Beware of the Rays

rivera_250_071509.jpgTHE ALL-STAR GAME
I figured I’d hold off on today’s entry until after the game. That would have been a timely decision had the game started before 8:45, but alas, the pregame rolled on like a matinee of “Gone With The Wind.” The game itself went by briskly but uneventfully.

Then Mariano Rivera came in and I was riveted. Is it wrong that Rivera reminds me of the fragility of things and the cruel passage of time? I keep thinking, “He’s almost 40. He can’t be this good forever, so cherish his every appearance.” That makes really savor each pitch, but it also makes every appearance bittersweet.

Maybe there’s a medication you can get that can ease your feelings of sadness over the ending of Rivera’s career before it has ended…

WHY CAN’T THE WIND BLOW BACKWARDS?
The Yankees are 0-9 against the Red Sox and will face them another 10 times this season, but perhaps the real team to be concerned about is the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees will visit them for three games starting in about two weeks and then host them for four games in September, including a split doubleheader. The two clubs will then see the season out together with a three-game series in St. Petersburg during the first week of October. The Yankees are 4-4 against the Rays so far, but last year’s AL pennant winners, currently third in the Wild Card standings, 3.5 games behind the front-running Yankees, could surge in the second half and threaten for a postseason berth.

Looking at the Rays’ projected won-lost record, extrapolated from their total runs scored and allowed totals, they have cheated themselves of somewhere between four and seven wins. Victimized by a pitching staff that hasn’t lived up to last year’s performance, the Rays have lost more close games than they’ve won. That can change very quickly. The Rays could experience a run of good luck or timely hitting (perhaps the same thing), or some of the changes they’ve made to the starting rotation, removing Andy Sonnanstine from the Major League rotation, bringing Scott Kazmir back from the disabled list, and promoting David Price, could pay off. They could also help themselves in a big way by grabbing a bullpen arm at or before the trading deadline.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Rays stack up very well with the Yankees, even if they’ve scored fractionally fewer runs per game this season (5.4 for the Rays vs. 5.6 for the Yankees). Take it position by position:

First Base
Rays: .236/.367/.531. Yankees: .277/.381/.542. The difference favors the Yankees, but it’s small, about nine runs over a full season.

Second Base
Rays: .273/.373/.425. Yankees: .307/.339/.488. Despite having to compensate for Akinori Iwamura’s wholly unnecessary knee injury, the aggregate of Tampa’s second basemen, principally Iwamura and Ben Zobrist, have out-produced Robinson Cano by a few runs. Such is the power of on-base percentage.

Third Base
Rays: .288/.366/.545. Yankees: .222/.345/.412. The Alex Rodriguez component of the foregoing is .247/.407/.519. We’ll see if he passes Evan Longoria by the end of the year. The aggregate A-Rod subs have hit .184 with no home runs, so Tampa leads by about 20 runs here.

Shortstop
Rays: .347/.393/.536. Yankees: .314/.386/.453. Jason Bartlett is having a crazy good year, and when he put in three weeks on the disabled list, subs Zobrist and Reid Brignac hit quite well. Jeter is having a nice season, but he’s just not hitting at that level. By the end of the year, this should be much closer as Bartlett fades (.400 batting averages on balls in play just don’t last) — unless Jeter fades too.

Catcher
Rays: .234/.264/.342. Yankees: .280/.335/.444. Dioner Navarro is just killing the Rays at the plate. Even though Jorge Posada subs Francisco Cervelli, Jose Molina, and Kevin Cash haven’t hit well, they’ve still been better than Navarro. You almost have to try to be that bad. Navarro was on a little hot streak going into the break, and perhaps he’ll rebound in the second half. For now, the Yankees have something like a 20-run advantage here, and the more Posada they can pile on the better.

