Concession Speech: 2012 Tampa Bay Rays

05 Oct

With the regular season over, many teams are facing an offseason filled with golf rounds and hot-stove strategy.

But we're not going to let them get off that easy. No sir. No way. In an attempt to bring some closure between franchise and follower, we're giving a blogger from each team the opportunity to give a concession speech for this year's squad. Up next is our good friend Cork Gaines of Rays Index.

My Fellow Tampa Bay Rays fans ... My fellow Raysheads:

I come to you today under unfortunate circumstances. The games have spoken and our beloved Tampa Bay Rays will not be in the playoffs. And more importantly, for the 15th straight year, the season will not end with the Rays as World Series champions. That's gotta be some kind of record, right?

Look, as a baseball fan, I will respect the process. But I am here to tell you, the wrong team will win the World Series this year.

The Rays were the best team in baseball this season. Maybe they struggled to score runs at times. And OK, maybe they struggled to even get hits sometimes. But the pitching was the best in baseball. And pitching wins championships, right?


So I will concede that the Rays will not win the World Series. But when another team does win, I will be doing my best McKayla Maroney impression. I will not be impressed.Mistakes were made: Did the Rays make mistakes? Oh boy did they make mistakes.

Anybody remember the Hideki Matsui experiment? Sure he didn't cost as much money as Manny Ramirez or Johnny Damon or *gulp* Pat Burrell. But he got 103 excruciating plate appearances, with almost all of them coming in a month (June) in which the Rays went 12-15. And in his short time, he earned the lovable nickname, Designated Last Out.

The biggest mistake they made was not trading a starting pitcher before the season. Specifically they should have moved Wade Davis for an upgrade at one of the many holes in the offense.

But with all the depth this team had in the rotation, the Rays moved Davis to the bullpen. Some thought he was insurance in case of injury, but he pitched well in relief. And when starting pitchers did go down, the Rays had plenty of other options in the minors.

The front office sycophants will tell you that Davis was a key component in a great bullpen. And yet, despite his strong pitching he was worth just one win all year (1.1 Wins Above Replacement). And this front office has proven again and again that they can find good relievers simply by digging through the dumpsters behind other stadiums.

So why not deal Davis and get a catcher or a middle infielder or even a good training staff that won't let Evan Longoria get hurt every year? Oh right. Because nobody would offer half their farm system the way the Cubs did in the Matt Garza deal.

Good job, good effort *head hits podium*.

Mudslinging time: Let me give you a few numbers...

  • 3.19 - Team ERA and 0.14 better than any other team in baseball
  • 3.34 - ERA of the starting pitchers, 0.42 better than any other team in the A.L.
  • 2.88 - ERA of the bullpen, best in the A.L.
  • 2.60 - ERA for the entire pitching staff after the All-Star break, 0.90 better than any other team in the A.L.
  • 1,383 - Strikeouts for the entire pitching staff, an A.L. record.
  • 0.60 - ERA for Fernando Rodney, an MLB record for relief pitchers (min. 50 innings pitched)

So yeah, the pitching was amazing.

Now let me give you a few other numbers...

  • .711 - Team OPS, 12th in the A.L.
  • 697 - The number of runs the Rays scored, 11th in the A.L.
  • 32 - Times the Rays had 0 or 1 hits through four innings.
  • 0 - Number of baserunners the Rays had against Felix Hernandez on Aug. 15, the third perfect game thrown against the Rays, and fourth no-hitter, since the start of the 2008 season.

We can live with ugly losses. Heck we were Devil Rays fans once, we can live with a LOT of ugly losses. But the Rays were 21-27 in one-run games, thanks in large part to an offense that would struggle in T-ball. The Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games. They went to the playoffs.

The biggest numbers might be 47 and 27. The Rays were 47-27 when Evan Longoria played (and half of those games were on one hamstring). They were 43-45 when he did not. In other words, they played like a 103-win team with Longo and a 79-win team without.

Sure, other teams had injuries. But when your payroll is $65 million, you can't afford to lose a guy that has been the most valuable player in the A.L. since the start of the 2008 season.

Hope for the future: OK, things aren't that bad. When this team finally suffered injuries to their starting rotation, two more pitchers came out of the Rays' starting pitcher factory and filled in wonderfully. So if we count Davis, the Rays now have eight major-league starting pitchers. Most teams struggle to find five.

And we just have to hope that Longoria will come back in 2013 and play 155 games. And they still have Ben Zobrist, who is like a Volvo. He is safe, dependable and a WAR machine. But you wouldn't want to pick a date up in one.

The pieces are there, and this team will once again be great. And who knows, maybe they will actually trade a starting pitcher for a big league bat or two.

