The Rays had a very successful week going 5-1 by taking 2 out of 3 from the Milwaukee Brewers and sweeping a 3-game set from the Houston Astros. The Rays entered the week trailing the Boston Red Sox by 4.5 games and the second place NY Yankees by 3 games. By the time Sunday's games were complete the Rays have moved to within 2.5 games of the first place Yankees and are only 1.5 games behind the second place Red Sox.
Since losing 3 out of 4 games to the Seattle Mariners in early June, the Rays have now won 14 of 19 games and find themselves at a season high 10 games over .500 with record of 44-34. The Rays have played well for an extended period of time, find themselves in a very good position, have a dominant trio of starters at the top of their rotation, and are seeing their catalyst Evan Longoria (without batting gloves) wake up at just the right time.
This Weeks Notes & Thoughts:
- The Rays offense racked up 61 hits and scored 41 runs this week including games of 5,6,7,8, and 14 runs.
- The Rays hit 9 home runs this week. B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria both had home runs reviewed by replay. Evan Longoria had 4 home runs, B.J. Upton had 3 home runs, and Kelly Shoppach and Elliot Johnson each had 1 home run.
- Entering Sunday's game, several Rays hitters excelled during the week: John Jaso (.333/.333/.556 [0-2 Sunday]), B.J. Upton (.300/.364/.650 with 3 HR and 10RBI [2-5 with a HR and 4 RBI Sunday]), Evan Longoria (.286/.318/.667 with 3 HR and 14 RBI [4-6 with a two HR and 5 RBI Sunday]), and Kelly Shoppach (.182/.308/.545 [0-3 Sunday]).
- Entering Sunday's game, several Rays hitters struggled during the week: Elliot Johnson (.091/.167/.364 [1-4 Sunday]), Johnny Damon (.083/.154/.083 [4-5 Sunday]), and Matt Joyce (.167/.444/.167 [1-2 Sunday]).
- The Rays bullpen was reminiscent of the bullpen from hell. Joel Peralta worked in 3 games (1 IP) and gave up 5 hits, 3 earned runs (ERA of 27.00), a home run, and a strike out. J.P. Howell worked in 3 games (2 IP) and gave up 4 hits, 3 earned runs (ERA of 13.50), 2 home runs, 2 walks, and 0 strikeouts. Cesar Ramos worked in 3 games (1.2 IP) and gave up 3 hits, 4 earned runs (21.86 ERA), 3 walks and 0 strikeouts.
- One of the most entertaining moments of the week came when Sam Fuld, who had pinch hit for reliever J.P. Howell, came out to take warm up pitches in between innings. After Fuld completed his warm up tosses, Joe Maddon came out to the mound to replace him with Cesar Ramos. Maddon was not trying to incite the Brewers as he told MLB.com:
"One pitch. All the infielders were begging for one pitch. But you can't do that. You don't want to incite the other team. And I was concerned about that to begin with. By having to do that, I was worried about inciting them. But it was no disrespect to the Brewers. It was just a matter of the way that happened so quickly, moving it on to the next guy."
- Joe Maddon had some interesting thoughts on Casey Kotchman's defense (as compared to Carlos Pena) as reported by MLB.com and an audio interview from the dugout from Miller Park provided by Jason Collete (here). Additionally, the article points out that Kotchman entered Wednesday's game with a MLB best 1,000 fielding percentage and hadn't made an error in his last 94 games. His last error came on August 10, 2010 against the Yankees as a member of the Seattle Mariners.
"They're pretty similar," Maddon said. "I mean, Carlos did win the Gold Glove a couple of years ago. I'd say they're equally as good defensively. They both pick it. Regular ground ball, equally well, ball in the dirt, equally well."
"I haven't seen [range] being a problem for Casey," Maddon said. "In spite of Casey not being fast, he gets to balls. I haven't seen balls get by him that I thought he should have had."
- J.P. Howell missed Wednesday's finale in Milwaukee after being diagnosed with gout in his foot. The injury shouldn't land Howell on the DL as he just needs to change his diet which leads to a great quote from Joe Maddon provided at MLB.com:
Maddon said he would have a hard time dealing with the condition.
