Posted on: January 20, 2012 5:10 pm
Carlos Pena to Tampa Bay is cute in a homecoming sort of way, sure. But could it be more than that? You bet.
Ever so quietly -- as usual -- the Rays are working smart and putting together another team down there by the water that will give the Yankees, Red Sox and everyone else fits this summer.
Maybe Pena, at 33, struggles to stay above the Mendoza Line anymore. But he did whack 28 homers for the Cubs last summer while collecting 80 RBI, which was exactly ... 28 more homers and 79 more RBI than the Rays got from Manny Ramirez in 2011.
Nobody, surely starting with the Rays, is expecting Pena to replicate his 2009 All-Star season (39 homers, 100 RBIs).
But Pena trumps Manny by about 1,000 miles both on the field and in the clubhouse. Together, Pena and Luke Scott, whom the Rays added as a DH bat earlier this month, should be a much more productive first base/DH combination than last year's Casey Kotchman/Johnny Damon tag team.
In fact, the Rays last summer ranked dead last among major-league first basemen in 2011 in both runs scored and RBI. Overall, Tampa Bay's 707 runs scored ranked eighth in the AL.
In Pena and Scott, they should get more production. And with a killer rotation in James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis and rookie Matt Moore or Jeff Niemann -- the Rays' 3.58 ERA in 2011 was second in the AL only to the Angels' -- there is no reason why it shouldn't carry Joe Maddon's club deep into September once again.
Posted on: September 29, 2011 10:26 am
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Best thing about Thursday for the bleary-eyed Tampa Bay Rays, of course, was simple: They're in. Somehow, some way, improbably, impossibly, incredibly ... they moved past Boston and into the wild-card slot for the first time since May at the very last possible minute.
Second-best thing about Thursday for the Rays?
In pulling off their miracle, they also avoided the dreaded one-game playoff with the Red Sox on Thursday.
Which means a team that has been in full-on sprint mode for weeks gets one very key day to rest its pitching before facing the Texas Airborne Rangers in Game 1 of an American League Divisional Series on Friday.
"It is very important not playing [Thursday]," manager Joe Maddon said amid the champagne showers in the Rays clubhouse overnight Thursday.
"Texas is very tough. Their numbers playing in their ballpark are sick. We've got to play our best baseball. We've got to be on our best behavior."
What Tampa Bay has had going for it all season is rich depth in its rotation. From James Shields to Jeremy Hellickson and beyond, the Rays can bring it on the mound.
But here was the state of Tampa Bay's pitching as the Rays were forced to chew through so many relievers during its wild charge this week that the bullpen stretched like salt water taffy: Starter James Shields, who beat the Yankees on Monday, was warming in the pen as the Last Man Standing in the 12th inning Wednesday.
Had the Rays been forced to play Boston in a one-gamer on Thursday, they would have had to get incredibly inventive to make it through (though perhaps not as inventive as chasing a trade with Kansas City for Bruce Chen).
"It's huge," All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria said of the chance to take a 24-hour breather before taking on Texas. "Those guys [the pitchers] have been grinding all year for us. You can't say enough about what the bullpen did [in Wednesday night's 8-7, 12-inning win over the Yankees]."
Now, Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey have a fascinating decision in choosing a Game 1 starter. Jeff Niemann, coming off of a sore back, or high-ceilinged prospect Matt Moore were in line to start the one-game staredown with Boston had it come to that.
Will the Rays elect to go with Big Game James Shields on short rest (he started Monday)? Niemann? Would the unconventional Maddon dare hand the ball to the rookie Moore?
It's all just one more good reason why Tampa Bay was thrilled to not have to play on Thursday: Gives them more time to think about these decisions.
Posted on: May 23, 2011 6:36 pm
Edited on: May 23, 2011 11:25 pm
One key reason why Tampa Bay's James Shields currently leads the AL in both complete games (three) and shutouts (two), ranks second in innings pitched (76 2/3) and fourth in ERA (2.00)?
He's doing exactly what he set out to do this spring: Keep the gopher balls away.
Last year, his 34 home runs allowed were the most in the American League.
This year, his seven surrendered do not even rank in the top 10.
Shields told me this spring that he thought there were a couple of easily explainable reasons why he was so disappointing in 2010 at 13-15 with a career-high 5.18 ERA.
