Tagged: Lance Cormier

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.

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.

The Offseason Train Rolls On

This was the perfect time to go two weeks without my computer, and thus with no means through which to post any updates here.  (For the record, I got a RAM upgrade and the removal of viruses which ultimately led to a system restore — though, thankfully, I got backups of my data.)  There have been too many updates for me to count lately, on the Rays front as well as all around the baseball world.  Numerous signings have taken place, and just as many are left to be made.  I’ll go ahead and give a few thoughts on some of the bigger moves in recent weeks:

–Rays sign Gabe Kapler: Here’s a guy who turns 34 in August (he’s not as old as I thought he was), so he has a veteran leadership quality about him.  Added to that is his World Series ring he earned with the 2004 Red Sox.  With the news that B.J. Upton will be starting his season a bit late, this was a good signing for outfield depth and for the locker room.  Kapler has decent power and can make great defensive plays when necessary.  Here, he reunites with Gabe Gross to re–form the Gabe & Gabe lawfirm.

–Rays sign Lance Cormier: This is a good bullpen depth move, even though it is yet another right–hander and he may only be a borderline candidate to make the Opening Day roster.  He did just have his best season with the division rival Orioles, and he is not yet 30 years old, so this can be a really good under the radar pickup.  From what I remember of his time with the Braves, he wasn’t that bad.  If someone’s arm falls off, he can fill in nicely.

–Rays sign Jason Bartlett to avoid arbitration: $1.98 million may be underpaying this guy for his fundamental contributions to the Rays.  But at least they didn’t have to fight through the arbitration process.  Great to see them agree on this deal and get back to work for the 2009 season.  Ditto for Grant Balfour, who also avoided arbitration for $1.4 million (that’s over $2.1 million Australian).

–Red Sox sign Rocco Baldelli: I can give Rocco a free pass on joining the enemy because he’s returning to his home area, and he’s not exactly an elite player.  The Rays moved on, so Rocco went home.  Hopefully he has the best season of anyone on that team and the rest of them choke.

–Red Sox sign John Smoltz: Never let me read that again.  I hate this.

–Reds sign Jonny Gomes: Another former Rays outfielder goes elsewhere for work.  He can smash home runs and occasionally steal a base, if nothing else.  But he may be doing it at AAA because he only signed a minor league deal.  Ouch.  Maybe they should have signed him as an enforcer.

–Padres claim Rays pitcher Jae Kuk Ryu off waivers: Well, he’s finally gone.  Now we can move on to pitchers who have a future.

–Scott Kazmir and J.P. Howell to pitch for Team USA in World Baseball Classic: This would do nothing but help the Americans in their redemption chase.  This is just the beginning for Rays players; Dioner Navarro will catch for the pitching–heavy Venezuelan team, Matt Garza has been invited to pitch for Mexico due to his heritage, Akinori Iwamura will play for defending champion Japan as he did in 2006, Grant Balfour will pitch down low with the nice Australians, and Evan Longoria has also been named to the provisional American roster.  Congratulations to these guys and all others who may participate in the tournament to make it a more interesting one.

There has been a lot more going on, moves both big and small, but still too many to name right here.  Though I do like to see the Braves signing pitchers, namely Japanese control pitcher Kenshin Kawakami and potential ace Derek Lowe.  Speaking of the Braves, I have not forgotten to book my annual trip to see them in Spring Training.  On March 21, I will be right behind home plate in the upper level at Champion Stadium to watch the Braves square off with the evil known as the New York Mets.  Catch me there if you can, and of course I will be searching for regular season Rays tickets soon.  I will also announce the FanFest date and attractions as soon as I find out about them.  (The currently rumored date is Valentine’s Day, February 14.)  Until next time, go Rays.