The Rays finished the week with a 3-3 record and find themselves in third place in the AL East, 2.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox and 5 games behind the New York Yankees. The end of the week marked the end of the interleague play where the Rays excelled by winning 12 of 18 games and the announcements for the 2011 All Star team where James Shields, David Price, and Matt Joyce were rewarded for their 2011 performances. As happy as I am for the trio of Rays for making the All-Star team, I have been most impressed with Johnny Damon. More specifically, I've been impressed with his play and leadership through the entire season. I have watched Damon in small doses against the Rays and Cleveland Indians and knew he was a star, but seeing him play day in and day out, hearing Maddon and his teammates talk glowingly about him, and to hear him always focusing on his teammates during his post-game comments is really watching the person that is defined by terms like true pro, consummate professional and natural born leader. As we head into the final week of games before the All-Star break, the Rays position relative to the tag "buyer" or "seller" has not been established. One thing that we know for certain is that this road trip is very important in distinguishing between the two as the Rays finish the first half with 4 games against the Yankees in New York.
This Weeks Notes & Thoughts:
- The Rays offense continued to struggle at home in 2011 as noted by Jason Collette in his article The Home LOLfense. The Rays offense did respond on Saturday and Sunday by putting up 5 and 8 runs respectively but the team continued to struggle with consistency by scoring 3 runs or less in 3 of the 6 games on the homestand. This brings the total of games the Rays offense has scored 3 runs or less to 39 (46.4% of games) and a corresponding record of 9-30.
- Congratulations to Johnny Damon whose ten hits this past week moved him ahead of Ted Williams, Lave Cross, and Harry Heilmann on the all time hits list.
- Entering Sunday's game, several Rays hitters excelled during the week:Johnny Damon (.350/.350/.550 [3-5 with a double, triple, and 4 RBI Sunday]), John Jaso (.273/.273/.364 [2-3 with (2) doubles, and a walk on Sunday]).
- Entering Sunday's game, several Rays hitters struggled during the week: Evan Longoria (.167/.250/.444 [did not play Sunday]), Ben Zobrist (.125/.300/.250 [0-5 Sunday]), and Sam Fuld (.111/.200/.111 [did not play Sunday]).
- Interleague play is over and the Rays finished with a 12-6 record but many Rays fans are probably happy that it is over as it seems to be a de-energizing force more than anything. There are many differing opinions as to how to improve interleague play like remove the DH in AL parks and add the DH in NL parks, cut down on the number of games, make interleague an every other or every three year event, or get rid of interleague all together.
The Rays returned home after winning 5 of 6 in Milwaukee and Houston to kick off a 6 game homestand against the Cincinnati Reds. Jeremy Hellickson took the mound to face Mike Leake and got into trouble in the first. He gave up 2 runs on an RBI double by Brandon Phillips which scored Fred Lewis and then Phillips came around to score on an RBI single by Jay Bruce. The Reds extended their lead to 3-0 on a leadoff solo home by ex-Ray Jonny Gomes in the fourth inning and with 2-outs Paul Janish reached on an Evan Longoria error, advanced to third on a Fred Lewis single, and came around to score on a Brandon Phillips single to put the Reds up 4-0. The Rays seemed to have a rally going in the bottom of the sixth after Ben Zobrist hit a leadoff double and Evan Longoria walked to put runners at first and second with nobody out but a baserunning blunder by Evan Longoria short circuited the inning. Matt Joyce hit a fly ball and Zobrist went back to tag on but Longoria didn't see him and rounded second and passed him for the double play. Jeremy Hellickson was removed after the sixth inning with the Rays still trailing 4-0 after giving up 4R, 3ER, 8 hits, striking out 8 while walking 1. Cesar Ramos entered the game and gave up back to back singles to Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto to put runners at first and second with nobody out and got the double play ball that he was looking for but it went through Zobrist legs allowing Brandon Phillips to score to put the Rays in a 5-0 hole. Ramos was able to get Jay Bruce to pop out before he was replaced by Adam Russell who hit Johnny Gomes (replay suggest ball hit the bat and Gomes did his best Derek Jeter imitation) to load the bases before inducing the double play ball by Ramon Hernandez to get out of the inning. Mike Leake, Sam Lecure, and Nick Massett combined on a 6 hit shutout as the Rays dropped the first game of the series 5-0.
