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What Is The Future Of The Tampa Bay Rays?

Wednesday November 30, 2011

Sam Evans: Ever since the Rays organization eliminated mistakes from their front office, and combined traditional scouting with advanced numbers, they have produced a winning baseball team in the hardest division in baseball. Unfortunately for the Rays, nobody in Tampa Bay noticed. The Rays have only finished in the top-ten in attendance in the AL twice in their fourteen years of existence. Tampa Bay has the ugliest ballpark in baseball, and now the only question is: How long will they be able to stay there?

What the Rays have done in the last five years is extremely impressive. They have won the division twice and won the wild card once in the last five years despite having the second-lowest payroll in all of baseball. The Rays have discovered market inefficiencies and taken advantage of them. For example, after the 2010 season, the Rays let their top relief pitchers leave in free agency, and they not only received draft compensation, but they easily replaced them in 2011. Also, signing young talented players to long-term deals has been a huge factor in their success. Overall, the Rays have found ways

The Rays have no reason to worry about their on-field product. The team is 368-260 in the last five years, and they show no signs of stopping their pace. They have more pitching depth than almost any other team in baseball, and Evan Longoria is signed through 2016 in what is one of the most team-friendly contracts in all of baseball. Despite having a winning ballclub for four straight years, the Rays are barely filling half of the stadium’s capacity per game.

Low attendances lead to a low payroll, and while the Rays would certainly like a larger payroll, they have still managed to be competitive within the AL East. The new CBA will hurt the teams with the lower payrolls around the league, but it will hit the Rays especially hard. They will no longer be able to take chances on international free agents for a low-cost and they will still be competing with the Red Sox and Yankees revenues.

The main contributor to the Rays low attendance has been the stadium. Tropicana Field is, by far, the worst stadium in baseball. It is the only domed stadium in baseball that is not retractable. The blueprint for the stadium was not well thought out, as evidenced in the catwalks that hang down from the ceiling. The bullpen is are almost nonexistent, and the interior design is the worst in baseball. Not to mention, the ballpark is not at the center of the city’s population unlike most other ballparks in baseball.

After the 2011 postseason, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said that he was disappointed about the future of baseball in Tampa Bay. That is a very bad sign for Rays fans. Sternberg is not a bad owner, and has shown dedication to making the Rays a more popular franchise in Tampa Bay. The Rays have tried everything to get fans to come to the ballpark, from Vuvezelas to a touch tank to a new enlarged scoreboard. Sadly, none of those techniques have worked to this day.

The Rays technically are signed through 2027 according to St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster. This contract that the Rays have with the city states that the Rays cannot enter discussions with other communities. However, with the right lawyer, the Rays would be able to escape this lease agreement. If the Rays can’t find a place to build a stadium in South Florida, then there are many cities that would love to host a Major League franchise. If the Rays are forced to move, then Las Vegas is the perfect fit. It is very sad to watch a team not be able to sell out a game in the ALDS.

I really feel bad for those devoted Rays fans. Living in Seattle, I had to go through the process of losing our hometown basketball team, the Sonics. It was a very similar situation where you could sort of sense the relocation coming. The stadium was not up to par, and the league was impatient. I’m not sure if baseball will ever thrive in Tampa Bay, but I am definitely rooting for this organization to find a way to boost attendances and keep their team in Tampa.

 ***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter***

 

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Game 162 and Beyond – Can MLB Top That?

September 29, 2011

Rob Bland (Baseball Writer – MLB reports): In order to write all of this, I needed to step away from my TV and computer, take a deep breath, and sleep for a while.  The excitement of last night was almost too much for my fragile heart to bear, so the time away to clear my head was necessary.

I find myself repeating, “What just happened??” in my head.  What happened last night was unfathomable.  Not only were there two teams in each league tied for the Wild Card, but both teams that had been leading, suffered epic failures along the way.  Go back to September 1, and the Boston Red Sox held a 9 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays.  The Atlanta Braves held an 8.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams chances of reaching the postseason were over 99%.  Nobody could have actually predicted seriously at that time, that both the Cards and Rays would win the Wild Card on the final day of the regular season.  Especially not the way that the AL Wild Card was eventually decided.

