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Rays Monday Morning Wrap Up: Stuck in Idle

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The Rays went 3-4 this week and remain tied with the Yankees on top of the A.L. East with a record of 26-21 (percentage points behind New York) with Boston only a half game out of first. The Rays welcomed back J.P. Howell and Justin Ruggiano and said good-bye to Dan Johnson and Rob Delaney. The Rays played over .700 baseball in raising their record from 1-8 to 24-17 and we all knew that the team was going to give some games back, and this week was one of those weeks where the team took a step back. The good news is if a bad week is 3-4 then the Rays will be able to hang around playoff contention deep into the season. We have to remember that we play in a division where we are never going to run away  and be comfortable, therefore, we are going to have to deal with the peaks and valleys as best we can. Looking back at the 2010 Rays and noting that the team started out 32-12 before heading into a 12-20 tailspin, so the team can certainly rebound from a 3-4 week.

This Weeks Notes & Thoughts:

  • Entering Sunday's games, several Rays hitters excelled during the week. Johnny Damon (.409/.435/.545), Casey Kotchman (.353/.389/.412), Sean Rodriguez (.33/.500/.667), Elliot Johnson (.333/.357/.750), and Matt Joyce (.300/.417/.650).
  • Entering Sunday's game several Rays struggled during the week. John Jaso (.154/.214/.231), Sam Fuld (.133/.222/.333), Evan Longoria (.091/.200/.136), and Ben Zobrist (.087/.222/.130).
  • Reid Brignac went 0-8 during the week, dropping his season slash line to .170/.210/.180 covering 106 PA. In the month of May (39 PA) he has put up a  slash line of .081/.105/.108. Brignac is currently not with the team due to the death of his grandfather and will not return to the team until Friday against the Indians. I do not know how much longer Joe Maddon can continue to give at-bats to Brignac. I am a believer in a good defensive shortstop and anything you can get offensively is a bonus, but there is a floor to the offensive production and as of today Brignac is well below that floor.
  • Sam Fuld has been removed from the leadoff spot. Overall on the year he is hitting .229/.279/.349 covering 180 PA and in the month of May he is hitting .145/.157/.232 while striking out 13 times and drawing 1 walk.
  • With Felipe Lopez back on the 25-man roster will he see time at DH while Johnny Damon plays LF? Will Felipe Lopez remain with the team for a few weeks while Reid Brignac gets straightened out in Durham?
  • Should Andy Sonnanstine continue to start games for the Rays or should they summon Alex Cobb, demote Brandon Gomes, and return Andy Sonnanstine to his long relief role?
  • Should Joe  Maddon finally park Sean Rodriguez at shortstop and bat him eighth in the lineup for an extended period to see if those splits can improve? 
  • If the Rays were to sign Russell Branyan, wouldn't Joe Maddon put him at DH and put Johnny Damon in LF? The Rays were comfortable with Damon in LF when they signed he and Manny, so why would that plan change if Russell Branyan was brought on board?
  • Allow me to take this moment to thank Dan Johnson for all the great memories he provided as a member of the Rays. From his 2008 game tying home run off of Papelbon (video here), to his first career walk off home run in 2010 against the Scott Atchinson of the Red Sox (video here), or the two home runs against the Yankees in September of 2010 (video here). There is always a chance that the Great Pumpkin returns at some point this summer and rises up to help the Rays to more post-season magic in 2011. If this happens, I don't know if any Rays fan would be unhappy.

This week began with the Yankees making their first appearance to Tropicana Field. The Yankees jumped out to a 5-1 lead against David Price and Yankee starter A.J. Burnett looked to be in total control as he pounded the strike zone through the first 5 innings. Burnett's night turned sour as the Rays erupted for 5 runs in the bottom of the sixth to take a 6-5 lead. The inning featured a lead off double by John Jason and a 2-run home run by Sam Fuld to cut the lead to 5-3. Burnett retired the next two hitters before giving up a single to Evan Longoria who would advance to second on a wild pitch and score on a single by Matt Joyce to cut the Yankees lead to 5-4. After another wild pitch advanced Matt Joyce to second base, B.J. Upton launched a 2-run homer on a hanging curveball to put the Rays ahead 6-5. Joe Maddon went to Juan Cruz, Joel Peralta, and Kyle Farnsworth to work the final four innings and the trio was able to hole the Yankees scoreless and give the Rays a 6-5 win.  The win pushed the Rays lead over the Yankees in the AL East to 3 games and extended the Yankee losing streak to 6 games. One interesting note provided on the MLB.com game recap: 

Entering Monday's game, the Rays had started the season by going 22 games at home without scoring more than five runs in a game, leaving the club four games short of the modern record of 26 set by the Brooklyn Superbas in 1908.    

In the second game of series, the Rays offense reverted back to their home struggles against Yankees starter Ivan Nova.  James Shields worked 7 strong innings giving up 4 runs (3 earned) on 8 hits including two solo home runs by Alex Rodriguez. The Rays entered the sixth down 2-1 and loaded the bases with one out for B.J. Upton and Casey Kotchman but the rally was squashed as Yankee reliever David Robertson struck out B.J. Upton swinging and Casey Kotchman looking. The momentum continued to swing the Yankees way as they added two runs off James Shields in the top of the 7th and two more runs off of Brandon Gomes in the ninth on their way to a 6-2 victory which ended the Yankee losing streak at 6 games. The Rays ended the game with a 2 game lead in the AL East but facing a tough 8 game road trip that sees the team travelling to Toronto, back to Miami, and back to Detroit before returning back to Tropicana Field.

