TAMPA BAY: 10
Jeff Niemann: Five K's, one walk, and four hits over six innings is pretty much everything you hope for from your fifth starter. Plus, according to Madd0n, Niemann was going to be allowed to start the bottom of the seventh--after all, he'd only thrown 90 pitches--but after the seven-batter, 1-run top of the inning, Maddon pulled the plug and brought in J.P. Howell to protect the lead, which, it should be noted, he failed to do.
Grant Balfour: The Mad Australian looked his old self again, coming on with two baserunners and getting a strikeout to end a 2-run Marlins 7th. For this, Balfour got the win, and he gets his cheese from this site.
Ben Zobrist: 3-5 at the plate, including a double, with a run and a ribbie. The recently-oded (brilliant, that!) Zorilla continues to put the super in super-utility.
Jason Bartlett: JB batted in his 27th, 28th, and 29th runs, scored one, stole his 13th base, and went 2-5 with his 11th double. He did leave five men on base, but overall, yet another strong night for the Rays shortstop. This guy is, apparently, all out of bubblegum (note: linked video contains one marginally bad word, but it makes the point so beautifully, and comes from such an excellent movie, that I just had to include it here).
Melvin Upton: Though he's still in the doghouse, Upton made a couple of excellent plays in the field, and also went 2-4 with a run, an RBI, and a walk. And he did not strike out all game. That's more like it.
Plate Discipline: It's not often that the Devil Rays walk more than they strike out, but tonight they went 9:8. Well done. Now if they could just make sure to turn more of those free passes into runs...
Evan Longoria: For starters, let me say that this whine has nothing to do with the Dirtbag's play tonight. Watching him leave the game after being hit by a pitch on the elbow is terrifying. Supposedly, he's fine--just "one of those good ol' contusions," according to this article. We certainly hope so, but we'll also be holding our breath to see what happens to the current front-runner for this year's AL MVP. For the record, Longoria was replace by pinch-running Reid Briegnac, who came around to score in the 6-run 9th.
Clutch Hitting: It's hard to complain about this after a game the Devil Rays won by seven runs, but 6-20 with RISP is not good. The final score suggests that the Rays won easily. They didn't. If not for the explosion in the 9th, it's a one-run squeaker (and the Rays are 5-7 in one-run games, so there's every reason to think they might've lost). It didn't have to be that close coming into the 9th. While I appreciate the continued effort, and I'm thrilled the Rays won by a large margin for the second night in a row, this (1) ought to have been Niemann's win, and (2) ought to have been a blowout earlier. Against teams like the Red Sox and Yankees, or even the Blue Jays, Twins, Angels, and (maybe) Tigers, the Rays will not get so many chances. If they're going to contend over the long haul, they need to do better.
Gabe Kapler: Can somebody please explain to me why this guy starts games? He's not better at the plate, on the basepads, or in the field than Zobrist or Gross, so what's he doing out there?
Watching Upton play this year has, heretofore, made me think of this. Though he shows signs of coming around, he remains on notice at this site. His 2-4 showing tonight, including a double, an RBI, and an all-too-rare walk, is good, and he's almost got his average up to the Mendoza line (as of the end of tonight's game, he's at .196, though his slugging and OBP are both under .300). But there's no reason why we ought to be excited about that in late May. To get his numbers anywhere near where they should be by the end of the year, Upton will need to get very hot sometime in the very near future. Until then, the RocketScientist and I have at least one (actually, we have several) headline hopes in common: "Jason Bartlett Leads Game Off with Homerun."
Just in case the Red Sox have caused anybody to forget to hate the Yankees over the past couple years, here's a little reminder as to why they shouldn't be overlooked.
There are a number of different reasons to dislike inter-league play. A few minor disappointments are listed here, but many are more important. For example, the match-ups are arbitrary and uneven, the so-called natural rivalries are often laughable (sure, there's something to Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox, or maybe Royals-Cardinals, but Rays-Marlins, or Rangers-Astros? Give me a break), and it devalues meetings such as the All Star Game and, of course, the World Series. I agree with others that the whole idea ought to be either (1) scrapped, or (2) made the rule rather than the exception. That is, MLB should either get rid of the entire notion that the AL and NL are discrete leagues until the final series of the post-season, or they should go back to the old days, where AL and NL met twice a year, once in the Mid-Summer Classic, and once, more importantly, in the Fall Classic. Even though the Rays have a favorable interleague schedule this year (Florida and Colorado? Yes please!), and other teams have less favorable ones (witness, for example, the Mets taking, so far, 2 of 3 from the Sox), the system as it exists is--not to put too fine a point on it--crap.
Be sure to check out Report Card Time, in which our DirtbagFan drops some knowledge and passes some judgment on our Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Overall, I have to agree with his grade for the team thus far. The Devil Rays have earned that C, and they justly deserve the return of the once-exorcised Devil, who will, until further notice, accompany the Rays on this blog and others.
This site has wondered aloud about what ought to be done with Kazmir. His struggles, which have been on-going, more or less, since last year's All Star break, have been both profound and frustrating. Yet we, and the Devil Rays, ought to be careful. Kaz is still a big league talent. The trick has got to be figuring out what in the world is going on. One wonders whether he's been trying to do too much. There was talk about his need to develop his secondary pitches, and it's possible that, in the attempt to do so, he's lost track of his primary pitches. I'm no pitching coach (in fact, the profundity of my own lack of coordination gives me pause in issuing such conjectures), but I wonder...I've been reading the book Boys of Summer, an excellent piece of prose about, among other things, the Brooklyn Dodgers teams of the early-mid 1950s, right when they became great and right before they heartbreakingly moved to L.A. (thanks Robert Moses; thanks Walter O'Malley). In it, the author talks about several promising young Dodger pitching prospects who were not allowed to move to the big leagues until they'd developed good curve balls. In the process, several pitchers fell apart completely, and the careers they might have had were ended prematurely. As he has it, the strain of learning a new pitch screwed up their mechanics for their other pitches on the one hand while undermining their confidence on the other. Could this be the problem with Kazmir? If so, could it be fixed by letting him go back to basics? He's got some time, now, to spend figuring it out while on the DL. Let's hope this works and he can get back to form.
With the win tonight, the Devil Rays are one game over .500, 3.5 games out of first, and 3 behind New York and Boston. In spite of the lousy start to the season, they are very much still in the race. If I had to give one reason why they might not be leading the division by this time next month, it'd that they lose the games they ought to win against the likes of the Indians and Rockies. Do you remember several years ago when they seemed to beat the Beasts of the East while playing down to lesser competition? Me too. We've seen some of that this year. Let's hope we don't see any more. As Evan Longoria pointed out tonight in a post-game interview, they Rays need to take advantage of every opportunity to gain ground when they play outside of the AL East. They've done so the past couple nights, and they did so against Cleveland, yet they drop games agaisnt the A's? That, ladies and gentlemen, is ridiculous. Let's hope they sweep this series.