Category:MLB
Posted on: October 17, 2008 1:50 am
 

Now the Rays do have "a different look"

BOSTON -- This time it was true.

The Rays did have a different look on their faces. I saw it as they stood in the field in the eighth and ninth innings. I saw it as they walked through the Fenway Park concourse an hour after tonight's game, heading for their bus, heading for what was supposed to be the best plane ride of their lives.

They were stunned, and you couldn't blame them.

"Who wasn't stunned?" Red Sox first baseman Sean Casey said. "Everyone was. I was, too."

But he was good-stunned. The Rays were uh-oh-stunned.

And even though manager Joe Maddon strongly defended his late-game pitching decisions, he had to be "Did I just mess this up?" stunned.

Maddon allowed right-hander Grant Balfour to pitch to David Ortiz in the seventh inning, even though he had lefties Trever Miller (Ortiz is 1-for-11 against him), J.P. Howell (1-for-9) and David Price in his bullpen.

"We've been doing that all year," Maddon explained. "Grant has been very good in that situation, actually. (Ortiz) just got him tonight. If you had been watching us all season, that's the situation where Grant has really done well. He's been kind of like that middle closer guy, and I felt pretty good about it. Papi just got him."

Posted on: October 16, 2008 3:50 pm
 

Sox fans agree -- It's not the end of the world

BOSTON -- A year later, Red Sox fans seem to be saying that Manny Ramirez was right, after all.

Last year, with the Sox down three games to one in the ALCS against the Indians, Ramirez said famously: "It doesn't happen, so who cares? There's always next year. It's not like it's the end of the world."

Red Sox fans weren't happy.

The Red Sox are down three games to one again, but now it's the fans who seem to think it's not the end of the world if it doesn't happen.A story in today's Boston Globe says tickets are seling for barely above face value, and sometimes even under face. The story confirms what a lot of us who have been in Boston are sensing, which is that Red Sox fans just don't seem all that concerned that their team is losing the series.

The Globe story even quotes one man as saying Sox fans are now "complacent" and another saying: "I think the season has now ended; they should pack up and go home and come back in the spring."

Wow. Even Ramirez didn't suggest skipping Game 5 and going home.

Posted on: October 15, 2008 11:49 am
Edited on: October 15, 2008 12:47 pm
 

Rays' Game 5 switch makes you wonder

BOSTON -- Joe Maddon and the Rays have been right so much in this postseason that they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

So maybe we should trust that Maddon's decision to start Scott Kazmir in Game 5, rather than James Shields, makes sense. Or maybe this is the first sign that this ALCS isn't over yet.

Maddon said he likes Kazmir in Game 5 because there's an off day after it (and not after Game 6), and Kazmir's high pitch counts often force the Rays to use their bullpen extensively in his starts. That was certainly true in Game 2, when Kazmir couldn't hold a 4-3 lead and couldn't make it out of the fifth inning.

Maddon also pointed out that Shields has been better at home (9-2, 2.59 in the regular season, vs. 5-6, 4.82 on the road). He didn't have to mention that Kazmir had a problem earlier this year with umpire Derryl Cousins, who will be behind the plate for Game 6 (although Maddon insisted that wasn't the reason for the switch).

All that makes sense, except for one thing: The Rays shouldn't be worrying so much about Game 6. If Shields really is "Big Game James," as the Rays call him, they should want him on the mound for Game 5, pitching the biggest game this franchise has ever played, and trying to end this series as soon as possible.

Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times this morning that if the series was tied 2-2, Shields would be pitching Game 5, because "you just feel at this particular juncture Shields has been more consistent."

In other words, he gives you the best chance to win Game 5.

*****

One more stat to show how historic the Rays' ALCS offensive outburst has been.

According to research through baseball-reference.com's play index, the Rays are the first team EVER to hit three or more home runs in each of three consecutive postseason games. Before this week, no team had ever homered more than seven times in a three-game postseason span (several teams had done that, most recently the 2004 Astros).