"He told me he's supposed to not eat red meats, eat seafood or drink red wine," Maddon said. "I would die in like three weeks."
- ESPN.com author Steve Berthiaume wrote a piece this week titled "The Rays Need to Get Out of Tampa Bay" The DRB community had an opportunity to comment on the article (here) and the author of the article was interviewed on ESPN1040 AM. and the podcast of the interview is provided here (here). Erik Hahmann penned an open letter to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster asking him to allow the Rays to explore options in the Hillsborough County area and to be a voice in the room instead of the voice in the room. If you haven't seen the work of EminenceFont (Josh Frank) and Jason Collette -- "DRaysBay's Stadium Proposal - Part 1" please give it a read, it is excellent work.
- Jason Stark commented that he didn't believe that the Rays would be trading B.J. Upton this year, but that the Nationals continue to scout him. Buster Olney said that the Rays would listen to offers for B.J. Upton but probably wouldn't deal him unless they got a quality bat in return. We also heard rumblings that both Kyle Farnsworth and B.J. Upton were available in trade. My Sunday began reading the Tampa Tribune and Joe Henderson's article "Upton's Ray's Days are Likely Numbered" While Henderson may make some good points the article needles the reader with negative statements. A few examples are provided below for those not in the local market here. If the article's intention was to ruin my breakfast than Mr. Henderson succeeded.
How they handle that gauntlet could set the Rays' direction for this season and the next several to follow. Then end of the long trip on July 31 at Seattle coincides with the non-waiver trade deadline. Everyone should know by then whether the Rays are keepers or sellers. Notice I didn't say "buyers." The Rays won't be making blockbuster deals at teh deadline to import talent for the short term, even if it means making a serious run at a a third division title in four seasons. It's just not what they do, especially if it means parting with prospects. You'll know the lads have decided they can remain in the race if they do nothing.
There already are many reasons to think B.J.’s time here is coming to an end. He has shown no interest in doing a long-term deal and he is about to become overpriced anyway. Overpriced in Raysthink, that is.
Then we see the batting average hovering around .220 and the on-base percentage that sits around .300. He also can drive fans nuts every time he takes a third strike down the middle (complet with a "what the...?" look at the umpire), and the cutoff man hasn't been invented that he can't miss. His throws from center field alos have a tendency to be as off-target as many of my shanked tee shots.
On Monday evening Jeff Niemann made his return to the Rays rotation after missing over a month with back stiffness and was facing a very tough Milwaukee lineup in a hitters park where the Brewers entered the night with a major league best record of 25-9. Niemann's mission was made slightly easier when Ryan Braun was replaced in the lineup due to a bronchial infection. The Rays provided Niemann with an early 1-0 lead on a groundout by B.J. Upton which scored Johnny Damon who had walked to lead off the game. Niemann entered the sixth inning still leading 1-0 when he hit Nyjer Morgan to lead off the inning, but home plate umpire Bob Davidson denied Morgan first base because he determined that he hadn't made an effort to get out of the way of the ball which resulted in ejections for Milwaukee skipper Ron Roenickie and hitting coach Dale Sveum. Niemann eventually struck out Morgan but had to do work hard to escape the inning with the lead. The Brewers loaded the bases with 1-out before Niemann struck out Mark Kotsay and retired Yuniesky Betancourt on a fly ball to right field. The Rays carried the momentum into the top of the seventh inning scoring 4 runs on RBI doubles by Justin Ruggiano and Ben Zobrist and RBI singles by Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton. The Brewers Jonathon Lucroy led off the seventh inning with a solo home run off new Rays pitcher J.P. Howell to cut the lead to 5-2 but the game was broke open in the bottom of the eighth on a 3-run homer by Evan Longoria. Joel Peralta came in to work the eighth inning and walked the first two hitters with an 8-2 lead and gave up single to Casey McGehee to load the bases before being replaced by Cesar Ramos. Ramos struck out Mark Kotsay for the first out of the inning but gave up a 2-RBI single to Yuniesky Betancourt to cut the Rays lead to 8-4. Ramos retired Jonathon Lucroy for the second out of the inning before being replaced by Kyle Farnsworth who struck out Craig Counsell to end the eighth and worked a scoreless ninth giving the Rays an 8-4 victory. The victory went to Jeff Niemann who worked six scoreless innings, yielding 4 hits while striking out 5 and walking 3.