A change is going to come: Change will come by not changing. The Rays maintain greatness by not making huge changes. In fact, most of the big moves have backfired, including Pat Burrell, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Carlos Pena part Deux.

And yet, since the start of the 2008 season, the Rays have played 835 games (including the postseason), and there have only been 13 games in which the Rays were eliminated from the playoff hunt. That span includes four 90-win seasons and three trips to the playoffs.

And that's why it is even less likely they'll make a major free agency or trade acquisition. Instead, look for the Rays to do what they do better than most, find cast-offs to fill in the holes and hope for the best.

"Tampa Bay Rays." That name has new meaning in Major League Baseball these days. The national media is still consumed by the attendance and the third-oldest ballpark in baseball (not counting renovated or iconic parks, e.g. Fenway).

But that's OK. Because come April 2, 2013, we will once again be rooting for our Rays. We won't be rooting for a train wreck in red hose. We will be rooting for one of the best teams in baseball.

And should we win the day, the Rays will no longer be known as a laughing stock or a fluke, and Rays fans will declare in one voice:


Or maybe the offense will once again suck just enough to prove that a team needs more than just one of the best pitching staffs in baseball history *head hits podium again*.

But yeah, congrats to whichever team wins this year ... Or something.

Follow Cork Gaines on Twitter and read him at Rays Index

Previous Concession Speeches: Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Pittsburgh Pirates,Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros

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David Price becomes 15th member of ‘The Black Aces,’ first 20-game winner in Tampa Bay history

01 Oct

David Price became the first 20-game winner in Tampa Bay Rays history on Sunday, pitching seven strong innings in a 6-2 win over the Chicago White Sox.

The tall lefty also earned another cool honor with the victory, becoming the 15th member of "The Black Aces" — a group started by Jim "Mudcat" Grant and comprised only of African-American pitchers who have won 20 games in a season.  Don Newcombe became the first member on the list with 20 wins for the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers and CC Sabathia was the last member to be admitted with 21 victories for the 2010 New York Yankees.

The rest of the list is obviously strong. In addition to Price, Grant, Newcombe and Sabathia, there's Vida Blue, Al Downing, Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins (even though he's Canadian), Dwight Gooden, Sam Jones, Mike Norris, J.R. Richard, Dave Stewart, Earl Wilson and Dontrelle Willis.

Price's 2012 has been the strongest season of the 27-year-old's career and it has put him right into the middle of the AL Cy Young debate. He's leading the league with a 2.56 ERA and has a 205 strikeouts to his name. Though the Rays' bid for the postseason may come up short, it'll be no fault of Price's. He's 9-1 with a 2.27 ERA in 14 games since the All-Star break.

From the Associated Press:

Asked who he would vote for if he could cast a ballot for the AL Cy Young, Price wasn't shy. ''I would vote for myself,'' he said.

And [manager Joe] Maddon agreed with his ace lefty. ''The 20 wins, he should have like 25 wins,'' Maddon said. ''He's pitched well enough to have mid-20s based on our lack of scoring runs sometimes. The ERA is highly impressive, pitching in this division, this league, the DH. ... It all matters. To be able to accomplish that here is quite an accomplishment.''

Maddon isn't exaggerating much. There were two no-decisions in August when the Rays dropped 1-0 contests to Kansas City and Baltimore. Three other no-decisions came after Price had gone seven innings allowing three or less runs.

Of course, we all know that wins are a flawed statistic that can often be the product of situation and circumstance. So Maddon can't bemoan the relative injustice that much. It is cool, however, that situation and circumstance worked for Price's benefit 20 times so that he was able to make some history in Chicago on Sunday. Earning your way into a group as small as The Black Aces is a pretty cool accomplishment.

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Orioles team flight makes emergency landing

30 Sep

A plane carrying the Baltimore Orioles made an unexpected landing on Sunday night and it wasn't so the playoff-bound team could restock on beer and champagne.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the team's charter flight made an emergency landing in Jacksonsville, Fla., after smoke was spotted coming out of an oven in the kitchen. The move was said to be precautionary and no injuries were reported. The Orioles were expected to continue their trip to St. Petersburg where they'll play the Tampa Bay Rays for the last series of the regular season.

[Y! Sports Fan Shop: Buy Baltimore Orioles playoffs merchandise]

From Baltimore CBS Local:

"They came on and told us we needed to make an emergency landing, and then we were nearly free-falling for a few minutes as they raced to get us on the ground as fast as possible," Ned Rice, who is with the baseball operations department of the Orioles, posted on his Facebook page.

