If you have been hanging around these parts for a while, you know that the model for this site is to tell you what the Rays have done, what they are doing and what they will do, and why. Unlike most team blogs, we do not very often tell you what the Tampa Bay Rays should do. However, for the next 12 days we will step away from the standard, and we present to you 12 “presents” the Tampa Bay Rays should give to their fans.
On the second day of Raysmas, the Tampa Bay Rays gave to us, TWO new pitchers in the starting rotation by the all-star break…
Winning in baseball is about three things…Pitching, Pitching and Pitching. Much has been made about the Tampa Bay Rays starting pitchers now that Matt Garza has been added to the mix that already included Scott Kazmir and James Shields. The addition of Garza represents a significant upgrade as Jason Hammel is likely to be relegated to long relief and spot-starter duty. With the move, the Rays now have arguably the best young trio of starters in baseball that could very quickly develop into one of the best groups of 1-2-3 starters in all of baseball.
Kid K, James the Greater and the Garza Complex are undeniably good, but if the Rays want to be a playoff-caliber baseball club, they need five starting pitchers that have the ability to be dominant and can win on a consistent basis. The other two spots in the Rays rotation are likely to be filled by Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine. Unless both pitchers step up their performances in 2008 the Rays will need new pitchers in those spots, sooner rather than later. A playoff-caliber team cannot afford to be the underdog in 40% of their games, as the Rays certainly would be with Jackson and Sonnanstine squaring-off with most of the starting pitchers in the AL.
Nobody is arguing the talent of Edwin Jackson. Once of the top pitching prospects in baseball, Jackson showed glimpses of his potential in the second half of 2007. After a first half in which he was 1-9 with a 7.23 ERA, his second half improved to 4-6 with a 4.48 ERA, including a 4-hit shutout. Still, Nuke’s second half only included one other start in which he pitched into the 7th inning, as well six starts in which he walked at least four batters.
The most telling start of Jackson’s season may have been his June 13th assignment against the Padres at the Trop. Jackson entered the game with an 0-7 record and a 7.40 ERA. The Rays had just recalled Jason Hammel from Durham. The implication was that Jackson needed to improve his performance immediately or be replaced. In his very next start, Jackson allowed five runs and was pulled before he could record two outs. Jackson is still young, and it is risky to judge a player on one game, but in addition to a poor major league record, Nuke melted when a little pressure was applied. At this point we would not trust Jackson to start a meaningful game in September or October.
While Jackson is a classic case of a pitcher that has played well below his talent level, Andy Sonnanstine is a pitcher that must find ways to pitch above his. Without a plus-fastball The Duke depends on making hitters swing-and-miss by changing speeds and arm angles and having pinpoint control. Sonnastine can win when he is on top of his game, but is very hittable when he is not. That method worked well against inferior competition in the minors to the tune of a 40-18 record and a 2.58 ERA in 3+ minor league seasons. Against major league opponents, his record fell to 6-10 and his ERA ballooned to 5.85. While the Rays atrocious defense was partly responsible for Sonny’s stat line, he is still not blessed with an arm that can help him get by when he is not on top of his game. If the Rays are in a pennant race in September, they cannot afford to send a pitcher to the mound that can’t get by on guts if the need arises.
We are not ready to give up on either Jackson or Sonnanstine. We feel both have earned an opportunity to start the 2008 season in the rotation. However, the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays are no longer about development. It is time to start winning ballgames. If the Rays want to be a playoff-caliber baseball club, they need five starting pitchers that can win on a consistent basis. So far, neither Jackson or Sonnanstine have shown that they can be one of those pitchers. With pitchers such as David Price, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis and Jacob McGee, the Rays have several options that have the potential to be a dominant and consistent winner and one or more of those options may be ready by July. If Jackson and Sonnanstine do not have at least six wins and a sub-5.00 ERA at the all-star break, it will be time to find somebody else that can help the Rays win now.
On the second day of Raysmas, all Rays fans want is TWO new pitchers in the rotation by the all-star break, and…
ONE Evan Longoria in the opening day lineup [Day 1]