On Tuesday the Rays sent Jeremy Hellickson against Zach Greinke. Hellickson gave single runs in the first and second inning but the Rays were unable to mount an attack against Greinke through the first six innings. The Rays cut the Brewers lead in half on a RBI single by John Jaso. Adam Russell came in to replace Jeremy Hellickson who had been pinch hit for in the top of the seventh. Russell gave up a leadoff single and walk before retiring Richie Weeks. Russell was replaced by J.P. Howell who walked Josh Wilson to load the bases before giving up a 2 RBI single to Ryan Braun and a RBI single to Prince Fielder. Howell was replaced by Cesar Ramos who sandwiched a walk between two groundouts to end the inning. Andy Sonnanstine worked a scoreless eighth inning but the Rays offense was unable to score and the Rays lost the game 5-1.
On Wednesday afternoon the Rays looked for the series win and had David Price on the mound to take on Shaun Marcum. The Rays were in need of a strong outing from Price as Joe Maddon had to use his bullpen in the first two games of the series. Early on Price didn't look sharp and the Brewers took advantage by scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the first. The Rays tied the game in the bottom of the second on a 2-run opposite field homer by Kelly Shoppach. The game remained tied 2-2 into the sixth inning until B.J. Upton hit an RBI single to give Rays a 3-2 lead. The Rays extended their lead to 6-3 in the top of the seventh on a three run homer by Elliot Johnson. Kyle Farnsworth came in to work the ninth inning but after getting the first out of the inning he gave up three consecutive singles to load the bases. Nyjer Morgan hit a sacrifice fly to cut the Rays lead to 6-3 but Farnsworth retired Mark Kotsay on a groundout to first to preserve the Rays 6-3 victory. Price gave Joe Maddon 8 solid innings (120 pitches), giving up 2 ER on 5 hits while striking out 10 and walking only 1.
The Rays traveled to Houston to take on the Astros for a three game weekend set. James Shields was on the hill for the Rays on Friday night and the light hitting Astros never had much of a chance. Shields was dominant as he recorded his 3rd consecutive complete game by giving up 1 earned run on 3 hits while striking out 9 and walking 1. The Rays gave Shields all the runs he needed in the fourth on a Ben Zobrist RBI single and back to back home runs by Evan Longoria (2-run shot) and B.J. Upton. Evan Longoria extended the Rays lead to 5-0 with a RBI single in the fifth inning. Shields surrendered his only run on a 2-out RBI double to Chris Johnson in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Rays won the opening game of the series 5-1.
Wade Davis looked to follow David Price and James Shields gems with a solid outing against the Astros on Saturday and give the Rays a series win. The Rays put up a picket fence with single runs in the first three innings on a RBI double by Evan Longoria in the first, a RBI single by Johnny Damon in the second inning, and a RBI single by B.J. Upton in the third inning. The Astros got a single tally in the bottom of the fourth on a RBI double by Carlos Lee but the Rays got the run back on a solo homer by B.J. Upton to lead of the sixth inning. Wade Davis was removed after 7 strong innings giving up 1ER on 5 hits whiles striking out 3 and walking 1. Joel Peralta came in to start the eighth inning with a 4-1 lead but after getting the first man out surrendered a single to Jeff Keppinger and a RBI double to Hunter Pence to cut the Rays lead to 4-2. Joe Maddon went to his bullpen and for the third time during the week called upon Kyle Farnsworth to work multiple innings to close a game. Farnsworth induced an inning ending double play ball after an error by Sam Fuld allowed Carlos Lee to reach to end the eighth inning. The Rays gave Farnsworth some breathing room with three runs in the top of the ninth on a RBI double by Evan Longoria and a 2-RBI single by Casey Kotchman. Farnsworth finished the Astros off in the ninth to earn his 16th save and the Rays won 7-2.
