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Monday Morning Rays Wrap Up: Rays Keep on Rolling Along

ST PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 19:  Outfielder Sam Fuld #5 of the Tampa Bay Rays makes a diving catch against the Florida Marlins during the game at Tropicana Field on June 19, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 19: Outfielder Sam Fuld #5 of the Tampa Bay Rays makes a diving catch against the Florida Marlins during the game at Tropicana Field on June 19, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
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After losing 3 of the first 4 games this week, the Rays went on to sweep the Marlins to push their record over the week to 4-3 and their season record to 39-33 and remain 4.5 games behind the red hot Boston Red Sox. The Rays will end the week in 3rd place in the AL East 2.5 games behind the Yankees and 3 games ahead of the Blue Jays and 5.5 games ahead of the Orioles.  The Rays season had looked all but lost after dropping 3-4 to the Mariners to start the 11 game road trip, but the Rays have responded by winning 9 of their last 13 games. If this team can muster any sort of consistent offense they will be a force to reckon with the remainder of the season. 

This Weeks Notes & Thoughts:

  • The Rays were shut out for the fifth time this season by Josh Beckett and the Red Sox.  
  • The Rays have scored 3 runs or less in 35 games this season which accounts for 48.6% of their games. The Rays are 9-26 in those games and 30-7 in games they score 4 or more runs.
  • Entering Sunday's game, several Rays hitters excelled during the week: Reid Brignac (.286/.583/.429 [1-3 Sunday]), Justin Ruggiano (.308/.286/.615), and Casey Kotchman (.316/.435/.579 [2-3 with an RBI and BB on Sunday]).
  • Reid Brignac has drawn 5 walks this week, he only had drawn 4 walks in April and May combined (h/t to R.J. Anderson).
  • Entering Sunday's game, several Rays hitters struggled during the week: Matt Joyce (.118/.150/.176 [1-4 Sunday]), B.J. Upton (.182/.217/.227 [1-2 with 2 BB on Sunday]), Ben Zobrist (.182/.280/.273 [1-3 with an RBI on Sunday]), John Jaso (.133/.188/.135 [0-2 with a BB Sunday]), and Evan Longoria (.050/.174/.050 [1-4 on Sunday]).
  • Johnny Damon had his team record streak of reaching base via a hit, walk, or hit by pitch at 39 games by Josh Beckett in his 1-hit shutout of the Rays. It was the longest streak in the majors since the Marlins Logan Morrison's 42 games in 2010, but neither streak comes close to Ted Williams record 84 game streak in 1949.
  • James Shields tossed two complete games this week and didn't give up an earned run in either game. Overall, he worked 18 innings, surrendered 9 hits, while striking out 15 and walking only 3. His 2-1 complete game against the Marlins was his fifth complete game on the year and tied him with Joe Kennedy for the team record for complete games in a season.
  • Two plays occurred during the week that scream for expanded instant replay, the sooner the better. The first play occurred in Detroit. Justin Ruggiano tagged up on a fly ball by Casey Kotchman. Joyce Ruggiano initially missed home plate but clearly reached his foot back and tagged home plate and was still called out by the home plate ump. The second play occurred at the Trop and involved a "fan interference" call. Evan Longoria was on first base on a ball hit down the right field line which was touched by a fan. The umpire determined that Longoria would have scored on the play and was awarded home plate on the fan interference ground rule double. Both plays led to lengthy arguments by Joe Maddon and Edwin Rodriguez which subsequently resulted in the managers getting ejected. Both plays should be candidates for instant replay but what form should that take? Should instant replay be completed by umpires in a central office and radioed down to the umpires like in the NHL? Should it be some sort of challenge system like the NFL?  Should certain plays be reviewed upon request by a manager? Should all plays that are eligible for replay be reviewed like in college football?
  • David Price was warned for hitting David Ortiz Kevin Youkilis and there was some chatter on whether or not Price should have retaliated in a game that was so important for the Rays to win. Yes, data indicates that Price was a different pitcher after the benches were warned as he didn't seem to attack the inside corner. In my opinion, David Price has to continue to pitch his game and if the umpire throws him out so be it. 
  • As for the retaliatory hit, if that's what it was, I am all for David Price delivering the message. If there is one rule I'd like to see eliminated from the rule book it would be the warning of benches after hit by pitch/brushback pitches. Hitters continue to wear body armor, crowd the plate, and fearlessly dive into the pitches. The only defense a pitcher has is to stand him up one way or another. 
  • How much of Matt Joyce's struggles are injury related and how much of his struggles are related to the natural regression that many felt he would eventually see. A very interesting look into this question was provided by Paul Sporer with assistance from Jason Collette over at If Matt Joyce's production continues to be hampered by the sore shoulder will he land on the disabled list?
  • The Rays offense has been frustrating almost the entire season. The Rays are now below league average in R/G (4.01), batting average (.243), OBP (.310), SLG% (.391), and HR (65). One problem Joe Maddon seems to have is that he has to allow Evan Longoria (.232/.337/.397) and B.J. Upton (.218/.307/.362) to play in order to come out of their slumps. Is Matt Joyce healthy enough to resume being a solid contributor to the offense? 
  • Reid Brignac deserves a heck of a lot of credit for his performance both defensively and offensively over the last 7-10 days. He seems to be hitting in better counts and not chasing as often as he appeared to be for most of the season as seen by drawing 5 base on balls this week. Have to also give credit for Joe Maddon for removing Brignac from the lineup as much as possible when he did as Brignac was struggling mightily at the plate. The work put in seems to be paying off.
  • What is the end game with Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann? Now that Alex Cobb has proven not to be overwhelmed in the major leagues and thus far a very capable starting pitcher (2-0 with a 2.55 ERA after his 2nd recall), how many poor starts do Niemann and/or Davis get before the Rays decide to bring Cobb back? Could Jeff Niemann be the 2011 version of Scott Kazmir if he puts up a few quality starts between now and the trade deadline? There really is no affordable/experienced starting pitchers on the market this year.

