DM3229FIRST INNING (A look back)…
The Rays have looked great on this 10-game roadtrip and are now in first place of the AL East…If we pull the curtain back a bit, is there anything to be concerned about?

During the seven-game winning streak, several games were blowouts and in most the starter did a good job of working deep into the game. The bullpen depth really wasn’t tested like it was the first week. We are still maybe a month from JP Howell’s return and we have no idea how effective he will be when he does. Also, now that Kelly Shoppach’s out for at least a month, there is a glaring hole in the bottom of the lineup every night. If the Rays want to be contenders they will need consistency from the bullpen and Navi needs to be something other than a rest area for the opposing pitchers….BULLPEN AND CATCHER

SECOND INNING (Headlines)…
Reid Brignac is off to a solid start (8-22, 3 extra-base hits) while Sean Rodriguez is not (4-25, no extra-base hits)…Has Brignac earned the right to be the most-days second baseman?

It is still very early but Reid Brignac looks very good at the plate and Sean Rodriguez does not. Brignac already had the edge defensively. If Navarro is going to play most-days, the Rays may not be able to afford having a weak bat playing second base which means Rodriguez is going to keep getting playing time. The problem is, we still haven’t seen enough to know if the real Rodzilla is closer to the spring training version or the regular season version…..NOT YET, BUT HE IS CLOSE

THIRD INNING (Headlines)…
Pat Burrell’s bat is finally showing signs of life…Is this the real deal, or should the Rays think about once again trying to trade Burrell?

It is very easy to get blinded to the big picture by slumps or hot streaks. In the case of Burrell, is the production from the past week a hot streak or is it a sign that he has rediscovered his hitting ways? At this point, the Rays are just going to have to hope it is the latter. Even if some other teams did step up at this point, they would almost certainly still ask the Rays to eat some of Burrell’s contract. And if there is any hope that Burrell can be productive, the Rays are better off keeping the Bat around…..NO CHOICE, GOTTA STICK WITH BURRELL

FOURTH INNING (Headlines)…
BJ Upton is off to a great start with 4 home runs in the last 7 games…Will he continue to hit 6th in this lineup?

The one is tricky. Another week or two of this version of Bossman and it will be clear that he should not be hitting sixth in any lineup. But where do you move him? 2-5 are set. That leaves leadoff. Bartlett is not off to a good start with an OBP below .300. And last year Joe Maddon paid dearly for waiting too long to pull the plug on Upton in the leadoff spot. But if Upton is now the hitter the Rays thought he could be last year, then why is he not leading off? At some point in the next two weeks, JoeMa will give Bartlett a day off and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Upton lead off. That will be an indication that a change is coming….FOR NOW

FIFTH INNING (Headlines)…
Matt Joyce suffered a setback in his rehab…Is there any chance he will be playing right field for the Rays this season?

What is interesting about this latest setback is that the Rays are treating Joyce like a big leaguer. A big league team doesn’t usually monitor rehabbing prospects this closely. Bringing a player to St. Pete is what they would do with a player that is expected to be on the 25-man roster. Does this mean he has a big league job waiting when he is healthy? That may depend on Sean Rodriguez and any other injuries that may occur in the next month or so….YES, BUT NOT ANYTIME SOON

SIXTH INNING (A look outside the box)…
The Rays have a half-game lead in the AL East…What other series should Raysheads watch closely this week?

The Yankees are the real deal and will be in this until the end. But there is a real chance that the Red Sox could be on life support very soon. This week they have the Rangers and Orioles at home. The Rangers are another team with promise that is off to a slow start and the Orioles are due for a good showing. It is one thing to get swept at home by the Rays but if the Red Sox struggle this week, the East could become a 2-team race…RANGERS @ RED SOX, ORIOLES @ RED SOX

SEVENTH INNING (Oddsmakers)…
Home runs for Ben Zobrist vs White Sox: 0.5

Zorilla had 3 home runs in 7 games last year against the pale hose. But he has no home runs in 13 games this season. This seems like a good place to start…OVER

Hits for the Rays on Wednesday versus White sox: 7.5

The Rays average 8.7 hits per game this season. But the last time they faced Mark Buehrle, 27 batters went to the plate, and 27 batters were retired without getting on base. This is not the ’09 Rays…OVER

