As the season winds down and dreams of playoff games at the Trop fade, we all need to find ways to keep our interest levels high. That's not to say every fan tunes out, but its only natural for a little of the enthusiasm to fade. In this installment of Deep Thoughts Steve and I discuss some things we'll be looking for over the last third of the season.
Erik: Late last season I wrote a piece which voiced the opinion that I'd enjoy the 2011 season more than 2010, even though I knew the team would be worse. That opinion was based on the fact that watching younger players get their shot is ultimately more exciting and entertaining, to me at least. It took awhile for the Rays to involve some of those younger players -- Desmond Jennings and Jake McGee specifically -- but they're finally getting their shot and even though the team has been struggling I find myself receiving more entertainment now than I did in May, etc.
Steve: Your post from last year mirrored my thoughts too; I was really looking forward to watching the young players play, and hopefully having a season with relaxed expectations. But then, despite looking forward to 2011, I found the beginning of this year frustrating and painful to watch at times (as evidenced by my post a couple weeks ago).
So I'm left asking myself: is it really as much fun to watch rebuilding teams and young players as I thought it was? Or was that simply me romanticizing the rebuilding process, and forgetting how painful it can be to watch teams that aren't quite as good? I go back and forth on this, but now that Jennings is finally up, I am definitely enjoying watching games more than I was a few weeks ago. So there's that.
Erik: Well, I don't mean to call you out, but if you didn't watch the 1998-2007 Devil Rays as intently as a lot of people then you may not find watching rebuilding, or bad in most cases, teams going through the grind that enjoyable. I can't speak for everyone here, but I learned to adapt and to enjoy the little things about it, like watching a young Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, or Scott Kazmir. When you've tasted some success like the Rays have, sure, it makes it harder to go back, but it's still there. Like I said a few weeks ago, we're only disappointed with this season because we built our own expectations up higher than the team that was presented to us.
Steve: I did follow the Rays closely then! But I didn't have MLB.tv until a few years ago, so that could certainly be part of it; Gameday can only convey so much pain. Although I swear, "In Play, Run(s)" can be either the most damning phrase in the world or one of the most beautiful.
And that hits the nail on the head: I think us fans set our expectations higher than the Rays did, and clung on to contention hopes far longer than them too. As much as I admitted it to myself that the Rays didn't have that strong a team, I kept holding out contention hope for a while simply because accepting the alternative wasn't attractive. If the Rays were out of it, I wanted to see youth; I wanted to see Desmond Jennings. At least now we can enjoy the little things over the remainder of this year, and hopefully see some good signs for 2012.
Erik: So what exactly are you looking for now that the team is virtually out of it? My list would include the continued Redemption Tour by James Shields, Jake McGee's performance after some tweaks at Durham, Desmond Jennings, and the the continued excellence of Ben Zobrist.
Steve: I want to see some "process" stuff from the likes of Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce. One of the biggest questions going into this year was much we could expect from both those guys, and so far we're beginning to get an idea.
Joyce has hit well overall, but has struggled since his shoulder injury and still has trouble against lefties. And I'm very interested to see how Rodriguez does at shortstop. That position is a big hole for the Rays going forward, so it'd help a lot if he can be even decent there defensively.
Also, how good are Niemann and Davis, and which bullpen pieces are actually going to stick and work out? Those are some other big questions to watch down the stretch.
Erik: Those are good points about Rodriguez and Joyce. It seems as if Rodriguez is being given an opportunity to prove he can handle the shortstop job full time. That's another one of the "young" players I was talking about. I think Davis has been a bit of a disappointment this season, but that's mainly because of his new philosophy. Will he keep it up? Will he make some more tweaks? Will he revert back to the old form?
Another thing to watch for is which players get moved in waiver wire deals. I could see one or two relievers being shipped out in a situation like that.
Steve: Yup, I wouldn't be surprised if the Rays make a deal or two over the waiver wire, but it's not going to be anything major. Kelly Shoppach for a bag of chips? Sure, what the hey? It's all about maneuvering into a better spot going into next season.
What are your feelings on the six-man rotation? I know that's gotten a lot of grief recently, but if the Rays are out of it, why not?
Erik: I like it. It keeps the arms they have fresher in a season that is not going to end in a playoff birth. It also gives Cobb major league experience in case one of the other starters gets moved in the off season. There's nothing not to like. Sure, the team has struggled since it was implemented but I'm not going to blame a small sample like that on using a six man rotation
Steve: My thoughts exactly. There's no sense tiring out Shields, Price, and Hellickson down the stretch this year, and any excuse to see more of Cobb is exciting.
All right, another rapid fire question: do the Rays finish the season ahead of the Blue Jays or not?
Erik: I'll say yes, but it doesn't really matter, does it? They're both teams that would likely be leading the AL Central, but don't have a chance at the playoffs. What's the difference between a third and fourth place finish? Hell, if it gets them a higher draft pick I'm not going to be upset.
Here's one for you: Of the players on the current 25 man roster, how many do you expect will be with the Rays in 2012?
Steve: Hmm, interesting question. I'll go with 19. I don't think Kotchman will be back (unless he's willing to accept a deal similar to this season), and I also think Damon will have moved on. The Rays will lose one outfielder (Upton or Ruggiano) and one starter (take your pick), and the Rays will undoubtedly not use Shoppach's option. And then as for the bullpen, I see the majority of the arms out there sticking around to next season, with the possible exception of Joel Peralta.
Erik: I could see Juan Cruz getting a better offer elsewhere, and maybe Damon doesn't come back if the Rays can find a better DH option, but other than those examples I agree with your assessment.
"Ambition is like a frog sitting on a Venus Flytrap. The flytrap can bite and bite, but it won't bother the frog because it only has little tiny plant teeth. But some other stuff could happen and it could be like ambition."