After the game Sam Fuld described the playing conditions at Tropicana Field as a possible reason for the lack of offense at the Trop:
"My experience here is that this is not an easy place to hit," outfielder Sam Fuld said. "The ball doesn't travel too well. Even the infield, you would think with the turf, it would be a little faster. But it's soft and not a lot of balls get through. I think that's part of [the reason we struggle at Tropicana Field]." -- mlb.com
On Tuesday night, Johnny Cueto and David Price locked up in a pitchers duel as each lasting into the eighth inning. The Rays struck first off Cueto thanks to a leadoff solo homer by Johnny Damon in the bottom of the fourth inning. Price held the lead until the eighth inning when the Reds scored twice to take a 2-1 lead. Drew Stubbs led the inning off with a triple on a ball B.J. Upton normally catches and came home on a single by Edgar Renteria to tie the game at one. Price then struck out both Chris Heisey and Brandon Phillips while holding Renteria at first with Joey Votto due up. Joe Maddon elected to stick with Price rather than go with J.P. Howell and even after Edgar Renteria stole second base Maddon elected not to walk Votto. Votto made Price and Maddon pay by lacing a double to drive in the go ahead run. Price's evening was finished and Cesar Ramos came in to retire Scott Rolen to the end the inning. In the bottom of the eighth inning John Jaso and Sam Fuld had 1-out singles to put runners on 1st and 2nd. Reid Brignac was unable to deliver the key hit as he flew out to right, but Johnny Damon was able to pick up his teammate and get David Price off the hook by dropping a double over the head of Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips to give the Rays a 3-2 lead and Kyle Farnsworth coming in to nail down the save. Unfortunately, Farnsworth grooved a pitch to Jay Bruce who hit a solo homer to tie the game at 3. Dusty Baker brought Bill Bray into the game to pitch the bottom of the ninth inning. Evan Longoria took the first pitch for a strike and deposited the next pitch into the left field stand for a game winning homer as the Rays won 4-3.
On Wednesday afternoon James Shields looked to stretch his complete game streak to 4 and the Rays looked to take the series from the Reds. The game remained scoreless until the fourth inning but the Reds got back to back singles by Joey Votto and Scott Rolen to begin the inning, but Shields struck out Jay Bruce and Jonny Gomes. Shields was one out away from getting out of the inning but Ryan Hanigan hit a 3-run homer to give the Reds the 3-0 lead. The Rays got two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning on an 2-RBI double by Evan Longoria which scored Johnny Damon who had singled and Ben Zobrist who had walked. Shields walked the first two batters in the top of the seventh and Dusty Baker elected to sacrifice bunt. The bunt went to Evan Longoria who threw to shortstop Elliot Johnson to cut down the runner at second for the first out and Shields struck out Paul Janish for the second out to bring up Fred Lewis who delivered the run scoring single to give the Reds a 4-2 lead. The Rays got within 1-run thanks to a solo homer by B.J. Upton in the bottom of the 7th but the Rays were unable to muster any offense against the Reds bullpen the remainder of the game which the Reds won 4-3. Shields worked 7 innings, giving up 4 ER on 7 hits, while striking out 10 and walking 2.
On Friday evening the Rays kicked off a weekend home series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Rays sent Wade Davis to the mound to face off against Jake Westbrook. The Cardinals opened the scoring in the second inning by getting a leadoff double by Lance Berkman and a single by David Frees. Colby Rasmus drove in Berkman with a groundout to second and Frees who had moved up to second on the Rasmus ground out came around to score on a single by Yadier Molina. Davis settled in after the second inning and worked through the seventh inning and left the game trailing 2-0. J.P. Howell came in to work the bottom of the eight inning and retired the first two hitters he faced and seemingly had struck out Lance Berkman but home plate umpire Vic Carapazza kept his right hand by his side to the displeasure of Joe Maddon who came out to argue and was ejected from the game. Howell, obviously bothered by the call. balked Lance Berkman into scoring position and walked David Frees. With 2-on and 2-out Howell gave up a line drive homer to Colby Rasmus and as Rasmus rounded the bases Howell slammed his glove to the turf and threw the ball given to him toward the Rays dugout. Carapazza felt that maybe the ball was thrown in his direction or maybe Howell said something derogatory to him, either way, Howell was ejected as was David Price and Elliot Johnson for whatever they may have said from the bench. The Rays seemingly were awake after the Howell eruption and pushed across 3 runs in the bottom of the eighth on an RBI double by Evan Longoria and a 2-run homerun by Matt Joyce. The Rays were unable to come all the way back and lost the game 5-3. Wade Davis took the loss but pitched well going 7 IP, 2ER on 6 hits, striking out 3 while walking 1.
