Monthly Archives: February 2011

Rays Drop Finale With Pirates, 6-5

Jeff Niemann started the game for Tampa Bay – facing just three batters, allowing no hits, and striking out second baseman Neil Walker. The Rays jumped out to an early 4-0 lead thanks to RBI’s from Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Ben Zobrist.

Aside from looking solid at the plate, Ramirez turned a few heads during Monday’s Game. He scored the Rays’ first run sliding home during the second inning on a wild pitch from Bryan Morris, then ran down a ball in leftfield to retire the Pirates in the bottom of the second inning.

Reliever Kyle Farnsworth also made his debut for the Rays. Three batters faced. No hits. No runs. Joel Peralta came out of the bullpen and pitched, allowing no runs. This, despite taking a line drive to the back of his calf. There was no serious injury sustained by Peralta.

The Pirates tied the game in the fourth inning when Mike Ekstrom gave up a three run homer to Garrett Atkins. A wild pitch from Rays’ reliever Cory Wade then put the Pirates up 5-4.

Despite Losses, Still Plenty To Be Optimistic About

With roughly a month to go before opening day, I can honestly say that I’m comfortable with the new makeup of the Rays. Could it be better? Sure, things could always be better. Is this an ideal lineup? Probably not, but it can work. This off-season has seen so many free agency departures that some fans were probably wondering what would be left of the defending A.L. East Champions come April 2011. Well, the answer is – not a whole lot.

We knew he would be leaving, but Carl Crawford is now wearing a jersey that you hoped you’d never see him wear. Veteran slugger Carlos Pena and 2008 ALCS MVP Matt Garza were shipped off to the Cubs. Shortstop Jason Bartlett landed in San Diego. And last but not least, the entire bullpen was disbanded as Andy Sonnanstine was left to hold his hat.

Wow, right? Just take a deep breath because it’s not as bad as it may seem.

Garza is gone, but the rest of the starting rotation is intact; an impressive group that includes 2010 All Star David Price and impressive rookie sensation Jeremy Hellickson. Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann are back. And yes, “Big Game” James is still hanging around.

The bullpen has been a frequent discussion piece since it’s dismantling during the winter. Choate, Benoit, Soriano; we know what these guys contributed to the Rays division title. But, there’s no use crying over spilt milk. It’s time to move on. Peralta, Farnsworth, Ramos, McGee, Russell, Ekstrom, Sonnanstine, and Howell. That’s who we’re looking at. These are the guys that will make us or break us when it comes to relief pitching. Let’s hope that Howell can bounce back from injury. It would be nice to see him pitch as well as we’ve seen him pitch in previous years.

The infield is going to look a little different this year with Bartlett and Pena gone. However, Evan Longoria, the face of the franchise, will still be holding down the fort at third base. Reid Brignac will be an exciting player to watch as he replaces Bartlett at short. Sean Rodriguez is a solid second baseman. And it would appear that Dan Johnson is the clear-cut choice at first.

I’ve never been impressed with Kelly Shoppach as catcher – especially his work at the plate. But, John Jaso is coming along nicely and newly acquired Robinson Chirinos appears to be a solid pickup for the team. The verdict is still out on whether or not he has what it takes to claim the third spot in the depth chart over Jose Lobaton. Jaso and Shoppach will likely split time behind the plate as we progress through 162 games.

On a side note, nobody seems to be sniffling over the absence of Dioner Navarro in camp. Sorry Whiskers.

B.J. Upton will be back in centerfield and with all the talk of his work on mechanics during the off-season, let’s hope his bat shows up sooner rather than later. Johnny Damon will be the everyday starter in left with Manny Ramirez making cameo appearances. The only question is going to be whether or not the 37-year old Damon can make it through a full season. Only time will tell. He is no longer in his prime and he is not the fielder that Crawford is, but things could always be worse. Damon is a suitable replacement overall.

Don’t forget about utility man Ben Zobrist who will likely spend most of his time in right field. It remains to be seen how often we will see Matt Joyce in the outfield – among other positions. Zobrist has definitely proven he deserves to play everyday.

