The title says everything.
The Rays went 15 in their last homestand, their worst since 2005, then tanked a fourgame series with the Yankees in which they got torched in a doubleheader, gave up a walkoff home run and blew an eighth inning lead. Perhaps worst of all, they lost Carlos Pena for the rest of the season.
Here is a little rant I wrote, initially submitted to my college newspaper’s sports blog:
Tampa Bay Rays effectively eliminated themselves from MLB playoff contention this past week thanks to an exhausted bullpen and a mismanaged squad.
The Rays faced a seasondeciding homestand with the rival Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers. The Red Sox held a fourgame lead in the Wild Card standings, so the Rays had to win that series to realistically have a shot at toppling them.
Joe Maddon made the decision to start Andy Sonnanstine in game one against Jon Lester. While Lester has had a subpar history against the Rays, he has been an outstanding pitcher for three years. On the contrary, Sonnanstine had good career marks against Boston, but had struggled so badly this season that he spent two months in the minor leagues.
Nonetheless, Maddon chose him to replace the traded Scott Kazmir in the biggest game of the season. The strategy blew up in their faces.
Sonnanstine only lasted four innings, allowing five runs three earned as his defense and pinpoint command betrayed him. The Rays lost 84.
Following the game, Maddon took the surprising step of defending his pitcher, saying he “threw the ball really well.” Really, Mr. Manager of the Year?
How, exactly, does a finesse pitcher issue four walks, just two strikeouts and two home runs and throw really well? Maddon is stretching it in his defense of Sonnanstine. We respect you and think you have done a good job with the young guys. But just admit you made the wrong decision. It would be a first.
The Rays beat Josh Beckett the following night on ESPN thanks to a home run barrage of their own. Even so, Maddon used seven pitchers in his effort to micromanage every matchup. Three of his relievers issued costly late-inning walks and were pulled out of the fire by a threerun Rays eighth inning.
There would be no saves made in the mustwin series finale. Boston beat the Rays 63 to take the series. Two relievers, again brought in for matchup purposes, allowed two late insurance runs that sealed their team’s fate. The number crunching does not always work, and it failed Maddon miserably in this series.
The Rays then had the daunting task of hosting the Detroit Tigers, who led the Central division entering Tropicana Field.
The first game had the Rays and Tigers tied at one entering the final inning. J.P. Howell, normally the closer, promptly allowed Detroit to take a 31 lead on a hit and two walks. Again playing the matchup game, Maddon replaced him with another left-hander, Randy Choate.
Choate allowed a hit to score a fourth run one that would decide the game, as a comeback attempt by Tampa Bay ended in a 43 defeat with two runners stranded in scoring position.
Game two saw the Rays leap out to a 41 lead after just one inning. James Shields allowed six runs, but the game was ultimately lost by the bullpen. Three relievers combined to allow the decisive runs to score in an 86 loss.
The finale was the most gutwrenching blow. Up 31 in the ninth inning, Lance Cormier struck out the first Tigers hitter. Maddon inexplicably removed him for hard-throwing Grant Balfour, who walked Miguel Cabrera. Howell was next, and he walked a pinch-hitter and found himself pulled. Russ Springer then entered the game to deal with righthanded hitters.
After a hit loaded the bases, All-Star Brandon Inge stepped up with a golden opportunity to give Detroit the lead. He fell to a 22 count, then got a hanging slider. He proceeded to hit it to Timbuktu.
By that, I mean it was about a 400foot grand slam. The life was zapped from the Rays yet again. When Maddon returned to make yet another pitching change, he was booed by the home crowd. This may be the first time he has ever deserved such an indignity. But he brought it upon himself.
The Rays did not beat the Red Sox and Tigers, nor did they beat the Rays. The Rays beat themselves.
Joe Maddon may have beaten himself out of the playoffs.
That is about as accurately as I could have summarized that painful week in Rays history. They have now lost eight consecutive games and will now have to travel to Fenway Park in an effort to help the Texas Rangers earn a playoff spot. Personally, I’m cheering for the Rangers.
I have also come across a very interesting system created by Cubs fans: the HateDex 2000 Ratings System. It is a series of arbitrarily assigned hate points to a series of players on the team. Explanations should also be provided. Naturally, everyone would have different opinions on this subject, but I feel the need to post mine. So here they are.
Pat Burrell (HateDex Rating: 18) I know you had a strained neck early this season, but seriously, who turned you into Adam Everett? Half the home runs, 80% of the batting average and all the strikeouts. You better hit 35 home runs in 2010.
B.J. Upton (HDR: 17) A man named Desmond Jennings is at Durham waiting to take your job. He is basically you without the strikeouts. You can’t even catch up to an 89 mileperhour fastball anymore, which would make several of our coaches better hitters than you.