 

Posted on: October 14, 2008 5:26 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2008 5:34 pm
 

Are the Red Sox still great? Maybe we'll find out

BOSTON -- Interesting to see how Manny Ramirez reacted when people suggested that Boston's two ALCS comebacks (in 2004 and 2007) should give hope to the Dodgers, who are now down three games to one to the Phillies.

"That's in Boston," Ramirez told reporters at Dodger Stadium. "That was a great team."

The Red Sox famously rallied from a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees in '04, and came back from 3-1 down against the Indians last year. But as Manny said, those were great teams.

Now the Sox down two games to one to the Rays, with the chance that they could fall behind 3-1 tonight.

Of course they could come back from that. But is this still a great team?

One thing's for sure. It's not the same team. There are only four players left from the '04 team (Tim Wakefield, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek and Mike Timlin). There are 17 players back from last year.

But Manny is gone, of course. Mike Lowell is missing due to injury, and the Red Sox said today that Lowell will have surgery on his hip next week. Josh Beckett seems to be hurting (although the Red Sox continue to deny it), and Ortiz may be hurting, too.

Are they great? Maybe we'll find out.

*****

With Jacoby Ellsbury hitless in his last 20 at-bats, Red Sox manager Terry Francona went to Coco Crisp in center field tonight, and went to J.D. Drew as his leadoff hitter.

Drew has led off 59 times in his career, including 17 times for the Red Sox in 2007 and eight times this year.

"Last year we hit him leadoff to get him going," Francona said. "This year, it was more out of necessity."

The reason today, Francona said, is that Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine holds runners on so well that it's almost pointless to have a base-stealing threat in the leadoff spot. There were only four steals attempted while Sonnanstine was on the mound this year, and just one was successful.

 

Posted on: October 11, 2008 4:51 pm
Edited on: October 11, 2008 5:20 pm
 

The 3-0 green light: It's not that bad an idea

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- In their 2-0 loss to the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALCS, the Rays made two outs while swinging at 3-0 pitches. One of them was among the biggest outs of the game, a Carlos Pena fly ball with two on and nobody out in the eighth.

So did manager Joe Maddon err by green-lighting Pena and, before that, Evan Longoria (who flied out to end the sixth)?

Fans tend to say yes. Fans tend to complain when hitters swing at 3-0 pitches, just as they tend to complain when hitters swing at the first pitch.

But the stats say most middle-of-the-order hitters become unbelievable hitters when they put the first pitch in play. Pena is 3-for-6 in his regular-season career on 3-0, with two home runs and a double (including a grand slam off Dan Haren this year). David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Howard and Justin Morneau, among others, all hit .500 or better when they put a 3-0 pitch in play (all stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com).

OK, but wouldn't they have just as good a chance at 3-1 or 3-2?

Not necessarily. When Pena doesn't put the 3-0 pitch in play, he becomes a .190 hitter.

"It's something we've done all year," Maddon said today. "With Pena, taking everything into consideration, I felt pretty good about it actually. If he doesn't top-spin that ball, it might have hit the back wall."

Pena said Friday night that Maddon spoke to him after the eighth-inning at-bat, telling him he had taken exactly the right approach.

By the way, the stats also show that some hitters won't swing 3-0 even when given a green light. Neither J.D. Drew nor Kevin Youkilis has ever put a 3-0 pitch in play, and Wade Boggs did it just seven times in his entire career -- going 2-for-7.

*****

While Maddon didn't second-guess his decision to let Pena swing 3-0, he also didn't dispute Ortiz's contention that the Rays had a different look in their faces Friday from what he saw in the regular season.

"I agree, and I did see it," Maddon said. "That's why I thought it primarily manifested itself in the pitches we swung at. However, (the Red Sox) had kind of the same look themselves."

Posted on: October 10, 2008 7:40 pm
Edited on: October 10, 2008 7:41 pm
 

A little Red, a lot of blue at the Trop

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Yes, there are Red Sox fans in the stands tonight at Tropicana Field for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. But not that many.

Not as many as you might think. Not as many as the Rays might have feared.

