Posts Tagged ‘Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays’

The Wild, Wild, Wild Card…

May 21, 2011 Leave a comment

This is it, mark this day on your calendar… May 21st 2011.  The end of days, the day that everything we’ve known that is good and pure will come to an end.  The beginning of the end for all… The last day that the Boston Red Sox will not be the atop the American League East.  Ok, ok, I jest; surely it’s possible that the Rays defeat their Florida neighbors to hold off the Sox for another day and I guess it’s somewhat (albeit far less) plausible that the Cubs actually defeat the Sox, but you don’t need to scour the bible and use complicated mathematics to see that the Sox are finally performing as we thought they would and that the AL East is theirs for the taking.

As for the Jays, for a season in which they’ve lost Bautista for 8 games, Lind for 12,  Hill for 17, Jayson Nix for 20(ish), and in which Halladay has yet to pitch for them (what? Some people think the moon landing was staged, I can’t conveniently forget that Doc was traded?), you have to be happy to see them sitting only 2.5 out.  As I said above, I think the Sox are about to grab the East crown from the Rays’ head and run away with it.  Like a big brother bullying his little sister, I expect that the Sox are going to run farther, faster, leaving everyone else in the division standing in the mud crying for Mom.  What the Jays can hold out hope for, is that the Wild Card looks to be exceptionally winnable this year.

Here are the Wild Card standings through last night’s games:

American League
Boston 24 20 .545 15-9 9-11 201 194 +7 Won 7 8-2
NY Yankees 23 20 .535 .5 13-12 10-8 219 179 +40 Lost 1 3-7
Detroit 22 22 .500 2 11-8 11-14 193 192 +1 Lost 4 6-4
Kansas City 22 22 .500 2 17-11 5-11 200 206 -6 Won 2 4-6
LA Angels 23 23 .500 2 10-10 13-13 181 177 +4 Won 1 3-7
Toronto 22 22 .500 2 10-10 12-12 199 189 +10 Lost 1 7-3
Oakland 22 23 .489 2.5 11-12 11-11 165 157 +8 Lost 3 4-6
Seattle 20 24 .455 4 11-12 9-12 153 171 -18 Won 3 4-6
Baltimore 19 24 .442 4.5 10-14 9-10 171 218 -47 Lost 4 5-5
Chicago Sox 20 26 .435 5 8-13 12-13 177 197 -20 Lost 1 6-4
Minnesota 15 28 .349 8.5 4-11 11-17 145 227 -82 Lost 1 3-7

Every team in the American League, save the surprisingly atrocious Twins, is within five games of the playoffs.  That’s remarkable.  Last year for instance, only three teams on May 21st were within five games of the Wild Card leading Yankees.  In the last decade, only 2004 and 2008 had anywhere near as many hopeful teams on this date.  In 2004 the White Sox, Yankees, Twins and Rangers were all tied for the Wild Card lead, with Oakland, Detroit and Baltimore all within four games.  Of course, by season’s end, the Yanks and Twins had won their divisions, the Red Sox had won 98 games to take the Wild Card in a walk and the A’s (7 games back) Rangers (9), White Sox (15), Orioles (20), and Tigers (26) were all left wanting.

2008 was less dramatic, the Rays led Baltimore by a game and a half, Oakland by 2.5, the Twins by 3.5 and Minnesota, Texas, the Jays, and Cleveland by 4.5.  By season’s end, the Rays had pulled off the decade’s most shocking upset, the Sox were again the Wild Card, and the fast starting Orioles were once again more than 20 games out (26).

Of course, the difference between those years and this year?  Well, in 2004 the Red Sox and Yankees were absolute, no doubt about it, great teams.  In 2008 the same could be said for the defending champion Sox and – even if we didn’t know it at the time – the Rays.  This year?  Who’s great this year?  If we look at those Wild Card standings and replace the Sox with the Rays, then tell me who is going to run away with the Wild Card?