On Saturday night, Jeff Niemann took the mound looking to put his last start against the Houston Astros(3 IP, 5ER) behind him. He fell behind in the fourth inning after surrendering a leadoff homer to Lance Berkman which put the Cardinals ahead 1-0. The Rays offense remained in lock down until the bottom of the sixth inning when Johnny Damon singled and Ben Zobrist walked to put Rays on 1st and 2nd with nobody out. It looked as if Kyle McClellan may work out of the jam after retiring Evan Longoria on a lazy fly ball to right and getting Matt Joyce to ground out to second putting runners at 2nd and 3rd for B.J. Upton. Upton was able to work a walk to load the bases for Casey Kotchman who quickly unloaded them with a double down the right field line to put the Rays up 3-1. Justin Ruggiano followed Kotchmans double with a 2-run homer to give the Rays a 5-1 lead. The Rays bullpen (Ramos, Cruz, Howell, Peralta, and Farnsworth) worked three scoreless innings making the Rays 5-1 winners. Jeff Niemann worked 6 IP, 1 ER on 9 hits (5 infield hits), striking out 5 and walking 2.
On Sunday the Rays sent Jeremy Hellickson to the mound in the finale of interleague play and looking for the series win against the Cardinals. The Cardinals jumped out to an early lead on a solo homer by Yadier Molina in the second. The Rays tied the game in the third when John Jaso led off with a double and advanced to third on a groundout by Sean Rodriguez and scored on a groundout by Elliot Johnson. The game remained tied into the bottom of the fifth inning. With 2-outs in the inning Elliot Johnson got a bunt single to bring Johnny Damon to the plate. Damon doubled in the gap in right field scoring Elliot Johnson. When the relay throw sailed over the catcher Damon scurried around to score and put the Rays up 3-1. The Cardinals came right back against Hellickson in the top of the sixth inning on a 2-run homer by Lance Berkman to tie the game at 3. The Rays offense responded in the top of the seventh inning by scoring two runs on RBI doubles by B.J. Upton and John Jaso to put the Rays up 5-3. The Rays broke the game open in the bottom of the eighth on a bases clearing triple by Johnny Damon to give the Rays an 8-3 lead. Kyle Farnsworth came in to get the final 5 outs earning his 17th save in the Rays 8-3 victory. Jeremy Hellickson got the win by pitching 7.1 innings, giving up 3ER on 6 hits, striking out 2 while walking 1.
The Rays will head to Minnesota for 3 before ending the first half in New York for a 4 game series beginning Thursday. The pitching matchups in the Minnesota series will be David Price vs Brain Duensing on Monday, James Shields vs Scott Baker on Tuesday, and Wade Davis vs Francisco Liriano on Wednesday. The pitching matchups for the Yankee series are Jeff Niemann vs Bartolo Colon on Thursday, Jeremy Hellickson vs Freddy Garcia on Friday, David Price vs A.J. Burnett on Saturday, and James Shields vs C.C. Sabathia on Sunday.
The Yankees will host the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays this week, the Red Sox will host the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, the Toronto Blue Jays will travel to Boston for 3 games before heading to Cleveland for 4, and the Baltimore Orioles will travel to Texas to take on the Rangers before closing the first half in Boston vs the Red Sox.
Home sweet dome! At some point this year, I'm guessing we'll be looking forward to playing at the Trop again. Hey maybe the last two versus the Cards are an indication of things to come.
The bats came alive on Saturday and Sunday particularly those of Casey Kotchman, Justin Ruggiano, Elliot Johnson and Johnny Damon.
The bullpen continues it's struggles, mostly when trying to keep a game in check, as we saw JP 'Gas Can' Howell again get imploded on Friday, although the umpiring helped
This cannot continue especially as we get back to playing ALE rivals BOS and NYY
I'm hoping the FO makes a move, maybe a bullpen arm, or maybe a call up of Lobaton or Jennings
Also Juan Rivera was DFA’d by the Blue Jays. Can he help?
The SP for the most part was stellar in this 3-3 home stand. Let's sweep the Twins and go into the Bronx rolling