Archive for the ‘Tampa Bay Rays’ Category

A Laugher In Miami

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn homered, and Jason Marquis pitched 5.2 solid innings to lead the Nationals to a 9-3 victory over the Florida Marlins in Miami on Monday night. The win was the third in a row for the Nationals — a “laugher” — who have energized their sudden surge by scoring 40 runs in the last five games. On Monday, the Zimmerman-Dunn combination accounted for seven of the nine runs, as Zimmerman hit his 25th and Dunn hit his 33rd home runs. Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse also continued their offensive assault, with both accounting for two hits. The sudden plate production stands in stark contrast to the Nats of just a week ago — when the Anacostia Nine had difficulty scoring against the Braves, Phillies and Cubs, and dropped seven of nine games.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains: It was a bad night for Florida baseball. The official attendance for the Nats-Marlins tilt was given as 18,326, but after a nearly three hour rain delay the Marlins were playing in front of hundreds — not thousands. In the seventh inning, a ballgirl snagged a ground foul along the first base line and trotted towards the seats to hand it to a fan: there was no one there. Then too, it’s an open debate whether anyone scrambled for Adam Dunn’s home run into the right field seats — no fan was even close. If you head to see the Marlins tonight, you might want to look under your seat. When the game finished at 1 a.m this morning, there were more people in Dupont Circle than at the Marlins game. The Marlins are counting on a new stadium to solve their attendance woes, but you have to wonder whether that’s really going to work. There’s a beautiful stadium in Toronto and a good, young team — and they don’t draw a lick . . .

Over in Tampa, where the Rays were taking on the Jays, precisely 11,968 patrons showed up at “The Trop” — an embarrassing non-anomaly for a team that now ranks 23rd in MLB attendance (just behind the last place Nats). The Nationals ranked as high as 19th in attendance this year, but the Rays have never been a notch over where they are right now. Bleacher Report’s J.C. De La Torre says there’s a reason for this: 70 percent of the fans live nearly an hour from the stadium (which is true) and Tampa has the second highest jobless rate in the state. And De La Torre notes that Cincinnati, San Diego and Texas also have attendance problems. They are all first place teams with 62 percent or less in capacity this season.

No matter what the issue, the Rays’ problems are long term and not likely to be resolved anytime soon — and they will have an impact on the franchise, which will see star left fielder Carl Crawford headed out of town (wouldn’t it be nice if he came to Washington, instead of New York) come October. “It was a big letdown,” Crawford said of the sparse crowd. “We came out all fired up and you see that, it’s really depressing.” The Rays desperately need a new stadium, but are locked in a head-to-head battle over whether the team will play in St. Petersburg (where they are now, officially, located) or Tampa — which could be the site of a new stadium in the waterfront area. The battle won’t be joined until after the season, which means that a new stadium (if there is one) won’t be started for at least another year. And no one has yet figured out how a new ballpark will be funded.

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(above: Jason Marquis AP Photo/Wildredo Lee; below: Carl Crawford against the Red Sox in Tampa)


				

Fenway Faithful Ponder Floundering Sox

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Centerfield Gate writer DWilly, a member of the Fenway faithful (but ardent Nats supporter), weighs in on the woes of “the Nation” — despite their win Saturday vs. the Yankees.

So . . . here’s the question: what happened to the Red Sox? I have two answers. First, too many of their regulars got old in a hurry and, second — their highly touted starting pitching was a mile wide, but an inch deep.

At this point, the Red Hose have only four everyday players they can count on – Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and the newly added Victor Martinez. The team hasn’t had consistent play at shortstop since they let Orlando Cabrera walk after the ’04 season. At third base, Mike Lowell is game, but his hip could give out at any moment. Oh, and don’t forget, J.D. “Nancy” Drew came in third in a recent Sports Illustrated list of “which player gets the least out of the most talent.” (He was tied with Elijah Dukes.) Jason Varitek is running on empty. It was painful to listen to last Saturday night’s game vs. Texas when the Rangers stole eight bases. None of Varitek’s throws was even close. Jason Bay had a great first half before going into a prolonged funk. Sure, he’s picked it up a little recently, but he’s still only hitting .255. And then there’s Big Papi. I don’t know whether he’s part of the Dominican tradition of fudging your birth certificate, but he looks a lot older than 33.

Meanwhile, the Sox starting pitching is painfully thin. Brad Penny has won once in his last 11 starts and seems headed for assignment when Tim Wakefield returns on Wednesday. Dice-K is still in rehab, and Junichi Tazawa is unproven. A better bet at this stage may be to ask one of the stellar relievers (like Manny Delcarmen), to go 5 innings every five days and let the bullpen do the rest. Picking up Billy Wagner should help.