The Rays opened the week in Detroit to play the makeup game for the May 25th rainout versus the Tigers. The game was also the last game of an 11 game road trip which saw the team travel to Seattle, Anaheim, and Baltimore and win or lose in Detroit they were coming home with a winning record on the road trip. Along the way, the Rays had to overcome a nasty stomach flu virus which kept several players out of the lineup during the trip. Phil Coke and Alec Cobb both pitched well and the score was tied at 1 apiece in the top of the seventh inning. The Rays were able to load the base with one out and had a chance to break the game open.  Kotchman sent a medium deep fly ball to Magglio Ordonez in right who camped under it and launched a strike to home plate. Justin Ruggiano had tagged up and slid under the tag of Tiger catcher Alex Avila but his foot missed home plate. Ruggiano reached back and tagged  home plate before being tagged by Avila but home plate umpire John Tumpane, for some inexplicable reason, called him out. The game eventually ended in the tenth inning when Victor Martinez hit a 1-out single and came around to score on a walk off triple by Ramon Santiago off Rays reliever Kyle Farnsworth giving the Tigers a 2-1 victory. After the game Joe Maddon had this to say about the play:

"The replay speaks for itself," Maddon said. "I was kind of disagreeing with the call. That's one of those things where, MLB, we really have to review that stuff. Calls like that happen quite often, and I'm just a little annoyed that sometimes it seems to go against us on the heavy side."--

The Rays returned to Tropicana Field to take on the Red Sox in a 3 game series. Tuesday's game featured Tim Wakefield versus James Shields. The game was scoreless in the fifth until Justin Ruggiano hit a solo home run to give the Rays a 1-0 lead. The Rays added a run in the sixth inning thanks to a Wakefield passed ball and two runs in the eighth inning on singles by Casey Kotchman and John Jaso. James Shields was the story of the game as he shut down a torrid Red Sox lineup by throwing a complete game shutout giving up only 5 hits, striking out 5 while walking 3. After the Rays 4-0 victory, Shields discussed how during some games he is in a complete zone:

"Every once in a while, Joe will yell out something," Shields said, "but when I'm on the mound, I don't really hear too much. I'm kind of in that zone. I can kind of see him over there saying something, but it's like someone talking through a window or something. I'm just so in a zone out there that I can't really hear anything."

