FIRST INNING
Yesterday the Rays won the rubber-match against the Pirates and Andy Sonnanstine picked up his 9th win…Has The Duke secured himself a spot in the ’09 rotation?

We are not sure about “secure” but he definitely has a leg up on Edwin Jackson even if Sonny’s peripheral numbers are not as good as his record would indicate. Still, a 4.60 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP, to go along with a 3.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio are good numbers for a #4/5 starter. And with the loss of Jake McGee to Tommy John surgery, there is one less pitcher that could potentially jump and claim a spot in the rotation. Wade Davis hasn’t shown any sign that he could be ready in ’09. It appears as though Niemann is destined for the bullpen or another organization and Jeremy Hellickson is still at least a year away. That leaves David Price as the only prospect that could compete for a spot in Spring Training next season, and we have to think that Jackson would be the first to go…YES

SECOND INNING
Yesterday’s win was the Rays’ 49th in 81 games. They are on pace for 98 wins. Most are accepting the Rays as a good team…but can they keep up this pace?

First let’s do the math. The Rays have 43 of their remaining 81 games on the road where they are 19-19 so far this season. If the Rays go 22-21 on the road, they would have to go 27-9 in their 38 home games to win 98. That seems like a tall order. Certainly the Rays could do a game or two better on the road, but will they? And of the remaining 81 games, 9 are against the Sox against whom they are 3-6 so far and 8 are against the Yankees (5-5 in ’08). 90 wins is almost guaranteed at this point. The Rays need only go 41-40 in the second half, but 98 is a very tall order. Then again they really only need 94 or 95 wins for the playoffs…NO BUT THEY DON’T NEED TO

THIRD INNING
The Rays two best players in ’07 were Carlos Pena and James Shields, both of whom have struggled in the first 81 games…Who is the Rays’ first half MVP?

There are two obvious candidates and one not so obvious. Troy Percival has meant the world to the squad on and off the field ever since he joined the team in spring training. On the field he solidified a bullpen, slotting everybody else down one rung on the ladder, effectively making spots 2-7 in the bullpen better. In addition, all reports indicate that his presence in the clubhouse has been immeasurable. There is also Evan Longoria. The Rays were 5-5 when Dirtbag made his big league debut. They haven’t looked back since going 44-27. As Percival helped slot everybody better in the bullpen, Longoria has done the same with the lineup. His numbers are MVP worthy, .270/.342/.529 and he is just now in the midst of his first hot streak. Finally there is The Fat Catcher, Dioner Navarro. His contribution to the improved pitching staff cannot be overlooked. With improved performance across the board, at least some credit needs to go to the guy behind the plate. In addition, his defense has been outstanding. He is one of only 2 catchers with 50 starts and no errors. He is 7th in baseball with 14 runners thrown out, despite missing time on the DL and his range factor is 8th amongst catchers with 50 starts. And oh by the way he is hitting .317/.368/.444…DIONER NAVARRO

FOURTH INNING
A rumor was floating around this weekend that the Rays were set to send Jeff Niemann and Reid Brignac to Pittsburgh for Jason Bay…Does this trade make sense for the Rays?

First of all, we presented this rumor to somebody with the right connections. This person told us that the Rays and Pirates have never discussed these specific players. But that doesn’t mean that the trade is a bad one. We get the feeling that the Rays have soured a bit on Niemann and Brignac. And Bay would be a signifact upgrade in right field. This is a guy who has posted OPS+ seasons of 145, 132, 150, 138 and 145. He is 29 and is signed through next season with $7.5MM coming to him next season. We would do this deal in a heartbeat, and we have to think that if the Pirates want to move Bay, getting the top shortstop prospect in baseball and a major league ready starting pitcher would be a good bounty…YES

FIFTH INNING
Troy Percival looked solid last night in his first outing since his near-nuclear meltdown, but he did it on 5 days rest…Can the Rays count on Percy in the 9th inning for the rest of the season?

In a word. No. We have to wonder if Papa Joe will let Percy pitch on back-to-back days in the near future and a return the DL at some point seems like a safe bet. Luckily the Rays do have depth in the bullpen this season and they can live with Al Reyes and Dan Wheeler in the 9th inning, but on those days the Rays are much weaker in the 6th, 7th and 8th inning. This is a lot like the situation with Cliff Floyd. The Rays have their hands tied and are just going to have to be very careful and hope for the best…NO

SIXTH INNING
With Aki Iwamura serving his suspension, BJ Upton is serving as the Rays leadoff hitter. Some think this move should be permanent. Are they right?