"Bad baseball luck," he said during an early-March conversation in Port Charlotte, Fla. "Take away two or three bad games, and my ERA's 3.60 and nobody's talking about it."
Shields, who dominated the Marlins with 13 strikeouts in Sunday's complete-game win, figured that if he could minimize home runs in 2011, his ERA would drop. And if those two things happened, he'd be well on his way to a rebound year.
Those seven homers allowed in 2011 translate to one surrendered per 42 batters faced.
In 2010, he yielded one homer per 26.4 batters faced.
Not even close.
"I wasn't as good as I wanted to be last year," Shields said. "But there were a lot of positives: 200 innings [203 1/3, to be exact], 180-odd strikeouts ."
He keeps going at his current pace in 2011, there will be far more positives this season.
For both Shields and the Rays.
Likes: Texas' Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz and Philadelphia's Chase Utley all coming back this week. ... Knuckleballers. Boston's Tim Wakefield and the Mets' R.A. Dickey just keep on truckin'. ... Lars Anderson's Sports Illustrated cover story this week on the tornado devastation in Alabama. Beautifully done and heartbreaking. ... Music from the old Detroit band The Rockets on iTunes. Loved them back in the day (late '70s, early '80s) and had much of their stuff on vinyl, but it was never released on CD. Hadn't heard the songs in many years, but they stand up very well to the test of time. A shame they never hit it big nationally, because they could rock. ... Minka Kelly on the new Charlie's Angels in the fall. Hello girls, this is Charlie. ...
Dislikes: Red Sox-Cubs 1918 throwback uniforms.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Really love your peaches
Posted on: October 6, 2010 5:39 pm
The fact that Texas had lost nine consecutive playoff games mattered not to Ron Washington's Rangers in kicking off this autumn's postseason Wednesday afternoon.
And with a Game 1 win now in the bag over Tampa Bay and David Price, those nine losses might as well have occurred in the 1890s rather than the 1990s.
Not only did the Rangers do what they needed to do behind ace Cliff Lee, but now they're set up to steal two games in Tropicana Field.
If the Rangers batter Shields the way they ambushed and head back to Texas with a 2-0 series lead, this series is as good as over.
The Shields move is defensible mostly by looking at his home/road splits:
In Tropicana Field, Shields is 5-7 with a not-too-stellar 4.53 ERA.
On the road, Shields is 8-8 with a coyote ugly 5.82 ERA.
Exposing Shields to The Ballpark in Arlington, a hitter's paradise that ranks seventh in the majors in home runs per game, was closer to outright suicide on the diamond than Maddon dared go.
But when Tampa Bay's hitters couldn't squeeze anything out of Lee during his uncharacteristic 24-pitch first inning, it only raised the stakes for Shields in Game 2. Granted, the tone of the inning changed dramatically when plate umpire Tim Welke called a high strike on Carlos Pena to make the count 2-2 instead of 3-1, a terrible call that hurt the Rays.
Still. In playoff baseball, you can't get yourself into position where one ball/strike call is a mortal wound. You've either got to take advantage of other opportunities, or create them.
Tampa Bay didn't. And now, the Rays are in must-win mode on Thursday.
Posted on: October 23, 2008 12:01 am
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The first World Series game in Tampa Bay franchise history, and wouldn't it figure that in the majors' most unusual ballpark, a most unusual occurrence would result?
It did not involve catwalks, doglegs or funky artificial turf. Instead, the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays produced this bizarre tale: The Phillies went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position and still won Game 1, 3-2.
Twenty-four-year-old starter Cole Hamels, in his World Series debut, did the rest. Well, most of the rest. Mixing in crisp curves, well-placed high-80s fastballs and the poise of a seasoned October man, Hamels limited Tampa Bay to two runs and five hits over seven innings.
So Philadelphia got a game it had to win.
And yes, even though it was only Game 1, you read that right.
The rotation matchup clearly favored the Phillies in Game 1 -- Hamels is that good. The rest of the way, not so much. Maybe you'd take Brett Myers over James Shields in Game 2 -- but that's iffy, and only if Myers is on top of his game. Matt Garza gets the nod over Jamie Moyer in Game 3, and Andy Sonnanstine vs. Joe Blanton is, at worst, a draw in Game 4.
None of this is to say that the Phillies can't, or won't, win with those matchups. Who knows, maybe they'll run the table and make it a short series.
If they don't win when Hamels pitches, it makes it that much more difficult, is all.