Results tagged ‘ Rays ’

World Series Game Two: A Nice “Shield”

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Although I admit I did not watch Game Two of the World Series from first pitch to last-I mostly tuned in and out while doing other household tasks-the thing that caught my eye the most was the solid pitching of Rays starting pitcher James “Big Game” Shields, who held a crafty Philadelphia Phillies lineup to zero runs over five and two-thirds innings.

Shields’ pitching performance may not be the stuff that legends (Jack Morris, Curt Schilling, etc.) are made of, but it is something the Rays have not seen since the inception of the franchise.  To this day, Rolando Arrojo either holds or is dangerously close to holding nearly all of the key Rays franchise pitching records.  Point being, the Rays have never, in the history of their organization, had a shut-down pitcher that could be counted on to win a game, but throughout this postseason James Shields has been exactly that.

After today’s travel day, the Series will continue on Saturday night in Philadelphia (barring the inclement weather that is forecast).  I will preview that matchup later.
 

World Series Game Two Preview: Digging Themselves A Hole

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Although before last night’s opening game of the World Series I predicted that Tampa Bay would beat Philadelphia’s ace Cole Hamels, I knew that there was a pretty good possibility that Hamels would still win, as I was just playing a momentum-based hunch.  However, now down 1-0 in the Series on their home turf, Game Two of the WS tonight is almost a must-win game for the Rays, as they don’t want to dig themselves too deep of a whole and be forced to fight their way out of it while in Philly.

Tonight’s starters (with their 2008 postseason stats) are James Shields (TB, RHP, 2-0, 19.1 IP, 3.72 ERA) vs. Brett Myers (PHI, RHP, 2-0, 12 IP, 5.25 ERA).  Shields has been pretty dominant this postseason, while Myers can be gotten to, so I think this series has a very good chance of being evened up heading into Citizen’s Bank Park on Saturday.

World Series Game One Preview

Hamels.jpgTomorrow night, October 22, the World Series will commence at roughly 7:00 p.m. on FOX.  Pitching matchups for Game 1 are: Cole Hamels (PHI; LHP, 3-0, 22 IP, 1.23 ERA in postseason) vs. Scott Kazmir (TB; LHP, 2-0, 15.2 IP, 4.02).

To me, this is the key game of the series.  While the Phillies seem to have the advantage because of the brilliant ace Hamels, I think that the Rays will knock him off (due to their home field mojo that has propelled them to victory all season long) and thus set the tone for the entire series.

Of course, if Philly does succeed, it would really put the pressure on the Rays to win Game Two before heading to the City of Brotherly Love.

World Series Prediction: The Magic Continues

WorldSeriesTrophy.jpgThe entire season, I have doubted the Tampa Bay Rays, first thinking they would never win the division, and secondly, thinking they would not advance deep in the postseason.  However, now that the Rays have proven me wrong time and time again (and beaten the playoff-savvy Red Sox), they are my pick to host the Commissioner’s Trophy in about a week.

I think both teams are very evenly matched (as pitching is the strong suit of either side), but I’m giving the series to Tampa Bay because of their home field advantage at the Trop.  In a shocking upset, I think that the Rays will defeat Philadelphia Phillies ace starter Cole Hamels in Game One and shake up the Phils a bit.  However, I also see the series advancing to at least a sixth game (as Philly plays well at home too), but likely no further, as the home-town magic will be enough to propel the Phils into the promised land.

So, because of the home field advantage and enough talent to beat Philly’s ace, I predict a Rays world championship in six games.  I’m excited to see what happens…

I Don’t Believe What I Just Saw

MattGarza.jpgLast night, as I sat down to watch the Boston Red Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the ALCS, I was rooting for the Sawx to win the AL pennant.  I just know a lot more about the Sox and figured it would be more interesting to see them back in the World Series then the upstart Rays.  When the final out was recorded (remarkably, in favor of Tampa Bay), however, I found myself feeling good for the improbable Rays franchise for two reasons: seeing former Twins succeed, and seeing a franchise that never should have been winning something significant.

I have been closely following major league baseball since 1998 (the whole McGwire-Sosa thing, you know), the same year the then Devil Rays (along with the Arizona Diamondbacks) were introduced into the game.  Within a few years, once the Rays organization had time to prove to me how inept they were, I made the prediction that the Rays would never win a significant championship in the history of their franchise.  I though this for two reasons: First, the Tampa Bay area really isn’t suited for a major league baseball franchise, as the fan support is terrible (too much sun in Florida, I think).  Second, they play in what amounts to the high-rollers division of the American League…the AL East.  While the Yankees, Sox, and Orioles (although you would never know it considering how many bad decisions they make with it) have incredible streams of revenue, the Blue Jays and Rays are pretty much left in their dust.  To me, the chances of someone other than New York or Boston winning the AL East were as good as someone knocking the New England Patriots off the top of their weak NFL division the last few years.