"We were fortunate that our tickets went on sale before the Red Sox won their (American League Division) Series," Rays president Matthew Silverman said. "I think that kept them in the hands of our fans. Once they're in their hands, it's up to them to decide whether they want to come to the game or sell their tickets. We're expecting that most of our fans chose to hold on and come to the games.

"I heard the Red Sox chants during the (Division Series) games in Anaheim. I think it might be less here."

If it isn't, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will have himself to blame -- in a small part, anyway.

"I had a number of fans who are Red Sox fans asking for tickets," Sternberg said. "I just can't bring them into this place wearing red gear. They didn't get any tickets. No, we put them in touch, but they promised to keep it low-key. They're not the rah-rah, red-wearing Red Sox fans."

Large numbers of opposing fans have been a common sight at Tropicana Field, in part because the tickets have always been so easy to get. Silverman won't disclose the Rays season-ticket base, but he said he assumes it's still either the lowest or second-lowest (behind the Marlins) in baseball.

Silverman said that the Rays haven't yet been able to capitalize on their 2008 success with 2009 season-ticket sales. He's hopeful that will change this winter, but with the economy the way it is, he's not sure what to expect.

*****

Chuck LaMar, who was the Tampa Bay general manager from the team's inception in 1998 through the 2005 season, is at Tropicana Field this weekend as part of the Phillies advance scouting team. LaMar, the Phillies' director of professional scouting, was at the Red Sox-Angels series in the first round.

 

Posted on: October 9, 2008 4:31 pm
 

Get ready for Trop-ball

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Yes, Tropicana Field is different.

And it's not just the catwalks and the funny roof. The infield is different, too, because it's the only place where there's artificial turf and also the infield dirt that's typical for a grass field. So it's the only place where every ground ball goes from turf to dirt.

"It's definitely different from anywhere else," said shortstop Jason Bartlett, who came to the Rays from Minnesota last winter. "You get that speed as it goes from turf to dirt. I never liked playing here (as a visitor). It took getting used to. But if we're talking about the Red Sox, they've played here a lot."

The Red Sox play nine games a year here, so second baseman Dustin Pedroia has already played here 15 times. Even rookie shortstop Jed Lowrie has already played six games at the Trop.

"It takes a couple of days," Pedroia said. "The biggest thing about the turf here is that it's slower. But we've played here a lot. We'll have a good idea of what to expect."

*****

Both teams are making roster changes for the ALCS.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said the Sox will drop infielder Gil Velazquez (who was added before Game 4 of the Division Series in place of Mike Lowell), so that they can add Mike Timlin as an 11th pitcher. Rays manager Joe Maddon said his team was also leaning towards adding an 11th pitcher, and the St. Petersburg Times reported that the extra pitcher will be Edwin Jackson, with outfielder Eric Hinske coming off the roster.

******

Judging by my e-mails, Cubs fans are either angry or confused by their team's demise.

From Brian: "The fans you saw smiling are not true Cubs fans. Most of the seats are bought up by corporations. As a Cubs fan for 25 years I was disappointed by how the team played."

When aren't most of the tickets at Wrigley bought by corporations? Actually, my cousin (who is a Cubs fan) told me that tickets for the Division Series weren't that tough to get. Of course, I'll guarantee you that he wasn't smiling after watching Game 2 in person.

From Alex: "Hey moron, (the Cubs) played the same way last night."

Alex went on to accuse me of blaming the curse for the Cubs' demise. Actually, I said it wasn't a curse, which I guess makes someone else the moron.

Posted on: October 6, 2008 5:50 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2008 8:38 pm
 

Red Sox replace Lowell on playoff roster

Mike Lowell struggled through Game 3 of the American League Division Series, and the Red Sox took him off their playoff roster before Monday's Game 4. Infielder Gil Velazquez replaces Lowell, who now can't be added back to the roster if the Red Sox advance to the American League Championship Series.

Lowell, who has been bothered by a right hip strain since late in the regular season, would be eligible to return for the World Series.

Lowell played in two of the four games against the Angels, going  0-for-8 with three strikeouts.

With Lowell out, Kevin Youkilis starts at third base for the Red Sox, with Mark Kotsay at first base.

 
 
 
 
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