Left Field
Rays: .311/.375/.456. Yankees: .272/.348/.497. The Yankees have gotten seven more doubles and eight more home runs in roughly the same number of trips to the plate, and that power advantage helps offset Carl Crawford’s high batting average and stolen bases. In terms of run generation, this is close to being a tie.

upton_250_071509.jpgCenter Field
Rays: .240/.329/.396. Yankees: .289/.356/.432. B.J. Upton’s miserable start was highly damaging, but he had a terrific June (.324/.395/.562, 10 doubles, five home runs and 14 stolen bases), and if he hits up to his capabilities the rest of the way he’ll turn this position into a net positive. The Yankees’ just-good-enough production at the position gives them a roughly seven-run lead on the Rays. Again, that will change, because the Brett Gardner/Melky Cabrera combination is unlikely to improve on its current showing, whereas Upton is fairly likely to have a .380 OBP in the second half.

Right Field
Rays: .274/.364/.456. Yankees: .252/.360/.457. The Rays play someone different here every day, but each part has been very good, with Zobrist, Gabe Gross (.301/.400/.451),and Gabe Kapler contributing. Rays’ right fielders have gotten a few more runs out of right field than the Yankees have, but that could change if Nick Swisher remembers how to hit or Gross remembers that he’s not Country Slaughter.

Designated Hitter
Rays: .255/.365/.401. Yankees: .272/.369/.534. An easy win for the Yankees, who are getting some of the best DH production in the business from Hideki Matsui plus assorted guest starts. Pat Burrell has been a spectacular disaster for the Rays and there’s no end in sight. They only have to live with him for the rest of this year and next, but the experience will cost them $16 million.

Boston’s offense doesn’t measure up in this crowd given David Ortiz’s struggles, Mike Lowell’s age and health issues, absent shortstops, and so on. They’re more of a pitching team this year. They beat the Yankees there, the Rays beat the Yankees on offense. It will be interesting to see if the Yankees have enough of what each team doesn’t have to survive the crunch.

6 Comments

It’s a battle that’s for sure. All three clubs have high and low points. The Sox have the upper hand with pitching. There is no arguing the success of Beckett and Wakefield with Lester almost up to 10 wins as well.
The Rays need to get more innings from the starters each night. Only Shields has been the most consistant so far. IF they can do that, then those close game shouldn’t be a problem.
Canuck
http://watercooler.mlblogs.com

I feel exactly the same way when Mariano pitches. I want to savor each moment because I know it can’t last forever. And I don’t think we’ll ever see someone like Mo again.

As much as I would LOVE the Red Sox to be up 9-0 over the Yankees this season so far – I do believe it is only 8-0. 2- 3 game series and 1 -2 game series (that one was May 4th & 5th in NY.)

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

8-0 is correct, which, as a Yankee fan, is still sadly woeful. I notice a lack of comment on pitching and defense. The Red Sox have the best team ERA of the 3 teams @ 4.07, with the Rays @ 4.23 and the Yanks trailing @ 4.56 (the recent disaster in Anaheim didn’t help this number for the Bombers). When looking at the defense, the Yanks have a .986 fielding percentage with 47 errors, followed by the Red Sox with .984 & 50 and the Rays @ .983 and 55. I realize that this does account for range, which could effect the runs against number. The schedule is also a factor. Boston is 17 games above .500 at home and are 3 above on the road. They have 2 more road games after the break than home. The Yanks are 10 over at home and 5 over on the road, but have 4 more home games until the end of the season. The Rays are also an excellent home team @ 30-15, but have an inadequate 18-26 road record. They have one more road game than home game to play. There are too many factors to make any kind of definitive statements here. Not to be cliche, but I will–“There is a long way to go”. Sideline: I have seen Mariano pitch since the beginning of his career (I date back to the Mickey, Whitey & Yogi era). He is, without a doubt , the most clutch pitcher I’ve ever seen pitch.

that’s right, let’s go RAYS!

http://eatsleepmlb.mlblogs.com

Well done, Steve. You hit all of the key points. As a native Upstater, I’m a third generation Yankee from birth. I have lived in the Tampa Bay area for 2+ years. I watch the Yanks each night via the MLB extra innings package and get YES on our premium sports package, but I follow the Rays closely being right here with them. If the Rays didn’t have to play away from their over-sized airport hangar/poor excuse for a stadium, they would be in it right to the end this year. Whereas all of the pieces of their puzzle fell together nicely this year, I still see Boston and NY there at the end. Sadly, Boston’s depth of quality pitching gives them an edge.

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