Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Let's Hold Off on That Hall of Fame Plaque For a Bit

Well, that went well, eh? Three and 1/3 innings, 5 walks, 100 pitches (57 strikes) and 2 runs allowed. That was the box score for David Price’s first start of 2009. There were some high notes - 6 strikeouts and hitting 98 mph on the gun. He did mix in a few change-ups which, at 86 mph were devastating when following one of his heaters.

Unfortunately, his inability to get ahead of hitters (he fell behind 10 of the 19 hitters that he faced) was his undoing. He wasn’t able to locate his fastball so he wasn’t able to set up his slider or change up. When you’re walking and striking out a lot of hitters you’re pitch count is going to build in a hurray. Add in a lot of full counts (6 in total) and Price’s start ended up being, well Kazmirian.

I’m not worried about Price. Despite his lack of control he showed that he belonged in the majors. I imagine he will settle down for his next start now that he will settle into a regular routine. I have a feeling he’s up to stay even when Kazmir makes his way back into the rotation,

As far as last night’s game it’s not the end of the world. They lost a game they should have won, there’s no need to lock the doors and declare the season over. They shouldn’t have won the game the week before when they were down by seven so as far as I’m concerned they’re even on the season. Over all they are five games back of the Red Sox with more than 4 months to go.

So is it time to panic yet? Not really. Even though they are 5 games back, none of the teams in front of them look unbeatable. The Yankees still have questions in their bullpen and the Red Sox have had their struggles as well. Toronto had a good start to the season when they were beating up on the AL Central and AL West. Now that they’re playing their own division they’ve dropped back to the pack.

The Rays have a few more games against Cleveland then games against Kansas City and Minnesota. If they win both of those series they’ll be right back into the thick of things. After that, the red hot Yankees and Angels loom - more stiff competition. They need to get their act together by then or else the season will really be in jeopardy.

So what do they need to do to get their act together? First string together some solid starts from their staff. Right now Matt Garza is their only reliable starter. With the rest of the staff (including Shields) struggling to get out of the fifth inning they are putting tremendous pressure on their bullpen. When that happens you end up with games like Monday night against the Indians.

BJ Upton needs to start hitting. The good news is that he is hitting 30 points higher in May than he was in April. The bad news is that he only hit .177 in April. The good news is that when he does get on he usually scores. Twenty-nine runs in 39 games isn’t that bad. Imagine what would happen if he gets his OBP up closer to his career average of .359.

With the loss of Aki! do you move him down to second in the line up? Common sense would dictate that Bartlett leads off when he returns to the lineup with Aki!’s replacement taking up a spot in the bottom of the lineup. Perhaps if Upton starts hitting with a runner on first he’ll focus on hitting to the right side which can only help his swing.

That being said, offense hasn’t been a problem with this year’s club. At least it hasn’t been this month. Carlos Pena , Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria have carried the team this far. Now it’s time for Shields, Sonnanstine, Price and Jeff Neiman to step up. If the starters pick their game up then the bullpen will sort itself out.

If Bartlett goes on the 15 day DL then it looks like they are going to need their bench to step up. Does this mean Reid Brignac is the starter or do they go with Zobrist. While Zo-Rilla may be Mr. Dramatic this year it doesn’t translate into day-to-day performance. I believe they’ll go with Zobrist at short and Aybar at second for now. It’s too bad they couldn’t have held onto Adam Kennedy for another week or so.

They are 14 and 10 this month so there are signs that things are moving in the right direction. You have to remember that the season is a marathon not a sprint. It’s easy to rant and rave after a disastrous loss. You can criticize Maddon’s tactics from sitting starters to mixing and matching pitchers, but remember a manager should be judged on what happens over the whole season not over five games.

There were plenty of doubters last season that he proved wrong so he earns the benefit of the doubt. If resting Bartlett or Pena in April pays off with improved performance in September then I’ll take it. There is no doubt that by the time the Rays made it to the playoffs they were a tired team - the World Series is proof of that.

Maddon and Andrew Freidman are big picture thinkers. They do not scrap their plans based on one loss or being five games behind in May. They will look to fix a problem, but not at the expense of their over all plan. They won’t trade a prospect like Desmond Jennings for a rent-a-bullpen pitcher. The rest of the TBA may be clamoring for change, but they won’t bow to the pressure. That’s a good thing folks, if you don’t think it is take a look at the Lightning’s 2008-09 season. The Rays are going to win or loss with the players on the roster right now - don’t expect any blockbuster deals.

So lets see where this team is on June 5th when they start a series with the Yankees.

New feature - favorite local radio quotes!

5/26/09 - Steve Duemig “The only reason he’s (Joe Maddon) doing it this year is because it worked last year. Well BFD!”

That’s right Steve-O let’s not do anything that worked last year!

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