yankees. The Rays need to send the freefalling Blue Jays back to their country by broom and stay right up there with baseball’s best teams. They got off to a nice start tonight. Until this task is completed, go Rays.
I have been away from Rays blogging recently, as I have been preparing for a move to a new apartment. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been following the Rays, of course. As a matter of fact, I would have had time for one or two posts if I hadn’t been so busy voting for Evan Longoria in the Final Vote for the upcoming All Star Game. I probably sent between 500 and 600 ballots. My dad threw in over 300 more. In the end, it all paid off as Longoria defeated close runners up Jermaine Dye and Jason Giambi with a record 9,000,000 votes and officially became an All Star. For a rookie, this is a monumental accomplishment. Same goes for the Rays, who now send Longoria with two other players, Scott Kazmir and Dioner Navarro, as the first trio to represent Tampa Bay in the same All Star Game. So congratulations to him, as well as to National League winner Corey Hart.
Never mind that the Rays have lost four games in a row, they have to win sometime soon. They’re not, you know, that Devil team anymore. So until next time, go Rays.
The series opener against the Angels was a great one to watch, regardless of how late it was in Florida. In the second inning, the Rays made team history when Evan Longoria, Willy Aybar and Dioner Navarro became the first Rays to ever hit backtobacktoback home runs in a regular season game, doing so against Joe Saunders. Edwin Jackson let the lead get away to 43 in the fourth inning, but the Rays responded with a fiverun inning their next time up and they never turned back. Jackson picked up the victory as the Rays beat the Angels 134 to give Joe Maddon, who worked in the Angels organization for 31 years, his first road win at Angels Stadium. Saunders is now 93, and 02 against the Rays. There are just some pitchers that this team owns. Jackson is 45 after overcoming a few winless starts. Longoria hit two home runs in the presence of friends and family in his native California. Speaking of Californians, the pride of Newhall, James Shields, goes up against Jered Weaver in a battle of young aces tonight. Shields already has a onehit shutout of the Angels on his record this season.
As the Rays continue to wage battles with a very good team in their house, I'll briefly pause to thank Stephanie of the Marmolade Cubs blog for giving me my first plug from another MLBlogger. Well, I plugged hers first, but it was nice of her to return the favor. So thank you again. I am now a Cubs fan. Well, after the Braves and Rays are finished with them next week, then we'll talk. It would make my mom's family proud it is my grandma’s birthday today and she does need a gift. So where are everyone else’s plugs? I’ll get another one about a year from now.
I am giving a speech, the “final project,” in my Principles of Communication class tomorrow night. I have decided to make it about the Rays' new Waterfront Stadium, which is on its way onto the St. Petersburg ballots. I'll be telling people what benefits the stadium brings to the team and the city, where the money is coming from, and that they're fascists if they vote against it. Maybe not the last part, but I could give that message a bit more indirectly.
You know what I haven't had in a while? Big League Chew.
I'll be back soon as the Rays hopefully continue to average 13 runs per game. They really do need to win by a little more than nine every game, the bullpen without Percival scares me just a bit. [/sarcasm] I write early in the morning and end up publishing random comedy. Maybe I should do it more often. Let's just say, until next time, go Rays.