So, as the final out was recorded last night, I was glad to see the Rays bring at least some happiness to the few fans in TB who follow them with a passion (like I do my Twins).  Also, I was happy for former Twins Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett (and Grant Balfour, I guess) for their winning performance.  Garza clashed with enough Twins coaches to make his departure imminent, but I don’t begrudge him for that, as the Twins have a very strict organizational stance on pitchers that Garza didn’t feel he could work within.  I liken it to the Twins telling David Ortiz to push the ball into an often wide-open left field, something he wasn’t going to do and thus needed a new team to start fresh with.  As for Bartlett, he never really played up to his true potential for the Twins, so I’m glad to see him step up and become a leader for another club.

Finally, I was wondering throughout last night’s game what team the Twins (and specifically manager Ron Gardenhire) were cheering for.  At first, I thought that perhaps the bitterness at losing Garza and Bartlett would have them leaning towards Boston, but then I consider things further and reached a different conclusion.  Being a Little League coach for three years in my home town, my face always lit up when a former player experienced success elsewhere, so I bet a guy like Gardy (and a close-knit team like the Twins) were rooting for their old pals.

All season long I doubted the Rays.  First, their ability to win the AL East, and second their ability to advance deep into the postseason.  They have proven me wrong at every turn, and I now finally believe they have a shot at accomplishing the unthinkable…winning a World Series championship.  If I were the Devil right now, I’d start getting the heaters installed, as things could get a bit chilly down there if the Rays have their way this week.

Coaching Staff: The Great Motivator

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In my mind, there are two areas in which a MLB manager should be judged: Ability to motivate players, and game strategists.  I would like to evaluate Twins manager Ron Gardenhire on both those characteristics:

As far as motivating players, Gardy may just be the best in the business.  With his down-to-earth (yet effectively intense) attitude, Gardy gains the respect of his players, which is nice to have over a six-month season.  Plus, with the kind of turnaround that major league rosters currently endure, the ability to incorporate new faces into the clubhouse is an invaluable skill.

On the game strategy side, I think Gardy is a bit lacking in one key area: pitching management.  In my mind, Gardy is much too careful with his pitchers, often overworking the bullpen as a result.  Rarely does Gardy ever just let a starter (much to the chagrin of TV broadcaster Bert Blyleven) even come close to finish what he started.  He also plays the lefty-righty percentages a little more than I would like (instead of going with the “hot hand”), but he has had success with that strategy in the past, so I’m not too frustrated about that.

All in all, Gardy is a great skipper to lead a team like the Twins that, just because of their small-market nature, will always have a high turnover rate in players, thus needing a strong leader in the corner spot of the dugout to keep the ship afloat.

So, that concludes my review of the 2008 Minnesota Twins.  Despite not making the ’08 playoffs, the Twins took a huge step forward (in a year they were expected not to compete whatsoever) in player development and have just as good a chance as anyone else in the AL Central division to take the ’09 crown if they can shore up one key area: the bullpen.  It was a great season with many great memories, and that is what I will take from the 2008 Minnesota Twins experience.

Coming up in later posts will be my thoughts on the AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays, as well as a World Series prediction.

RP: You Are The Weakest Link…Goodbye?

nathanreview.jpgAlthough the 2008 Minnesota Twins season was effectively ended on a Jim Thome home run in game number 163, the season realistically slipped away during the month of August, when the bullpen inexplicably failed to record any key outs (even Joe Nathan included, for a time) and lost game after game in the late innings.  Any major league manager will tell you that any competitive team needs to have at least a decent bullpen, and right now that is about the only weak link (albeit a major weakness) for the Twins to potential shore up over the offseason.  A quick look at how the major relievers fared in ’08:

Joe Nathan (67.7 IP, 39 SV, 1.33 ERA): Despite a shaky spell in mid-August, Nathan was by and large the most dominant closer outside of Anaheim’s Francisco Rodriguez for the majority of the season.  No reason to be concerned here.

Matt Guerrier (76.3, 5.19): After Pat Neshek went down with a season-ending injury, Guerrier stepped up as an ace setup man, bridging the gap to the dominant Joe Nathan.  Alas, Guerrier completely crumbled as the season progressed, getting to the point where he was pretty much “off limits” in crucial games down the stretch.  His mindset is probably what needs the most soothing heading into ’09, as he was really messed up at the end of this year.