It's no use arguing: these are not your '04 or '07 Red Sox

It's no use arguing: these are not your '04 or '07 Red Sox

The tell-tale sign for me that the team’s purported deep pitching staff was really more of mirage came in the days after the July 31 trading deadline. It was reported that Theo Epstein gave the Mariners a list of eight top prospects and told them to pick five in a bid for Felix Hernandez. On that list were Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard and Michael Bowden.  At 22, Bowden has had a mediocre season in AAA and his trade value took a dive with last night’s 2-inning stint vs. the NY Junkees (8 hits, 3 walks, 7 runs). Bard, with his 100 mile-an-hour heater, could be the team’s next closer if they don’t re-sign Papelbon next year. Meanwhile Buchholz, after a pathetic game in Baltimore when he gave up 7 runs in 4 innings, has looked good in the last three starts, particularly his last one when he bested Roy Halladay in Toronto. If the season ended tomorrow, Buchholz would be the third starter in the playoffs after Beckett and Lester. That said, the Mariners’ response to Theo’s offer might have been predicted: they took a pass.

I don’t want to say the Sox won’t make the playoffs. Texas is good, but the Rangers lack a top-line starter. Tampa Bay scares me the most. The Rays are three games behind the Sox in the wild card chase. Boston and Tampa Bay square off six times in the first two weeks of September. It will be a key series and might well determine the season for the Fenway faithful. Sox fans know their team will probably make the playoffs. But they also know that this year’s team is not the same as the one that triumphed in the ’04 and 07 world series. There are just too many holes.

The “Other Hank” . . . and Ian

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Somewhere in the back of every fan’s mind is a list of baseball injustices. For Cubs fans it’s that Ron Santo isn’t yet in the Hall of Fame, for Pirate’s fans it’s that Roberto Clemente wasn’t named the NL MVP in 1960. There’s an argument on the net about whether Tim Raines, one of baseball’s great on base players should be in the hall, whether Jeffrey Maier or Steve Bartman should have been called for interference, whether Satchell Paige was justified in being irritated that Branch Rickey chose Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier. But in terms of pure injustice, few can top the unstated but embarrassing slight suffered by Texas Rangers fans who saw perhaps the game’s best second baseman (who came up as a shortstop in ’04) held out of the all star game. Even Boston Red Sox fans were upset.

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It’s not any easier to talk about the Kinsler slight now that the game is over. Not only is Kinsler a possible AL MVP, the American League went into the St. Louis “Midsummer Classic” with (count ’em) one second baseman — the well-deserving Aaron Hill (who’s an institution on my list of baseball’s most underrated players). Hill became a starter after Dustin Pedroia (here he is, in case you’ve forgotten) decided to spend time with his wife, who’s enduring a difficult pregnancy. To take Pedroia’s place, Hill was made a starter and Tampa Bay Ray Carlos Pena was named to the team. The naming of Pena meant that the AL might have fielded an all-Tampa Bay infield, particularly after Ray’s coach Joe Maddon named hometown favorite Ben Zobrist as a possible second baseman. Zobrist is a hell of a hitter, but Tampa Bay fans look at him as a “super-uilityman” — and he’s played nearly half his games in the outfield and shortstop. And since when does a “super-utility-man” get named to the all star game? Still, there was a chance that Kinsler might appear after Evan Longoria decided not to play, the result of an infection his throwing hand. But AL manager Joe Maddon picked Angels’ third baseman Chone Figgins to take Longoria’s place. Who knows, maybe there’s something about Kinsler that Maddon doesn’t like, but it certainly can’t be his qualifications: he’s hitting .337 with 14 home runs, 58 RBIs, 84 runs and 23 stolen bases — better numbers than any other AL player at the position. Not bad for a guy who finished second in fan voting and got to spend the all star break at a Starbucks in Dallas.

The slight of Ian Kinsler has rightly angered Ranger fans, but this isn’t the first time that a great player and potential MVP was overlooked in “the Midsummer Classic.” In 1954, feared Cubs hitter Hank Sauer was given three days off during the all star break, despite the fact that he was having a phenomenal year. Baseball’s older veterans still talk about the Sauer slight, noting that he’d won the rain-shortened 1952 classic with a home run — a year in which he’d led the league in homers and RBIs — and was one of the game’s most-feared hitters. In 1954, they note, he was having a career year and single-handedly carrying a bad team. Sauer (nicknamed “the Honker” for his big nose) was hardly a defensive whiz (he once misplayed a fly ball during a night game and explained that “I lost it in the moon”) and might have been the slowest outfielder in the National League. But his Wrigley Field blasts were the stuff of baseball lore and Cubs fans loved him: whenever he hit a homer, Cubs fans in the rightfield bleachers showered him with packets of tobacco. On Hank Sauer Day, a celebration of his career, there was so much tobacco on the field that it took five wheelbarrows to remove it. “I loved playing in Wrigley Field,” Sauer remembered during his retirement. “Fans would throw tobacco to me. What I couldn’t put in my pocket, I’d store in the vines. I supplied the whole club with tobacco.”

