Tampa Bay Rays (4 days until Opening Day)
Yesterday: Twins 4, Tampa Bay Rays 2.
The Good: The Rays used the league minimum three regulars yesterday. Two of those three, Jason Bartlett and Aki Iwamura the Rays new double-play combo combined for 5 of the Rays 6 hits, including two extra-base hits and both RBI. They also combined on yet another double-play…For the second straight game Rays pitchers did not walk a batter.
The Bad: Elliot Johnson committed two errors on the same play in center field. First he misplayed a hard hit ground ball single up the middle, and then threw the ball into the dugout. Not what Johnson wants trying to convince Joe Maddon that he can be the backup centerfielder for the first week of the season.
The Telling: Jason Bartlett added his 5th stolen base indicating that even though he will bat 9th, Joe Maddon is going to treat Bartlett like a second leadoff hitter and Bartlett is going to rack up steals this year.
DEVIL RAYS WEBTOPIA…
- Obligatory Public Service Announcement: We will be hosting the 2nd Annual Opening Day Tampa Bay Rays Live Blog here at RI. So feel free to stop by and join in on the shenanigans as participation is certainly welcome.
- Two days ago we ran a poll on public opinion about the Rays decision to send Evan Longoria to the minors to begin the season. 52.3% of respondents think Longoria should have began the season with the Rays. 47.7% think the Rays did the right thing with sending Longoria to Durham, with 36.7% thinking the move should have been made at least in part because it is good for the future of the franchise. Interestingly, 60.0% think Dirtbag needs more seasoning although about half of those think he could finish the learning curve at the big league level. [Rays Index]
- Thanks to the great work of Stacy Long, we have our first look at what the rosters for each minor league affiliate might look like to begin the 2008 season. These are reflected in the CorkBoard in the sidebar. We say might because camp has yet to break and some of these assignments are only temporary based on needs. There are also several players still in big league camp that have yet to be reassigned. In addition, most of the players listed under the two short-season squads will remain in extended spring training and have yet to be assigned to a specific team. Finally, starting lineups for each team won’t be relevant until the season begins…However, we do see a number of big names in the system have taken their expected steps up in 2008. [Riverwalk Talk]
- Tigers pitcher Todd Jones takes a none-too-subtle shot at the Rays in the little side bar of his Sporting News blog. Don’t worry, you will find our none-too-subtle response in the comments section. [The Sporting News]
- Rocco Baldelli’s favorite sport to watch is Team USA softball…Me too Rocco, you sly dog. Me too. *nodding acceptingly* [Bradenton Herald]
- Interestingly, with Evan Longoria now in the minors, Willy Aybar may not be the opening day third baseman after all because of a nagging hamstring problem. If he is not ready to go, the starter would either be Elliot Johnson or Joel Guzman. [Tampa Tribune]
- Joe Maddon calls Jason Bartlett “probably the best base runner I’ve seen since Paul Molitor.” High praise indeed. And just another example that people should not consider Bartlett’s spot in the lineup (#9) a sign that Maddon does not have any faith in Bartlett’s abilities. Quite the opposite. As the #9 hitter, Bartlett and Iwamura provide Maddon with back-to-back leadoff hitters to get on base and wreak havoc on the basepaths in front of the Rays mini-muderer’s row of 2-3-4 hitters Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and BJ Upton. [Tampa Tribune]
- RJ Anderson urges Rays fans to look at the big picture and not panic about recent moves involving Jeff Niemann and Evan Longoria or the injury by Scott Kazmir. [DRays Bay]
- We are beginning to think the Rob Neyer at ESPN.com is a closet Rays fan. Yesterday, he tackles the issue of whether or not the Rays lied to the fans about why Evan Longoria was sent to the minors. [ESPN]
Of course the Rays lied. Teams lie to their fans weekly, if not daily (Christmas and New Year’s are usually lie-free). Baseball teams, like everybody else in the world, tell you whatever they think they can get away with, especially if they think it’s something you want to hear…For me, the bottom line is this: I don’t care if my favorite team lies, as long as it’s in the service of the franchise’s long-term health. And while the Rays look silly now, given how impressive Longoria was this spring, I think it was a lie worth telling. And a month or two from now when Longoria is beginning his late drive for Rookie of the Year, all should be forgiven.
- Rob Neyer also has his annual list of the “Top 50 for five years”. He previously gave us the positional lists in which Carl Crawford was named the top left fielder for the next five years and BJ Upton topped the list of center fielders…In the overall Top 50, Upton comes in at #15, Crawford is #36 and Evan Longoria comes in at #20 although Neyer notes that the 20-spot “might be too high, as Longoria hasn’t played a single inning in the majors. It might be too low, as any objective method will choose Longoria as the American League’s No. 1 or 2 third baseman over the next five years.” [ESPN]
- Jim Moloney calls the Rays one of the top 10 stories of 2008. [MLB]
- Stacy Long has a neat story about how the Rays acquired a new middle infielder (Jeff Bannon) for the Durham squad after Bulls manager Charlie Montoya met Bannon’s wife who was a nurse in the hospital where Montoya’s son was being treated. [Montgomery Advertiser]