Dennys Reyes (46.3, 2.33): Reyes turned in a decent season out of the pen (his numbers are tricky, as he rarely throws to enough batters per inning to factor into the earned runs), but needs to work on one crucial area: control.  When facing good hitters in pressure situations, Reyes would often throw terrible wild pitchers (ones Joe Mauer wouldn’t have a chance at stopping) and letting runners move up.  So, batters would then key on the strikes and blast them, as Reyes would practically have to throw the ball right down the middle to be confidant of getting it in the strike zone.

Jesse Crain (62.7, 3.59): Crain can throw harder than any of the Twins’ current middle relievers, but still completely wilts in pressure-packed situations (think of LaTroy Hawkins trying to close in 2001).  He far and away led the team in walk-off hits given up, due (like Reyes) to shoddy control, allowing batters to tee off on the pitches thrown down the pipe to prevent walks.  The one hope for Crain is that ’08 was his first season back from arm surgery, so perhaps he was still just getting himself back into playing condition (although I don’t think so).

Craig Breslow: (38.7, 1.63): All in all, Breslow (acquired in mid-season from the Cleveland Indians) was probably the most consistent reliever of the bunch.  He didn’t pitch many innings, but got the job done more often than not.

As if those less than thrilling reports weren’t bad enough, three more Twins relievers (Brian Bass, Juan Rincon, and Eddie Guardado) turned out to be complete busts, with no chance of returning in 2009 (Bass and Rincon are already gone).

There is, however, at least some hope on the horizon.  Pat Neshek, the side-winding righty that is so difficult to figure out, will be back in ’09, while young Jose Mijares impressed many people in crucial late-season 2008 action.  If those guys can come back strong, perhaps the Reyes’, Crain’s, and Guerrier’s of the world can better settle into their own specific roles.

Playoff Notes:

-Is there anyone alive out there right now who DOESN’T think the Boston Red Sox are going to advance to the World Series by beating the Rays tonight?!  Here is the starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) vs. Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70).  The Sox are just following their typical playoff pattern…dominate the ALDS, come from way behind in the ALCS, then dominate the World Series.  Will it continue?  I think so.

CF: Spick and Span? Not With Go-Go.

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When Torii Hunter (arguably the most popular Twin since their rise to prominence in 2001) left for the Anaheim Angels via free agency after the 2007 season, a gap hole was left in center field at the Metrodome.  After an intense Spring Training competition for the job between Carlos Gomez (acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade), Denard Span (the heir apparent to Hunter’s job until he struggled in the minor leagues), and Jason Pridie (a cast-off from the Rays who had a great spring).  Although Span seemed the more polished of the three come April, “Go-Go” Gomez was named the starter due to his almost unbelievable speed and the excitement he brought to the club and their fans on a daily basis.

For the first few months of the season, Go-Go was indeed the most exciting player on the team, whether it was streaking to catch balls out in the field or flying around the basepaths after driving the ball into the gap.  As the season stretched on, however, pitchers began to learn how to pitch to the rookie Gomez, and the strikeouts and terrible at-bats began piling up.  At one point, Ron Gardenhire considered benching the fiery youngster (after dropping him from 1st to 8th or 9th in the order), but Carlos likely saw his job saved when Michael Cuddyer went down with an injury, and Span (the guy who would have taken over in CF) came up to replace him instead.

Gomez did finish the season on a high note, and his stats are respectable for essentially a first-year player: 577 AB, 79 R, .258 BA, 33 SB.  However, he also struck out a near Twins-record 142 times and also was prone to defensive lapses in CF from time to time.  His blazing speed and cannon arm more often than not made up for his mistakes, but too many times would a ball roll right under his legs or he would juggle the ball at a crucial moment.

Of course, Gomez would still be penciled in as the starting CF in 2009 if not for the emergence of Span (who will be moved back to his natural position when Cuddyer returns next year).  During the 2008 season, Span manned the leadoff spot in the order like no Twin has done since Shannon Stewart, working deep into counts, drawing walks, and spraying the ball all over the field.  In 347 at-bats, Span hit .294 with 70 R, 50 BB, 102 H, and 18 SB.  Whereas Gomez struggled in the pressure of the leadoff spot, Span thrived.  Defensively, Span made some of the most athletic catches ever seen in the Metrodome, and also has a rifle arm.

So, with Cuddyer (and his shiny, long-term contract) coming back to man RF in 2009 (as he should), it should be an interesting battle for the centerfield spot.  Whereas Span seems to be ready right now, Gomez is a remarkable young talent whose potential is the teflon roof.  Knowing Gardy, each player will get their share of ABs in 2009, although a riskier move would be to deal one of them for a relief pitcher that the club so desperately needs (to be discussed later).

Playoff Notes:

-Perhaps it is time I stop doubting the Rays, as their 13-4 crushing of the Red Sox tonight leaves them one game away from the World Series.  I still think the series will need to go back to Tampa to be concluded, but now the Red Sox are up against the wall and will find it extremely difficult to beat the young Tampa club three times in a row.