The Rays started David Price against the Yankees.  Sounded promising enough, until Price gave up 6 runs in 4 innings.  The game was pretty much over with the score at 7-0 in the Rays’ half of the 8th inning.  3 runs plated in the bottom of the 8th, then Evan Longoria took over the game.  A 3-run home run put them within one run, and Tropicana Field exploded.  Then with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, Rays manager Joe Maddon made one of the gutsiest calls I have ever seen: pinch hit with Dan Johnson.  Johnson was 9 for 90 this season.  He hadn’t gotten a hit since April.  He had 36 hits since 2008.  With one swing of the bat, the pandemonium levels in Florida had never been so high.  Then, as if he hadn’t done enough already, Longoria blasted another home run, this one of the walk-off variety that would vault the Rays to the postseason.

What hasn’t been said about Boston and their collapse? It has been covered by so many people from so many angles.  You could blame the whole organization from top to bottom, and you wouldn’t be wrong.  What happened was an epic collapse, capped off by a 2 out rally by the Baltimore Orioles of all teams in the bottom of the 9th inning of game 162.  The Orioles had nothing to play for but pride, and the love of the game.  Robert Andino’s walk-off single to win the ball game will be remembered by Boston fans for years to come.

Hunter Pence hit a bloop-ish 120 ft infield single to win it for the Phillies over the Braves.  In the 13th inning.  After Craig Kimbrel, the super rookie, blew a lead in the 9th inning.  The game saw the Phillies march out nine pitchers and the Braves used 8, including Scott Linebrink, who eventually gave up the winning run in the 13th.

Chris Carpenter twirled a gem for the Cardinals, a 2 hit shutout with 11 strikeouts and 1 walk against the Astros.  This performance sealed at the very least a one-game playoff game against the Braves had they won.

Wow what a night.

Now onto LDS matchups:

Rays vs. Rangers

The Rays come in with unlimited momentum, and a pitching staff that is so deep, that manager Joe Maddon is having a difficult time naming the starter for game 1.  While Matt Moore seems to be the obvious choice to me, Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis could be viable options as well.**  James Shields would have to go on short rest, and Price pitched last night, so one of the other three will be chosen to go against C.J. Wilson and a Rangers offense that is ready to take on all comers.  Shields will go game 2 and Price go the 3rd.  Beyond that is a toss-up.  For the Rangers, Wilson will go Game 1, Derek Holland game 2, and still undetermined the rest of the way.

Adrian Beltre had a phenomenal September, earning AL Player of the month, and Mike Napoli has been dominant all year, bashing home runs all over the field.  Michael Young worked his way into the MVP race after a tumultuous offseason that saw him switch positions yet again.  Josh Hamilton is as dangerous as ever, and Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler are still hitting home runs at a high rate.  Kinsler actually became only the third 2nd baseman to join the 30-30 club, with 32 HR and 30 SB.  The Rays may not have the prodigious bombers that the Rangers have, but they have athletic, smart ballplayers that never say die.  They ultimately seem like a team of destiny, and I will not discount the fact that they may have the best manager in all of baseball at the helm.

** Note: Matt Moore has been named the starter for game 1.

Rays in 4

Yankees vs. Tigers

So the Yankees have the highest payroll in baseball, and the Tigers have the 10th, about $100,000 between them.  Should be easy, right? Yankees should take this series in 3 games.  Wrong.  Detroit has one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball in 2011 in Justin Verlander, who should win the Cy Young vote unanimously.  He should also garner serious MVP interest.  Against him will be CC Sabathia, who has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball the last 7 or 8 years.  Doug Fister was brought in to shore up a shaky Tigers rotation, and with Max Scherzer, the Tigers look like they have a pretty decent chance.  Behind Sabathia will be rookie Ivan Nova, who I am not sold on, and after him is Freddy Garcia, who is having a fine year, but is nowhere near the pitcher he used to be.

Robinson Cano has been his usual stellar self playing 2nd base for the Yankees, but there were a lot of subpar seasons by other Yankees.  Derek Jeter was better than last year, A-Rod was almost nonexistent for a lot of the season, and aside from Curtis Granderson, the lineup struggled to find consistency.  The Posada soap opera continues, but giving Jesus Montero more at bats needs to happen.  The kid can swing it.  The Tigers have another MVP candidate in Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez has been stellar, and they have a young kid behind the plate named Alex Avila who could be in line for a Silver Slugger award.  The Tigers are younger, and hungrier to win, but the Yankees have more overall talent.  Even if their roster is aging, and this one should go down to the final out.