The Orioles, who completed a three-game sweep of the Red Sox with a 6-3 win on Sunday, clinched their first playoff spot in 15 years when the Los Angeles Angels fell to Texas Rangers in the second game of a doubleheader. They still have plenty of work to do against the Rays, though, as they remain tied with the New York Yankees for the AL East lead. The winner of that division race will avoid Friday's play-in game between the two wild-card winners.

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De Aza scratched from White Sox lineup (Yahoo! Sports)

29 Sep
CHICAGO (AP) -- Chicago White Sox leadoff hitter and center fielder Alejandro De Aza was scratched from the lineup for Saturday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays with flu-like symptoms.
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Ben Zobrist literally uses his head to corral Dayan Viciedo’s grounder (Video)

29 Sep

Friday night was quite the crazy night in Major League Baseball.

On the east coast, we had a no-hitter from Reds right-hander Homer Bailey, which established a new modern record with seven no-no's in one season and also guaranteed the Pirates wouldn't have winning season for the 20th consecutive year.

[More: Homer Bailey's no-hitter ties record]

On the west coast, Darwin Barney's 141-game errorless streak ended just three outs before he could establish a new Major League record. And in Toronto, we had a crazy play that saw Blue Jays starting pitcher Chad Jenkins' get his glove knocked off by a line drive, only for to catch the glove with the ball in it to record the out.

Like I said, it was a crazy night, and lost in all of that was another unique play by Tampa Bay Rays shortshop Ben Zobrist that saw him utilizing several parts of his upper body, including his head, to corral Dayan Viciedo's hard hit grounder and record the out.

After reviewing both plays several times (because what else is there to do on Friday night?) I don't think it would top Jenkins' play on the crazy scale, but the concentration was obviously impressive, as was the overall creativity. On a normal day, it would have stood out a lot more.

[Also: Hank Aaron on site for Chipper Jones tribute]

But since it wasn't a normal day, it didn't. And since Zobrist didn't get any help from his teammates with the bat — his first inning accounted for Tampa Bay's only run — the Rays dropped a tough one 3-1 to the White Sox.  That puts them five games back in the division and three back in the wild card, meaning they'll be forced to pull a few more tricks out of their hat to play beyond Wednesday.

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Tampa Bay Rays' Ben Zobrist, left, scores on a sacrifice fly hit by Carlos Pena as Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski looks to the field during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Rays are making another run at the playoffs and Evan Longoria is leading the way - again.

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The Juice is nearing the end of its fifth season of fun! Stop by each weekday for an ample serving of news from the action, plus great photos, stats and video highlights.

Rays keep rolling: Evan Longoria hit a go-ahead home run off Brett Myers in the top of the ninth, Fernando Rodney closed it out with a scoreless bottom half of the inning for his 46th save and just like that, the Tampa Bay Rays had their eighth straight victory.It'll be a little while, of course, whether we know if the Rays are able to slip through the smallest of cracks  into the postseason again. But their 3-2 win over the crashing-and-burning Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on Thursday night kept Tampa Bay's destiny in its own hands. The Rays are tied with the Angels at 86-70 and both are two games behind Oakland for the second wild-card spot. If Tampa Bay wins the rest of its six remaining games — three against Chicago, three against Baltimore — the worst the Rays can do is tie the Orioles for one of the wild cards.

Interesting note: The 2011 Rays were also 86-70 through 156 games and were two games behind the Boston Red Sox. That team won five of its last six games to complete the comeback and start Boston's descent into also-rans.

Speaking of Sox, the Pale Hose are also only two games out of a playoff spot, but, uh, yeesh. You'd be more likely ketchup on a hot dog at Morrie O'Malley's than a South Sider who's optimistic about the Sox's chances this next week.  Thursday's loss was their eighth in ninth games and the Tigers are finding a way to win the games that the White Sox are not. Detroit was a late 5-4 winner over Kansas City as Doug Fister recorded an American League-record nine straight strikeouts at one point.

Yankees fall to Toronto: The Orioles might have the A's, Angels and Rays in their rearview mirror, but they don't have time to glance back because they're still right on the bumper of the Yankees. Though Baltimore had an off-day on Thursday, it picked up a half-game on the AL East leaders when Brandon Morrow pitched seven scoreless innings to lift the Blue Jays to a 6-0 win at Rogers Centre. The Yankees are one game ahead of the O's and their worry of the day is again Ivan Nova. The struggling starter gave up four runs over 4 2/3 innings and owns a 7.05 ERA in 11 second-half starts.

Rangers remain resilient: Credit where credit is due goes to Texas, which rode a five-run first inning to a 9-7 victory over Oakland and a split of the big four-game series. The victory restored the Rangers' division lead to its original four games, reduced their magic number to three and gives the team a chance to clinch its third straight  AL West title before it even heads to Oakland on Monday for a season-ending series.