LF: The Breakout Candidate

YoungSlidingReview.jpgWhen the Minnesota Twins traded promising young starter Matt Garza to the Tampa Bay Rays last offseason, the keystone of the deal was Delmon Young, who had batted .288 and drove in 93 runs during his rookie season in 2007.  From the Twins’ perspective, Young was one of the most promising young talents in the American League.

Of course, as had happened at the second base (Brendan Harris), shortstop (Adam Everett), and third base (Mike Lamb) positions, Delmon got off to a slow start in a Twins uniform, flailing away at unhittable pitches and not hitting anything but singles when he did connect (his first home run didn’t come until June 7).  This was at the same time that Garza was near the league leaders in both wins and earned run average for the AL.

Then, on June 27, Michael Cuddyer (the most powerful right-handed bat in the Twins’ lineup to that point) was essentially lost for the season due to a wrist (and later a foot) injury.  From that point, Young really stepped up and became a force in the Twins’ lineup, finishing with a .290 BA, 80 R, 10 HR, and 14 SB.

Defensively, Young was heavily criticized (yes, this is you Patrick Ruesse) during one portion of the season where he misjudged a few fly balls in the Metrodome.  To me, though, that criticism was entirely undeserved.  First off, Young has a rocket arm out in left (a HUGE improvement over our last full-time left fielder Shannon Stewart).  Second, every rookie has their struggles at the Dome, whether it be with the roof (outfielders) or the turf (infielders).  Yes, Young struggled a little bit, but by the end of the season he saved many more hits, runs, and advancing base runners than he allowed.

The key thing that Twins fans must remember about Delmon Young is that his last name is synonymous with his current status in MLB.  Delmon is only 22 years old, and after his breakthrough rookie season in 2007 he had a bit of a “sophomore slump” in the early goings of ’08.  As the season came to a close, though, it became clear that Young can provide some right-handed pop to the lineup (as well as good speed), making him potentially the starting left-fielder of the Minnesota Twins for many years to come.  I, for one, have no qualms about that.

Playoff Notes:

-What a clutch win for the Phillies last night, with Shane Victorino hitting a late-inning two-run home run to give the Phils the victory.  I predicted the Philadelphia squad to win this series in five games, and right now they are one win from doing exactly that.

-ALCS Game Four Starting Pitchers (Tampa Bay 2, Boston 1): Tim Wakefield (10-11, 4.13) vs. Andy Sonnanstine (13-9, 4.38).  Can the Rays win two consecutive games in Fenway Park in October?  I lean towards one, but of course I also doubted their ability to even win one. 

3B: The Platoon

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During spring 2008, the Minnesota Twins were counting on Mike Lamb (like Adam Everett, also acquired from the Houston Astros) to man the hot corner and, more importantly, provide some pop to the offense with his seasoned bat.  Neither occurred (Lamb played below-average defense and hit just .233), and within a few months the platoon of Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris took over the third stop.

Buscher (a lefty) hit .294 in just 218 at-bats and proved to be an RBI machine (47 in 70 games).  His defense was a bit shaky earlier one, but tightened up as the season progressed into September.

Harris (a righty) moved to third after being exiled from both second and short on a starting basis.  Harris played against lefties (and a good share of righties), hitting .265 in 434 at-bats.  Harris tended to be a streaky player, going through stretches where he seemed to get all the key hits, followed by slumps that would find Buscher even starting against left-handers.

Personally, I would like to see the Busch Man installed as the everyday third baseman.  I feel that he gives the lineup more pop, and his defense will only get better.  The key, though, is how Buscher progresses in his development.  At the end of 2008, Buscher struggled for the most part, so perhaps pitchers are figuring him out and now he needs to make the adjustment.  Thus, Harris is very much worth keeping.  If Buscher fails to produce up to expectations, Harris is still a prospect to keep an eye on, as he is still pretty young.

Fan response to the 2008 Twins may lean towards signing a third baseman with a little more pop in his bat than the unproven Harris or the youngster Buscher, but knowing the Twins’ budget a move will almost certainly not be made.  We’ll have to rely on one (or both) of those two players to improve on their ’08 campaign.

Playoff Notes:

-Boy, the Rays sure surprised me by thumping the Red Sox today 9-1.  I never thought I’d see the day when the Tampa Bay baseball organization would make a World Series appearance, but now the world is just two more victories away from that exact feat.

-Right now, the Phillies and Dodgers are just winding down a crazy contest that I believe has featured a lead change every time a run has been scored!  It is currently 7-5 Philly in the top of the ninth, but in a game like this nothing is over until the final at-bat.

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