Devil Rays 3, Blue Jays 2.
Earlier this year we witnessed stretches of good offense and even a stretch or two of decent pitching (we are yet to see decent fielding). We wondered aloud on many occasions how good this team could be if both the hitting and pitching clicked at the same time. Of course, by “wondered aloud” we really mean screamed obscenities at the TV and stuck needles in our Chuck LaMar VooDoo doll. Well the Rays are 22-18 in their last 40 games, which marks the best 40 game stretch the team has experienced under Joe Maddon. The exciting news about all this, as pointed out in the comments this weekend, is that for the most part, this is our 2008 Tampa Bay Devil Rays. We can expect a new shortstop. Maybe a veteran starting pitcher and one or two bullpen arms to be added to the mix. But this is it. And it is looking pretty good.
“We’ve been saying this from Day 1: As soon as we start clicking, it’s game on,” Shields said. “It’s game on. … I think we’re going to be able to compete. We know it. I think teams are starting to figure it out. All it took was for us to have some good chemistry and click out there. Once we click, this is what we’re all about.”
One intriguing question for spring training will be whether or not Jeff Niemann will make the rotation. At the beginning of this season we all expected Niemann to be part of the Rays staff by June or August at the latest. Now it looks like we may not see him at all this season. With Edwin Jackson, Andy Sonnanstine and Jason Hammel pitching more effectively the last month, it is no longer a forgone conclusion that Niemann will break camp with the parent club next spring.
Many scouts believe the magic number for starting pitchers is 400. As in most pitchers need approximately 400 innings pitched in the minors before they are ready for the majors. College pitchers may need a little less and high school pitchers may need a little more, but for some reason, 400 seems like a benchmark that many teams shoot for. Sonnanstine had 495. Shields had 554. Edwin Jackson had 556. Kid K only had 228. With the amount of time he has spent on the sideline, Niemann only has 240.
If we had to guess right now, we believe that Niemann will start 2008 at AAA Durham. 10 starts there will get him above 300 career minor league innings and he will be the first option when a starting pitcher is needed.
This time, Rays insist, it’s for real [tampabay.com]
Playin’ a lil’ pepper with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (quick random thoughts from the weekend)…
- The Rays are now 60-83 and have been officially eliminated from playoff contention
- The Rays now trail Baltimore by 1.5 games for 4th place in the AL East (2 in the loss column), and are 1 game behind the White Sox and the Marlins for the worst record in baseball.
- With 19 games remaining the Rays need only finish 3-16 to avoid 100 losses.
- An 11-8 finish will give the Rays 71 victories and the best record in franchise history.
- A 13-6 stretch and the Rays will avoid 90 losses for the first time in franchise history.
- We did unbox the John Lynch jersey for the first time since 2003 and we will not do that again until he retires. Our bad.
- Two great scoring opportunities in the first half with the team dominating on both sides of the ball and afterwards you look up and see that you are 1 touchdown away from being behind. There is nothing quite like winning a game you are supposed to lose and yet you are still hanging your head and muttering “here we go again”.
- And this is the biggest difference between baseball and football. In baseball there is a comfort level…A consistency. Even when your team sucks, there is always tomorrow and the next day and hope for something better. Football is much more of an emotional roller coaster. When your team plays poorly it ruins your entire week. And because of that there is a much higher premium placed on every game. More stake riding on every play with higher “ups” and much lower “downs”. And all our friends and loved ones know it. When the Bucs lose we might as well have leprosy.
DEVIL RAYS WEBTOPIA…
- The equipment staff packed the gear for some guy named Rocco Baldelli, to be included on the team’s road trip. [tampabay.com]
- The 125 runs the Rays have scored in the past 15 games (8.3 rpg), is the 4th highest total in baseball for any 15-game stretch in the past 6 seasons. They also have 29 home runs over that span which is the best in baseball. [Devil Rays]
- Jorge Velandia was called up from Durham and added to the 40-man roster. [tampabay.com]
- At least one person has wondered aloud as to why the Devil Rays picked up Joe Maddon’s 2-year option. OK, many people have wondered, but one actually wrote about it. [Baseball Digest Daily]
- It is often like a broken record, but it seems like at least once every series, the opposing teams broadcasters comment on how the Devil Rays outfielders play deeper than any other team. We have commented on the lack of range of the middle infielders and how that at least contributed to the failings of the pitching staff at times. Well, the outfielders are not without blame as their positioning has certainly led to a number of hits falling in that would normally be caught. Playing deep is usually a sign that a player is insecure in their defensive abilities as coming in a ball is much easier than going back. BJ Upton admits this and feels that the team is letting him play deeper than they would prefer, but will not change his poor positioning until next season. [Devil Rays]
- Dioner Navarro hit .177 prior to the all-star break and has hit .294 since. The .117 point increase is the largest turnaround in the majors. The .177 prior to the break was at least partially bad luck as his expected BA based on percentage of line drives was considerably higher than his actual batting average. [USA Today]
- Marc Lancaster takes a look at the Rays roster and how it is likely to look in 2008. With so many young players on the roster, there will be very little change from the end of this season. [TBO]
- A little experience can go a long way for a young team and that could be the biggest reason that the team is playing with so much more confidence at this point in the season. [TBO]