Wins for Matt Garza: 17

At this point, Garza could win 18 games with the Royals with the way he is pitching. And in reality, the offense hasn’t been that great yet. As long as Navarro keeps his mouth shut, Garza could be the Rays first 20-game winner…OVER

Average attendance for this weekend’s series versus Blue Jays: 22,000

This might be the first real test for the Rays in terms of attendance. The team is hot. It ISA divisional rival that is also playing well and it is a weekend. A strong showing at the ticket booth will go a long way towards showing everybody that the fans will at least support a winner…OVER

EIGHTH INNING (On deck)…
The Rays are riding a 7-game winnings streak, but have two tough series this week (@White Sox, vToronto)…How many wins would be considered a good week?

As good as the Rays are playing right now, neither of these series are going to be pleasant. The White Sox will throw Danks, Buerhle and Peavy to start the week. If the Rays win 2 of those matchups, that will be a success. And a sweep may be too much to hope for against a hot Blue Jays squad…4-2

NINTH INNING (Putting out the fire)…
Joaquin Benoit is off to a hot start with triple-A Durham…When will he be in a Rays uniform?

So far in 6.1 innings, Benoit has 13 strikeouts and 3 walks. Our guess is it will be sooner, rather than later…AFTER THE ROAD TRIP

Randy Choate has struggled early against both righties and lefties…Will he still be the LOOGY a month from now?

Almost certainly Andrew Friedman is talking to other teams looking for a lefty. But they ain’t cheap this time of year. And there are no lefties in triple-A…CHOATE IS HERE TO STAY

We hear that you pick your beverages each series based on the opponent…What is your poison pick this week?

We didn’t post a Pepper last week, but we did drink Summit IPA for the Red Sox series. It is a Minnesota beer and we were hoping for some of that Twins Karma after they took 2 of 3 from the Red Sox. The Rays swept 4-straight and now sit on the East Summit. And a wise man once said: “Never f*** with a winning streak.”…SUMMIT IPA

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10 Comments

  1. Justin says:

    Alright! Playing A Little Pepper is my favorite Rays column--glad to see it return.

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  2. Alex says:

    This series with the White Sox's scares me. Danks and Buehrle have been good this year and the Rays have been down right terrible against lefties outside of Lester who they always hit anyway. Its like the Rays hitters have never seen a lefty throw them a change up in their whole life every time they go out there. Its embarrassing

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  3. Michael says:

    We really need to pack the Trop this weekend after the way this road trip has gone so far. I remember going to a game years ago (2003? 2004?) when the Rays came back from a long road trip a game over .500 that late in the season, for the first time ever I think, to face the Marlins in interleague play. The Trop was sold out (back when it took 43,000+ to fill the place) for a Dewon freaking Brazelton start and he took a no-hitter into the 9th inning. Unless they totally lay an egg in Chicago, we need that kind of showing again.

    I got tickets last night for Friday's game from ticketmaster and got pretty good seats, so you know lots are still available. Saturday should sell out or come close and Sunday ought to have 28,000+. I'll go ahead and predict 30,000 avg. attendance for the Blue Jays series.

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  4. Gus says:

    If the old Bossman's power is back, why would he and his low average, mediocre OBP and high strikeouts be in the leadoff hole? Leave him behind Pena where he is (finally) looking to be successful. Barlett will be fine up top. But more importantly, stop messing with the Bossman. CF in the 6 hole. Afer 8 years adrift in the organization (SS-2b-OF; 3 hole, lead-off, 8 hole), they finally have a defensive position and a line up slot for BJ that works.

    Please do not disturb.

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    • MJ says:

      Agreed, its way to early to think he is ready for leadoff spot. And I'd rather have that power down in the six hole. I don't know bout you, but I don't think Bart has looked as bad as his numbers show. He has hit some solid liners right at people, he is working counts and seeing a lot of pitches, and he still offeres decent speed. I think you will see his OBP start to rise in the next few weeks. Like you say in so many other cases, its way too early to start tinkering or judging.

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  5. DRR says:

    I know this is a look back, but doesn't the Rays sweep of the Red Sox mean that the Flashforward deal back in the fall was actually correct?

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  6. Alex says:

    And here we go. At this rate I predict another perfect game by Burhle since the Rays have never seen a left handed change up in their life

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