On Wednesday evening, Jeremy Hellickson was matched up against Josh Beckett. Hellickson pitched well but Beckett was outstanding surrendering only an infield hit to Reid Brignac. The game was scoreless into the top of the seventh but Dustin Pedroia hit a one-out triple and Joe Maddon decided to intentionally walk Adrian Gonzalez to set up the double play with Kevin Youkilis. Unfortunately, the ground ball wasn't delivered by Youkilis, instead he hit a three run homer giving Josh Beckett all the runs he needed and the Red Sox won the middle game of the series 3-0.

The Rays looked for a series win on Thursday evening and had David Price on the mound against Clay Buchholz. David Price didn't seem himself in terms of velocity and his location seemed a bit off maybe due to being off his game or to the fear stoked after hitting Kevin Youkilis resulted in a warning to both benches. After the warning Price seemed timid about pitching inside which was discussed over at the Process Report (here). The Red Sox scored their first run in the first after Price walked David Price after he hit Youkilis to load the bases and extended their lead to 3-0 on a single by Darnell McDonald and a double by Dustin Pedroia in the second inning. The Rays got a run back in the bottom of the second on a Sam Fuld double and cut the lead to 1 on a solo home run by Casey Kotchman in the sixth. Adrian Gonzalez gave the Red Sox their final run with a solo home run in the top of the ninth to give the Red Sox a 4-2 victory and the series win. Joe Maddon took away the positives from the 3-game set with the Sox:

"It was a really evenly matched three nights," Maddon said. "They scored seven runs and we scored six. We just didn't get them. We just have to figure out how to get another run here every now and then.

"I think [this series] indicates that we're right in there with these guys. Coming in the way they did and how hot they have been, and everything that was going on. I think that we've proven to ourselves and everybody else that we stand toe-to-toe with these guys anywhere." --

The Rays said goodbye to the red hot Red Sox and welcomed in the dead fish Marlins for a weekend series.The Marlins came into Tampa on a 7 game losing streak, 1-15 in the month of June, and 3-18 over their last 21 games. Wade Davis was matched against rookie Brad Hand who was making his 3rd major league start. Davis labored in the first inning throwing 32 pitches but didn't give up a run. The Rays jumped on Hand in the second inning on a 2-run home run by Sean Rodriguez and added a run in the 3rd on a solo home run by Kelly Shoppach.  The Marlins got a run in the fifth inning on a solo home run by John Buck. The Rays added two runs on a semi-controversial play in the eighth. With Matt Joyce on second base and Evan Longoria at first base, Sean Rodriguez hit a ball down the right field line where a fan reached out and touched the ball.  The umpire ruled "fan interference" but in his opinion Longoria was already past  2nd base when the ball was touched and was awarded home prompting an argument from Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez which resulted in his ejection. Wade Davis went 6 innings giving up 1 earned run on 6 hits while striking out 2 and walking 2. The Rays bullpen held the Marlins scoreless over the final 3 innings giving the Rays a 5-1 victory.