As mentioned before, Ramirez will see minimal time in leftfield but his normal role will be at the DH spot. Let’s face it. Manny may be 38, but this will be a breath of fresh air following Pat Burrell’s debacle of a stint with the Rays. Manny is entertaining and he’s one of the greatest sluggers in the history of the game. I truly believe he will help this young team as a leader and as a presence at the plate.

The dealing and shuffling of players aside, the Rays still have what it takes to be a winning team and compete in the American League East.

Pittsburgh Takes Game Two of the Series

From McKechnie Field in Bradenton, the Rays got roughed up in Sunday’s match-up with the Pirates, 10-3.

Rays starter James Shields gave up a solo homer to centerfielder Andrew McCutchen in the first inning but retired the next three batters to finish his day’s work. Thanks to the base running of Desmond Jennings, the Rays took an early 2-1 lead but lost it in the fourth inning when reliever Chris Bootcheck gave up two runs and Pittsburgh never looked back.

Jeff Niemann is scheduled to start Monday’s 1:05 match-up against the Pirates.

Rays Take Spring Opener Against The Pirates: 9-5

David Price started Saturday’s spring opener: one inning, seventeen pitches, one strikeout, no runs, and one hit allowed as the Rays knocked off the Pittsburgh Pirates at Charlotte Sports Park – 9-5. Rays right-hander Adam Russell surrendered the first two runs of the game in the second inning and the Rays did not answer until the fourth inning when Evan Longoria went deep making the score 2-1 in favor of Pittsburgh.

In the fifth inning, Pittsburgh’s Chris Resop gave up the second long ball of the afternoon when second baseman Sean Rodriguez homered with two outs and the bases empty. Catcher Robinson Chirinos, acquired in the Matt Garza trade with Chicago, certainly drew attention to himself on Saturday. With the game tied at two a piece in the bottom of the seventh, Chirinos (4 RBI’s total) doubled in three runs and put the Rays ahead for good.

Johnny Damon went 0-2 in his debut and Manny Ramirez went 1-2 with a single. Ramirez will play leftfield in Monday’s series finale at Charlotte Sports Park. Johnny Damon will be the designated hitter.

Which Upton Will Show Up?

With all the talk surrounding free agent acquisitions Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, it seems as though other important discussions are getting lost in the shuffle. No, this is not a reference to the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the bullpen. This is in reference to the ongoing saga surrounding B.J. Upton. You say there’s no saga? Think again.

For a player with so much upside, Upton has provided his share of inconsistencies and disappointments at the plate. Since debuting in 2004, Bossman Junior has put up the following batting averages by year:

2004 – .258
2006 – .246
2007 – .300
2008 – .273
2009 – .241
2010 – .237
Career – .260

Notice the downward trend from 2009 to 2010. Let’s hope this does not creep lower in 2011. The Rays desperately need production from his bat and they need him to stay healthy. It would also help if he refrained from getting himself benched for lack of hustle. Maddon benched him twice in 2008 and then again in 2010. Not the best track record.

It would be nice to see the Upton we saw in the 2008 postseason. If only he could sustain that for an entire year (at the least – most of the 2011 season). That would be ideal, but it’s probably unrealistic. Magical is probably too strong of a word; however, his numbers were pretty impressive: 7 homeruns total, not to mention a .786 slugging percentage and .321 batting average during the American League Championship Series. As stated before, sustaining these numbers over 162 games is a pipe dream. He was in the zone during their 2008 postseason run and it remains to be seen if that will be duplicated.

Of course, we all remember the World Series match-up with the Phillies following that exhausting seven-game battle with the Red Sox. At that point the team seemed deflated and the hitting was non-existent; Upton was non-existent and the Rays saw their chances of hoisting a World Series Championship dissipate.

We’ve seen Upton’s athleticism in centerfield and we know what he is capable of at the plate. He is capable of delivering when the Rays need it. They just need him to deliver a little more consistently and a little more frequently. Is that too much to ask?