Dioner Navarro (HDR: 16) Please pretend to act like you care. Baseball is a game of adjustments, so when pitchers adjusted to you after your .295 2008 season, you responded by hitting in the .220s and shorthopping throws like never before. I’m thankful you lost in arbitration. Your next adjustment will be to that hard wooden bench.
Andy Sonnanstine (HDR: 13) “Epic fail” would be a good assessment of your season. Maybe even an understatement. You went from fourth starter to AAA journeyman overnight. How does a pitcher of your style give away so many walks and get hit as hard as you have? Keep your stuff packed, you may be next on the train out of town.
Grant Balfour (HDR: 12) Speaking of adjustments, I knew hitters would adapt to you. But where have you gone? Pitches that used to finish the big bats now end up on somebody’s mantle as a souvenir. At least you admitted recently that you have been “freaking terrible,” so that knocks off a few points. But please, shake yourself and trust what got you here.
Carlos Pena (HDR: 10) You hit 39 home runs this year, a phenomenal figure. But the price you paid was… well, everything else. More errors in the field and a batting average lower than those of some pitchers. That uppercut strikeout/foul back swing should have resulted in even more home runs. Though you are by all accounts a nice guy off the field, as am I, all the strikeouts made me want to break your bat over your head.
J.P. Howell (HDR: 8) Your statline still looks decent and you have made some nice saves. But please for the love of the Rays quit bouncing pitches in front of the plate. This has been a recurring theme all season, and now maybe you have finally had a wakeup call by costing us important runs bouncing the ball away. If you would stop skipping stones so much and actually pitch like you did before, our team would be easier to watch.
James Shields (HDR: 4) Every time I watch you, you pitch at one of two levels: mediocre and bad. I’m shocked your ERA is still under 4.00. You have been jobbed out of a few wins by your team, but a little consistency would be appreciated.
Carl Crawford (HDR: 2) You’re not running so much anymore. That takes away from our offense. Try a bit harder in these last few weeks. Run when we need you to and make your stats look better. It’s a winwin situation.
That’s about it for hating on our players. I’ll be cheering them on to whatever they can accomplish for the rest of the season, but any playoff hopes are now dead. Until next time and next year, go Rays.
UPDATE (9/11/09): My Rays rant was posted by The Minaret. You can find the published version here.
I am back on MLBlogs for my first offseason update regarding the Rays. As the title of the post states, while the Rays failed to acquire Matt Holliday, they captured a mantle full of hardware.
Carlos Pena’s defense was given its due recognition as he won his first Gold Glove Award at first base. Seeing as he lead the American League with a .998 fielding percentage at his position, worked in sync with his infielders by catching throws at all different angles and served as a motivational leader to them and his pitchers, he really earned this distinction. He takes pride in defense, which is often undervalued at first base. I can’t recall how many times I saw him reach low to the ground to grab throws from across the diamond and save runs. Congratulations, Carlos hopefully this is the beginning of a streak.
Evan Longoria won the award he only had one chance to capture, and did so unanimously. He became the first unanimous Rookie of the Year since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997, one year before Tampa Bay’s team first played. Hitting .272 with 27 home runs despite spending two weeks in AAA and over a month out injured, he banked on his opportunity in every possible way. He was a defensive wizard with an explosive bat who earned a longterm contract after only two months, and an All Star Game appearance after three months. Without his contributions, there was no way the Rays would have won their division. By the way, Alexei Ramirez finished in second place and Jacoby Ellsbury third, albeit distantly.
Finally, Joe Maddon was given the Manager of the Year Award by the biggest landslide ever seen in that award’s voting. Had one voter not cast a first place vote for easy runner up Ron Gardenhire, it would have been unanimous. Maddon, who recently got married, also won the Chuck Tanner MLB Manager of the Year Award in its second year of existence. This was an obvious choice on so many levels. Maddon is a teacher of the game who excels with young players. He can even find ways to teach lessons the hard way (just ask B.J. Upton). He is also a methodical philosopher of a manager, motivating his team through innovative catchphrases and positive attitude. Joe finally did prove once and for all that, given the right team, his style works. It brought a perennial doormat in the Tampa Bay Rays all the way to the World Series. And to think, I predicted the team would fire this guy in 2007. There’s something I’m thankful to have called incorrectly.
I’ll be back with more insight and analysis when more offseason moves have been made. Right now, the only news is about the declining of Cliff Floyd and Trever Miller’s options for 2009. Miller may or may not return pending the search for a replacement, and Floyd may very well retire. He should go into coaching. Until next time, go American League Champion Rays.