Devil Rays 9, Orioles 7.
Could the Tampa Bay Devil Rays actually avoid last place for only the second time in their ten year existence?

With last night’s come-from-behind victory over the Orioles, the Rays have moved within 3 games of Baltimore for 4th place in the AL East. And while the worst record in baseball appeared to be a foregone conclusion three weeks ago, the Rays are now only 1.5 games behind the White Sox after making up 6 games in the last week and a half.

There have been plenty of reasons for the recent surge in performance, but most of the credit has to go to the revamped bullpen. The additions made before the trading deadline appear to be the spark that have reinstalled confidence in this young team, with the Tampa Tribune going so far as to call the new bullpen a “strength”.

“Our bullpen’s been outstanding,” RHP James Shields said. “This whole second half I think we’ve been great. It feels good as a starter to go out there and feel comfortable with coming out of the game.”

Even more telling is this quote from Joe Maddon.

“These guys have learned their craft. They’ve waited for their opportunity. The seventh, eighth and ninth innings are a very hectic part of the game and you have to have a special makeup and personality to handle that. … It might take a seasoned veteran in a sense of lesser physical ability but more of a feel for the game to be able to accomplish that role.”

This is something that was lost on the Devil Rays front office in their first two years at the helm. Let’s chalk it up to growing pains. If there is one area where a team should be willing to sacrifice a little talent for experience, it is in the bullpen. On talent alone, none of the new guys (or even Al Reyes) are a pimple on the fanny of Juan Salas or Ruddy Lugo or Seth McClung. Yet all of the veteran arms in the bullpen have clearly outperformed those younger more talented relief pitchers.

And with a more stable (if not great) bullpen, the effects can be felt elsewhere on the team. Starting pitchers no longer feel pressure to work late in games or hand over a close lead. The hitters no longer feel the pressure to build a 6-run lead. And with less pressure on such a young team the change has been deafening.

Deafening…to the tune of 10-3 in the past 2 weeks and a real chance to move out of the cellar in the AL East and gain some confidence heading into 2008.

Rays’ bullpen has become a strength [TBO]
No-name pen makes strides [tampabay.com]

DEVIL RAYS WEBTOPIA

  • Carlos Pena has broken the franchise record for home runs in a season, by notching his 35th dinger last night. And in true El Gato fashion his home run hit a Gatowalk, breaking a 4-4 tie. [Yahoo!]
  • We loved Patrick Kennedy’s take on Carlos Pena’s record breaking home run. We were wondering why Jose Canseco was not in attendance or why he did not delivery a video message to be played on the jumbotron. [DRays Bay]
  • Carl Crawford was ejected after a blown-call at first base. While his tantrum was animated, and actually a little comical (in hindsight) we are not sure that the actions deserve a suspension. [TBO]
  • Heading into last night’s game the Devil Rays are hitting .325 and averaging more than 9 runs per game since a team meeting conducted by hitting coach Steve Henderson. Including last night, the team is 9-3 in those 12 games. [Bradenton Herald]
  • A strong finish by the Devil Rays to an otherwise disastrous season, may not seem significant to most baseball fans, but the importance is not lost on Joe Maddon. [Devil Rays]

“It is definitely a sign of progress, definitely a sign of measured progress,” Maddon said. “I just think finishing strongly — we’ve battled all season, we’ve had our setbacks and problems – and now we’re playing the kind of baseball we envisioned. Finish strong. You go into the offseason with a really good last month like this and you leave with a good taste in your mouth. And you know going into Spring Training, you have this nice little month to build off of. And you know what you’re capable of doing against good teams in a pennant chase.”

  • In the real world, it takes the average person a period of time to receive the results of medical tests. However, that does not usually occur in the sports world where teams employ their own doctors and have access to specialists not known to the average citizen. This is why the recent news, or lack-their-of, concerning Rocco Baldelli is particularly perplexing. We have a strange feeling that the news is not good and the team is seeking a second and possibly third opinion before making an announcement. [tampabay.com]

“I still believe there’s a chance to get him back at least possibly to DH at some point,” manager Joe Maddon said Monday. “That may be something we can do; we just don’t know until we get the results of these tests.”

  • The Devil Rays much-improved bullpen just got another boost with the return of Jay Witasick who missed more than a month. [Devil Rays]
  • Stuart Sternberg gave Joe Maddon yet another vote of confidence. The fact that this team refused to give up on the season when it would have been an easy thing to do, should have erased any of the lingering doubts in the Devil Rays Universe. [Devil Rays]
  • Another member of the Devil Rays that many have doubted as to his place in the organization is catcher Dioner Navarro. We have long defended Navi and begged for patience as catchers are notoriously slow developers at the plate. Still, a team will have trouble surviving with a player that is hitting at or below the Mendoza-line and Navi needed to start hitting sooner rather than later. It is beginning to appear as though he is finding a comfort zone at the plate. After hitting .177 before the all-star break, he is hitting at a .272 clip since. [Devil Rays]
  • Akinori Iwamura is still adjusting to life as a major leaguer, and is not satisfied with where his game is yet. Even more revealing in this piece is that Joe Maddon admits to making lineup decisions based on how the Japanese media might react. [asahi.com]


“When we first got him, my thought was to hit him lower in the batting order until he got acclimated,” Maddon said. “My concern was if I started hitting him at the top of the order and then tried to move him to the bottom as the season was progressing, that would create quite a stir in Japan for no good reason. So I’d much rather move him up than down.”

  • Including Jae Seo, it has been a rough season for Korean major leaguers. [The Korea Times]
 
 

3 Comments

  1. Robert Rittner says:

    This is something that was lost on the Devil Rays front office in their first two years at the helm. Let’s chalk it up to growing pains. If there is one area where a team should be willing to sacrifice a little talent for experience, it is in the bullpen. On talent alone, none of the new guys (or even Al Reyes) are a pimple on the fanny of Juan Salas or Ruddy Lugo or Seth McClung. Yet all of the veteran arms in the bullpen have clearly outperformed those younger more talented relief pitchers.
    __________________________________
    It was not lost on them at all. They did exactly what they should do which is to sort through the available talent before plunging into trades or other pickups.

    As for the notion that experience is necessary, that is clearly not true. Consider the many effective relief pitchers in their first year in the majors.

  2. The Professor says:

    Name me one team in the last 20 years that contended for the playoffs with as many young relief pitchers as the Devil Rays had at the beginning of the year. Sure there is the occasional young stud that performs well. But to expect 5-6 of them to ALL perform at even an average level is asking too much.

  3. Robert Rittner says:

    In 2002, the Angels won the World Series with a relief staff of the following ages: 20,32,26,30,28,32,34. The average age was thus 28.9.

    The Rays started the year with a relief staff of the following ages:
    36,30,27,31,28,27,24, The average age was 29.

    Of course, all that data is irrelevant because the issue was not age, or even experience. Like the Rays, the Angels culled their staff from castoffs, independent leaguers and waiver claims as well as a minor league find and one star closer.

    More to the point, the Rays were not a playoff team at the start of the year. They were sorting through their talent to find who would stick, and given their place on the building time-line there was little sense in spending on middle relievers.

    Instead they did exactly the right thing, trying to discover usable relievers and then discarding the failures and bringing in more promising talent.

    Incidentally, the Marlins in 2003 had a bullpen aged: 28,30,26,23,29,28,26, average age of 27.

    And also, McClung was not with the team when it started regular play. It is simply not an issue of youth or experience, and certainly not of not realizing a problem. It is a matter of priorities and building strategies.

Leave a Comment