FIRST INNING

A look back…
Yesterday the Rays won a dramatic come-from-behind game after trailing by 3 runs entering the 9th inning, scoring 6 runs without an out. The final 3 came on a walk-off home run off the bat of Carlos Pena. The day started ominously with the benching of BJ Upton for not running out a ground ball the night before…With every game at a premium now, was this the right decision by Joe Maddon?

It was a curious decision. The play in question was a ground ball back to the pitcher in the 8th inning. There was 1 out and nobody on base with the Rays leading 8-4. While the pitcher did mishandle the ball at first, he still threw Upton out in plenty of time. Of course, even if Upton had busted his butt and Manny Ramirez was on the mound, Upton would have still been out by 10 steps. Every hitter in the history of baseball, including Charlie Hustle, has loped to first base on a ground ball back to the pitcher. Upton was only guilty of having done it a few days after Maddon held a meeting addressing this very issue. A part of us wonders if Maddon just wanted to give Upton a day off but used his “team leader” as an example to the rest of the team that nobody is “above the law”. If the move lights a fire under the rest of the hitters, than fine. But we still think Papa Joe could have picked a better play to use as an exmple…WE UNDERSTAND BUT QUESTION THE TIMING

SECOND INNING

Headlines
You have been preaching all along that winning the division didn’t matter. That a playoff spot is a playoff spot. Baseball Propectus says the Rays now have a 91.9% chance of making the playoffs…Should the Rays and RAYSHEADS now start focusing on winning the division?

To an extent yes. Obviously there is still a lot of baseball left to be played (~50 games), but the Rays now have a 6-game cushion between them and being out of the playoffs entirely. Are they a lock for the playoffs? No. But if the playoffs are likely, then we are nearing the point where post-season matchups become important. If the playoffs were today, the Rays would face the winner of the Central (White Sox or Twins). The wild card team will have to face the best team in baseball, The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, near Disneyland. Being in the playoffs will be nice, but winning will be nicer. And we like the Rays chances against the White Sox or the Twins. Of course, the counter-argument is the Rays and their pitching match-up better with the Angels in a 5-game series. But that would mean a likely 2nd-round matchup with the Red Sox. Making it to the World Series will be hard enough, but we prefer the Rays not have to face the Angels and the Red Sox…WANT TO WIN THE SERIES? WIN THE DIVISION

THIRD INNING

Headlines
The Rays traded for Chad Bradford this afternoon…Is this a good move for the Rays, what is Bradford’s role going to be and who is out of a job?

Anytime a contender can add a consistent, veteran arm to the bullpen it is a good move. Bradford is 33 and still has 1-year remaining on his contract that will pay him $3.5MM in ’09. A bargain for a pitcher that regularly posts an ERA near 3.00 and only walks 2.3 batters per 9 innings for his career. With Troy Percival, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour and JP Howell making up the core of the bullpen now, Bradford may not have a defined role, only that he will share the 7th and 8th inning with the later 3. This may also move Howell into a new role as Scott Kazmir’s caddie, in which he is on call for the 6th inning on days Kazmir starts. As for the rest, an Al Reyes trip to the DL (again) is not out of the question. No team uses the DL to their advantage more than the Rays. But if Reyes is not DL’d, he, or Jason Hammel, is almost certainly going to be DFA’d. Keep in mind that Reyes is a free agent at the end of the season. That is one hell of a 7-man ‘pen…YES, 7th/8th INNING, REYES OR HAMMEL TO BE DFA’d

FOURTH INNING

Headlines
Joe Maddon has said Rocco Baldelli is ready to be activated…With Jason Bartlett back at SS tonight, might we see Rocco on the active roster in this series?

All indications are that Rocco would have been activated yesterday if Bartlett could have played SS. But with Bartlett limited to DH-duty, Ben Zobrist was needed to play short. Now that Zobrist is no longer needed, he could be demoted with his spot going to Rocco. But our feeling is Rocco will have to wait a few more days. Zobrist is a switch-hitter and the Rays don’t face a lefty starter until the first game of the A’s series on Monday. No reason to activate him before then unless specifically to pinch hit against a tough lefty…MAYBE NOT UNTIL MONDAY

FIFTH INNING

Headlines
Carl Crawford is once again missing games because of sore knees he says are caused by the Trop’s artificial turf…Should the Rays explore trading the greatest player in franchise history this off-season?