The Sauer injustice remained unmentioned by the Cubs outfielder throughout his career and into his retirement. When asked about it he dismissed it with a shrug, adding that a lot of people in the league that year were more focused on Chicago’s new rookie phenom — shortstop Ernie Banks. Then too, as Sauer himself would have admitted, he hardly deserved to be on the starting nine in ’54. The NL outfield was packed: with Stan Musial, Duke Snyder and Jackie Robinson, a veritable murderers’ row, named as the league starters. But that Sauer should have been on the team is not in question. The same holds true for Kinsler.

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Nats Bats Sink ‘Stros

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

The Washington Nationals routed the Houston Astros on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, 13-2. The laugher was highlighted by back-to-back-to-back home runs by Nick Johnson, Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn. Craig Stammen went the distance for the win, throwing 107 pitches over nine innings. The win is the highlight of the Nats’ otherwise disasterous season — a game in which everything seemed to work. Nearly everyone in the Washington line-up had a good game: Johnson was 3 for 6, Willingham 3 for 5, Dunn 3 for 4, Gonzalez 4 for 5, Belliard and Guzman 2 for 5 and Nyjer Morgan, now firmed rooted in centerfield, made a flat-out diving catch that made a number of post-game highlight reels. Outside of Stammen’s pitching performance, the hero of the game was Willingham, with two home runs and four RBIs. The former Phish’s performance raised his average to .303, fifty points better than his average last year with the Marlins. Willingham is now an institution in right field and has pushed Austin Kearns out of the line-up. 

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The game was marked more for good hitting than bad pitching, Astros’ starter Mike Hampton said. “When I came out of the game, I was upset because I must have thrown a lot of balls over the middle of the plate. But when I went and looked at the tape, that wasn’t the case. Sometimes you’ve got to tip your cap to the other team. They came out swinging and I thought I made a couple of mistakes early, but for the most part I didn’t feel I made too many terrible pitches, but they were hitting everything. It happens. I wish it wouldn’t, but it was part of the game.” Forgotten, it seems, were the withering criticisms leveled at the Nats just 48 hours earlier by both in-game analyst Rob Dibble and post-game analyst Ray Knight. Both men seemed to back off their claims, that some Nats players were “mailing it in” and that their play was “pathetic.” Dibble, in particular, was nearly eloquent — saying that the team was “talented” and capable of playing good baseball.

Prior to Saturday’s blow-out, Manny Act defended shortstop Cristian Guzman — the target of Dibble and Knight’s more critical comments. “I see a human being,” Acta said. “In the course of 162 games, every player is going to go through a tough time. He is going through a slump right now. The same thing happened to Ryan Zimmerman. It’s a long season. Every one of these guys are going to go through a tough time — offensively and defensively. They are human. That’s why we have to have the patience. It’s very difficult for every one of these guys to be on top of their game for 162 games of the baseball season.” My hat’s off — Manny is defending his players. I get that. And he’s right, it’s “difficult for every one of these guys” to be on top of their game for an entire year. But you won’t hear Terry Francona saying something like this, or Joe Girardi, or Tony LaRussa.  

They don’t need to.

Down On Half Street: Now that Nick Johnson has been healthy for more than 80 games, talk of his departure from the Nats is heating up. MLB Trade Rumors speculates that Johnson may be on the radar of the San Francisco Giants, in a swap for lefty Jonathan Sanchez. But such a trade would be difficult to explain, even for Giants’ GM Brian Sabean: Sanchez’s recent no hitter has made him a San Francisco darling, one of the real “feel good” stories of major league baseball’s first half. Here’s Jonathan Sanchez celebrating his no-hitter, here’s Sanchez getting hugged by his crying father, here’s Sanchez embraced by Randy Johnson . . . here’s Sanchez on his way to the worst team in major league baseball . . . Then too, while you can never have enough pitching, the Nats would be exchanging a sparkplug for a pitcher with a history of struggling on the mound. We already have that here in Washington. Then too, while fans in Frisco might think that Sanchez is now on a par with Lincecum and Cain, we all know that a brilliant single game does not a career make . . . Bob Carpenter opined on the play of Alberto Gonzalez during yesterday’s game, saying that Alberto’s early season muffs at short “are a thing of the past.” We’ll see . . .

