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Monday Morning Rays Wrap Up: A Better Place

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We've come a long way since last Sunday when the Rays checked with a record of 2-8 and were dealing with the national spectacle of Manny Ramirez and his sudden retirement because of a failed drug test.   The week ended with a loss in Chicago which saw Joe Maddon ejected and then responded by ejecting each of the umpires.  The Rays were off to Fenway to meet up with the Red Sox who were equally desperate for wins.

The Rays finished the week with a 5-1 record to push their season record to 6-9.  The starting pitching showed their ability to give Joe Maddon quality innings as Price, Shields, Davis, Niemann, and Hellickson all gave the Rays 7 or more innings pitched.   One of the biggest fears of the offseason was the rebuilding of the Rays bullpen and the rebuilt bullpen is starting to settle into their roles.  The pen worked 14 innings this week, giving up 5R, 2ER, walking 6 and striking out 12.  The offense is still struggling to score runs but Evan Longoria should be back within the next two weeks and provide a presence in the middle of the lineup that is sorely missed. 

What do you feel was the most positive sign for the Rays this week?

  • The emergence of Sam Fuld in LF and at the top of the batting order.  He has been compared to Brett Butler, Scott Posednik, and Dave Roberts.  Who do you liken him to? 
  • The stability of the bullpen.  Do you have any doubt in Peralta, Cruz, Russell, and Farnsworth or our you confident that the group can shut teams down?
  • The impressive offensive performance by Matt Joyce?  Can we look forward to Joyce providing adequate protection for Evan Longoria upon his return?
  • The starting pitching going 7 innings or more in each of their last turns through the rotation.  How many teams will be able to boast that claim during the course of the season?  
  • Was any player on the Rays any more clutch (just love using that phrase) than Johnny Damon last week?
  • Has the prospect of the Rays being a contender in the AL East returned or are you of the belief that the teams lack of offensive production will doom them?

What happened in Fenway on Monday night was something that we needed more than anything.  Not only did the Rays break out of their season long offensive slump by banging out 19 hits on the way to scoring 16 runs, but a cult hero was born.   Because of the retirement of Manny Ramirez the Rays were able to move Johnny Damon to DH and give little used outfielder Sam Fuld the opportunity to start in LF.  The 29 year old Fuld seized the opportunity and went 4-6 with 4 extra base hits and the #LegendofSamFuld was born.  The game also featured Jeremy Hellickson's first career start in Fenway Park and he was up the challenge earning the win by going 5.1 innings and only giving up 2 runs on the evening. 

Following up Sam Fulds electrifying performance in Fenway was David Price who showed why he is a true ace.  Price held the Red Sox to 2 runs on 5 hits over 7.2 innings (116 Pitches) and the Rays offense mustered 3 runs against Jon Lester.  The Rays bullpen came into their first high leverage situation on the year and shut the Red Sox down over the last 1.1 innings without giving up a hit.  Kyle Farnsworth worked an impressive 9th inning by striking out Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew before getting David Ortiz to fly out to right and picked up his second save on the season.

The Rays final game in Boston was rained out but the day off did not seem to stall the Rays momentum.  The Rays returned home to face the Minnesota Twins and James Shields provided the Rays 7 solid innings and held the Twins to 2 runs.  The Rays offense remained dormant through the first 8 innings but came alive against struggling Twins closer Joe Nathan.  The Rays tied the game on a key 1-out 2 run double by Matt Joyce.  The Rays bullpen gave up a run in the top of the 10th but the offense came right back on Twins reliever Matt Capps.  With one out in the bottom of the 10th, Sam Fuld drew a walk and Johnny Damon homered to give the Rays a walk off victory. 

Wade Davis gave the Rays 7 strong innings on Friday night and the Rays offense got to Nick Blackburn in the 5th inning on their way to a relatively easy 5-2 victory.  The bullpen gave up one earned run over the final two innings and Kyle Farnsworth came in with two out in the bottom of the ninth to earn a 5 pitch save by striking out Michael Cuddyer.

Jeff Niemann followed the nice trend of giving the team solid innings by working 7 strong innings on Saturday evening and limiting the Twins to 3 runs.  The Rays trailed 3-1 after 7 innings but were able to add a solo tally off Matt Capps in the 8th inning to draw within a run at 3-2.   The Twins once again turned to Joe Nathan to shut the door and put Thursday's evening blown save behind him.  Ben Zobrist, mired in a 5-37 slump greeted Nathan with a solo home run to tie the score at 3 and the Rays offense wasn't done.  BJ Upton drew a walk and stole second base and Casey Kotchman drew a walk to put runners at 1st and 2nd with nobody out and John Jaso due up.  In a hard to understand move, Joe Maddon had John Jaso swing away and he flied out.  Jose Mijares replaced Joe Nathan and he struck  out Elliot Johnson for the second out before walking Sam Fuld to load the bases for Johnny Damon.  Damon fell behind in the count 1-2 before lining a walk off single to right. 

The Rays and Jeremy Hellickson dropped the series finale 4-2.  The Rays were a victim of some nice plays by the Twins in the field and by their own shortcomings in the inability to get the timely hit, poor baserunning, and some questionable fielding. 

The Rays enter the week 3.5 games behind the New York Yankees.  This week sees the Rays host the Chicago White Sox in a 4 game series and then travel to Toronto for a 3 game set against the Twins.  The pitching matchups for the Chicago Series are Edwin Jackson vs David Price on Monday, John Danks vs James Shields on Tuesday, Phil Humber vs Wade Davis on Wednesday, and Gavin Floyd vs Jeff Niemann on Thursday.  The White Sox are struggling right now and are 7-8 and have lost their last 4 in a row.  The pitching matchups for the Toronto series are Jeremy Hellickson vs Jo Jo Reyes on Friday, David Price vs Jesse Listch on Saturday, and James Shield vs Brandon Morrow on Sunday. 

Here's hoping the Rays have another winning week and edge closer to that .500 mark and survive while waiting for the return of Evan Longoria.  For more data and more fun facts then you can shake a stick at check out the Game Notes provided by (here).

Now, there can't  be much to complain about after a 5-1 week but let's see what Sternfan1 has to say this week:

It certainly is nice to talk to you after a 5-1 week, including two wins in Boston and a near sweep versus the Twins. Bats like Matt Joyce and Johnny Damon finally got untracked, the starting pitching worked deep into games, and Joe's mix and match bullpen did fine.

Now it wouldn't be complete if I didn't include some negativity, so here it goes. The Rays of old would pride themselves with scoring runs without high batting averages.  The low BA hasn't changed, but what has is their OBP - dead last as of Sunday at .280. This has to improve.

Two players I think are total wastes are Ben Zobrist and Dan Johnson. I'm easing off Brignac and Jaso, because not that much offense was expected of them.  On the other hand, Zobrist and Johnson are middle of the order hitters with both power, on base prowess, and production being expected. And so far -- nothing. In the case of Zobrist, who someone astutely wrote a fanpost last year titled One Hit Wonder, we're stuck, having committed $17 million dollars to him. With Johnson, I say cut him loose and the sooner the better, and go after Russell Branyan. Johnson hasn't really played much in MLB since 2007, and now I know why.