Cetainly one can argue that Upton would be a great leadoff hitter. He has a .399 OBP and 23 steals. He also sees a very solid 4.0 pitches per plate appearance. And with his lack of home runs this season, he does not appear to be the RBI guy that he was last season. Aki on the other hand isn’t a terrible leadoff hitter. His .346 OBP is not shabby and while he only has 5 steals, he is a solid baserunner. And surprisingly, Aki is seeing 4.1 pitches per plate appearance and is second only to Grady Sizemmore in the AL for pitches seen this season. If we thought Upton’s home runs would never return then we would be more open to the idea. But his doubles and triples are still there so we have to think the home runs will come soon and he is more valuable in the 3-hole…NO

SEVENTH INNING (over/unders)
Starts for Shawn Riggans in this series: 0.5

Shawn Riggans had a huge game offensively last night and there is no doubt that he is a threat at the plate. But more interesting is his work with Matt Garza. Outs Per Swing posted some interesting numbers recently that showed Garza is much more effective with Diesel behind the plate (.731 opp OPS with Navi, .474 opp OPS with Riggans). Riggans normally gets the call on day games after night games, and all 3 of these are at night. We are not sure if Joe Maddon is ready to make Riggans the personal catcher for Garza, but if Garza struggles tomorrow night it could happen soon…UNDER

Lead in the AL East at the all-star break: 0.5

The Rays have 13 games left before the break. Including this 3-game set with the Sox, they have 4 at home against KC, 2 at Yankee Stadium and 4 at the Indians. Considering the Royals series, 8 wins seems realistic. The Sox also have 13, with 4 at Yankee Stadium, 3 at home with the Twinkies and 3 at home versus the O’s. 7 seems realistic and 8 seems hopeful…OVER

Wins in this series versus the Red Sox: 1.5

The Rays are 3-0 against the Sox at the Trop, but the Sox might have not been taking the Rays seriously in that first series. Since then the Sox have swept the Rays twice in Boston. You have to love the pitching matchups if you are Rays fan. The Rays get their Big 3 while they will miss the Sox Ace, Josh Beckett. The Rays still have to deal with Dice-K and the Rays Killer, Tim Wakefield, although they did get to him in the earlier series at the Trop. The Rays should win at least 1, and 2 seems likely with how well the team is playing right now…OVER

EIGHTH INNING
Earlier this season you called the Rays-Red Sox series the biggest series in the history of the franchise. The Rays swept that series. Now the Rays have inched back into first place…Is this now the biggest series in the history of the franchise?

Actually, no. The Rays needed that earlier series to show they were not a fluke. Sweeping that series gave the Rays some legitimacy that has been reinforced by their continued good play. Most now believe the Rays are at least a good team if not yet a playoff team. A sweep in this series might really open some eyes, but it won’t change any perceptions that the Sox are still the team to beat. And if the Rays lose 2 or 3, they will still lead the wild card by at least a game and a half. The Rays have officially separated themselves from the bottom-dwellers of baseball. And most believe they are at least close to the top tier. Losing this series won’t do anything to change that and their playoff hopes will still be very much intact…NO

NINTH INNING (putting out the fire)
A couple of weeks ago, Jonathon Papplebon said that the feud with the Rays was not over, saying: “All I got to say is what comes around goes around. Payback is a bitch.”…Should we expect more fistacuffs this series?

Immediately after that Terry Francona dragged Pappleboner into his office like a schoolboy and gave him a talking-to. Both teams paid a heavy price in terms of suspensions and the league is only going to get tougher on any further shenanigans…NO

Sportscenter just called the AL East playoff race “one of the best baseball races ever“…Have they been snoking a little too much doobie?

Geez. There have been a lot of great races. How about ’78 between the Sox and Yankees. Everybody knows the Bucky Dent home run, but that was only after the Yankees stormed back from 14 games down in July. Still, there is a little “Rocky” feel to this race. But it is only June. If the Rays and Sox stay neck-and-neck the entire way, then maybe. But now?…YES, TOO MUCH DOOBIE

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    Don't talk about a no error with your catcher.

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