- Obviously, any analysis of this game has to start with RHP Andy Sonnanstine, who pitched an absolutely phenomenal game to earn his first victory of the year. The complete game, three hit shutout of the Chicago White Sox simply could not have come at a better time for the Rays right-hander, who had an ERA close to nine entering the game. If one start is ever going to save a Rays pitcher's rotation spot, you just saw it. Essentially, Sonnanstine succeeded by pitching to contact and, to go along with that, being economical with his pitch count. He didn't try too hard to strike every hitter out, as he did on Monday against New York, but he showed tremendous command over the location of his pitches, and that ultimately was what allowed him to be effective using the strategy he employed. He was not only able to locate his pitches for strikes, but he was also able to locate his pitches in the strike zone so that when hitters did make contact, the ball didn't travel 440 feet. To summarize, Sonnanstine employed the Mark Buehrle strategy to outpitch Mark Buehrle this evening. If he continues on this tract, he will definitely find success. But, like Buehrle showed today, this pitching model carries some risk. There will be games that his command is off and hitters are able to spray the ball all over the field and chase you from the ballgame. But if Sonnanstine is able to show more of what he did well tonight on a consistent basis, he will be more than adequate as a back of the rotation starter. For now though, he lives another day in the starting rotation. We'll see which Sonnanstine shows up on Friday against Boston.
- Even a 5-0 shutout has its down points, and most of them came on the basepaths this evening for the Rays. Suffice it to say, the kind of poor play on the bases shown tonight by LF Carl Crawford, RF Jonny Gomes, and CF B.J. Upton needs to stop.
- That Gomes was able to make it in safely to second base on his pickoff in the second inning is irrelevant. Just because the other team manages to be more incompetent than you on a given play doesn't mean that you're in the clear. This issue is frustrating during any game, but it's particularly obnoxious when it keeps happening in bunches. It happened at least once at third base last night, and I know it happened multiple times in the Minnesota series. In a close game, these blunders could have meant the difference between winning and losing, and the problem needs to be rectified.
- What's especially concerning is seeing Crawford scuffling so much. For someone who has won the stolen base title multiple times in his playing career, he has sure gotten himself into plenty of baserunning blunders this week, the latest being a pick off and caught stealing in the first inning of tonight's ballgame. The caught stealing was his first of the season, and he still has an 80% success rate on the year, but the incident today was just a new twist on a baserunning problem that has taken on many other forms over the last week. He obviously hasn't forgotten how to run the bases, and I expect that he'll take care of the problem shortly, but the longer it lasts, the more potentially devastating it becomes to the team.
- As for Upton, perhaps the team needs to evaluate how much latitude they're going to give him on stealing bases. A relatively decent success rate last year has given way to a 57% sucess rate in seven attempts thus far into the 2008 season. That's bad enough, but worse still is his overrun of third base in the seventh inning that ended the inning and cost the Rays a runner in scoring position. That type of mistake is simply a killer, and it is one that the team can't afford to see him constantly repeating game-in and game-out. I don't know what Upton's problem is, but he's been making a ton of mental mistakes this week. He has been the poster boy for the team's baserunning and mental blunders.
- But what fun is it to be a Debbie Downer on a day your team shut out the opposition 5-0? Seriously, we don't get enough of these wins for me to be pouting further. On Upton, for instance, it is well worth noting that he had a 3 for 4 day, continuing an impressive streak with the bat. And Gomes followed up his baserunning blunder with a triple later on that was mere inches from being a home run over the center field fence. Even Crawford put up a two hit effort. Pretty much the only offensive player that didn't contribute in some way to the team's victory was 3B Evan Longoria, who went 0 for 4 while grounding into two double plays.
- More good news to come from Saturday's game, irrespective of performance on the field, was the return of DH Carlos Peña from a two game hiatus due to a strained hamstring. Peña suffered the injury while running to first base during Wednesday's game in Minnesota against the Twins, and he was held out of the two subsequent contests. The Rays are immensely lucky that the damage done to his hamstring wasn't enough to land him a place on the DL. The team cannot afford for any more bats to be taken out of commission due to injury, especially Peña's. With a day game tomorrow, the team could elect to sit him or play him once again at DH before Monday's day off. Either way, easing Peña back in is a lot easier with the day off in play, the Rays' first since April 3rd.
- Oh yeah, Peña wasn't too shabby with the bat either, going 2 for 3 with a walk.