Results tagged ‘ Tampa Bay Rays ’

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.

The banter from Beantown

pedroia_250.jpg

AL
EAST ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER

As you know, I’m up in Boston
on book-tour duty. I’ve had enough train action in recent weeks that I’m
starting to feel like the Joe Biden of the Internet baseball set. Then again, I
shouldn’t complain, as some of my brethren down in Florida are having to scoot to all corners
of the globe to follow both their normal team assignments as well as peek in on
WBC action.

In this part of the woods, the worries are, as you would
expect, oriented around the Red Sox and if their offense will hold up in the
coming season, and if the Yankees have trumped them by adding CC and A.J. There
are few good answers at this point except to flip the switch on the season and
see what happens, but that moment is a month away yet, so we all get to nibble
our fingernails a bit more — Boston fans on their offense (and maybe their
starting pitching, too), Yankees fans on their offense and defense (and defense
is pitching is defense, so this is a bigger issue than is usually acknowledged)
and Rays fans wondering if it was all a dream (it wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean
the sequel will be easy). The WBC gives us an extra week to think about these
things, which now that I think about it, might be good for the collective
mental health. In the same way that Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak kept a nation
on the edge of war distracted for one last summer, if this year’s baseball
season starts late and drags into November, well, that’s one more week when the
specter of financial ruination can be put off. I hope.

Meanwhile, today’s exhibition action was more exhibition-y
than usual, with the Yankees taking on a team of Major League All-Stars in a
WBC tune-up — not a good day to be Phil Hughes or any of the other young
pitchers required to face Dustin Pedroia, Adam Dunn, Ryan Braun, etcetera, not
to mention Derek Jeter. As such, the story wasn’t really in the pitchers today
but in the hitters — the Yankees hitters. Brett Gardner put together another
strong day, and against real Major League pitchers like Roy Oswalt. If he keeps
up his current pace, it’s going to be very difficult for the Yankees to deny
him the starting center field job. And then, of course, he’ll have to keep it
up, because with his first 0-for-4, someone will be arguing that it’s time to
see if Melky has learned to hit by sitting on the bench.

The Gardner vs. Melky competition may seem like small beer
given that we’re talking about the team’s ninth-place hitter, but given the
probable offensive shortfall the Yankees will see in left and right field, and
potentially other spots on the diamond, getting something rather than nothing
out of that position could make a small but significant difference in what
should be a tough division race, perhaps a swing of two or more wins. That
could be the difference.

More from me when I’m not comatose from doing two AM TV
spots. It’s always shocking to me to see so many people awake and producing
television programs when they should be sleeping. Those of you in the
Boston-New Hampshire-Rhode Island-Vermont-Canada-Atlantis region, I look
forward to seeing you this evening.