CC’s knee problems are starting to hit the “chronic” stage and one has to wonder if both he and the Rays would be better off parting ways this off-season. The Rays have already picked up Crawford’s ’09 option for $8.25MM and still have another option in ’10 for $10MM. Certainly there are plenty of teams that would love to have the athletic Crawford at or near the top of their order, especially in the NL. So the Rays could expect a nice bounty in return, at least on the level of what the Pirates received for Jason Bay (4 solid prospects). But, who would play LF? There is already a semi-opening in RF assuming Eric Hinske signs elsewhere this off-season. Fernando Perez could be ready. Reid Brignac could move to the OF. Gabe Gross will still be here. And there is also Justin Ruggiano in Durham. All are solid options, but none will provide the offense CC brings. If the Rays fall out of contention early in ’09, then maybe, but not before…NO

SIXTH INNING

A look outside the box
What other series in baseball should RAYSHEADS keep on eye on the next few days?

This is a big weekend for scoreboard watching for Rays fans. Yankees are in LA to face the Angels and the Red Sox are in Chicago to face the White Sox. Certainly the Sox-Sox series is a big one for the Rays but that series is Win-Win. Every Chicago win helps the Rays in the division, but any Boston win helps the Rays overall playoff hopes. In addition, we much prefer a first-round matchup with a division-winning Twins club than with the veteran, always feisty White Sox. So once again we turn our attention to the Yankees. The Angels and Yankees split a 4-game set last weekend. If the Angels can take 2 or 3 from the Yankees, the Rays might have a hard time seeing the Yankees in the rear-view mirror for the rest of the season…YANKEES @ ANGELS

SEVENTH INNING

Oddsmakers
Chances we have seen the last of Jonny Gomes in a Rays’ uniform:

After he was demoted, Gomes wondered aloud if his career with the Rays is nearing an end. This is Gomes’ last minor league option which means he has to be on the 25-man roster in ’09 or on another team. The later seems inevitable, but we have a feeling we will see him up with the club in September…5%

With the addition of Chad Bradford and the improvements seen in both Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine…Chances David Price makes his major league debut this season:

There is definitely less of a need now. And the Rays have always said the needs of the prospect supersede the needs of the team. We have heard the Rays are hesitant to put too many innings on King David’s arm this early in his career. Right now, we say “no” is more likely, but an injury could change that…30%

Chances the Rays win 3 games in Seattle:

4 games. 4 right-handed starters. And tonight’s matchup between Andy Sonnanstine and Felix Hernandez sounds scary on paper. But The Duke has allowed 3 runs or fewer in 8 of his last 10 starts and King Felix has not pitched past the 6th inning since the middle of June. The Rays 4 most dependable starters go in this series and the offense is finally starting to come to life…75%

EIGHTH INNING

On deck
After a 3-11 stretch, the Mariners have won 3 of 4 including 2 of 3 against the Twins in which they scored 22 runs…Should RAYSHEADS be worried about the Rays looking past the Mariners?

This series marks the beginning of a tough 16-game stretch in which the Rays will play 13 on the road and the 3 home games are against the Angels. Even with yesterday’s early start time, the Rays will certainly be a little groggy after their 6 hour flight and 10pm local start time. We don’t expect the Rays to look past the M’s but we are worried they will get off to a bad start. And if that happens, they may have trouble digging out of a funk…NO, BUT SERIES IS VERY IMPORTANT

NINTH INNING

Putting out the fire
Scott Kazmir has pitched a total of 9 innings in his last 2 starts…Are you worried?

Look, it’s not in our nature to be mysterious. But we can’t talk about it and we can’t talk about why.

Now that Joba Chamberlain’s season may be over…Are the Yankees dead?

3.5 back in the wild card and their pitching is in shambles. How long can they count on the 68-year old Mike Mussina? The Yankees aren’t dead…THEY ARE ROADKILL

You claim you bailed on the Live Blog-A-Baloo of the week because you got a call from the casting director of a very popular NBC drama”…Are we going to get any further details?

Well, we are not supposed to talk about it. And we will have more to say when the time comes. We can say it will be a season premiere. It is not going to be a big role. And despite this opportunity we are still not buying any of his books anytime soon.

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