I don’t expect there to be nine teams within five games of the WC by year’s end: The Royals’ bubble is about to burst; the Orioles are better, but not that much better; the Mariners intrigue me because they can defend and in King Felix, Michael Pineda and Erik Bedard (if he’s healthy) they have the arms, but… come on?  They’ve hit Adam Kennedy cleanup three times this year (and Miguel Olivio cleanup 17 times… I can’t decide which is worse); all of which leaves the Rays, Yanks, Tigers, Angels, A’s and White Sox.  Are any of those teams capable of winning 65% of their games the rest of the way to approach 95 plus wins?  I don’t think so.

As we all saw last weekend, the Yanks have started their long, slow decline and it’s not going to be pretty.  The names that made them great: Jeter, ARod, and Posada are showing the signs of age (the exception of course is Rivera, but we can’t predict exactly how he’ll age, aliens might have longer lifespans than humans).  If you thought the Posada debacle was ugly, just wait until Jeter’s On Base Percentage is still mired around .313 in July… Plus, it’s hard to see the Yanks as a juggernaut when their starting rotation is: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia.  Baseball’s a funny game, but if those five pitchers are the backbone of a 95 win team, then Arnold Schwarzenegger’s an upstanding gentleman.

The Rays are obviously very well managed (both on the field and in the front office) and today they would be my guess to win the Wild Card, but they do have a sketchy bullpen, Johnny Damon batting 3rd and Matt Joyce hitting about a 100 points better than anyone could reasonably expect.  They will be there at the end, but I doubt that end is the 96 games they won last year.

As for the other teams, the Angels acutally thought it was a good idea to pickup all of Vernon Wells’ contract and he’s rewarding them with a .527 OPS (Nobody predicted that one… cough-sarcasm-cough).  The Tigers are being hauled to .500 by the shear greatness of Justin Verlander, but they look very much like a 85-87 win team (which might ultimately win the AL Central, sorry Tribe fans).  The White Sox are hard to predict, because Kenny Williams is so proactive that you never know when he’ll pull off a deal for Hanley Ramirez, but the problem with parity is that nobody’s selling off assets if they think that they can contend.  And the A’s, well the A’s are like a glorified version of the Mariners.  They have better arms, which is what keeps them in the conversation, but Josh Willingham is their cleanup hitter.  I think National fans can tell you how that works out.

All of which brings me back to the Jays.  Right now, it looks as though 90 wins might actually take the Wild Card, are the Jays capable of winning 90?  Well, no probably not.  To get to 90, they would have to win 68 of their remaining 118 games, or 57%.  Since they are exactly .500 today, that’s a tall order, but then if Lind were to get healthy, Hill start hitting the ball over the fence, Brett Lawrie come up from AAA and perform like the young star he is, well… Like I said, baseball’s a funny game.  I don’t think the Jays are truly in contention, but I also wouldn’t be terribly surprised if in the middle of July they were only 3.5 out, and at that point, well at that point it only takes one really good run; one stretch of games where every bloop hit finds a hole, where every line drive off the opposing team’s bat hits leather, where every hitter starts to feel good and every pitcher’s locked into the zone.  A stretch of games where you rattle off 15 wins in 17 games, or 17 wins in 23, or something that propels you from booking exotic holidays in October to playing meaningful September ball.  It’s possible.  It might be almost as surprising as the World ending today, but it’s possible.


NBA Preview Part 3 – Rise of the Zombies…

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

One of my few complaints about basketball these past few years, is that I really haven’t had anyone other than Nash and the Suns to cheer for. I mean, I like LeBron and I love watching him play, but even before the who “Taking my Talents” thing I wasn’t feeling a lot of emotion when his team lost. I like Chris Paul, but the Hornets? Mhhh… The Raptors I should like, because you know they’re 3,000 miles away but on the correct side of the border, but they’re named the Raptors and have a stupid looking dinosaur on their shirts, so, ahhh… no. Portland? Too boring; Boston? Too pink; Lakers? Too Douchy; Orlando? Too whiny; Oklahoma? Too… well, wait a second Goldilocks, because we might have stumbled onto something here.

I shouldn’t like the Oklahoma Zombie Sonics, I really shouldn’t. After all, I’m a Northwest boy and they plundered my best source of “local” hoops. Yet something is drawing me to them, something almost like… how they remind me of… the Tampa Bay (Not so Devil) Rays. I know, I know it’s like comparing apples and milk, but I just can’t quite shake the comparison and here are ten reasons why:

1) They both are young exciting teams from small markets who have put a serious scare into much larger, flashier markets.