End of the line for Milwaukee?: That looks to be about it for the Brewers, who lost a must-win game when closer John Axford blew a one-run lead with two outs in the ninth inning Cincinnati's  2-1 victory dropped Milwaukee to four games behind St. Louis in the NL wild-card race with six games to play. If this is indeed the end, it's an appropriate one for a Milwaukee squad whose bullpen consistently proved to be its downfall.

* * *

Quote of the day

''I said, 'Congratulations, man. You made history.' He was like, 'What are you doing?' He was locked in so it was kind of like, 'Get away from me.' I was like, 'All right, they'll tell you.'''

— Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder who failed in his attempt to tell Fister of his unique achievement.

* * *

Photo of the day: Twenty

With 13 strikeouts in a 6-5 win over the Pirates, R.A. Dickey became the first knuckleballer to reach 20 wins since the late Joe Niekro did the deed for Houston in 1980. It's a great accomplishment, though Dickey might want to thank David Wright for pushing him over the top. The third baseman's three-run homer in the fifth inning gave the Mets the lead and put Dickey in the position to win the game.

* * *

Three facts for the water cooler

• The Rockies  completed a three-game sweep of the Cubs with a 7-5 win and put itself in a good position to avoid the embarrassment of a 100-loss season. The Rockies would have to lose their remaining six games to finish in triple digits. Chicago, meanwhile, sits at 97 losses and needs to go 4-2 to avoid joining the Houston Astros in 100-loss territory.

• Barry Zito earned his 14th win of the season in San Francisco's 7-3 victory over Arizona. It's the most wins that Zito has posted in a season since joining the Giants in 2007.

• Bryce Harper hit his 21st homer of the season in Washington's 7-3 win over Philadelphia and has an outside chance of catching Tony Conigliaro for most home runs hit in a season by a teenager (24).

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Peavy pushed back by ChiSox to Rays series (Yahoo! Sports)

25 Sep
CHICAGO (AP) -- White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy has been pushed back a day and will start Thursday's series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays.
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J.P. Howell makes ‘impossible’ play, credits pet dog Rosie

24 Sep
by David Brown in Fantasy Baseball, General

Left-hander J.P. Howell of the Tampa Bay Rays made what manager Joe Maddon called an "impossible" play to retire Colby Rasmus on a broken-bat blooper into no-man's land. Few other pitchers could have pulled it off, Howell said, because they don't regularly wrestle with his pet Portuguese water dog, Rosie. Naturally.

Howell's play to get Rasmus helped the Rays escape the seventh inning with a one-run lead in what became a 3-0 victory against the Blue Jays on Sunday. And if Howell doesn't get Rasmus, who was about to drive in a runner from third base, who knows?

''That's the play of the year,'' Maddon said after the Rays' fifth straight win. ''It's an impossible play to make and (Howell) did it.''

With a runner on third and two outs, Rasmus got jammed severely and busted his bat, but the ball traveled — seemingly — into no-man's land among three fielders on the first-base side of the pitcher's mound. Rasmus was going to get a single out of it. With nobody else in range to make a play, Howell charged and tracked down the ball and, falling toward right field, made an off-balance throw that first baseman Carlos Peña barely had to move his mitt for in order to catch.

A right-handed pitcher definitely has a harder time making that play, and no pitcher should be expected to pull it off. But J.P. did, and some of the credit goes to Rosie Howell, who apparently is her owner's best workout partner:

''I wrestle with my dog a lot so that's good; it gets me that angle to just throw it,'' Howell said. ''The position guys do it all the time so I probably made it look harder than it really is. It's one of those things where the timing was good; if the guy's a little faster he beats that out so everything worked out. A little luck was included.''

The dog is absolutely adorable, as this Fox Sports video demonstrates:

Before this season, Howell's career had been somewhat in doubt after years of injuries and diminished effectiveness, but the Rays have stuck with him and he's performed well out of the bullpen. Rosie stuck with Howell, too. That's what dogs do.

Pitchers and hitters will argue 'til the end of time, at least until Bud Selig retires: Do the line drives that get caught even out with the bloopers that fall in? The answer might lie in some kind of wizardry The Fangraphs Kids publish, so in the meantime we'll have to decide on a case-by-case business. Howell, with the help of Rosie the Portuguese water dog, enacted some justice on the part of his fellow pitchers.

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Upton homers again as Rays beat Jays 3-0 (Yahoo! Sports)

23 Sep

Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton, left, is congratulated by Ben Zobrist after hitting a solo home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in St. Petersburg, Fla., Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- B.J. Upton hit his eighth home run in 14 games and Jeremy Hellickson won for the first time in more than a month to help the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 3-0, Sunday.

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