Rule 7.05 d: Now here’s something you don’t see every day. In last night’s Tampa Bay Rays vs. Oakland Athletics game, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon was ejected after arguing plate umpire Jeff Nelson’s invocation of MLB Rule 7.05d. The infraction occurred when Rays’ catcher Michel Hernandez used his catcher’s mask to scoop a pitched ball into his glove. Rule 7.05d reads: “Each runner including the batter-runner may, without liability to be put out, advance . . . (d) Two bases, if a fielder deliberately touches a thrown ball with his cap, mask or any part of his uniform detached from its proper place on his person.” I watched the replay of this half-a-dozen times and the ump was right. Maddon later agreed: “That was the right call by Jeff Nelson. I didn’t see it at first, but when I watched the replay, he was right. I went out there to stir it up a bit, and I was wrong.” The ruling would be invoked (as an example) if the centerfielder were to throw his cap at a balhit into the gap, or if a pitcher were to throw his glove in the air at a ball headed to the outfield. But there were problems with Nelson’s ruling, which was correct in fact but not in implementation: Matt Holliday, the A’s baserunner, was awarded one base, when (according to the rule) he should have been awarded two. Tell me I’m wrong.

Oddly, 7.05 (a,b,c, and d) is most talked about among baseball rule wonks for not being invoked — as it was when Bugs Bunny (bear with me) took an elevator to the top of the “Umpire” State Building in the 1946 cartoon “Baseball Bugs.” Bugs throws his glove (successfully) from the top of the building to intercept a ball hit off the bat of a Gas-House Gorilla. The umpire calls the batter out, wrongly. The Gas-House guys on base, according to the rule, should have been awarded to extra bases. The Gas-House batter apparently knows this. “Out?” he asks. In New York harbor, the Statue of Liberty answers: “That’s what the man said, you heard what he said, he said that.” And here the movie ends, with Bugs triumphant over the Gorillas — final score, Bugs 96, Gorillas 95. This is the second time this year I have invoked Bugs Bunny to prove a baseball point.

Must be some kind of record.

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“Kentucky’s” Last Gasp

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

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Our friends over at The Nationals Enquirer speculate that we may be seeing the last of Austin “Kentucky” Kearns — and I’m inclined to agree. Kearns will be the designated hitter for the Nats in Tampa (though he sat the bench last night), but it could be the former Redlegs (sometime) powerhitting rightfielder’s swan song with the Nationals. Kearns continues to struggle to break out of a two year slump. The Nats have clearly run out of patience. What is so surprising about the built-like-a-ballplayer Kearns is that, with the exception of 2006, Kearns never reached his potential. He plays a passable rightfield; in fact, he’s an excellent defensive player. But watching Kearns play rightfield is like watching that little dog with the tutu dancing on her hindlegs: it’s interesting, but what’s the point? The truth is, he never learned to hit major league pitching.

Kearns was “Mr. Baseball” in Kentucky, emerging as a dominant high school pitcher. He was offered a baseball scholarship to the University of Florida, but chose to sign with Cincinnati, and the close-to-home converted outfielder was considered an exceptional prospect. He was drafted #7 overall in the 1998 amateur draft and spent three years in the low minors, where he showed considerable patience at the plate — and a high on-base percentage. But he never hit for power, which bothered the Cincinnati brain-trust. Baseball Prospectus noted that his power blossomed in 2001, and he was soon headed to the majors. But when he showed up in Cincinnati, he started acting like that brilliant but under-achieving child: a kid with enormous talent, but little show for it. The kind of kid that teachers take into the hallway: “Austin, you have so much potential.” And the power disappeared.

But they loved him in Cincy. There’s even a blog of his baseball cards (of which the one above is a good example). He was the home-grown talent who was going to lead the Redlegs to the world series. The bloom came off that rose fast enough and Kearns ended up in Washington. The trade, a Jim Bowden special, was considered a steal at the time, but the Nats are mightily tired Kearns just now. This year, Kearns is hitting .206 with three home runs. There seems little prospect that he’ll somehow reach his potential. After awhile, some .206 hitters are just that: they’re not under-achievers, they’re .206 hitters. Austin’s reaching the end of the line.