Tigers in 5

Diamondbacks vs. Brewers

The two best managers in the NL this year; Kirk Gibson of the DBacks and Ron Roenicke of the Brewers square off in this ultimately tight series.  Arizona did it this year with a cast of relative nobodies and no real superstar other than Justin Upton.  The Brewers have Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Zack Greinke, John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez.  They have star power up and down the lineup and rotation, and they have a great fan base.

Ian Kennedy may be a Cy Young candidate, but the Brewers have more depth in their rotation.  Yovani Gallardo will oppose him in game 1, followed by Shaun Marcum and Greinke, who will be opposed by Josh Collmenter and Daniel Hudson.  The Brewers also have the dominant back-end of the bullpen in K-Rod and John Axford, who was 46 for 48 in save opportunities.

Brewers in 5

Cardinals vs. Phillies

Prince Fielder just missed his 11th straight season of .300/ 30 HR/ 100RBI.  He hit .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBI.  The cards are not just a one trick pony, however, as Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina have been stellar all season long.  If they can get solid contributions from their secondary players they could make the series interesting.  The Phillies, like the Brewers, have tremendous star power in Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.  Not to mention one of the best deals of the year in Hunter Pence.  They have a veteran presence filled with guys who have been to the postseason five years in a row, and have the ability to hit any team’s pitching.

If you ask anyone who knows anything about baseball what team has the best pitching, the unanimous decision would go to the Phillies. The 4 Aces look to lock up Philly’s second World Series in the last 4 seasons.  Led by Roy Halladay, or Cliff Lee, or Cole Hamels, every team in the postseason should be scared.  It is not very often that a team could have 3 pitchers in the top 5 for the Cy Young Award, but it could happen this year.  Roy Oswalt will pitch game 4 if necessary.   Tony La Russa has decided to open the series with veteran Kyle Lohse, which seems asinine.  Edwin Jackson will go Game 2 and Chris Carpenter game 3.  Jaime Garcia, who could be their most talented pitcher, will throw game 4 if necessary.

Phillies in 4

All 4 series should play pretty close, and the series I am most excited to watch is Arizona vs. Milwaukee.  If Game 162 was any indication of what is to come of the postseason this year, then everyone needs to grab their popcorn and beverages, get bunkered down, and get ready for a long, gruelling, exciting month of baseball. 

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Rob Bland.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

The Hunt for Red Sox October

September 14, 2011

Rob Bland (Baseball Writer – MLB reports): Red Sox Nation is panicking. On September 1, the Boston Red Sox held a 9 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays.  Today, on September 13, they sit only 3 games ahead.  Since then, the Red Sox have gone 2-9, while Tampa has gone 8-3.  Many people believe that Tampa Bay has the pitching to get the job done.  Led by “Big Game” James Shields and David Price, they have a rotation that has been one of the top in the league all season.  As a team, they have given up the least amount of hits by 80 in the American League.  Their team ERA is also tops in the American League at 3.56.

Boston is limping into the end of the season, with 3 of their 5 opening week starters injured in some fashion in the last month.  Jon Lester has been every bit of the ace the Red Sox need him to be, with a 15-7 record and 3.07 ERA.  However, when the Sox leaned on him on September 11 against Tampa, he lasted only 4 innings, giving up 4 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks.  John Lackey has been awful this year.  I cringe when I look at his stats.  6.30 ERA, 180 hits in 144 innings, and 18 hit batsmen to lead the league.  How has he won 12 games?  Buchholz was solid before going on the disable list, giving up only 76 hits in 82 2/3 innings, but hasn’t pitched since June 16.  It is believed he could be back as soon as next week, but in a limited bullpen role at best, so his impact won’t be felt much.  Josh Beckett has been great this year as well, but rolled his ankle in the 4th inning of his last start. At one point, after throwing a complete game, 1 hit shutout on June 15, his ERA sat at 1.86.  He is currently 12-5 with a 2.49 ERA, and a WHIP of 0.985.  Daisuke Matsuzaka was a bust this year and required Tommy John Surgery in June.  In his place is knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who currently sits at 200 wins on his career.  Wakefield hasn’t made it look pretty this year, but has put in 139 2/3 valuable innings to date.

