Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday Weekend Wrap-Up

Greetings all! I, Dustin, will be taking over daily duties here at Rays the Stakes while our regular host, everybody's favorite DirtbagFan, tries his luck on the links and soaks up the relatively pleasant summer weather in northern PA.

I apologize for any disappointment this causes any of our readers. I assure you that this arrangement is temporary. With any luck, we'll all get through this. Enough throat clearing; onto the weekend's games.

SATURDAY: RAYS 10, Toronoto 9

This game looked over until the 6th, when the Rays began to launch the biggest comeback in franchise history.
David Price gave up six runs and three dingers in only three innings of work (hey, at least he didn't walk anybody, right?), and Lance Cormier gave up two more in the fourth to make it 8-0 in favor of the hosts. Meanwhile, the Rays offense managed only two baserunner through the first five innings (Kapler singled to lead off the third and went nowhere; Crawford singled to start the fourth and was promptly cut down in a 6-4-3 double play).

put himself in position to score with a one-out double in the sixth, and Upton managed to bring him home with a single. Not satisfied with this, however, the junior Bossman ran himself into an out at second. Of course, since Upton makes so few mistakes on the basepads, we won't criticize him for it; neither will we bother mentioning that he was caught stealing second in the 8th after it was clear the rally was on (seriously, I know it's been said many times in many places, but while I'm all for being aggressive on the bases, the Rays in general--and Upton in particular--seem to be running into a lot of outs. Not good. There's gotta be some middle ground between aggression and stupidity).

Anyhow, though the Rays gave the run right back in the bottom of the sixth (to make the game 9-1, for those who are counting), the offense came out swinging in the seventh.
Carlos Peña made it 4-9 with a three-run triple, and the inning ended 5-9 after Aybar got El Gato home. I said I wasn't gonna mention BJ getting caught stealing in the eighth, but I think I must. He lead off the inning with a single, and then promptly erased himself with C.C. at the plate. Now, C.C. grounded out to second, which might have been placed such that it would have been possible to double up him and Upton. MIGHT. Anyhow, the result was the same: two outs, none on. A walk, a single, and a passed ball later, however, and Pat the Bat singles in Longo and Benzo to cut the lead to two (and then he gets gunned down trying to stretch the single; inning over). Peña and Aybar tied it up with a pair of solo shots in the nineth, getting to Downs once again (think the Rays will be beating closers like Papelbon and Rivera? I have doubts).

This game is an excellent example of how schitzophrenic the Rays can seem. Through the first five innings, the offense is positively anemic, and the hitters look lost. Then, all of a sudden, the flood gates open, and the next thing you know it seems like they might actually make the game competative, even if a win still seems more than a little bit far-fetched. A few innings later,
Bartlett enters the game, doubles in a run, then Nelson's recording a save, and the Rays take it 10-9. It's hard to complain about a win, and there was a lot to like (Peña's power and Balfour striking out the side, for example) but a few more like this one will definitely turn my hair grey.

SUNDAY: RAYS 1, Toronoto 5

This game was no fun at all, as the Rays seemed to sleep-walk through it. Maybe they were just anxious to get out of town. Jeff Niemann gave up 5 runs in 6.2 innings, and didn't actually look all that bad. As has been pointed out elsewhere, it was really one bad pitch--a slider that hung up right over the plate and which Scott Rolen promptly sent over the fence--that sank him. The other thing worth noting about the game is this: Rays with RISP? 0-5. Crawford personally accounted for 100% of the Rays' scoring, and kudos for that. Too bad he did it in the sixth and not the eighth, with Upton on base. That might've got things going again. Anyhow, a fine effort by Niemann, solid work by the Rays bullpen, and utterly dreadful offense, especially from Pat the Designated Rally Killer. Not the way I hoped the weekend would end.

The Week that Was

According to Bill Chastain, "any winning road trip can be counted as a positive." I suppose that's true, so I shouldn't be upset about the Rays' 6-4 performance since the All Star Break. Along similar lines, Mark Lancaster wonders whether the Rays should “lament missed opportunities or be thankful that the majority of the 50-50 toss-ups seemed to fall in their favor?” He comes down, unsurprisingly, in favor of the latter rather than the former, which is fine. But I think it's important to do both. The Rays won some close games this trip. That's something they haven't done much of this year. However, most of those close games were against teams that are going to be in competition for last in their divisions. Against the one team that's in contention, the White Sox, the Rays dropped three of four, including the utterly humiliating complete game hurled by Buhrle. As I suggested last week, there's no way the Rays can give and miss opportunities at the present pace if they want to beat good, or even middling teams. The swing through Chicago bore this out. It was important that they managed 2-3 in Toronto, but that doesn't make up for failing to split with the Sox.

The Week that Will Be

Coolstandings has the Rays' chances of winning the division at 13.3%, and it gives them only a 33.6% chance of making the playoffs.

Starting this evening, the Rays begin a series against the Yankees that really couldn't be bigger. The season series is tied 4-4 thus far, and the Rays are 6.5 back in the standings coming into the homestand (they're 2.5 behind the Red Sox, and they're currently third in the Wild Card standings). If they're going to stay in contention in the East, if they're going to stay in the Wild Card hunt, the Rays must--MUST--take at least two from the Yanks.

Doing so will not be easy. The Bombers are hot right now, and they will send Burnett, Sabathia, and Chamberlain up against Shields, Kazmir, and Garza. Burnett tends to pitch very well against the Rays, and Shields hasn't won since June 20th (he's 0-1 with five no-decisions). Sabathia is Sabathia, and the Rays will have to hope to get at least five good innings from Kazmir and another strong performance from their bullpen. Since the 'pen is likely to see a lot of action on Tuesday, we have to hope for good outings from Shields and Garza. Both are certainly capable, but it's a really big IF. At the very least, let's all cross our fingers for an orange-lit dome tonight.

After the Yankees, the Rays face the Royals in a four-game series. The first game, on Thursday, features Sidney Ponson against David Price. That should be the first of four totally winnable games. There's every reason to figure that at this point next week, the Rays faithful will be looking forward to a Monday night sweep. Let's cross our fingers and hope that, when we get to that point, we can plausibly hope that by sweeping KC, the Rays can solidify their position as contenders in the division.

The trade deadline expires on Friday. The Rays have been linked to a number of rumors, but nothing particularly substantive. It'll be interesting to see what, if anything, plays out. I for one think the Rays are and ought to be able to win with what they've got as long as they can stay out of their own way. If they can't do that now, I'm not convinced that any move they might make will help.

It's not totally crazy to call this series against the Yankees make-or-break. The Rays need to win it, and they're perfectly capable of doing so. The Rayshead faithful will, as ever, make their presence felt.


- Dustin

P.S. The Hardball Times ranks the Rays 5th on their Dartboard. On the face of it, that's pretty good. Unfortunately, however, that puts them behind the (#2) Yankees and (#4) Red Sox.

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