The Rays started their 8 game road trip in Toronto against former Devil Ray bat boy Jesse LItsch. The Rays jumped out to an early 6-0 lead thanks to 4 Blue Jay errors (of their 5 errors they committed on the day). The Blue Jays scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings and two runs in the sixth to cut the Rays lead to 6-4. In the top of the ninth inning, the Rays had an opportunity to put the game away by  loading the bases with 1-out, but Jason Frasor struck out B.J. Upton  looking and enticed Casey Kotchman to swing at a ball around his eyes keeping the score at 6-4 entering the bottom of the ninth inning. The Blue Jays were able to cut the lead to 6-5 before Kyle Farnsworth struck out Cory Patterson looking to end the game and give the Rays a 6-5 victory.  

Wade Davis and Ricky Romero locked up in a pitchers duel in the brief two game series finale. Ricky Romero held the Rays to 1 run on 3 hits over 7 innings. Wade Davis continued to pitch to contact and had held the Blue Jays to one run through the first six innings, but gave up a home run to J.P. Arencibia in the seventh inning. Kelly Shoppach hit a solo homer off of Toronto reliever Mark Rzepcynski to cut the lead to one, but the Rays were unable to push the tying run across and lost the game 3-2

Prior to Friday's opening game against the Marlins, the Rays made a series of roster moves including activating J.P. Howell off the disabled list, designating Dan Johnson for assignment, and calling Justin Ruggiano up from Durham to take Johnson's spot. Joe Maddon's lineup also featured John Jaso in the leadoff spot which paid immediate dividends as Jaso led off the game with a single and scored on a 2-run triple by Matt Joyce to give Andy Sonnanstine an early 2-0 lead. The Marlins scored 1 run off Andy Sonnanstine in the first and surrendered a 2-run homer to Mike Stanton in the fourth inning. Sonnanstine, making his third consecutive start, lasted five innings, gave up 3 runs, on 7 hits, 1 strike out, and no walks. J.P. Howell entered the game in the sixth, one year and one day after his surgery, and pitched a scoreless sixth inning. The Rays tied the score in the 7th inning on a 1-out single by Casey Kotchman and had runners at first and second for Elliot Johnson who grounded into a double play to end the inning. The Marlins would add two runs off of Cesar Ramos in the eighth inning, including a sacrifice fly to first baseman Casey Kotchman, on their way to a series opening 5-3 victory.

The Rays looked to David Price to end their two game losing streak and the offense was expecting to be able to score against struggling Marlins starter Javier Vazquez. Neither David Price nor Javier Vazquez followed the script as David Price never looked like his normal self giving up 5 runs in 6.2 innings, while the Rays offense was unable to score on Javier Vazquez through 7 innings. The Rays were able to mount a rally in the eighth inning as Joe Maddon emptied his bench (using five pinch hitters) against seemingly all of the Marlin relief pitchers. The Rays scored their only three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and lost the game 5-3 to run their losing streak to 3 games and their 3 game lead over the Yankees evaporate.

What the Rays wanted from David Price and the offense from David Price on Saturday they received on Sunday against replacement starter Jay Buente making his season debut. The Rays loaded the bases with one out in the second inning and James Shields sent what seemed to be an inning ending double play ball to Marlins third baseman Greg Dobbs allowing a run to score and the bases to remain loaded. Elliot Johnson sent a slow roller to second which allowed the second run to score giving the Rays an early 2-0 lead. The Rays scored two more runs in the third inning on three extra base hits. Evan Longoria hit a one-out ground rule double and scored on a double by Matt Joyce who scored on a triple by Casey Kotchman. The Rays were held scoreless the remainder of the game but James Shields had all the runs he needed. Shields was the story on the day, throwing a complete game 3 hit shutout, striking out 13 while only issuing one walk (which came in the ninth inning). Shields improved to 5-2 on the year and lowered his ERA to 2.00.

The Rays will head back north to take on the Detroit Tigers for a three game series before returning home to a well deserved off day on Thursday before a three games series with the Cleveland Indians. The Rays will send Jeremy Hellickson against Phil Coke on Monday, Wade Davis versus Justin Verlander on Tuesday, and Andy Sonnanstine versus Brad Penny on Wednesday.  On Friday night the Rays will send James Shields versus Josh Tomlin,  Saturday will be James Shields versus Carlos Carrasco,and Sunday's matchup will be Jeremy Hellickson versus Justin Masterson.

The New York Yankees begin the week tied with the Rays on top of the AL East and will host the Blue Jays before heading to Seattle. The Red Sox are a 1/2 game out of first and will be on the road against the Indians and Tigers. The Blue Jays begin the week 2.5 games out of first and will begin the week in New York before returning home to hostithe White Sox. The Orioles begin the week 4 games out of first and are home against Kansas City before heading out west to take on the A's.  

SF1 has had many contrary opinions over the course of this season, so let's see what he has to say about the team moving forward.

Hello again DRB friends and fellow Rays fans. This week saw the Rays play in three different cities and battle three very good teams. It produced a 3-4 record. With our offense still struggling, no #5 SP giving us any help, that is not all that bad.

James Shields acted like an ace on Sunday and blanked the Marlins on 3 hits and 13K. It also gave the pen a much needed rest.

Casey Kotchman and Matt Joyce continue to carry the offense.

What I'd like the Rays to do is play Sean Rodriguez on a much more consistent basis. Our other options are what? Elliot Johnson should never be more than strictly a UTL player maybe getting a start every two weeks. Send Reid Brignac down and keep Flip up; not that I like him, but he's better than what Brignac is giving you.

Let Sean Rod play mostly SS and bat him 8th and tell him to have some fun, and Go Rays