Tampa Bay boasts one of the top rotations in baseball, with Opening Day starter David Price pitching very solid, without much run support.  He has a 12-12 record but his ERA is 3.40 and has reached the 200 strikeout plateau for the first time in his young career.  Big Game James doesn’t need much of an introduction, as his 11 complete games and 4 shutouts lead the MLB.  He has already thrown 226 innings, a career high, with 210 strikeouts, also a career high.  Wade Davis has thrown 165 solid innings as a follow-up to being 4th in Rookie of the Year balloting last season.  Jeff Niemann is really blossoming into a dependable middle of the rotation pitcher, going 10-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 129 innings.  He doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters, but doesn’t walk many either, shown by his 3 K/BB ratio.  One of the frontrunners for AL Rookie of the Year is Jeremy Hellickson, who has been pretty much lights out all year.  With a 2.96 ERA and only giving up 135 hits in 170 innings, he will surely garner some votes.  The one wild card that the Rays hold, however, is Matt Moore.  Moore was just called up to fill a role similar to David Price in 2008.  He will be electric out of the bullpen after a minor league season that will rank him in the top 5 of all prospects going into next season.

Boston’s offense is abound with potential MVP’s and great hitters.  1 through 9, the Red Sox boast one of the best lineups I can remember.  Jacoby Ellsbury may win the MVP, but he will have to go through Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez first.  Also, David Ortiz is again proving the naysayers wrong, as he is hitting .313 with 29 home runs and 92 RBI.  When a player of JD Drew’s caliber can go on the disabled list and be replaced with Josh Reddick, who is hitting .298 and slugging .491 in 250 plate appearances, it gives a lot of confidence to a pitching staff.  Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia finally seems like the player who the Atlanta Braves envisioned when they drafted him in the 1st round in 2003.  Jason Varitek is also enjoying a fine season as a backup to Saltalamacchia, hitting 11 home runs in only 234 plate appearances.  This offense is one that no team will want to face in the final weeks of the season or the playoffs if they reach that far.

Tampa Bay may not have the “sexy” offensive players that the Red Sox do, but they have some players having mighty fine seasons.  Ben Zobrist has overlooked his mediocre 2010 season, and has put up numbers closer to his breakout 2009.  Although he probably won’t ever match that season, his 45 doubles lead the American League, and has a very good OPS of .820.  Casey Kotchman is still an on-base machine with little pop from first base.  He has hit at a .313 clip with a .382 on-base percentage, setting the table for the big run producers.  Evan Longoria may be having a down year by his standards, but most teams would be happy with a third baseman hitting 25 home runs and slugging .818.  Through May, Matt Joyce was an early favorite for AL MVP, but really tapered off in June and July, before turning it back up in the last month.  His .843 OPS leads the team, and he also has 12 stolen bases.  BJ Upton continues to be a low average, high power type of hitter, with 20 home runs and 27 stolen bases while hitting just .234.  The worst position in terms of offensive production has been shortstop, where Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez have handled most of the duties.  The Rays’ high-tempo style of offense has wreaked havoc on opposing batteries, as they have stolen 130 bases, good for third in the American League.

Both teams have completely different styles and techniques, but are successful in their own ways.  With the Rays aggressive style, and the Red Sox more reliant on taking pitches and making pitchers work, getting deep into bullpens early, this could be a battle to the bitter end.  The schedules they play the rest of the way will also dictate who is more likely to win the race for the Wild Card.

Boston:
1 vs Toronto
4 vs Tampa Bay
7 vs Baltimore
3 vs New York

Tampa Bay:
1 vs Baltimore
4 vs Boston
7 vs New York
3 vs Toronto

It is quite evident that Boston has a much easier schedule, and should win a fair number of them.  The Red Sox have gone 11-4 against the Yankees this year also.  Tampa has gone 5-6 against the Yankees, whom they see 7 more times.  Boston gets Baltimore 7 more times, and have beaten them 8 out of 11 games so far.  The pivotal series of all will be this weekend when the two teams square off against one another.  The game of the weekend may be on Friday September 16, where James Shields faces off against Josh Beckett.

I believe that Tampa Bay will come within a game or two, but the schedule differences give Boston a HUGE advantage.  The Red Sox 18-6 drubbing of the Blue Jays on Tuesday will be a catalyst for the team over the next two weeks, where they will produce runs and pitch just well enough to get into the postseason.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Rob Bland.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan onFacebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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