In Praise of the Amazing Tampa Bay Rays

It’s early, there’s still plenty of time to collapse, the Yankees and Red Sox will catch em. Heck, even the Blue Jays will pass them up. They’re hot right now, we’ll see how long it lasts. I probably said those words, or at least thought them, several times during the course of the year. Well, it’s late September, football season is in full swing, and the effing Rays just clinched their first ever spot in the postseason. From worst to first. From joke to legit. The Tampa Bay Rays started off strongly and didn’t let down. They went head up with the Red Sox several times down the stretch and prevailed. They absolutely earned their spot in the playoffs, and they’ll be a dangerous team, too. So how did they do it? How was their turnaround possible?

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Scott Kazmir Calls Out Rays Fans

I was watching Jim Rome Is Burning Thursday and noticed a familiar guest on the program — Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir — a guy who has been on Jim’s show the last few years. Thing is, every time in the past that Kazmir’s been on, it was early in the year before the Rays were a non-factor in the standings. This time around, it’s a different story; Kazmir’s just as good as he’s always been, but the Rays are one of the best teams in baseball. That’s why when asked about the lack of attendance at home games, Kazmir did not stop himself from calling out Rays fans who should be supporting the team. Kazmir said:

It’s kind of disappointing I guess you could say, coming back home from a road trip and you see maybe 9, 10 thousand fans at the games when we’re in first place and at one time the best record in baseball. It seemed like every home stand there was some type of excuse of why we didn’t get our fans here. If we really had a good fan base that cared about baseball and was a good baseball town, I think they would come out and support us. From what we’re doing right now I think it’s pretty special and I think it would be nice to have that 10th man out there to support us when we get home.

That quote is actually a condensed version of what Kazmir actually told Rome (I didn’t have my DVR to pause and transcribe at work, so I snagged the version SportsCenter played at night). Kazmir went into more detail about the excuses fans had for not showing up. Point is, Kazmir’s right — they should have more fans showing up at their games considering how well they’re playing. If it were May or June, I could understand fans still questioning the legitimacy of the run and being hesitant to show up. But now it’s almost September and there’s no doubt that the Rays are for real. By now the fans should have awakened. At the same time, I jumped on Rockies fans for becoming bandwagoners last year when the Rox got hot. In the end, I suppose it’s much better to have bandwagon fans who at least show up late to the party than to have nobody there at all.

Thing is, if those fans need some baseball tickets, all they have to do is go to Ticket Solutions. They can easily hook up Tampa Bay Rays tickets for anyone interested in jumping on the bandwagon, which I would highly encourage.

James Shields Has a Mean Hook

OK, first of all, when did the player formerly known as Jamie Shields become James? Nevermind. What is important, however, is that not only does Shields have a wicked breaking ball on the hill, but apparently it serves a dual (duel?) purpose. Check out the hook he unloaded on Coco Crisp in the 2nd inning of the Rays/Red Sox game Thursday:

If I were Shields, I’m not so sure I would’ve gone off speed on the haymaker. Probably would have been a good idea to stick with the straight, hard stuff. Also, you notice Jhonny Gomes and Carl Crawford getting in some punches on Coco? Gomes went flying in and used all his golden sombrero frustration to unload some good shots. Best part of the whole thing was Dioner Navarro’s take down of Crisp. Now that was just textbook form. I’m still trying to figure out who started the pile on the third base side of the field, the one where Shields was taken down. Which Red Sox player got him?

And if you’re not sure what gave impetus to the fracas, The Sporting Blog has your back.

History Is Made: Player Chooses Tampa Bay Rays over NY Yankees

Yes, a headline that will literally make you do a double take. In case there was ever a question, Troy Percival most certainly is not in it to win it. The man already has a ring from his days with the ’02 Angels and apparently he’s not looking to get his other fingers fitted. The recently retired closer who made a comeback mid-season last year, has reportedly spurned the Yankees for perennial AL East cellar-dweller, the Rays (doesn’t feel the same not being able to say Devil anymore). Much more than winning and making the playoffs, it seems like ego is the biggest factor at hand for Percy.