On Sunday the Rays sent Jeff Niemann who was coming off one of his better starts of the year versus the Brewers to complete the sweep of the Astros. Niemann wasn't sharp as the Astros touched him for 5ER on 7 hits while striking out 2 and walking none. The Rays offense gave Niemann a 3-0 lead in the first on a B.J. Upton 3-run homer but Niemann allowed a single run in the bottom of the first and two in the bottom of the second and the Astros tied the game at 3-3. The Rays handed Niemann another lead on a RBI double by Evan Longoria in the top of the third inning to put the Rays ahead 4-3 but Niemann again gave the lead back by surrendering 2 more runs in the bottom of the third giving the Astros a 5-4 lead. The Rays tied the game at 5-5 in the top of the fourth on a Ben Zobrist RBI double but the Astros extended their lead to 7-5 by scoring 2 runs off Cesar Ramos in the bottom of the fourth. The Rays tied the game at 7 in the top of the sixth inning on a 2-run homer by Evan Longoria. Juan Cruz worked two solid innings and was replaced by J.P. Howell in the bottom of the 7th inning. Howell continues to struggle and gave up a solo home run to Jeff Keppinger to give the Astros a 8-7 lead. The Rays scored 4 runs in the top of the eight inning after Matt Joyce came through with a 2-out 2-RBI double in the top of the eighth and a Casey Kotchman 2-RBI single to give the Rays an 11-8 lead. Joe Maddon turned to Joel Peralta to work the eighth inning but Peralta gave up a leadoff double to Chris Johnson and a 2-run homer to Matt Downs to cut the Rays lead to 11-10. Maddon replaced Peralta with Adam Russell to protect the 1-run lead. Russell gave up a single to Clint Barmes who was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt for the first out. The Rays got out of the inning when Jason Burgeois hit a grounder to third baseman Evan Longoria who tagged Barmes going by and threw on to first for the double play. Evan Longoria gave the Rays additional insurance runs with a 2-out 3-run home run to extend the lead to 14-10. Kyle Farnsworth came in and worked a 1-2-3 ninth to give the Rays the 14-10 victory.
The Rays will return to Tropicana Field on Monday to take on the Cincinnati Red for three games and will finish their games against the National League with a weekend series versus the St. Louis Cardinals beginning on Friday. The Rays will send their big three versus the Rays against the Reds. Jeremy Hellickson will take on Mike Leake on Monday, Daivd Price will take on Johnny Cueto on Tuesday, and James Shields versus Edison Volquez on Wednesday. Wade Davis will take on Jaime Garcia on Friday night, Jeff Niemann will look to rebound after a poor outing versus the Astros against Kyle McClellan on Saturday, and Jeremy Hellickson will take on Kyle Lohse on Sunday.
The Yankees will host the Milwaukee Brewers for three and finish their week taking on the Mets at Citi Field. The Red Sox will travel to Philadelphia for a three game series against the Phillies and finish their week in Houston for a weekend series versus the Astros. The Blue Jays will travel to Detroit for a three game series before coming home to host the Philadelphia Phillies in a weekend series. The Orioles will host the St. Louis Cardinals for three games before heading to Atlanta for a weekend series against the Braves.
What a great week Rays fans! A 5-1 road trip and we gain on both NY and BOS. The SP has been great sans Jeff 'Stork' Niemann yesterday, and I'm hopeful that is what keeps us in the ALE race all season
On the offense it was great to see the break out of Evan Longoria and also BJ Upton. There is NO substitute for the three run bomb. Now this wouldn't be natural if i didn't complain, so here it is. The bullpen is not sustaining. Joel Peralta is not an 8th inning set up and it's starting to show. Our two LHP are failing badly and J P 'Gas Can' Howell is clearly not ready for prime time, much less ALE opponents. My suggestion is to send both Howell and Caesar Ramos down, call up Jake McGee and trade for a loogy. How about old friend Randy Choate? He's got about $2 million dollars guaranteed through next year. That can't be too expensive.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago in this piece, i'm more interested in a back end arm than a bat, and the past week clearly exhibits that
On a happy note we lead MLB in inter league at 9-3 and we're at home versus CIN and STL
Go Rays !!!