2) They both have players who if they aren’t already, might soon be the very best in their sport: Kevin Durant and Evan Longoria.

3) They both have what could be the best management team in their sport: Sam Presti and Andrew Freidman. Both young and well versed in both modern metric s and traditional scouting, these two young stars have assembled outstanding staffs that allow them to run intelligent operations on small budgets.

4) That management has done a spectacular job of building very competitive teams with those limited budgets by using draft picks, hungry young players and the occasional savvy veteran.

5) Despite unprecedented (ok, that might be slightly hyperbolic) draft success, they have both whiffed on a pick that seemed somewhat obvious back then and seems extremely obvious now. In 2008 the Rays had the first pick in the draft and they selected high school shortstop Tim Beckham. Now 19, Beckham just completed a season in which he hit .256, .346, .359, which would be fine for a slick fielding middle infielder drafted in the fourth round, but leaves someone wanting when it’s the top pick in the drat. The other player the Rays were considering and the one that most pundits thought should be the first pick, was Florida State catcher Buster Posey, who may or may not be the starting catcher for a team about to start the World Series. Yup, that’s a bang your head against the wall every time you think of it mistake – and believe me, I know about those kinds of mistakes, I cheer for a team that picked Ricky Romero over Tory Tulowitzki. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a wall to see…

For Oklahoma the mistake wasn’t quite as onerous. Still, in the Durant draft, The Sonics traded Ray Allen to Boston for the fifth pick and used that selection on Jeff Green.* Now Green has been a solid contributor to the Zombie Sonics success, but the ninth pick on that night was Joakim Noah, who I felt then and I feel now, is a future starting center on an NBA championship team. Green’s good and obviously given their success, he works well with Durant, but Noah would be the defensive post presence that the Zombies were looking for when they almost traded for Tyson Chandler.

* I know most observers would say that selecting James Harden over Steph Curry last year was the bigger mistake, but I’m not ready to write Harden off, so I’m still in a “wait and see” over that one.

6) They both should be located in the Northwest – sorry Oklahoma, but it’s true. I’m not saying you don’t deserve A team, I’m just saying that you don’t deserve Seattle’s team. Your passion for the Zombies has been outstanding and your owners clearly care enough to ensure that you have great management (more than we can say about other owners, cough-michaelheisley-cough), but Seattle supported that team for 40 years and all they refused to do was build a THIRD pro-sports arena in a five year period. You guys should get Memphis’ team, or maybe even New Orleans, but Durant and company should be making it rain in a city where it actually rains.

(and Tampa should be moved to Portland, but that’s a different column for a different day).

7) They both have a limited window in which to make this work. The Rays may have seen that window close, as this offseason they’ll loose Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and perhaps Matt Garza, while the Zombies have to face the inevitable departure of Russell Westbrook and their other young stars. Watch what happens with the potential labor stoppage, because that could have serious ramifications on the future of the Zombies.

8) Of course, both teams are capable of extending that window, because of reasons two and three (great players, plus great management, equals prolonged success… maybe).

9) I’m running out of things that Oklahoma and Tampa Bay have in common.

10) Even though I shouldn’t (because one competes in the AL East with my Jays and the other stole a team from Seattle), I can’t help cheering for these two teams, because they run their organizations exactly as I would want mine run, you know, if I were an owner of a professional sports team, instead of an owner of a goldfish named Blinky…

A Crush on those Coquettish (Devil) Rays…

April 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Some days, when the Jays are particularly pathetic, I like to think about what team I’d cheer for if I were free to make googly eyes at all 30 franchises. I know, I know, It’s sort of like fantasizing about another woman. It’s sleazy, cheap, and somewhat unethical, but it’s all on a theoretical plane, so I justify it, however sheepishly…

It is through such ambivalent mental cheating that over the last four years I have started cheering for the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. I can honestly say that it started before they were good. Back when guys like BJ Upton and Delmon Young were just breaking in to the Bigs, when they had names like Evan Longoria, Reid Brignac, and Wade Davis on the farm, and they were being run by a 28 year old whiz-kid named Andrew Friedman. I was so fond of the Rays that in 2007 I travelled down to Seattle with a couple friends to watch the kids thump the Mariners. My one friend, Matty, wondered why we were watching a Rays game (my other friend, Mikey, was just enamored with the Foam Fingers…) and while I deflected his concern by making jokes at the Rays’ expense, the truth was that we were watching them for the same reason you frequent a cafe with a cute barista. I had developed a little crush on this young team from Tampa.