Troy Percival is signing a two-year deal worth $8 million, and possibly up to $10 million with escalators, according to Ken Rosenthal. The decision by Percy “reunites” him with former Angels bench coach, and current Rays manager, Joe Maddon. No doubt that was a key factor for the man. Most importantly, Rosenthal says Percival chose the Rays because they are going to let him close, while the Yanks were asking him to setup for Rivera. Alright Troy, as the first known man to spurn the Yanks in favor of the Rays, I have to guess two factors are at play: ego, and, well, I guess ego. We’ll see how Troy does, considering Al Reyes was pretty damn effective last year. Think he’ll be regretting his decision when he’s trying to get out Jeter, A-Rod, and Matsui next year? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Delmon Young: Punk With an Attitude

Giving Edwin Encarnacion a run for his money, Delmon Young was yanked from the D-Rays game Saturday for lack of hustling. Manager Joe Maddon said Delmon was disrespecting the game. Delmon as you could imagine, did not take to the benching too happily:

Young said he was treated unfairly because others have been doing the same thing. An inning earlier, B.J. Upton didn’t run when he hit a line drive that was dropped by shortstop Ray Olmedo, but Maddon said that was a different situation.

“S—, everybody else is m—–f—— doing it,” Young said. “S—, I’m the only one who m—–f—— gets in trouble for the s—. … I play every day. I don’t complain about going out there. So, I’ll see you guys next year. I’m shut down for (today).”

And with that, the Delmon left the building. Wow. Serious. Attitude. Issues. Don’t forget the infamous bat toss hammer throw. There’s no way the Rays turn their organization around with that type of behavior on the club, I don’t care how talented the players are. Poor form by Delmon, not just on the field, but for refusing to show up for the final game. Brutal.

(via Red at MLB FanHouse)

UPDATE: Per BNLizard in the comments, Young apologized to Maddon, and entered the finale on Sunday as a sub in the 6th.

Baseball Preview: Devil Rays

Last year’s record and finish in parenthesis with projected improvement/decline indicated by plus or minus

Tampa Bay Devil Rays (61-101, 5th in AL East) + 2 games

Get Crunked: The outfield is full of young talent. Between Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and Delmon Young from left to right, you could be talking about the best outfield in baseball for the next 5 years, seriously. All three possess speed on the bases and in the field, and the ability to hit for both average and power at the plate. You could be talking a collective .300 average, 70 homeruns, 300 runs, and 300 RBI for the group. Oh yeah, and there’s this too.

Party Foul: It’s still the same old garbage Devil Rays pitching, with the exception of Scott Kazmir. The only question is: which is worse, the starting pitching or the bullpen? Apparently it’s something Lou Piniella was trying to answer, that’s why he couldn’t figure out who to let start games first.

photo courtesy CNNSI

What’d my GM do: Nothing too spectacular, which is fine for a team with little expectations. Former top overall pick Josh Hamilton was taken by the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft. Last year’s phenom Ty Wigginton was retained in arbitration, and Akinori Iwamura was brought in on a 3 year deal from Japan.

Lay it on me Straight: Your lineup can definitely score enough runs to win games and at least make you competitive in almost all games. If the youth develops quicker than expected (Young and Upton), Johnny Gomes regains his pre-All Star break form of last year, Jorge Cantu slugs like ’05, and Crawford and Baldelli do their thing, you’ll be fine offensively. The problem is the pitching – and it’s a glaring one. Scott Kazmir is one of the top 5 starters in the league, but the rest of your guys are far below average. Additionally the bullpen aside from Dan Miceli and Chad Orvella isn’t very good either, so you’re talking about blowing lots of leads, if you’re fortunate enough to have one heading into the late innings.

So where my boys gonna finish right now: Last in the AL East, like always. Maybe a few more wins than the 61 of last year, perhaps 63.

Can we be better than that: Unless Casey Fossum and Jamie Shields pitch like crazy, or some young pitcher steps up and dominates (e.g. Jeff Neimann), you’re not deviating from those marks.

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