Alex Cobb, against the wishes of many, was making his final start with the Rays prior to being sent down to Durham to make room in the rotation for  Jeff Niemann who is coming off the disabled list versus Ricky Nolasco.  With one out in the first Cobb gave up a walk to Emilio Bonifacio who stole second and advanced to third when John Jaso's throw sailed into centerfield and came in to score on an infield chopper fielded by Cobb who made a nice play to retire Logan Morrison at first. The first inning run was the only run Cobb would give up in 6.1 innings pitched.  The Rays immediately answered the Marlins run with one of their own after a lead off double by Johnny Damon (#500 in his career) and a groundout to third by Ben Zobrist advanced Damon to third and he came in to score on a Matt Joyce sacrifice fly. The Rays added two runs in the second inning on a single by Sam Fuld and a double by Reid Brignac. The Rays added a single tally in the third inning on a double by Casey Kotchman and in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly by Matt Joyce. The Rays broke the game open in the bottom of the sixth on a play that personifies the way the Marlins play in the month of June. After getting two quick outs to start the inning Brian Sanches walks Reid Brignac who steals second and advances to third on a throwing error by John Buck. Johnny Damon walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch and Zobrist walked to load the bases. Sanches got Matt Joyce to hit an infield popup that should've been handled by shortstop Hanley Ramirez but Greg Dobbs attempted to make the catch as he drifted further and further toward shortstop. The ball eventually glanced off of Dobbs glove allowing two runners to score to give the Rays a 7-1 lead. The Marlins added single tallies in each of the last three innings off the Rays bullpen to make the final score 7-4 and a winner out of Alex Cobb who improved to 2-0 with 2.55 ERA since his 2nd recall from Durham.

On Sunday the Rays were looking for a series sweep and had James Shields  on the mound for the Rays versus Chris Volstad. The Marlins scored an unearned run off of Shields in the first inning but were unable to touch him the remainder of the game. Shields was given a huge hand by Sam Fuld who made two sensational plays in the eighth inning and was given the go ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning on a RBI single by Casey Kotchman off loogy Randy Choate.  Shields finished off the Marlins and the Rays sent the Marlins to their 10th straight loss with a 2-1 victory. Shields improved his record to 7-4 on the year and lowered his ERA to 2.40.

Randy Choate sounded as perplexed by the Kotchman hit as many of us in DRB have been about many of Kotchman's exploits thus far this season:

"When it rains, it pours," Choate said. "You can use every cliche in the book. I felt I had him beat. They get paid to hit, like I get paid to pitch. Somehow he kept it inside the line. I'm not even quite sure how, because if I put it any more inside, it would have hit him." --

The Rays will head back on the road starting Monday with a 3 game trip to Milwaukee and a weekend series against the Astros. The Rays will send Jeff Niemann against Chris Narveson on Monday, Jeremy Hellickson vs Zach Greinke on Tuesday, and David Price vs Shaun Marcum (?) on Wednesday. After an off day Thursday, the Rays will send Wade Davis versus Wandy Rodriguez on Friday, James Shields vs Bud Norris on Saturday, and Jeremy Hellickson vs J.A. Happ on Sunday.

The Red Sox will host San Diego for three games before heading to Pittsburgh for a weekend series. The Yankees will travel to Cincinnati for a three game series prior to returning home to host the Colorado Rockies for a weekend series. The Blue Jays will be on the road for three games in Atlanta and three games in St. Louis. The Orioles will travel to Pittsburgh for a three game series before heading home to host the Cincinnati Reds for a weekend series.

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. 

What a crazy week Rays fans. We finish up the long road trip with a disappointing make up loss at Detroit and come home to the high flying Red Sox where James Shields slams the door and pitches a CG SHO as we win 4-0. As has been the case the bats again go cold and we lose two close games and the series. So things aren't looking good as we've dropped three of four. 

In come the Marlins and it was just what the doctor ordered as we get outstanding pitching, Shields again needs to be singled out and we sweep the Marlins, despite an erratic offense. So for the week we end up 4-3 and are still 'in the hunt'

We need Longoria (.083 week's BA) and Joyce .143) to step it up and be the offensive leaders of this team. Again the hitting star has to be >ducks< Casey Kotchman .345/.409/.481) with some timely hitting by Kelly Shoppach and Sean Rodriguez to go along with him.

It's on to Milwaukee and Houston.
Go Rays!!