Tagged: Evan Longoria

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:

Positive:

  • 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.

Negative:

  • 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.

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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.

Citrus Series Game Two: Rays Beatdown Two

I have a few little things to add about tonight’s Rays game as I am up on a Saturday night out of other things to do.  My viewing of Rays games and, therefore, updates on this blog will become far less frequent from May 26 through July 2.  I will be taking Summer classes at The University of Tampa four nights a week (Monday–Thursday) for six weeks.  So I should write now while the time is there and while my teams are winning.

The Rays defeated the Marlins 10–3 in tonight’s matchup, though it was a much closer game until the end.

Jeff Niemann started for Tampa Bay and brought the good stuff with him.  He pitched six innings, allowing one run (a Dan Uggla home run), walking one with five strikeouts.  This outing was definitely “good Niemann.”  Just like the last one.  He faced off with Sean West, making his MLB debut straight from AA.  He held the Rays to just two runs in five innings.  They should have piled it on early, but they repeatedly left runners on base and took little advantage of walks and singles.

The Rays led 3–1 in the seventh inning when J.P. Howell entered the game.  As soon as he went 3–0 to his first hitter, red flags went up.  When he can’t throw strikes, you know runs are about to score.  He walked two batters, going 3–2 to each of the first three Marlins that faced him.  A hit by pinch hitter Ross Gload scored one run, then Joe Maddon should have taken Howell out of the game.  He refused, and two batters later, Jeremy Hermida’s ground ball was deflected by Akinori Iwamura and the tying run scored.

Howell entered the game with a 2.21 ERA, but obviously was not that great in big late game situations.  He left with the ERA back up to 3.00 and already his third blown save of the season.  He only has three holds; this was not one of them.  He would do so much better if he just quit walking people.  He needs to throw strikes early and often like he did in 2008.  That is his key to victory.

Grant Balfour ended up striking out Hanley Ramirez to end that inning.

Evan Longoria singled home Iwamura, who led off with a walk, to retake the lead in the eighth inning.  The next one saw the Rays spring to life and score in droves.

After a strong inning of relief from Dan Wheeler, the Rays ended up sending 11 batters to the plate and scoring six times to turn a close, dramatic game into another landslide.  Michel Hernandez, Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton and Jason Bartlett all drove in runs, and the Marlins even balked one in when Upton squared up to bunt and pitcher Matt Lindstrom panicked and halted his delivery.

Zobrist started the game at second base and finished with three hits.  Hernandez started in catcher Dioner Navarro’s spot and drove in two runs, including the first of the game on a bases loaded walk.  No matter who was in the lineup, the Rays scored enough to get the job done.

And get the job done Jason Isringhausen did.  Initially warming up to go for his 294th career save, he went out there just looking to end the game with a comfortable lead.  Despite hitting a batter on a two–strike count, a strikeout and a short popout ended it and Isringhausen escaped scot free.  Despite a bit of early trouble tonight, I like having him as a viable option to close games.  His track record shows that he certainly knows how to do it.

Carl Crawford Watch: He stole his 26th base in as many attempts, giving him 28 consecutive steals dating back to 2008.  It came in the seventh inning against Burke Badenhop.  Later in the same inning, Bartlett stole his 13th base out of 14 tries.

Ramirez (8) and Emilio Bonifacio (9) stole bases for the Marlins, but neither scored and they still lost.

The Braves beat the Blue Jays once again, this time 4–3.  Derek Lowe pitched his usual strong performance and picked up the win.  He also drove in a run with a single, which factored in the outcome of the game.  Despite another ninth inning scare, Atlanta survived and did the Rays a favor once again, which the Rays returned by beating the Marlins.  This is the first time this season that the Rays and Braves have both won on consecutive days.  Hopefully about 20 more will follow.

That is about it.  I still hope Troy Percival retires.  And that Tom Glavine’s comeback proves successful.  Both men have had great careers, but with drastically different endings.  Let’s see some sweeping now.  We could really use it.  Until next time, go Rays.

Surviving New Yankee Stadium: Part Two

Those pesky New York Yankees keep biting at the Rays, but the Rays giveth and the Rays taketh away.  They edged out an 8–6 victory at the new Yankee Stadium to complete the two–game sweep and earn their first three–game winning streak this season.

The Rays were off to an early 4–0 lead thanks to home runs from Jason Bartlett, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria behind Jeff Niemann, who mysteriously left the game after just over three innings.  He walked four Yankees without recording a strikeout, so his 78 pitches in that short timespan just might have done it.  Lance Cormier came in and the game was tied on his watch before Ben Zobrist (Mr. Timing) did it again, blasting a home run off Andy Pettitte to make it 5–4 Rays.

After another run doubled the lead, Dan Wheeler got the first two outs in the eighth inning before a Derek Jeter single brought up Johnny Damon.  On one pitch, Damon tied the game with a home run into the second deck.  This reminded me of the Damon of 2006 who reached the upper deck so often you would think he had been taking some of Roger Clemens’ cocktail.  Regardless, the game was tied at six.

Mariano Rivera entered in the ninth inning, and knowing his lackluster track record in tie games, I thought maybe we still had a chance to win right then and there.  Carl Crawford stepped in and forced a nine–pitch plate appearance before blasting a cut fastball down the right field line and gone for his first home run of the year.  Talk about picking your spots, there is another classic example.  Speak of the devil, Longoria followed with his own moonshot to left field for his second home run of the game and tenth of the season.  This guy once again proves that he is a primetime player.

Brian Shouse wisely came in for the ninth inning’s first two hitters, inducing weak ground balls back to him by Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano.  With switch hitter Nick Swisher due up, Joe Maddon called on Joe Nelson, who used his trademark vulcan changeup and well–placed fastball to strike Swisher out.  Rays win, 8–6, and take the sweep.

The Rays hit six home runs as a team, including leading off the game (Bartlett) and the two off Rivera.  It was the first time since July of 1998 that Rivera had allowed two home runs in one game.

Ben Zobrist and Gabe Kapler (starting in place of B.J. Upton) each stole their second bases of the season, picking up for the all–powerful Crawford.

This game and the previous two have finally proven that the Rays still have the competitive fight and late–game drive that they had in 2008.  It was as good as dead for the first few weeks, but now the life is springing from the team, as may the hope from our fans.  As Dewayne Staats and Kevin Kennedy (good broadcast team, by the way) alluded to following this game, these will be the ones the Rays look at as the turning point at season’s end.  These were nothing short of huge victories in epic battles, and the Yankees have mercifully been taken down a few pegs while the Rays climb that ladder.

Next is an equally important showdown in Boston as we meet the Red Sox yet again.  James Shields can handle Brad Penny, so we better win that first game.  They beat Penny once already and have now won six out of eight games, so why not?  Until next time, go Rays.

Evan Longoria Wins April Player of the Month Award

Evan Longoria of our Tampa Bay Rays was named the American League Player of the Month for April.  He hit .369 with six home runs and 24 RBI, many coming in big game situations.  He also led the league with 11 doubles.  He says he wanted to try cutting down on strikeouts and finding better pitches to hit this season, and he has been doing some of that.  Now if only about six or seven other guys on this team would follow suit.

Congratulations on the hardware, Evan.  Now win this award again in September, then capture the big trophy in the World Series.