Five Things About Yesterday . . . fans of the appropriately named New York Chokes who are consigned to hell will be condemned to watch Luis Castillo’s dropped ninth inning pop fly against “The Empire” for eternity (“on no, not that, anything but that“) as penance for their sins. Don’t miss it. It’s priceless . . . There were three gems pitched last night out west and I tried to watch each of them, switching between games. You don’t get to see this kind of thing very often. In the first, Dan Heren pitched a complete game two-hitter against the Astros, throwing 112 pitches and facing 30 batters. The Showboats won, 8-1. Heren is so damn good it almost gives me cramps . . . in the second, Tim Lincecum pitched a seven hit shut-out against the White Elephants in Oakland. He threw 110 pitches, 76 for strikes and stroked a single with the bases loaded. The Giants won 3-zip. An unbelievable game . . . in the third, one of the game’s great underrated pitchers, Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez threw a 130-pitch complete game against the Mariners, beating them 6-4. Jimenez, who sometimes struggles with his control, is one of the best-kept secrets in the majors. If his arm doesn’t fall off, Jimenez could emerge as one of the game’s great pitchers . . . The Rockies (the Rockies!) have now won nine games in a row . . .  So that’s three complete games in one night in a division that, not counting the Trolleys, stinks . . . and one other thing. Out in Chicago, where Lou Piniella is popping bottles of Pepto Bismol, Milton “they’re picking on me” Bradley tossed an end-of-inning ball to his fans in the bleachers. The only problem was, of course, that it wasn’t an end of inning ball. It was only the second out. “I hadn’t seen that one before, I’ll be honest with you,” Lou said. Which is to say: Lou hasn’t been the manager of the Cubs for that long . . .

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The Two Princes of the Hot Corner

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Zimmerman-Longoria face off in Tampa. Outside of the game-by-game interest of the Washington Nationals-Tampa Bay Rays upcoming tussle, the three-day tilt features an unusual head-to-head match-up between two of the major league’s premier young third-sackers — Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria and Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman. The match-up is of more than passing interest, as the two have a lot in common: Longoria is hitting .307 with 14 home runs and 56 RBIs. Zimmerman has similar numbers: a .316 batting average with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs. You would have to say that Longoria has the edge in the batter’s box — his RBI totals are exceptional for 58 games — though their OBP numbers are nearly dead-even (Zimmerman’s is .393, Longoria’s is .390). But those who give the edge to “Longo” (citing his extra-base RBI binge) will have to give way to those who argue that Zim’s prodigious multi-game hitting streak is likely to remain unmatched for the rest of the year. 

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The two are much alike in many other ways: both were taken in the first five picks of the first year draft (Zimmerman in 2005, Longoria in 2006), both received large bonuses with their initial teams (Longoria’s contract is for six years with options that total out to $44 million; Zimmerman’s is for five years at $45 milli0n), and both play in leagues in which more established New York-based third basemen (Alex Rodriguez in the AL and David Wright in the NL) who garner greater public attention. Finally, both are the face of their respective franchises, though Longoria’s Tampa Bay Rays have (quite obviously) met with far greater success. At least so far. Which, come to think of it, might give the edge to Zim. It’s hard to know how Longoria would react on a team that is “playing for pride” instead of first place, but we know how Zimmerman reacts — he plays hard every day.

Down On Half Street: That we here at CFG would cover Longoria is hardly a coincidence. We received this letter from a constant reader (“Bill” — in Annandale), who took issue with our top ten list of best MLB players. “Dear CFG: putting Zimmerman at number 10 is the most ‘homer’ thing I have ever seen. Evan Longoria has him beat by a mile. That said, the list is about as good as these lists get — it’s lousy. How can you have a list like this and not include Ryan Howard?” . . . And our response? “Who’s Ryan Howard? Oh yeah, the wiff master of Philadelphia.” I think, yes, it’s coming back now; yes, definitely, we remember him . . . ugh . . . For you readers who have similar comments, please note that on our site we have a contact button at the top of the page. We welcome criticism, but not too much of it . . . or put a comment on the comments page. Some readers have actually started to do that. It’s amazing. You write things where it says comments, hit “submit” and then in a little while, if it’s reasonable and not filled with vulgarities (or even if it is, in some cases) it appears;  

The results are in and CFG has finally reached an international audience. Really! We have readers in Hungary (no kidding), Taiwan, Greece, the U.K., Canada (okay, that’s not really a foreign country), Texas and India. We’d have an audience in Lebanon, but no one there really cares. I’m really curious about the India (!) thing, but there it is . . . There was a comment in the Weekly Reader this morning about how MASN had left viewers high and dry (well, not dry) with a continuation of the rain-delayed game against Cincinnati. I have no idea what you people are talking about. After the game was delayed I got a perfect image  . . . and while we’re at it. It’s time to vote for him. It’s time to put him where he belongs: in the starting line-up of the All-Star Game.

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