Series Preview in Blog: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Minnesota Twins (5-3) v. Tampa Bay Devil Rays (3-5)

The Twins salvaged a win last night against the Yankees at home, while Tampa Bay likewise lost their first two to the Rangers in Arlington before hanging on for a win in the series finale. The Rays have one win in each of their three series so far this season.

Last season I actually took in a Tampa Bay/Minnesota game at Tropicana Field, and watched the Twins win behind a very good performance from Boof Bonser (who went to high school in St. Petersburg, FL) and a Rondell White homerun. The field was an interesting experience, I was raised on dome baseball so that part wasn’t too bad, but it seemed more antiseptic than the Metrodome, I was very much more aware that I was indoors for the whole game, probably because there were few fans at the game. Anyway, these four games are in Minnesota, so this is all irrelevant, but it’s my only Devil Rays story.

On to the Rays:

The Devil Rays are celebrating their tenth season this year, and looking for Rays blogs, one can tell that they haven’t had much success this far. The juxtaposition between the number of blogs for this opponent compared to the last series was striking. But there was still a lot of good stuff out there, and several of the blogs are new this year. One of the more publicized new blogs is Devil Rays Universe, whose author, Manny Stiles, auctioned his fandom for this season to the highest bidder on eBay, with the proceeds going to a pediatric AIDS charity. The auction was won by the vice president of the Devil Rays, and so Manny Stiles became a Rays fan. So far, if nothing else, you have to admit that he’s been enthusiastic. Another newer blog is Rays Review whose author, Andy Martino, was drawn in by the enthusiasm of Joe Maddon, the manager.

D-Rays Bay participated in a roundtable discussion in the AL East with a blogger from each team, and got all of their thoughts on certain aspects of the Devil Rays, from their chances to ever compete in the East, to the abundance of talent in the outfield. The consensus is that the Rays will probably have to trade at least one of those young, talented outfielders, RaysTalk thinks it will be Elijah Dukes, who is very well regarded by those who have seen him play, despite his off-field issues.

We were celebrating so excitedly that my teammates fell on top of me. I was the smallest and I was on the bottom of the pile. It was awesome.
-Third Baseman Akinori Iwamura, after a walk-off win against Toronto

Another new face in Tampa is the import from Japan, third baseman Akinori Iwamura, who has gotten some notice for his hot start (12-27, HR, .444/.559/.593), including scoring the winning run in Tampa’s exciting bottom of the ninth comeback win against the Blue Jays. Fans are jumping on the Iwamura bandwagon left and right, and, of course there are the inevitable comparisons to the other, bigger name “rookies” from Japan this year. His MLB diary of his first week in the major leagues is a very interesting read.

The young bats in the lineup have Rays fans feeling optimistic but the pitching is causing an awful lot of distress. The starting rotation features a young, left-handed, power pitching ace and four other guys you could take or leave (sound familiar?). The ace, of course, is Scott Kazmir, while the other four pitchers are Jae Seo, Casey Fossum, Edwin Jackson, and James Shields. Of those four, Jackson has had the best start, while Seo was awful his last time out.

If you look at Jackson’s stats from his season debut you wouldn’t describe the stats as impressive. But he left in the sixth inning with the game tied 2-2 with two on and two out; 4 hits, 2 walks, 6 runs, and 3 relief pitchers later, the inning ended with the Rays behind 8-2. Needless to say, the bullpen has been an issue for the Devil Rays in this young season. This is unsurprising to some, and already the roles will be changing, if not the personnel. However, the most disturbing trait for these young relievers is their glaring deficiencies in other areas.

One player who won’t be with the Devil Rays when they come to Minnesota is Jorge Cantu. He was demoted to AAA Durham earlier this season, and made an awfully big stink about it, not reporting until the last minute. All this drama might make it more likely that the Rays trade him for some bullpen help.

On Sunday, Major League Baseball will celebrate Jackie Robinson by allowing players to wear Robinson’s retired number 42. The Devil Ray’s Carl Crawford will honor Robinson’s legacy (as will Torii Hunter for the Twins), but it can be (and has been) argued that it means more for the Devil Rays.

In the “I don’t know where to put this link” file, is the list of anagrams of Devil Rays players and management, so when I refer to the Pasta Bay Army, you’ll know what I mean.

OTHER DEVIL RAYS BLOGS:
http://blogs.tampabay.com/rays/
http://www.tboblogs.com/index.php/sports/related/C142

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