As the Rays begin to start their approximate final third of the season, a lot has occurred for the first 106 games. We've seen the highs of a 32-12 start to the lows of a 5-10 June interleague finish along with a confrontation between Upton and Longoria on the last game of interleague vs Arizona back to the high of a 11 game home stand against not 1 or 2 but 3 playoff teams that was kickstarted by Matt Garza's no-hitter against Detroit.
- Bullpen-The Rays bullpen can technically be considered not at full strength with the loss of JP Howell in the off-season due to injury and surgery, but no one would trade the Rays pen for any other in the major leagues. 4 of the relievers have k/9 rates of 9+, and there's Soriano, who has done everything we could have hoped for and asked of him this season. As long as they remain solid and reliable, the Rays will keep winning and getting deep into October.
Rotation-On any night, when you can toss a starting pitcher out there and expect to win, that's a sign that you're stacked in pitchers and no team may quite have the rotation depth. It's so deep that Hellickson has to wait his turn this year. With a rotation of Shields, Garza, Niemann, Price, Davis-you stand a good chance to say-"we're gonna win this one" and be right.
GM-While Cashman & Epstein generally get more fanfare and recognition for bringing home the hardware, I don't think anyone say they are better than our own Andrew Friedman. He brings us great joy when we think of all the Friedman'd moments he gives us from opposing teams. Not only does he do a great job evaluating players, but he does it on a budget considerably smaller than the opposition. It's easy to go out & sign Sabathia to your rotation, it's not so easy to figure out where to plug Hellickson into the Rays rotation. He also won't budge & trade away top talent just for a rental that could cost the Rays in the future. Brignac/Niemann was about official as a trade can get back in 2008 for Jason Bay, but look where the Rays are now-having 2 future contributors to help them in 2010 & beyond. Sometimes the best trades aren't made.
- Re-enforcements-Sure, having a big name trade is alwasy fun, but it's not a cure-all. Even though the Rays only traded for Chad Qualls (Can you call it a trade if they are giving players away?) But how many teams can just pick up a phone & call for a top notch pitching prospect or a young speedy outfielder that has been called Carl Crawford with plate discipline or even just getting a veteran bat for the bench in Dan Johnson? Not many and those players joining the Rays are just as good as getting a rent-a-player.
- Schedule-The scheduling fairy was kind to the Rays this year. They were able to draw a reasonable April-May start to help them get the ball rolling and take pressure off the team and any whispers of trades and the kindness continues in September. The last 10 games of the season for the Rays feature bottom-dwellers of Baltimore, Seattle, and Kansas City while the Rays chief opposition in the division, the Yankees & Red Sox do battle 6 times during those 10 games. They could easily decide who is in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd and can completely alter the playoff pitcture, And right before those 10 games, the Yankees/Rays season series finishes up, so they have a chance to set themselves up to win the division.
Five Things that you'd like to get better:
Evan Longoria getting more pitches to hit-It's getting more and more apparent with each game that teams are doing everything to force the Rays offense sans Longoria to beat them and it caught up with them a lot in June, but now we're at least seeing signs of other players getting the big hit, most notably-Matt Joyce!!!!
- The best players getting to play more-A lot of us here on DRaysBay agree with Maddon's use of statistics for platoons and matchups to help maximize success and minimize failure, but there's a couple of times where he keeps going to places that make no sense. No, I'm not talking about the numerous stupid comments about replace BJ in CF-more so using Jason Bartlett as the everyday SS and Kapler as the replacement for Joyce in RF. It's near 100% lock that Joyce is going to be the future RF/DH for many years and with increased playing time he's starting to hit & come up big for the Rays, especially this home stand. Last year Kapler was a useful platoon player in RF, 1.1WAR and being a useful veteran, but at some point you can't just be a veteran to justify playing time. It's already August & he's hit very little, wOBA of just .266 and does not bring a large defensive value either. They'd be better off just letting Joyce assume most of the ABs, whether the pitcher is a righty or a lefty.
Now the situation is a little fuzzier for SS. Bartlett is still productive at the plate some, but not good enough to start against RHP. You can't just go by 1 year, but his 3yr span of 2007-2009 gives him a line of .268/.329/.370 and when you're the inferior defensive player, there is no justification to keep your job if you're trying to put the best team on the field. A -4.3 UZR for Bartlett compared to a 3.0 UZR for Brignac makes it a pretty open and shut case for a platoon to help maximize their strengths as JB has been a notorious LHP killer in the past at .344/.411/.492.
BJ Upton turning on the offensive switch-BJ has had a tough season this year. He's hitting .235/.321/.407, but he's struggled a lot more against RHP this season that usual-.222/.295/.354. And there's a lot more RHP in the regular season than the post-season. If we're gonna keep winning, we need him to help pick up the pace, but I'll take his lefty splits for the post-season .267/.378/.535 :).
Jason Bartlett & Ben Zobrist returning to their norms against lefties-Last year, these two put up video game-esque numbers as a pair of middle infielders for the team. We knew that the odds were against them to hit at the level, but they declined, and it was fast & not fun to watch. The real trouble has come against LHP, JB & Zorilla have been consistent killers of LHP and in a line up with a strength killinger RHP more than LHP, they need to start to hit to help pick up the offense against lefties, especially since all the AL-playoff teams are likely to start LHP-Sabathia/Buehrle/Liriano/Lee. Where are they compared 2007-2009 to 2010? Bartlett .344/.411/.492 to .245/.333/.296 and Zobrist .293/.395/.517 to .260/.339/.337 :(.
Taking stress of the bullpen-One of the things that seemed to hurt the Rays down the stretch and into the playoffs into the 2008 World Series was a bullpen that seemed to finally wear thin, and if we learned anything about the playoffs in 2009, that's last bullpen standing wins, as all 7 losing playoff teams had their "closer" give up a lead or give the opposition a lead late in the game that put them in a big hole-Papelbon, Nathan, Street, Fuentes, Broxton, Lidge, Franklin. It could just be a fluke and if SSS and bullpens have shown us-they're really fluky, but it'd be in the Rays best interest to try & get lower leverage situations to prevent them from wearing down. Since the Rays won 8-1 @ BAL, They've been into the 9th with a lead of 1-3R 12 times and won 11 of those games(1BS @ BAL, 1 tie game loss in that span).
Since this is my first contribution post-I'd like $500 in unmarked bills in a suitcase in a locker at the bus station. Which locker @ which bus station? Not my problem.