The next year they made their surprise run to the playoffs, cementing my feelings. Really, if you can cost the Yankees a playoff spot, I’m always going to have a soft spot for you, but it was more than that. The Rays just have panache. I know that everyone loves the image of the grizzled old ball player, squint marks around his eyes, tobacco stains around his mouth, gray hairs spattering his flowing locks, the faint smell of Ben Gay and rawhide wafting as he saunters past, but for all their sun chafed glory I’ll take a team busting with youngsters any day of the week. Their youthful abilities haven’t been whittled down by the constant grind that is professional baseball. They still move gracefully, run the bases, see the ball and react like a cougar chasing a 20 year old…

The Rays, well, the Rays are chocker block full of kids. There’s still Upton, with all his precocious talent, then there’s human Swiss Army Knife Ben Zobrist, slick infielders Brignac and Sean Rodriguez, and some kid named after a desperate housewife. Heck, even their vets like Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena seem young (not so much Pat Burrell, but hey, we can’t win them all).

And really, their young position players would probably be enough for me, but there’s also their pitchers: Garza, Price, Shields, Davis, Niemann are all good to great and they’re all 28 or younger. It’s like playing footsie with a girl who’s beautiful and witty (Yes, we all know that wasn’t the “girl” analogy that I wanted to use, but it’s possible, not probable, but possible that the Bride could read the blog, and, well, I like my bed…). Anyhow, to really cap off my crush, Tampa, despite seemingly graduating their entire minor league system to the big leagues in the past three years, still have talent on the farm.

The only problem with the Rays? Tropicana Field. What an absolute dump. First of all, baseball should always – and I mean always – be played outdoors. If Minnesota can have an outdoor stadium, and Seattle can have an outdoor stadium, then surely Tampa can have an outdoor stadium. Honestly, when, and for what, was that ugly morass of blahdom even constructed? The lack of a quality building means that the Rays, despite being competitive for three straight years now, have never really gained any traction in Tampa. Their attendance numbers continue to reflect an indifferent audience, that might come out to see the World Champion Yankees, but probably wont come out to see a team that’s missed the playoffs sixteen straight times (Go Jays… whooo…).

If a beautiful building existed there, perhaps things would be better. Somewhere fans could go out, sit in the sun (maybe with giant shady spots for those hot Florida days), drink some good beer, socialize, watch some top quality ball. If that were the case, then maybe, just maybe, the Rays would actually be able to make money and keep some of this talent.

Unfortunately, they don’t and their owners seem to be penny wise and pound foolish. They’ve shown an excellent understanding of how to build a top flight team, but also show no interest in maintaining that quality by keeping a reasonable payroll. This year, Rays ownership raised their payroll to a little above 65 million (still 25th in baseball), but have intimated that next year it will drop back down to the 45 million range. Say goodbye to Crawford, say goodbye to Pena, say goodbye to the corpse of Burrell…

What could Friedman have done with even a modest payroll? Could the extra money have allowed the Rays to seriously pursue Roy Halladay this winter? Would it allow them to keep franchise icon Crawford (who incidentally leads the franchise n most offensive categories, except nose hairs). It’s just sad to me, watching this wonderful thing of beauty, that will slowly weather, age, and erode because they play in a city, and stadium, that doesn’t deserve them. It’s a little like watching that delightful barista finish her shift and leave with a dude you just know is a douche… Sigh, all you can do is remind yourself that it’s just a crush, that at home you have something better. At home you have a team with a 20 million a year center-fielder who can’t run, with an ace who’s nine months removed from Tommy John surgery, with a leadoff hitter whose career OBP is .330, and with a first baseman whose OPS is .622. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, why would I have a crush on another team when I’ve got it so good…

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