ST PETERSBURG FL - SEPTEMBER 26: Pitcher James Shields #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays winds up to deliver a pitch against the Seattle Mariners at Tropicana Field on September 26 2010 in St. Petersburg Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)
To myself, I have been calling this series, "Mission: Get Our Starters Back in a Groove." When you're facing one of the worst offenses in modern baseball history, it's a great chance to instill some confidence in pitchers that have had a rough time lately. The last two nights were successful missions - Matt Garza and Jeff Niemann looked good. Today, though? Poor, poor James Shields.
Stop me if you've heard this one before: Shields pitched well for the majority of the game today - he struck out six while only walking two, he generated 12 swinging strikes, and he got lots of groundball outs - but he did let up a large number of base hits and got done in by a three-run homerun. To make matters worse, John Wilson hit the homerun - yes, the same Josh Wilson that going into today had a .060 Isolated Power (ISO) and 16 extra base hits (and only one homerun) all year. Judging from the look on Shields's face after that homerun, that's not rebuilding anyone's confidence.
I don't know what to say about Shields anymore. People that adhere to DIPS theory can find positives in his start and reasons for him to improve in the future. Similarly, people that are fed up with Shields and argue that he looks bad on the mound have plenty of new fuel for their fire. He's now let up five or more runs in four of his last five starts, two of those starts coming against the Orioles and Blue Jays. We all know that Shields can be good. We all know that he's got the potential to be Big Game James and anchor our rotation. With the season winding down, though, the focus is very much on results: what can Shields give us now? He's a big question mark - could be great, could be horrible - and it will be interesting to see where the Rays place him in the postseason rotation.
Even though Shields let up five runs during his six innings, the Rays still could have won the game. Their offense couldn't capitalize on its chances, and the Rays missed a golden opportunity to break the game open in the fifth inning. The Mariners had scored two runs in the top of the fifth to take the lead, but the Rays came surging back in the bottom of the inning. Sean Rodriguez led off with a double and after Dioner Navarro grounded out, he scored on Desmond Jennings's first major-league triple (more on this later). BJ Upton then singled to drive him home, but was subsequently picked off first. Jason Bartlett then doubled and Willy Aybar walked, but it was too little too late - Rocco Baldelli flew out for the final out and the Rays didn't put together another extended rally for the rest of the game.
- I still don't know how Desmond Jennings got a triple off his hit in the fifth. It looked like a double in the gap. The outfielder didn't misplay it or bobble it. I was expecting to see Jennings at second when the camera panned there on the throw, but instead, he was standing on third base with an easy triple. And If that wasn't enough, he stumbled on the turn around first. That dude can fly.
- Let's go Red Sox! There are very, very few times in my life where I've actively root for the Red Sox...it's an odd feeling, but I want to keep our 1.5 game lead intact.